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Have You Ever had Racist Comments Flung at Your Work?

book cover The Blue Bar

For my first novel, You Beneath Your Skin, I made a huge publicity push, traveling from once city to another for a month or more after its publication. It was my debut, and it paid off. The book turned an Amazon bestseller in India, was optioned by Endemol Shine for a screen adaptation.

In contrast, I haven’t really done much for The Blue Bar. It continues to sell well, but I’ve mostly been swamped by trying to get its sequel, The Blue Monsoon, into shape.

Here are a few links where The Blue Bar appeared: (click links for the entire reviews/ interviews)

Starred Review at Publisher’s Weekly

“Meticulous local color matches sensitive characterizations, including of brave Mumbai police who try to overcome the deadly hazards of the corrupt system they have to work in. This searing portrait of marginalized people struggling for survival is unforgettable.”

Review at Audiofile Magazine

“Narrator Sneha Mathan’s strong performance transports listeners to the streets of Mumbai as police Inspector Arnav Singh Rajput is called to investigate a dismembered body, which he soon realizes is the work of a serial killer. As he races to track down the murderer, using any methods available, his past and present converge, bringing new challenges. Mathan’s narration is spot-on. She creates believable male and female characters, in particular clearly differentiating key characters as the plot moves between the present and the past. Her authentic-sounding accents and pronunciation of Indian names and phrases help to set the scene and create the perfect atmosphere for this intriguing mystery.”

Interview at The Big Thrill

“Some authors would have you believe that they enjoy the “act of writing.” That they love the ability to sink into another character’s head and navigate a new world.

Damyanti Biswas is not that author.

Biswas freely admits that the joy she hopes to find from writing has yet to appear—she writes because she must. Because every time she tries not to, she finds herself back at the computer painstakingly pecking out every word, every sentence, every paragraph.

The irony, perhaps, is that Biswas makes it look easy. Her latest release, THE BLUE BAR, is a meticulously crafted police procedural set in Mumbai, where the setting—both the Bollywood glitz and the city’s seedy underworld—comes to life with such intensity you can almost smell the air.

In THE BLUE BAR, Biswas introduces us to a serial killer, a missing dancer, and the gritty detective on their trail. It is a story of love, murderous obsession, and second chances. And thankfully, it’s the first in a new series. It’s no surprise that the book is racking up accolades, including a coveted Amazon #1 New Release banner.”

Interview at Firstpost

“Human society works on self-interest and some parts of it always end up being more powerful than others.  Depending on where the society is located, various sections of society will vie for power with others.

A financial hub like Mumbai, a melting pot of many cultures, as well as the birthplace and destination of so many dreams, is no exception. The power lies in the hands of politicians and the police, the corporates and the dream merchants as well as those who seek to profit from it all through violence: the criminals.

Mumbai is all about the shifting sands of power. A few decades ago, the criminal underworld held sway and then the politicians and Mumbai Police took control. The collaborations are many and quite uneasy: the police, the politicians, the corporates, and Bollywood each work in their own self-interest, and form alliances that would most benefit themselves. Power coalesces in certain hands, be it financial, political, physical/ police, or image/ movie stars, and that’s exactly the Mumbai we see in The Blue Bar.”

Review at The New Indian Express

“The Blue Bar, for all intents and purposes, builds suspense by keeping the identity of its killer and his motive undiscoverable till the end. The supporting characters, made up of other cops, underworld dons and Bollywood actors, pump blood into the thriller without allowing the proceedings to get caught up in a series of endless repetitions.

And since Rajput isn’t a rookie, he knows how it feels to get closer to his target. A key piece of the puzzle is the Blue Bar, where Tara works, and the establishment after which the book is titled. Rajput, however, doesn’t race to the finishing line alone. He has his assistant and friends helping him through the way. With a dramatic recreation of a police chase that, in moments, turns violent, Biswas gets the larger canvas of the novel on point. Almost all the main characters get physically injured at one point or another.

It is evident that the author has spent a lot of time researching the working lives of police officers and actors, and she sprinkles her findings throughout the novel. To the book’s advantage, the digressions don’t become bumps in the narrative, but there are subplots that are dispensable. Also, her observations regarding guns, consumption of alcohol, and the nefarious dealings between cops and criminals that form a large part of the background don’t offer any fresh insight into Mumbai’s underbelly.

With this novel, Biswas has created the type of thriller that seems to have been written with the notion of making it readily work for a television audience. Detective thriller has, after all, emerged as the most successful sub-genre under crime fiction over the last few years, both on paper and on screen, and The Blue Bar appears to fit the bill for both.”

Review at Hindustan Times

“It is clear that much research has gone into the writing. All of it comes out in the descriptions of the city’s slums, in the insights into the lives of Mumbai’s police personnel and the workings of the film industry. The Blue Bar navigates the murky world of Mumbai’s dance bars, explores their nexus with the police, Bollywood, real estate tycoons and the underworld and also presents how bar dancers are viewed by religious institutions, women’s rights groups and society at large.

