A lyrical and ambitious debut that is set against the backdrop of the Indian independence movement that looks at the insidiousness of colonialism and one young man’s sexual awakening.

by Beena Kamlani
Crown, February 2025

In 1931, a young man from India arrives in London. Ten years later he will be on a ship bound for India, in a coma, accompanied by a nurse. But that is a decade away. For now, he is not dressed for the British rain, and shivering, rings the doorbell of the people who have agreed to host him during his stay in this strange land. He finds that his hosts are having a party and warmly welcome him in. He is the only Brown person in the room. It is the first time for what will become an everyday experience.

Shiv Advani is eighteen years old. He has been personally chosen by Mahatma Gandhi to come to England, learn their rules of law, and then return home and help drive the British out of India using their own laws against them. Before he leaves his family insists he fulfill his arranged marriage and is hastily betrothed.

Shiv thinks he knows his duty: come to London, become a barrister, figure out how to overcome these oppressors, return home, and help his people. But as anyone who has ever lived in a British colony can tell you, The English Problem is multifaceted. The racist colonialism of the sun never sets and seeps into everything—not just landed territories, but territories of the mind: literature, religion, sex, self-identity.  As Shiv sets out to beat the English at their own game, he will also learn how colonialism is insidious, and how the people he sought to be liberated from are now the people he desperately wants to be a part of.

Beena Kamlani was a senior editor for the Penguin Group. She taught book editing at New York University for nearly two decades. Kamlani is also a Pushcart Prize-winning fiction writer whose work has appeared in Virginia Quarterly Review, Ploughshares, Identity Lessons: Learning to be American, Growing Up Ethnic in America, The Lifted Brow, World Literature Today, and other publications. She has been awarded residencies at Yaddo, MacDowell, Ledig House, Hawthornden Castle, Jentel Arts, and Hedgebrook. The English Problem is her first novel, and it is based on the life of her uncle. She lives in New York.

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