Brown Baby is a memoir by Nikesh Shukla, the bestselling author of multiple novels and essay collections. In Brown Baby, Shukla explores themes of parenting, race and gender constructs. Simultaneously heart-wrenching and hilariously funny, this memoir is dedicated to Shukla’s two daughters and serves as an act of remembrance to the grandmother they never had the chance to meet. Through love, grief, and the healing power of food, Shukla shows how it’s possible to envision hope.
Brown Baby is a deeply intimate and personal memoir. It is admirable to see how honest Shukla is throughout the novel, especially regarding his relationship with food and grief. Shukla is not afraid to show his vulnerability and admits to the extent of his suffering after the death of his mother. One especially strong memory Shukla has of his mother is her cooking and the way her cooking demonstrated her love and care for her family. Consequently, Shukla embarks on his own journey in the novel as he seeks to learn how to cook the food his mother would make him as a boy. What was particularly brave here was Shukla’s exploration of his relationship with food. Shukla explains how his relationship with food has become unhealthy as a result of his grief. He goes on to explore how food became a means to fill the hole his mother left behind in his heart. Shukla’s admittance of this felt powerful and integral to his journey of healing.
Furthermore, the notion of the novel being a love letter to Shukla’s brown babies is incredibly beautiful and heartfelt. Throughout the entirety of the novel, you can feel the love and raw emotion he feels for his daughters radiating through the pages. It was particularly great to see how within this letter to his daughters, Shukla makes sure to explore the feminism and racism that both of his daughters will inevitably face in their lives. Here Shukla delves into how it feels to bring up mixed-race children in today’s society and how his children will only ever be seen as brown. We see the toll this has already taken on his daughter when she initially rejects a doll she is gifted with brown skin, proclaiming she wants to be white like her mother because brown skin is ‘dirty’. Acknowledging his daughter’s internalisation of racism, he encourages his daughter to love and embrace her skin. On a similar note, Shukla explores how gender constructs have already impacted his daughters. Here he talks of his struggle to give his daughter space amidst relatives wanting hugs and kisses. Shukla goes on to link this to the way society believes they are entitled to the female body. Most importantly, though, Shukla takes this opportunity to remind his daughters of their agency and ownership of their bodies and minds.
Overall, Brown Baby is a beautiful novel filled with tenderness and a father’s passion to teach his daughters hope.