South Asian Spotlight — Author Interview with Priyanka Taslim

Back in August, I had a blast reading only Desi books for the entire month! And right when I thought I wouldn’t be able to keep up my streak anymore, The Love Match hit me and boy, I haven’t experienced something so fantastic. A perfect blend of tropes done well, a Natok setting and wonderful characters—you’re gonna love this one! Zahra, Harun and Nayim are going to steal your heart as you breeze through the pages of the book.

Priyanka Taslim, the author of The Love Match, is going to be joining me today for an author interview in which we talk about inspirations and characters. And stay tuned till the end for 20+ book recommendations from the author herself!

This October, the blog is featuring many voices from the South Asian community, so if you seem to have missed out on the previous posts, check out South Asian Spotlight!

synopsis

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before meets Pride and Prejudice in this delightful and heartfelt rom-com about a Bangladeshi American teen whose meddling mother arranges a match to secure their family’s financial security—just as she’s falling in love with someone else.

Zahra Khan is basically Bangladeshi royalty, but being a princess doesn’t pay the bills in Paterson, New Jersey. While Zahra’s plans for financial security this summer involve working long hours at Chai Ho and saving up for college writing courses, Amma is convinced that all Zahra needs is a “good match,” Jane Austen style.Enter Harun Emon, who’s wealthy, devastatingly handsome, and…aloof. As soon as Zahra meets him, she knows it’s a bad match. It’s nothing like the connection she has with Nayim Aktar, the new dishwasher at the tea shop, who just gets Zahra in a way no one has before. So, when Zahra finds out that Harun is just as uninterested in this match as she is, they decide to slowly sabotage their parents’ plans. And for once in Zahra’s life, she can have her rossomalai and eat it too: “dating” Harun and keeping Amma happy while catching real feelings for Nayim.

But life—and boys—can be more complicated than Zahra realizes. With her feelings all mixed up, Zahra discovers that sometimes being a good Bengali kid can be a royal pain.

interview

Q: Hi Priyanka, thanks for doing the South Asian Spotlight with me over my blog today! For those who aren’t aware, can you introduce yourself and The Love Match?

Hi, my name is Priyanka Taslim and I’m an author and educator from New Jersey! When I’m not playing with my dapper tuxedo cat or teaching, you can find me watching kdramas, playing JRPGs, reading books by marginalized authors, and sometimes even…writing!

My debut YA romcom is called The Love Match. Set in the vibrant diaspora Bangladeshi community of Paterson, New Jersey, it follows 18 year old Zahra Khan. Two years after her father’s death, Zahra is doing her best to help her family pay the bills, which results in her working long hours at a local Pakistani tea shop owned by the father of her best friends. Unfortunately, her meddling mother thinks the solution to their family’s problems is “a suitable match” for Zahra—Austen style—and that match comes in the form of the broody, handsome, complicated Harun Emon, the son of a wealthy Bangladeshi family in Paterson.

Except, Zahra and Harun have no interest in each other, and she’s actually starting to fall for her dreamy new coworker Nayim, who is decidedly UNsuitable, so she and Harun decide they’ll fake date to please their families while secretly sabotaging the relationship from within. However, neither account for how their fake dating might lead to very real problems…

Like most of my currently planned projects, it features Bengali culture and protagonists, complicated families, swoony romances, a shot of humor amid discussion of some deeper themes, and…other things readers will find out only when they read! 😉

It’s available to preorder now but will release January 3rd, 2023 in the U.S. and a few months later (with a whole new cover and in paperback) in the U.K. and other territories. I think fans of media such as When Dimple Met Rishi, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, A Pho Love Story, Pride and Prejudice, Never Have I Ever and Miss Marvel will enjoy the book!

Q: Your book contains a lot of Bengali words and I love the book for how it’s a love letter to the Bangladeshi diaspora communities and is inspired by a natok! Can you share your experiences while writing this book and also what’s a part of it that’s just personal to you?

While The Love Match is not inspired by any specific thing that happened to me, it is a deeply, deeply personal book and very close to my heart. I’ve discussed this a bit before online, but rather than using standard Bangla in the book, the words that pop up are Sylheti Bangla like I grew up with. It’s also set in my hometown of Paterson, New Jersey, which has one of the largest Bangladeshi diaspora populations in the entire country, in a neighborhood many know as Little Bangladesh. Furthermore, the book discusses class and status because this community is primarily working class. It’s hard to mention all the things that were pulled from my culture and experience because there are a lot of little nuanced details that make up the book. It may not represent every South Asian, or even every Bengali, because the Bengal alone is so deeply diverse that it has numerous dialects, but I hope that this little piece of me will resonate with anyone else who might have an emptiness that they’ve longed to fill with representation.

Q: Forbidden romance, family drama and lots of wordplay sounds like a perfect match? (haha, see what I did there?) What inspired you to write such a wonderful story featuring these tropes?

Haha, thank you! I will always love puns related to this book!

I had various sources of inspiration for The Love Match. I want to write escapist books that still feel grounded. Growing up, most books that I encountered about South Asian and/or Muslim characters centered on racism or Islamophobia. I wanted to write about very real conflicts that are not that, but also give readers a message of hope. That you can be a poor brown girl and still be the main character, be the heroine whom two cute boys want to woo, have a lot of big dreams, etc. For too long, those things didn’t feel accessible to people like me.

