Reading List: March 2017
I have gotten a number of questions about the monthly reading list which I started this January. I think the most laughable is that many people assume that I am this bionic reading machine, and wonder where I find the time to read all these books. So I have to set the record straight and first say, the term ‘reading list’ may be somewhat misleading. I. Am. Not. a bionic reading machine. The reading list is a way to celebrate books being released in the month they are featured. They are books that I would like to read but I do not necessarily aspire to read them all during the month. I am still plodding through the books from January! I would consider it a major achievement if, by the end of the year, I have been able to read at least one book each month of the reading list.
The other question that has come up is whether I will only read books released in 2017. The answer is a resounding no. My pile of books to read is so high (and includes a few books that I am planning to re-read). I have been told that the reason the pile keeps growing is because of my insatiable appetite for reading. I just keep adding to it. *insert guilty look* The thing is, I am an unapologetic bibliophile who may never get to all of the books featured on the monthly reading list but the possibility keeps me excited. So, no, I am not restricting myself to reading only books released this year, that being said, the monthly reading list is not absolute. Over time, I know I will discover new books which were released in previous months, which were not featured on the monthly reading list but which I must certainly would want to add to my larger reading list. Again, the pile just keeps growing higher.
This month we have a very eclectic mix and as always, I wish I had the time to read all of them. From Nigeria, we have the story of a woman who is struggling to conceive a child amid the antagonistic demands of her in-laws. From China, a mother-daughter story centered around tea. From the U.S. a father-daughter story focusing on the relevance of scars. The migrant working community in the United Arab Emirates is the subject of the award-winning book on the list, while one of my favorite authors brings us a tale about love in a time of war and instability. From Britain, we have a story about betrayal in a marriage. Then, taking us from Colombia to New York over a twenty-year time period is a dark tale about kidnapping and survival. One of America’s best-loved short storytellers, finally publishes a collection of her work. And we have a collection of fierce and funny essays about what life is like as the daughter of Indian immigrants in Canada.
The Lucky Ones by Julianne Pachico. A prismatic tale of a group of characters who emerge and recede throughout the novel and touch one another’s lives in ways even they cannot comprehend. While her parents are away a teenager finds herself home alone, with the household staff mysteriously gone, no phone connection, and the news of an insurgency on the radio – and she hears a knock on the door. Her teacher, who has been kidnapped by guerrillas, recites Shakespeare in the jungle to a class of sticks, leaves, and stones while his captors watch his every move. Another classmate, who has fled Colombia for the clubs of New York, is unable to forget the life she has left behind without the helps of the bags of powder she carries with her. Taking place over two decades, The Lucky Ones presents us with a world in which perpetrators are indistinguishable from saviors, the truth is elusive, and loved ones can disappear without a trace.
Temporary People by Deepak Unnkrishnan. More than 80 percent of the population in the United Arab Emirates, is comprised of foreign nationals. Most of them were brought in to construct the towering monuments to wealth that punctuate the skyline of Abu Dhabi and Dubai. It is a labor force that works without the rights of citizenship, forced to endure miserable living conditions and is eventually forced to leave the country. In his debut novel which won the 2016 Restless Books Prize for New Immigrant Writing, Mr. Unnkrishnan, examines the histories, myths, struggles and triumphs of this immigrant population. By highlighting the disturbing ways in which “progress” on a global scale is bound up by dehumanization, he gives substance and identity to the anonymous workers of the Gulf.
Lover by Anna Raverat. British writer Anna Raverat, introduces herself to the U.S. reading audience with this observation of love, work, and life as seen through the lens of a troubled marriage. Kate – a wife and mother of two children, is also a senior executive at a multinational hotel company. She has made it her life’s work to care for others and she is good at it. But all starts to fall apart on the day she opens her husband’s computer to find a series of email exchanges with an unknown woman. After ten years of marriage, Kate is compelled to take a closer look at how well she knows her husband. Told with irresistible wit, intellectually rich, captivating and poignant, Lover is the powerful story of a woman making her way in the world.
