The best books about mixed relationships

Who am I?

I married Indian born Atam Vetta when mixed relationships were rare and viewed with hostility not just in the UK. In 1966, they were illegal in South Africa and in most Southern States of the USA (until Loving v Virginia). In India they are not illegal but many upper-caste Indians do not approve of marriage outside of caste. In the UK attitudes have revolutionised. Mixed relationships are no longer rare and it is predicted that by 2075 the majority of the population will be of mixed ancestry. There are mixed relationships in all three of my novels. My aim was to explore what we have in common whilst being honest about the challenges. The ultimate prize is an enhanced understanding and the creativity that comes with crossing cultures.


I wrote...

Sculpting the Elephant

By Sylvia Vetta,

Book cover of Sculpting the Elephant

What is my book about?

I felt the urge to write a novel that could appeal to the children of marriages which, like mine and Atam’s cross boundaries. Sculpting the Elephant is about an Oxford artist called Harry and an Indian historian called Ramma. No one chooses to fall in love with someone from a different country, a different colour, religion, or caste but when it happens how do you cope with the consequences?

I hate stereotypes. The aim of my books and my lived experience is to get people to see each other as individuals – crossing invisible barriers. My Indian-born husband Atam Vetta’s PhD was in quantitative genetics. I learned from him that each of us is unique. Sadly the world is not organised to cope with that scientific truth.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Colour Bar: Movie Tie-In: A United Kingdom

Sylvia Vetta Why did I love this book?

London 1945: the heir to the largest tribe of Bechuanaland (Botswana) arrives in Britain. Seretse Khama, an urbane 24-year-old was welcomed into the elite world of Oxford. But when he fell in love with Englishwoman Ruth Williams, the full force of colonial power was brought to bear to prevent their marriage. 

It has personal resonance for me because when I met Atam, in 1964, Smethwick was in the grip of a racist campaign. Atam and I volunteered to help the sitting Labour MP, Patrick Gordon Walker combat the Conservative Peter Griffiths’ campaign. The slogan was, ‘If you want a nigger for a neighbour vote Labour’. Atam was welcomed because he spoke Punjabi, Hindi, and Urdu and we accompanied Patrick Gordon Walker canvassing. When I watched A United Kingdom, the film about Seretse Khama and Ruth Williams, I knew that they had portrayed it well when the government representatives treat him with some respect but ignore Ruth. It was on Patrick Gordon Walker’s watch as Colonial Secretary that Seretse Khama was exiled from his country. He was not the right man to fight a racist campaign and he lost. This 4 minute video I made for the launch of STE gives the background.

By Susan Williams,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Colour Bar as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The true story of a love which defied family, Apartheid, and empire - the inspiration for the major new feature film A United Kingdom, starring David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike

London, 1947. He was the heir to an African kingdom. She was a white English insurance clerk. When they met and fell in love, it would change the world.

This is the inspiring true story of Seretse Khama and Ruth Williams, whose marriage sent shockwaves through the establishment, defied an empire - and, finally, triumphed over the prejudices of their age.

'Reading the book, I realised that I had never…


Book cover of Small Island

Sylvia Vetta Why did I love this book?

Possibly the definitive fictional account of the experiences of the Empire Windrush generation but it was the mixed relationship that resonated with me. The perspective of white women who marry men of colour is rarely told. Queenie Buxton is a white British woman who rents lodgings to Gilbert and Hortense when they arrive in England from Jamaica. Queenie is pregnant with a baby whose father, Michael Roberts was in the RAF. The UK is justly proud of its role in defeating fascism in WW2. The only problem is that the narrative is often white-washed. The more than 2 million Indians who fought in WW2 are usually ignored. Men and women from the Caribbean responded with a desire to help the ‘mother country.  Michael Roberts - this fictional black character is a good example.

By Andrea Levy,

Why should I read it?

8 authors picked Small Island as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Hortense shared Gilbert's dream of leaving Jamaica and coming to England to start a better life. But when she at last joins her husband, she is shocked by London's shabbiness and horrified at the way the English live. Even Gilbert is not the man she thought he was. Queenie's neighbours do not approve of her choice of tenants, and neither would her husband, were he there. Through the stories of these people, Small Island explores a point in England's past when the country began to change.


Book cover of The Lies That Bind: Rethinking Identity

Sylvia Vetta Why did I love this book?

Kwame’s paternal grandfather was an Ashanti chief and his maternal grandfather was a British Chancellor of the Exchequer – who better to explore the issues of identity? This book is an antidote to nativism.

My novel Brushstrokes in Time was criticised on a South East Asian Facebook group for ‘cultural appropriation’ - not because it is not authentic - it is based on eyewitness accounts of the Stars artists themselves interviewed over three years. The problem for them was nothing to do with the style, content, or quality of the novel but only the identity of the author as ‘not Chinese.’ Kwame says, ‘All cultural practices and objects are mobile’ and ‘ownership is the wrong model.’ Ideas have always spread from East to West and West to East and our cultures are richer for it. Mixed relationships are not only about colour but also about creed, country, clan, and class. If you are of mixed ancestry why should you have to choose one or another of your parent's and grandparent's identities? Shouldn’t we draw on all of them to create our own?