I have always been surrounded by family and community, so naturally, that bled into my work. I usually stumble into writing big casts for that reason, but some of the highest praise I’ve gotten from very early readers of The Love Match is how these characters all added something to the story and were loved by readers and had their own depth, rather than coming across as extra pieces. I hope future readers feel that way too!

Beyond that, I wanted to subvert the classic forbidden romances you see mostly in media about diaspora South Asian characters. Oftentimes, it’s forbidden simply because the love interest is white or otherwise not of the same background/faith (although white characters are centered frequently). I wanted to write a forbidden romance that explores why someone within the same community might be considered forbidden—which is where class comes in.

But overall, I wanted to tell a FUN story with these bigger elements, so be prepared for plenty of plot twists and tropes, subverted or otherwise!

Q: Name one trait you have in common with each of your characters—Zahra, Harun and Nayim!

I actually put a little of myself in every character!

Zahra and I are both the oldest daughters in our immigrant families and shoulder a lot of responsibilities because of that. She’s also a writer.

Harun is an anxious overthinker like me.

Nayim is probably the most different from me, but he’s someone I want to be more like! He’s a free spirit…although we both have a fondness for cats, haha.

Q: What was your favourite scene to write in The Love Match?

Throughout the book, Zahra has several scenic, romantic dates with the boys. I loved writing these. I hope that brown girls and other readers who don’t often see themselves represented in the pages of a romance novel pick up the book and see that they are deserving of all the epic romantic moments that they could possibly want!

Q: What are some things in The Love Match that are completely different from the first draft?

Oh, gosh, The Love Match has been rewritten SO OFTEN. I have flip-flopped on Zahra’s endgame at least once. Way way way back, Nayim was Noah and white, but didn’t carry the themes of the story in the same way so I began exploring this love triangle with THREE Bangladeshi characters. In a previous draft, Zahra and Harun were also in the same summer class together, but I nixed that because I thought it was a bit too similar to other books I’ve read and loved. There was also, at one point, a RICKSHAW RIDE in the book that sadly had to be cut because it was a little indulgent and didn’t add much to the plot. However, I am so satisfied with the story in its final form, which is considerably stronger than it’s ever been before! That’s where my editors’ keen insight comes into play! I hope if there are any aspiring authors reading this, if you feel like your current draft needs a lot of work, just know that you’re not alone. Many books are made in revisions, like this one was!

Q: Before wrapping up the interview, can you recommend a few South Asian debuts coming out soon or have recently come out? We’re so starved for them!

*cracks knuckles* I love this question! SO MANY is the general answer, but I’ve been privileged to receive a lot of ARCs recently and can give a nice list for your readers, regardless of genre!

A Million to One by Adiba Jaigirdar (YA historical)

The Do’s and Donuts of Love by Adiba Jaigirdar (YA romance)

Drizzle, Dreams and Lovestruck Things (YA romance)

The Loophole by Naz Kutub (YA contemporary fantasy)

The Blue Bar by Damyanti Biswas (adult thriller)

Monsters Born And Made by Tanvi Berwah (YA fantasy)

In My Hands by Sathya Achia (YA fantasy)

The Ivory Key and its sequel by Akshaya Raman (YA fantasy)

Beauty and the Besharam by Lillie Vale (YA romance)

The Decoy Girlfriend also by Lillie Vale (adult romance)

Lioness of Punjab by Anita Jari Kharbanda (adult historical)

Nura and the Immortal Palace by M.T. Khan (MG fantasy)

TJ Powar Has Something to Prove by Jesmeen Kaur Deo (YA contemporary)

This Way Out by Tufayel Ahmed (adult contemporary)

The Surviving Sky by Kritika Rao (adult fantasy)

If You’re Not The One by Farah Naz Rishi (YA romance)

The Karma Map by Nisha Sharma (YA romance)

Kamilah Knows Best by Farah Heron (YA romance)

Love from Mecca to Medina by S.K. Ali (YA romance)

Meet Me in Mumbai by Sabina Khan (YA contemporary)

Debating Darcy by Sayantani DasGupta (YA romance)

Unbelonging by Gayatri Sethi (memoir and verse)

Night of the Raven, Dawn of the Dove by Rati Mehrotra (YA fantasy)

When A Brown Girl Flees by Aamna Qureshi (YA contemporary)

A Bit of Earth by Karuna Riazi (MG historical)

This is A LOT but I’m honestly so passionate about books by South Asian authors! I also recommend reading these authors’ backlists and keeping up with them for future books!

about the author

Priyanka Taslim is a writer, teacher, and lifelong New Jersey resident.

Having grown up in a bustling Bangladeshi diaspora community, surrounded by her mother’s entire clan and many aunties of no relation, her writing often features families, communities, and all the drama therein.

Currently, Priyanka teaches by day and tells all kinds of stories about Bangladeshi characters by night. Her writing usually stars spunky Bengali heroines finding their place in the world…and a little swoony romance, too.

THANK YOU FOR READING!

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