Our Friend is Here! is a guest feature at The Quiet Pond, where authors, creatives, and fellow readers, are invited to ‘visit’ the Pond! In Our Friend is Here! guest posts, our visitors (as their very own unique character!) have a friendly conversation about anything related to books or being a reader — and become friends with Xiaolong and friends.
Asian Heritage Month Edition is a month-long event at The Quiet Pond, where Asian authors and bookish content creators are invited to celebrate being Asian, Asian books, and the experiences of being an Asian reader. (Note: Here is an explanation of why we are calling this guest series ‘Asian Heritage Month’.)
As highlighted across the anecdotes and stories shared during our Asian Heritage Month guest feature series, representation can be validating, bring immeasurable joy, and even life-changing. The ways that readers can see themselves can vary – it can be as simple as the inclusion of characters from marginalised identities or it can be something a little more complex and nuanced like portraying experiences that are often unique to such identities.
Something that is also important, but perhaps less talked about, is the inclusion and use of language. As our way of communicating, language is incredibly important and integral to how we talk about things and share thoughts and experiences. Language, though, is also integral to identity and culture – it’s not only a way to express ourselves, but language can also articulate meaning and history, and can also be incredibly culturally-specific.
I am delighted to have Charvi, a teen Indian book blogger from Not Just Fiction, talk about language in books today and how it is so important – and validating – when authors of colour can utilise language to connect and reclaim space and storytelling. Charvi visits us today as a cute squirrel wearing glasses and hoop earrings, and I am so happy to have her here today. But, before I share with you all Charvi’s piece, please allow me to introduce to you her book blog, Not Just Fiction!
Charvi’s Book Blog: Not Just Fiction!
If you love book blogs that explore and discuss a broad range of ideas, books, and topics, then you’ll love Not Just Fiction. Though book reviews are not a significant focus on her blog – though I really do love her review of A House of Rage and Sorrow by Sangu Mandanna – Charvi writes a lot of thoughtful discussions about everything; from her reflections following the end of her semester to asking whether we should be creating content during a pandemic.
But, what I’m really excited to share with you all is her wonderful monthly ‘Read the Rainbow’ spotlight!
In her own words:
Read the Rainbow is a spotlight for queer books, authors and readers. Every month, I’ll be hosting an interview or discussion centred around a queer book. The interviews will be conducted with authors and the discussions will take place with #ownvoice readers for each book.
Read the Rainbow has been going strong for five months now and each post is a delight! I especially loved March’s post, where Charvi invited asexual bloggers Charlotte and Rena to discuss Belle Revolte by Lindsey Miller! In their discussion, Charvi, Charlotte, and Rena have a really thoughtful discussion about their thoughts on the book and even discuss the queer rep as well.
If Read the Rainbow sounds like something you’d love to join, then make sure you join in too! In celebration of Pride Month, Read the Rainbow will be reading The Henna Wars by Adiba Jaigirdar and Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender!
Charvi: ‘Authors of Colour Inserting Different Languages in Their Books’
I distinctly remember the first time my eyes landed on words from a language other than English in a young adult book. I was about fifteen and was just starting to get pulled into the hole of young adult books when I stumbled upon Love, Hate and Other Filters by Samira Ahmed. I was absolutely delighted to find a YA novel written by an Indian author. It was the first time I realised that not all teen authors have to be white.
But what surprised me more was the casual sprinkling of Hindi words and phrases in the novel. I never expected to see the words ‘kajal’, ‘lehenga’ or ‘beta’ amidst a mass of English words. This was an alien feature to me. Was this mixture allowed? Weren’t languages supposed to be kept apart?
Love, Hate and Other Filters broadened my horizons in many ways, one of them being that it made me realise that it’s okay to have different languages interwoven in a novel. Over time I have come to love authors who write books scattered with words, phrases and sentences in other languages. And this is not just specific to Hindi, a language that I speak. I loved listening to the casual use of Spanish in the audiobook of Ghost Squad by Claribel Ortega and the Japanese language in It’s Not Like It’s A Secret by Misa Sugiura. Titles of books like Beauty and the Besharam by Lillie Vale absolutely melt my heart.
I’ve been writing stories for some time now and ever since I can remember, I confined my writing to English, taking care to translate everything from my native language. Even though it somehow became my normal, sometimes it felt like I was writing on behalf of someone else, almost like ghost writing. I remember how my mother had once pointed out the English names of all my characters and asked whether they shouldn’t be Indian, because that’s where I was writing from. On one hand I felt like betraying my culture if I didn’t give them the names I was so used to hearing, but then I couldn’t get past their Indian names in their story.
So when I look at authors who embrace their cultures and freely include it in their stories I feel empowered. I feel a sense of pride and encouragement. There’s a voice whispering in my ear that if New York Times bestselling author Sandhya Menon can write in Hinglish (a mix of Hindi and English) then so can you.
My biggest worry was what if my readers get confused? I feared that they would drop the book as soon as they encountered a foreign word. And I know that’s probably still the case for some of the readers but most of them just carry on reading. Some writers go ahead to explain the important phrases, like Sandhya Menon did with the word ‘kismet’ in one of her books since it was a recurring concept.
But you know what? Authors aren’t entitled to do that, and I love how they own it.
I once saw a tweet by Claribel Ortega (which I immediately lost in the vast ocean that my twitter feed is) on how she was unabashedly using Spanish in her book and no there weren’t any translations since she didn’t owe them to anyone. (This is me paraphrasing her tweet from memory, not her exact words)
And you know what, I feel like giving a standing ovation to that tweet.
It’s about damn time that white readers and even PoC readers learn about other cultures- the language, the traditions and phrases – through books. If you find it confusing either take out the time to get clarifications or get past it. These aren’t such huge distractions that you find yourself unable to read the book. And PoC readers, especially native PoC readers go through this all the time with American cultures in books. No I don’t know what string cheese is or how yard sales work but I googled this stuff and got to learn something new.
More than that, it’s about authors reclaiming their space, allowing themselves to be comfortable in their writing, to write like they speak and write about the lives that they live. It’s about readers finding a glimpse of their multicultural mix-mash worlds in books and feeling seen. Our lives are chaotic and we as people are a combination of different characteristics and ethnicities that can’t be labelled or squeezed into boxes. And I think that it would be a shame to suppress this diversity in our writing. Because these mix of languages and cultures are what make us who we are.
That’s why every time I see aspects of a different language showing up in a book it makes me fall in love with it just a bit more. It makes me happy and proud to see yet another author write about their language and identity freely and without any care.
About the Book Blogger
Hello there! I’m Charvi, an Indian teen blogger trying to juggle my university and blogging life, along with a never ending TBR pile and the books I conveniently forget to read. I’m an introverted reading fanatic and you’ll always find my head buried in a book or daydreaming. I literally breathe and live in words. I also scream and sob at my books and fangirl 24/7. Apart from reading I indulge in art and music and love to swim. I’m currently pursuing a double major in English and Psychology with a minor in Creative Writing and my ultimate dream is to have a massive library and write for a living.
I want to reiterate my sincerest and heartfelt thanks to Charvi for joining us and contributing to The Quiet Pond’s Asian Heritage Month! Charvi is such a fantastic book blogger and an important voice in the community, and I appreciate all the advocacy she has done for diverse books.
Be sure to check out her blog, Not Just Fiction, and perhaps give her a follow!