Exit West by Mohsin Hamid. Readers of the blog already know that I scored an advance copy of this at last month’s AWP Conference in Washington DC. You also know that this has been on my list of most-anticipated novels of 2017, ever since I read an excerpt of it in the New Yorker Magazine: Of Windows and Doors. In a country teetering on the brink of civil war, two young people meet and fall in love. Nadia is fiercely independent and sensual while Saeed is gentle and restrained. They start a clandestine love affair as unrest rolls into their city. When the political situation worsens, turning familiar streets into a patchwork of checkpoints and bomb blasts, the pair begin to hear whispers about doors – doors that can whisk people far away, if perilously and for a price. Nadia and Saeed decide they have no choice but to escape the violence that has taken over their lives. Leaving their homeland, and their old lives behind, they find a door and step through. Exit West follows these characters as they emerge into an alien and uncertain future, struggling to hold on to each other, to their past, to the very sense of who they are.
Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo. The U.S release of this book is not until August but I still managed to sneak it into the March reading list because August is just too far away to announce the release of this brilliantly written book by my fellow Nigerian. Yejide is hoping for a miracle, for a child. It is all her husband wants, all her mother-in-law wants, and she has tried everything – arduous pilgrimage, medical consultants, dances with prophets, appeals to God. But her in-laws insist upon a new wife, it is too much for Yejide to bear. It will lead to jealousy, betrayal and despair. Unraveling against the social and political turbulence of Nigeria in the 1980s, Stay With Me sings with the voices, colors, joys and fears of its surroundings.
Wait Till You See Me Dance by Deb Olin Unferth. A short story collection by one of the most revered short story writers of our generation. Ms. Unferth’s stories have appeared in Granta, Harper’s Magazine, NOON and The Paris Review. Her stories lure you in with a voice that at first seems amiable and lighthearted, but it swerves in sudden and surprising ways that reveal, in terrifying clarity, the rage, despair, and profound mournfulness that have taken up residence at the heart of the American dream.
The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See. A powerful story about a family, separated by circumstances, culture and distance, this searing tale paints an unforgettable portrait of a little known region and its people and celebrates the bond that connects mothers and daughters. Li-yan and her family align their lives around the seasons and farming of tea. There is ritual and routine, and it has been ever thus for generations. Then one day a jeep arrives at the village gate – the first automobile any of them have seen – and a stranger arrives. In this remote Yunnan village, the stranger finds the rare tea he has been seeking and the reticent Akha people. Li-yan is one of the few educated girls on the mountain, and translates for the stranger. When she has a baby outside wedlock, rather than stand by tradition, she wraps her daughter in a blanket, with a tea cake hidden in her swaddling, and abandons her in the nearest city. After mother and daughter have gone their separate ways, Li-yan slowly emerges from the security and insularity of her village to encounter modern life while Haley grows up a privileged and well-loved California girl. Despite Haley’s happy home life, she wonders about her origins; and Li-yan longs for her lost daughter. They both search for and find answers in the tea that has shaped their family’s destiny for generations.
The Twelve Lives of Simon Hawley by Hannah Tinti. After years spent living on the run, Samuel Hawley moves with his teenage daughter, Loo, to his late wife’s hometown of Olympus, Massachusetts. He finds work as a fisherman while Loo struggles to fit in at school and grows curious about her mother’s mysterious death. Haunting them both are twelve scars Hawley carries on his body, from twelve bullets in his criminal past that eventually spills over into his daughter’s present, until together, they must face a reckoning yet to come. This father-daughter epic weaves back and forth through time across America, from Alaska to the Adirondacks. Both a coming-of-age novel and a literary thriller, The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley explores what it means to be a hero, and the cost we must pay to protect the people we love most.
One Day We’ll All be Dead and None Of This Will Matter by Scaachi Koul. In this collection of essays, which explores the absurdity of a life steeped in misery, we see the emergence of a brilliant new literary voice. Comprising of personal stories of her mortifying experiences as an outsider growing up in Canada, Ms. Koul deploys her razor-sharp humor to illustrate observations about life as a woman of color, where every aspect of her appearance is open for critique, derision or outright scorn. Strict gender rules in both Western and Indian cultures, force her to confront questions about gender dynamics, racial tensions, ethnic stereotypes, and her father’s creeping mortality.