Coolie Woman: The Odyssey of Indenture (University of Chicago Press, 2013) – In 1903, a young woman sailed from India to Guiana as a “coolie”— the British name for indentured laborers who replaced the newly emancipated slaves on sugar plantations all around the world. Pregnant and traveling alone, this woman, like so many of the indentured, disappeared into history. Now, in Coolie Woman, her great-granddaughter Gaiutra Bahadur embarks on a journey into the past to find her. Traversing three continents and trawling through countless colonial archives, Bahadur excavates not only her great-grandmother’s story but also the repressed history of some quarter of a million other coolie women, shining a light on their complex lives.
Pankaj Mishra calls Coolie Woman a “pathbreaking book (that) shows, with understated literary power, the bitter paradoxical nature of colonial modernity.” Junot Diaz says it is “an astonishing document … both a historical rescue mission and a profound meditation on family and womanhood.” And Teju Cole praises it as “a narrative both scholarly and soulful.”
The book was also published by Hurst & Co. in the UK, Hachette in India and Jacana in South Africa. It was shortlisted for the Orwell Prize, the British literary prize for artful political writing.
Nonstop Metropolis (University of California Press, 2016) – Contributor to a literary anthology mapping New York City, edited by Rebecca Solnit and Joshua Jelly-Schapiro. My essay, “Of Islands and Other Mothers,” tells the stories of Caribbean immigrant women across Queens and Brooklyn. It takes readers to temples and churches, introducing them to seers and the heterodox, and reframes Derek Walcott to ask how gender allows us to bridge islands of difference created by race, religion and histories of bondage in the West Indies and its diaspora in New York. The book also includes pieces by Marshall Berman, Garnette Cadogan, Teju Cole, Francisco Goldman, Valeria Luiselli, Margo Jefferson, Suketu Mehta, Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts and others.
Family Ties (Scholastic, 2012) – A paired profile of President Barack Obama and the author Amy Tan for Scholastic, the children’s book publisher. Family Ties focuses on the relationship of each figure with a difficult parent, their respective journeys to that parent’s native country and their attempts to resolve their identity crises through writing. The book was part of the publisher’s “On the Record” nonfiction series for middle-school students, written primarily by journalists.
Living on the Edge of the World: New Jersey Writers Take on the Garden State (Touchstone/Simon & Schuster, 2007) – “Ogling the Statue of Liberty,” my contribution to this literary anthology about New Jersey, is about growing up immigrant in Jersey City in the 1980s. The collection was edited by novelist Irina Reyn.