By Kwame Anthony Appiah,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Lies That Bind as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Who do you think you are? That's a question bound up in another: What do you think you are? Gender. Religion. Race. Nationality. Class. Culture. Such affiliations give contours to our sense of self, and shape our polarized world. Yet the collective identities they spawn are riddled with contradictions, and cratered with falsehoods.

Kwame Anthony Appiah's The Lies That Bind is an incandescent exploration of the nature and history of the identities that define us. It challenges our assumptions about how identities work. We all know there are conflicts between identities, but Appiah shows how identities are created by conflict.…


Book cover of The True Story of Pocahontas: The Other Side of History

Sylvia Vetta Why did I love this book?

Mixed relationships are not new: think Antony and Cleopatra. The most famous and possibly the earliest in US history are of Pocahontas and John Smith. If you want a romantic Disney-type version of the story, this book is not for you.

Where I live you will find the world’s first public museum, the Ashmolean. Most of the original collection was assembled during the 17th century by the John Tradescants, father and son. They collected objects from Asia, Africa, and the Americas. The most significant American object is Powhatan’s Mantle. Powhatan was Pocahontas’s father. It is a reminder of how much the white settlers owed their survival to the local people.

Dr. Linwood "Little Bear" Custalow and Angela L. Daniel "Silver Star" claim that they are revealing for the first time the oral history of the Mattaponi tribe regarding the story of Pocahontas and John Smith. This probably is the most authentic of stories about them but is a disturbing read.

By Linwood Custalow, Angela L. Daniel,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The True Story of Pocahontas as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The True Story of Pocahontas is the first public publication of the Powhatan perspective that has been maintained and passed down from generation to generation within the Mattaponi Tribe, and the first written history of Pocahontas by her own people.


Book cover of William Shakespeare: The Complete Works

Sylvia Vetta Why did I love this book?

Shakespeare’s tragedies resonate in most cultures because they address the human condition. That is why Romeo and Juliet have spawned West Side Story, many films, and Russian ballets. I personally organised the Joe and Zara workshop with a mixed group of teenagers working on a modern take on the story. The young people in this ten-minute video from the workshop are impressive. 

Othello too is tragic. Othello describes how Desdemona would come again ‘greedy –to hear tales of adventure sorrow and suffering. ‘She loved me for the dangers I had passed and I loved her that she did pity them.’ I relate to that.

By William Shakespeare,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked William Shakespeare as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The second Oxford edition of Shakespeare's Complete Works reconsiders every detail of their text and presentation in the light of modern scholarship. The nature and authority of the early documents are re-examined, and the canon and chronological order of composition freshly established. Spelling and punctuation are modernized, and there is a brief introduction to each work, as well as an illuminating and informative General Introduction. Included here for the first
time is the play The Reign of King Edward the Third as well as the full text of Sir Thomas More. This new edition also features an essay on Shakespeare's…


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Brother. Do. You. Love. Me.

By Manni Coe, Reuben Coe (illustrator),

Book cover of Brother. Do. You. Love. Me.

Manni Coe Author Of Brother. Do. You. Love. Me.

New book alert!

Who am I?

As a gay man born into an evangelical Christian family, my coming out story was wrought with pain, trauma, and separation from family and loved ones. In the same year I lost my best friend in an accident. My world tumbled and I had to crawl back to a place of reckoning. Walking became my path to healing. So when my brother Reuben, who has Down's syndrome sent me a message from the isolation of a care home in the pandemic, I knew he was in trouble. Those five words - ´brother. do. you. love. me.´changed our lives. I thought I might know a way to save him.

Manni's book list on memoirs that capture the struggle of everyday life

What is my book about?

Brother. Do. You. Love. Me. is a true story of brotherly love overcoming all. Reuben, who has Down's syndrome, was trapped in a care home during the pandemic, spiralling deeper into a non-verbal depression. From isolation and in desperation, he sent his older brother Manni a text, "brother. do. you. love. me."

This cry for help, this SOS in the sand unleashed a brotherly love that had Manni travelling back to the UK mid-pandemic to rescue his brother from the care home, and together they sheltered from the world in a cottage in deepest, darkest Dorset. There began a journey of recovery and rediscovery. Little by little, the brothers had to piece back together Reuben's world, help him to find his voice and find ways for him to trust the world again. This is a book about care, about Down's syndrome, about love. It is a story of resilience and patience in a world that Reuben thought had abandoned him.

Brother. Do. You. Love. Me.

By Manni Coe, Reuben Coe (illustrator),

What is this book about?


The story of two brothers, one with Down syndrome, and their extraordinary journey of resilience and repair.

"Profoundly moving and hugely uplifting."—Mark Haddon, author of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

Reuben, aged 38, was living in a home for adults with learning disabilities. He hadn’t established an independent life in the care system and was still struggling to accept that he had Down syndrome. Depressed and in a fog of antidepressants, he hadn’t spoken for over a year. The only way he expressed himself was by writing poems or drawing felt-tip scenes from his favorite musicals…


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