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South Haven


Grief, violence, and history collide to offer a radical look at childhood and migration in suburban New England.

$15.95 $11.96

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What people are saying…

A Barnes & Noble Discover Pick for Summer 2016

Shortlisted for the 2017 Tata Literature Live! Award

“[T]his luminous debut . . . captures precisely the heartache of growing up.”
Library Journal, Top Spring Indie Fiction

“Sawhney’s debut novel, a coming-of-age tale mixing grief, violence, and extremism, follows the life of Indian-American teen Siddharth Arora as he deals with the death of his mother, political tensions at home, and attempts to fit in amongst the bored and troubled youth of his Connecticut suburb . . . With shifting teen angst colliding with his new, upturned reality, Sid becomes aware of his failings and mistakes as he discovers what it means to be loyal to the ones you love. This is a fantastic debut about growing up as an outsider in a divisive environment.”
Publishers Weekly

“Siddharth Arora is just 10 when his mother dies in a car accident. Almost overnight, he goes from being a regular New Haven suburban tween to being that kid with the dead mom. His school psychologist enables him to become friends with her troubled son. His older brother leaves for university and rarely comes home. His father estranges himself from even his best friend, and eventually dares to date another woman. In this not-so-brave new world, Siddharth comes of age, searching for impossible answers, longing for connection, unsure of what the future holds.”
Booklist Reader, A Dozen Diverse Debut Novels

“A vivid portrait of second-generation immigrants living in suburban New England . . . Sawhney is pitch-perfect when describing the uneasy relationship between adolescents and their parents . . . There is much emotional truth in the author’s sensitive portrayal of the despair and rage that can simmer away throughout adolescence . . . Hirsh Sawhney’s quietly devastating conclusion is both unexpected and deeply moving.”
Times Literary Supplement

“Sawhney weaves together his own plot, with heartbreaking difficulties about confronting the complexity of identities, with nationally and locally important issues like Islamophobia, all painted on a southern Connecticut backdrop.”
Connecticut Magazine

“In his debut novel, South Haven, writer Hirsh Sawhney chose his native New Haven and suburbs as backdrop for this part tale of mourning, part coming-of-age story . . . Sawhney skillfully captures Siddharth’s readjustment to a life without his mother. Much of this readjustment centers around the different and complex relationships Siddharth forms with the handful of friends he makes following his mother’s death, his college-bound brother, the “new woman” in his Dad’s life, and with his larger-than-life father, a radically opinionated academic who is caught between what it means to be American and the culture he’s left behind.”
New Haven Magazine

“A powerful story . . . a universal look at the complexity of how people wrestle with guilt and blame amid tragic loss.”
New Haven Independent

“A raw portrait of a motherless family . . . poetic . . . [Sawhney’s] characters are distinctive: They open up differently, more ominously, than American fiction’s best-known South Asians of the Northeast — Jhumpa Lahiri’s . . . [and] exhibit an outsider-ness without glamour.”
The Village Voice

“Readers will come to love South Haven’s Siddharth and to care for this motherless boy in an immigrant family . . . Sawhney’s writes in lucid prose about a cast of flawed characters . . . Despite the contentious behavior there is an underlying tenderness to the family dynamic. This lends South Haven a density that makes it more than a simple coming-of-age novel.”
Jaggerly Lit

“[A] sensitive, poignant, resonating novel.”

“An unforgettable and unnerving tale of grief and migration.”
Largehearted Boy

Included in John Reed’s list of Most Anticipated Small Press Books of 2016 at Big Other

“Sawhney’s portrait of childhood grief is complex and explosive, and it challenges the definition of “victim.”
Minnesota Public Radio

“A son of Hindu immigrants from India grows up in a New England suburb, where he struggles to find his way after his mother dies, while his father becomes immersed in anti-Muslim fundamentalism.”
World Wide Work

“A sensitive and emotional novel about family, dealing with loss, growing up, peer pressure, individualism, religion, race and everything in between.”
Areli Reads

“This book became insight into what the life of a South Asian family is like in suburbia here in the US. But it remained a sharp, sensitive comment on adolescence and how much we still struggle to do well by our youth. Sawhney leaves us with a good cliffhanger in the end which I admired. He didn’t have to tell us how each character turned out in life but lets us imagine their further existence.”
WORD Bookstores, Staff pick

“This story was absolutely beautifully written. I found myself unable to stop turning page after page as I immersed myself in this book fully. It is a gripping story from start to finish, as you read hoping that this family will finally come to terms with their loss. A definite 10 stars out of 5 star read.”
The Reading Wolf

An Amazon.in Editor’s Pick

“A powerful debut novel . . . which explores themes hitherto less explored in Indian-American immigrant fiction: the visceral painfulness of social marginalisation; the experience of bullying, adolescent aggression and violence while growing up in suburban America; and the growing distance between two generations, one trying to find its way in present-day reality and the other lost in memories of what they left behind.”
The Indian Express

“Pitch-perfect . . . This isn’t the story of an Indian family steeped in its own foreignness; the Arora men may be different, but they are not ghettoized . . . South Haven [also] does justice to its female characters . . . In the early 1990s, Salman Rushdie wrote that his Satanic Verses was a ‘love song to our mongrel selves.’ On a more intimate scale, South Haven too looks at how new types of people and belief systems come into being.”
Biblio India

“[Sawhney has] given us a glimpse of another side of the immigrant experience . . . [He] depicts the hypocritical underside of an Indian migrant family in the U.S. who has benefited from its liberal ideas, but cannot abandon its own regressive thoughts.”
The Hindu

“South Haven is an evocative tale of loss and grief, with teenage angst, extremist fervour and lingering despair added to cauldron of emotions . . . Written with utmost honesty and sensitivity, the book also opens our eyes to the fragmented, polarised, and bigoted world in which we are raising our children.”
The Tribune (India)

“A rare, intimate portrait . . . of a boy who navigates adolescence in the absence of his mother . . . The sentences in South Haven are crisp and short, creating a sense of immediacy, drawing you straight into the Arora house as their grief and healing unfold.”
The Hindu BusinessLine

“Is this the novel that will break the Indian-immigrant-in-America mould?”

