Home > Magazine > Features > Books: Musings on a Hyphenated Life


Books: Musings on a Hyphenated Life

Reviewed by Girija Sankar Email Reviewed by Girija Sankar
May 2024
Books: Musings on a Hyphenated Life

In her thought-provoking essay collection, Nina Sharma explores her relationship with an African American and what it means to be South Asian in contemporary America.

Searing, nostalgic, and incisive, The Way You Make Me Feel: Love in Black and Brown (Penguin Press)—memoirist Nina Sharma’s debut essay collection—invites readers into her most intimate spaces and memories, of her relationship with her boyfriend and eventual husband, an African American, of her observations on colorism and racism as seen through her relationship with him, and through her childhood and youth as the youngest of three daughters to doctor-parents.

In an essay on interracial romance, Sharma explores how Mira Nair’s 1991 film, Mississippi Masala, starring Denzel Washington and Sarita Choudhury, was both ahead of its time and one of its kind. The film depicts the love between an African American man and a South Asian woman whose family fled Idi Amin’s Uganda for the States in the 1970s. Drawing on characters in the film and her own life, Sharma explores the role of family in diasporic communities. There’s very little of a Harry-met-Sally romcom feel to the romance between Washington and Choudhury’s characters in Mississippi Masala, Sharma argues. Instead, interracial romance carries with it the responsibility of addressing race, caste, class, and assimilation politics, topics that confront Sharma as she tries to address the “What will they think?” question about her community’s acceptance of her own interracial romance with Quincy.

Sharma also explores model minority pressure and Asian American prejudice. “Living as a minority in America is living in a house laughing at you and living as a model minority is joining in that laughter,” Sharma writes, drawing parallels with the house of horrors in Evil Dead 2.

In a clever essay titled “Sacrifice,” Sharma explores the cultural significance of African American hair, and the race-informed trade of Korean and later Indian hair extensions in America. The essay braids together cultural history, personal narrative, and global commerce that while insightful also demonstrates the author’s deftness and alacrity with the narrative form.

Sharma’s essays are also a keen exercise in cultural criticism. In “Not Dead,” reflecting on the brutal killing of the lone Asian American character in The Walking Dead, a hit TV series, the author draws parallels between Green Rhee, the Asian American character, and Vincent Chin, who was brutally murdered in a racially motived attack in 1982. In a shorter essay, Sharma connects the global spread of the novel coronavirus with anti-Asian slurs going viral on social media soon after then-President Trump’s “China Virus” tweet. Sharma notes that, exactly one year later, a white gunman went on a killing rampage in three Asian American-run massage parlors in Atlanta.

Sharma is equally searing in writing about her mental health, reflecting on her days in psychiatric clinics, her suicide attempts, and her experiences with anti-psychotic drugs. Conversations around mental health are increasingly destigmatized in America, but for many South Asians, there is still a lingering sense that mental illness is just a deficiency that a good round of exercise and focused work wouldn’t cure.

About being on Prozac she writes: “I remember the pill crushed into ice cream. I hated that taste, the little bit of medical grime coming into something that could be so sweet. The ice cream holding its own deceit. I would remain on some pill and some form of therapy from the point on.” She was six when she had her first taste of Prozac flavored ice cream. Sharma deserves kudos for this honesty.

The timelines in the essays jump around a bit, moving forwards and backwards from Sharma’s wedding. The narrative form also jumps around—the early chapters are linear, the middle chapters are more content- and topic-driven, with the wedding and the lead up to the wedding serving as a canvas to explore race topics. Later chapters present themselves as diary entries. So, the essays are best enjoyed as stand-alone musings, a commentary on hyphenated lives in America.

Sharma draws on the specifics of Nina and Quincy’s romance and life together as a South Asian woman and an African American man to comment on the larger social, political, and economic forces that frame race and racism in America. At its best, though, her memoir is a beautiful, painful, and poignant love story that overcomes all odds—and endures.

Girija Sankar, a freelance writer based in the Atlanta metro area, works in global health.

Enjoyed reading Khabar magazine? Subscribe to Khabar and get a full digital copy of this Indian-American community magazine.

  • Add to Twitter
  • Add to Facebook
  • Add to Technorati
  • Add to Slashdot
  • Add to Stumbleupon
  • Add to Furl
  • Add to Blinklist
  • Add to Delicious
  • Add to Newsvine
  • Add to Reddit
  • Add to Digg
  • Add to Fark
blog comments powered by Disqus

Back to articles






Sign up for our weekly newsletter


Potomac_wavesmedia Banner ad.png

asian american-200.jpg




Krishnan Co WebBanner.jpg


Embassy Bank_gif.gif