John Leonard Nominations

Leonard Prize 2020: Each of Us Killers

By Shoba Viswanathan

NBCC members: If you’d like to contribute a review of an eligible book for the 2020 Leonard Prize, write to NBCC board member Megan Labrise at Read the rest of the reviews here.

Each of Us Killers by Jenny Bhatt (7.13 Books)

Bookended by two short stories that call to mind recent news headlines, Jenny Bhatt showcases her ability to reframe what we think we know in her stellar debut collection Each of Us Killers. Harnessing the inherent potential of a short story collection to explore multitudes, Bhatt ranges across the Indian diaspora in the US and UK and delves into the Indian heartland, always reminding us of the complexity of human aspirations. Her remarkably insightful book—without resorting to preachiness or sociological explanations—seamlessly transitions between rural and urban, fear and freedom, individual tragedy and community mourning. 

Bhatt’s deliberate expansion of established tropes about Indians and the Indian diaspora deserves special accolades. Her characters and context seem familiar, but she pushes boundaries to ensure readers don’t just get one-dimensional representations of the Indian American engineer, the young Indian bride-to-be, the street-side chef, or the poverty-stricken farmer. The writer’s nod-wink as she encourages us to see beyond the obvious is particularly noticeable in a story like “Mango Season.” Yes, India has mangoes and saris, slums and Bollywood, but the protagonist Rafi and his dreams at the heart of it make it about lived reality.

Every character, every point of view, and every locale in Each of Us Killers is a reminder of the heterogeneity of human experience and of how a talented writer can use style and substance to capture this without settling for stereotypes. That’s why it was named one of the most anticipated debuts of 2020—featured in Electric Literature, The Millions, and Ms. magazine, to name a few—and one of the best short story collections of the year (Bustle). For her nuanced characterization and attention to craft, Bhatt also won appreciative reviews from Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Reviews, and Shelf Awareness.