“Sawhney manage[s] to convincingly portray the pain and stress of growing up in a fractured society.”
The Telegraph India

“Quick and lucid . . . This dark coming-of-age novel with its mix of plots about family, loss and home is a tough yet compelling read.”
Hindustan Times

“This is polished writing and will not stay hidden . . . Throughout, one is reminded of Joseph Heller’s Something Happened, another story that has a measured pace, a tale which just will not be hurried . . . Siddharth has been beautifully, painfully, sketched . . . Much political thought informs this accomplished piece of work, making it a most satisfactory read.”
Earthen Lamp Journal

“A poetic and irreverent coming-to-age story.”
—Tabish Khair, Writers Read

“A novelist you will be reading for years to come.”
—Amy Bloom, author of Lucky Us

South Haven is an affecting tale of a family’s loss, a child’s grief, and the search for solace in all the wrong places. Hirsh Sawhney is an incandescent voice in fiction.”
—Laila Lalami, author of The Moor’s Account

“It’s no secret that grief makes us vulnerable, but Hirsh Sawhney’s perceptively rendered South Haven presents a volatile mix of second-generation migration, sadness, and cruelty in suburban America. South Haven is bold, accessible, funny, and heartbreaking.”
—Jayne Anne Phillips, author of Quiet Dell

“Hirsh Sawhney writes with wit and tenderness about a harsh childhood. And such is his power of insight that this novel, set in a New England suburb, manages to illuminate a larger landscape of cruelty and torment.”
—Pankaj Mishra, author of From the Ruins of Empire

“Hirsh Sawhney has produced an intelligent and beautiful novel. It is about America and India, fathers and children, families and loss. The world is changing and here is a new map of belonging.”
—Nadeem Aslam, author of The Blind Man’s Garden

“A lyrical yet disturbing look at the grim realities of migration and American suburban life, South Haven manages to be both witty and unnerving at the same time. It is a novel that resonates long in the memory.”
—Caryl Phillips, author of The Lost Child


Siddharth Arora lives an ordinary life in the New England suburb of South Haven, but his childhood comes to a grinding halt when his mother dies in a car accident. Siddharth soon gravitates toward a group of adolescent bullies, drinking and smoking instead of drawing and swimming. He takes great pains to care for his depressive father, Mohan Lal, an immigrant who finds solace in the hateful Hindu fundamentalism of his homeland and cheers on Indian fanatics who murder innocent Muslims. When a new woman enters their lives, Siddharth and his father have a chance at a fresh start. They form a new family, hoping to leave their pain behind them.

South Haven is no simple coming-of-age tale or hero’s journey, blurring the line between victim and victimizer and asking readers to contend with the lies we tell ourselves as we grieve and survive. Following in the tradition of narratives by Edwidge Danticat and Junot Díaz, Sawhney draws upon the measured lyricism of postcolonial writers like Michael Ondaatje but brings to his subjects distinctly American irreverence and humor.

Read a feature on South Haven at the New Haven Independent.

Check out these interviews with Hirsh Sawhney at Bookslut and Penmen Review.

Read a feature on Hirsh Sawhney at the New Haven Register and The Wesleyan Argus.

Listen to interviews with Hirsh Sawhney at Radio Something with Valerie Richardson (WPKN 89.5 FM, New Haven) and Tidings from Hazel Kahan (WPKN 89.5/Bridgeport) and Minnesota Public Radio with Kerri Miller.

Check out a music playlist compiled by Hirsh Sawhney and inspired by South Haven at Largehearted Boy.

Read a guest piece by Hirsh Sawhney at Times Literary Supplement.

Read an excerpt from South Haven at Wasafiri.

Check out Hirsh Sawhney’s participation in PBS’s Great American Read

Listen to the audio from Hirsh Sawhney’s “Subjects of Interest” event with Kamila Shamise and Rozina Ali, hosted by the Asian American Writers Workshop:

See below for an interview with Hirsh Sawhney at WNHH Radio’s Dateline New Haven with Paul Bass:


Book Details

  • Paperback: 296 pages
  • Published: 5/3/16
  • IBSN: 9781617753978
  • e-IBSN: 9781617754579


HIRSH SAWHNEY’s writing has appeared in the New York Times Book Review, the Guardian, the Times Literary Supplement, the Financial Times, Outlook, and numerous other periodicals. He is the editor of Delhi Noir, a critically acclaimed anthology of original fiction, and is on the advisory board of Wasafiri, a London-based journal of international literature. He lives in New Haven, Connecticut, and teaches at Wesleyan University. South Haven is his debut novel. Visit his website at www.hirshsawhney.com.

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