The book begins with the line “Endings are overrated” but what’s a whodunit without an unexpected twist leading to a satisfying denouement? “Sometimes the best looking, most innocent faces hide criminals,” writes Biswas. And thereby hangs a tale.”

Excerpt at Scroll India ( The first chapter)

“Endings are overrated. There’s only one true, certain end – everything else a load of bullshit, or how you call it, bakwaas. Beginnings, though. Beginnings are everywhere. It all began with that midnight-colored saree, thick with dark-blue sequins, its endless sea of shimmering dots stitched by hands that must have cracked and bled over the months of needle in and out of taut cloth in some dingy, godforsaken hole in one of Mumbai’s stinking alleyways.”

Interview at Writer Unboxed

“Crime writing caters to certain reader expectations that I struggle with: the pace must be relentless, the story easy to read, and the protagonist always triumphant. I’ll explain the challenge and the lesson, in each case.

When it comes to pace, I wrestle with what gets shown vs what is told and when. I tend to summarize important bits of action and show characters in greater detail than needed. I’ve had to learn ways to prioritize the investigation/action, but not at the expense of characters. Pace also suffers when your red herrings are clumsy, or if you explain backstory. Cutting backstory and using it in brushstrokes has been effective. All red herrings must make sense in terms of motive, means and opportunity, and this is a challenge for a literary writer used to depending on language rather than plot. I’ve had to verify during edits that each suspect does indeed have a motive, the means, and an opportunity.

The second challenge is cultural: I write stories set in India for a Western audience. Translating not just terms, but embedded cultural beliefs is hard to do with finesse, especially without sacrificing pace. While the rest of the world is used to researching Western terms, Western audiences are new to looking up unfamiliar non-Western ones. Keeping the reader oriented, without disrespectful spoon-feeding, is a delicate balance, especially in a novel with multiple points of view and timelines, as well as a complex plot. I’ve had to use language with as much precision as possible in order to be able to respect both the character/story and the reader.

The third hurdle, about making the protagonist triumphant, is not easy for me personally because I come from a background of literary, realistic writing. Corruption is often rampant in an Indian setting, as in many others, and it’s hard to create an ending that is earned, believable, and in line with genre expectations. The lesson here has been to make only the narrative promises on which the story can realistically deliver. I’ve tried to make the context come alive so that the ending satisfies on the level of story as well as on-the-ground realities.”

Interview at Dan Antion’s Blog

“I wanted the police work to sound authentic. I am lucky to have some contacts who could share the way things work in Mumbai. I shared the plot and worked to understand the training they get and talk about interpersonal connections. They helped me understand how organized crime works. I walked the streets. I even visited a Bollywood set. I am very lucky to have those connections, but I needed to work to get that firsthand experience.”

This was the first time a book I’ve written has crossed 2,000 ratings on Goodreads and is reaching about 3,000 ratings on Amazon, but the fact remains that if not for the racist comments, (complicated names, confusing names–as if they’ve never read complex French or Scandinavian names) in some of the reviews, it probably might have done even better.

Let’s hope things improve with The Blue Monsoon, because there isn’t much I can do anymore for The Blue Bar. In the meanwhile I can console myself with the coverage received so far. Listing it was a way to see it for myself. That there are people who actually liked the book, who might be open to stories in a different setting and that it might be just a matter of finding the right audience.

Racist reviews are hurtful, but it is what is.

I’ll give thanks for all the good reviews, and for friends amongst you who have read and reviewed The Blue Bar, who have bought the book, recommended it to libraries. On any given day, love and gratitude trump hate. I need to believe that.

 If you’re a writer, have you ever had racist comments directed at your work? As a reader, when you read for diversity, do you let an unfamiliar setting and character names deter you?

My crime novel, The Blue Bar is out this year with Thomas & Mercer. Add it to Goodreads or order it to make my day.
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Damyanti Biswas

Damyanti Biswas is the author of You Beneath Your Skin and numerous short stories that have been published in magazines and anthologies in the US, the UK, and Asia. She has been shortlisted for Best Small Fictions and Bath Novel Awards and is co-editor of the Forge Literary Magazine. Her literary crime thriller series, the Blue Mumbai, is represented by Lucienne Diver from The Knight Agency. Both The Blue Bar and The Blue Monsoon were published in 2023.

I appreciate comments, and I always visit back. If you're having trouble commenting, let me know via the contact form, or tweet me up @damyantig !

