Afternoon Masala


Poems by Vandana Khanna
978-1-55728-653-6 (paper)
March 2014


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Cowinner: 2014 Miller Williams Poetry Prize


Between Bollywood action stars and aging starlets, vegetable vendors and child brides, the poems in Afternoon Masala describe the struggle of finding a place in the world to call home. Starting in the heated streets of Delhi and traveling through movie theaters and sound stages to kitchens and living rooms, the poems re-create a family’s immigration story, spotlighting the often troubled transformation from childhood to womanhood, from immigrant to American. Filled with songs, spices, and mantras, Afternoon Masala embraces new worlds and old rivers, lost landscapes and love letters. Here both travelers and daughters alike reject their predetermined destinies for the distinct pleasures of a Hindi film, an unruly garden, a long-forgotten language.

Vandana Khanna is an instructor at the University of Southern California and the author of Train to Agra. She is the 2013 winner of the Elinor Benedict Poetry Prize.

“Dense with narrative details of a transnational life, these poems are suffused with a peculiarly Indian synesthesia—‘the air thick enough to bite, rinsing/ fingertips with color.’ Vandana Khanna, in her second prize-winning book, gives us a series of panoramic spectacles—children watching horror films in Delhi, Merle Oberon on her latest Bollywood film role, stolen lemons wrapped in yesterday’s newspaper. Colors and crime collide with the likes of Garbo and Rekha in this tender and smart collection of poems.”

—Kazim Ali, author of Sky Ward and Bright Felon


“In Vandana Khanna’s breathtaking volume, Afternoon Masala, Indian American identity comes of age within the hybrid, liminal space of cinema. Lit up by the spangled sashay of Bollywood films and the glittery paparazzi of the American red carpet, femininity and ethnicity are simultaneously revealed as complexly intertwined performances. Here, the allure of representation seduces the real, fleeting glimpses of which are recovered in the gorgeously fierce and musical lines of another tongue, while diaspora’s nostalgia aches for spice and fire.”

—Lee Ann Roripaugh, author of On the Cusp of a Dangerous Year