Small Deaths

A Death in Shonagachhi

Publication: 2021

Author: Rijula Das

In the red-light district of Shonagachhi, Lalee dreams of trading a life of penury and violence for one of relative luxury as a better-paid ‘escort’. Her long-standing client, Trilokeshwar ‘Tilu’ Shau is an erotic novelist hopelessly in love with her.

When a young girl who lives next door to Lalee gets brutally murdered, a spiral of deceit and crime begins to disturb the fragile stability of this underworld’s existence. One day, without notice, Lalee’s employer and landlady, the formidable Shefali Madam, decrees that she must now service wealthier clients at plush venues outside the familiar walls of the brothel. But the new job is fraught with unknown hazards and drives Lalee into a nefarious web of prostitution, pimps, sex rings, cults and unimaginable secrets that endanger her life and that of numerous women like her. As the local Sex Workers’ Collective’s protests against government and police inaction and calls for justice for the deceased girl gain fervour, Tilu Shau must embark on a life-altering misadventure to ensure Lalee does not meet a similarly savage fate.

Set in Calcutta’s most fabled neighbourhood, A Death in Shonagachhi is a literary noir as absorbing as it is heart-wrenching, holding within it an unforgettable story of our society’s outcasts and marking the arrival of a riveting new writer.

Request more information


Original Language

ENGLISH (Indian subcontinent) | Picador India
ENGLISH | Amazon Crossing

Translation Rights

FRENCH | Seuil

Film Rights

Screen rights sold to Drishyam Films.



"An intensely gripping tale of a crime that is, at the same time, a story that is luminous with redeeming touches of love and hope, and a final sense of justice." Judges of the 2021 Tata Literature Live! Awards

"Rijula Das has evaded the prevalent tropes of writing. It is very difficult to pin down the genre she is writing in – is it a love story for instance, is it a murder mystery, is it a novel about social justice? The book gives light to the popular and wrong notion that literature needs to necessarily be heavy. It manages to achieve everything that good literature does while at the same time being entertaining. It is full of beautiful humorous touches and outstanding at zooming into details." Judges of The JCB Prize 2021

"Though Rijula Das’ A Death in Shonagachhi has won the First Book Award at Tata Literature Live!, no number of accolades seem enough for this gem of a novel." India Today

"A pointillist story about a sex worker’s life, A Death in Shonagachhi is a skilled debut." The Hindu

"The women of Shonagachhi want to claim their rights as workers, unionise, and ensure safety. What does ‘choice’ mean in their context? If they decide to leave, where can they go? If they opt to stay, what are the avenues available for them to improve their own lives or the lives of their children? What are the costs and consequences that accompany these choices? Das examines these questions, gently and gradually, in this memorable novel that deserves to be read especially by people who are wary of picking up books written by first-time authors." Firstpost

“Rijula Das surprises you with everything in this book. The writing, the scenes, the characters, the story. A debut you cannot stop reading.” Arunava Sinha

“Addictive and hilarious. Rijula Das is a writer to watch.” Avni Doshi, author of Burnt Sugar, Shortlisted to The Booker Prize

“It takes a keen insight to portray women like Lalee, Maya, Amina and Sonia in all their profundity and shallowness. Das knows her women well.” Feminism in India

“This debut novel eschews a smart script in favour of the real, messy world”