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  • hilarymb says:

    Hi Damyanti – I feel for you receiving comments that are patently so poorly thought out and completely misunderstand – and/or without any intelligence. I’ve had one or two what I would say are thoughtless comments – I’ve replied quietly or just deleted that particular comment. That’s not possible on a public site … I would hope that good overcomes stupidity … with thoughts – you don’t deserve those type of comments. Cheers Hilary

  • Modern Gypsy says:

    Oh man! Some reviewers can be absolutely horrid, but racist comments, those are unforgivable! I know they hurt, butandalso, you know that so many of us absolutely love your writing, right? I’ve almost finished reading The Blue Bar, and I absolutely loved it. You’ve done another brilliant job with this book, D. I loved the way you brought Mumbai and its seedy underbelly to life, and I’m looking forward to the sequel.

  • literarylad says:

    Hi Damyanti, Sorry you’ve had racist comments. With regard to the complexity of names, I seem to remember from your first book I was confused because characters were referred to in different ways; particularly using terms that weren’t English. It wasn’t a problem – I think I worked it all out (and I could have done some Google research if I wanted to know more). I like a challenge, and it makes the book more interesting – an insight into another culture. But I guess some people just want an easy read!

    I struggled with Salman Rushdie’s ‘The Satanic Verses’ because there was so much that assumed knowledge only someone who had been raised in the culture and places it was set could have, and the way he put it across was so vague there was no way you could look it up. That was frustrating, but then so much of Rushdie’s writing was vague and confused – you know he’s trying to tell you something, but he never really does!

    Don’t be disparaged by the racism. So many people are surrounded by ignorance, lies, propaganda, hatred; it’s perhaps not surprising they have bad attitudes. It’s up to us good guys to do what we can to counter them.

  • Pam Lazos says:

    This is all that is going on in the U.S. these days, Damyanti, so I can believe it’s happening with your book. For some reason, people started hiding what they really think and are saying the quiet part out loud — and it’s terrible. It’s only a fraction of society, but it’s enough to make the rest of us be on pins and needles a lot, not to mention the fact that gun violence is so on the rise soooo, I guess the moral of the story is, at least it’s only a comment on Amazon and they aren’t showing up to your house!

    • Damyanti Biswas says:

      Pam, yes, it’s been terrible. I’d expected some of it, but not the viciousness, extent and intensity. I thank my stars I don’t live in the USA–the idea scares me a little, tbh.

  • Damyanti the very idea that people have treated you or your work this way I find to be unforgivable. There is no reason at all for that kind of behavior. The quality of your work speaks for itself so just ignore people who are so stupid they would do such a thing and if it continues then the police should be informed as its illegal in most countries now for people to do that. Some will protest that they have the right to free speech but not when it is hurtful.

    • Damyanti Biswas says:

      Thanks, Ian. You’ve always been such a kind friend. Sadly, I lack the bandwidth to do any reporting, so I’m trying my best to ignore it and move on.

  • DutchIl says:

    Thank you for sharing!.. unfortunately technology has given a voice to a element of today’s world societies that use it to go to different sites to be disruptive and hope to get a response so they can continue to rant and rave.. the best thing to do is ignore them as you are better than they will ever be!.. 🙂

    Like your books, hope life is all that you wish for it to be and until we meet again..
    May your day be touched
    by a bit of Irish luck,
    Brightened by a song
    in your heart,
    And warmed by the smiles
    of people you love.
    (Irish Saying)

    • Damyanti Biswas says:

      Thanks Larry, yes, I’ve done my best to move on and focus on the positive instead.

  • As a Jew, I had antisemitic slurs slung at me when I lived in the US. As a reader, I read what interests me, and the race/religion/gender of the author and/or subject matter doesn’t stop me from reading those books.

    • Damyanti Biswas says:

      So sorry you had to face those slurs. I read books based on the blurb at the back most times, or recommendations from trusted friends–I do find I read more books by women authors these days, and more marginalized authors. The entire idea is to broaden my horizons.

  • Congrats on your huge success, Damyanti. And I’m so sorry you have to deal with racist comments. Some people are just small-minded, miserable, and mean-spirited. Your cultural references, settings, and names add wonderful richness to your book. It’s one of its strengths!

    • Damyanti Biswas says:

      Thank you, Diana. I appreciate the kind words. I wish more rational, open-minded people spoke up in order to drown out the hateful voices.

      • I don’t understand why people are so mean. Who would want to live like that? Always feeling angry and victimized and blaming others. Ugh. It sounds awful.

  • ‘Racism’ seems to be the insult-du-jour here in America, used so often and without context as to be meaningless. If the comments are from America, ignore them!

    • Damyanti Biswas says:

      The book was published in the US, and that’s the target audience, so I can hardly ignore them. I’ve learned to cope better with them, and hope that the sane voices prevail when my second book comes out.

  • The Blue Bar was fantastic, I really loved the characters and the tension. Good twists too. Have put a review on Amazon. Re racist comments I am appalled that this is so much worse now because of social media but also ‘hate’ news and attitudes.

    • Damyanti Biswas says:

      Thank you so much for reading, and the review on Amazon. Truly appreciate that.

      Thank you also for the kind words. The racists are a small but vocal majority, and sadly their voices get hurt and affect book sales.