Reading List: July 2017
There is a bit of a gender imbalance in this month’s reading list. All but one of the books featured are written by women. And while, I fight the urge to scream #GirlPower, I have to say that I am really intrigued by the plots of all seven books and once again, as in the past seven months, I find myself wishing that I could just read them all. The books share a common theme of the complexity of familial bonds – families that we are born into and those we come to be a part of through the strength of friendships and unconditional love. We also have debuts roaring into the literary scene in the form of the fresh and powerful voices featured on the list. South Africa, Uganda, Egypt, the United States, Ecuador, and Cuba (a short story collection at that) are the countries we will journey to through the wonderful world of fiction.
What We Lose by Zinzi Clemmons. Vogue has called this ‘the debut novel of the year‘ and the author has been heralded as one of the new young voices in fiction to look out for. The story centers on a young lady called Thandi, who is being raised in Pennsylvania and views the world of her mother’s childhood in Johannesburg as both impossibly distant and ever present. She is an outsider wherever she goes, caught between being black and white, American or not. She tries to connect these dislocated pieces of her life, and as her mother succumbs to cancer, Thandi searches for an anchor – someone, or something, to love.
Refuge by Dina Nayeri. An Iranian girl escapes to America, but her father stays behind. Over twenty years, as she transforms from confused immigrant to overachieving Westerner to sophisticated European transplant, daughter and father know each other only from visits: four crucial visits over two decades, each in a different international city. The longer they are apart, the more their lives diverge, but also the more each comes to need the other’s wisdom, and ultimately, rescue. Refuge charts a deeply moving lifetime relationship between a father and a daughter, seen through the prism of global immigration.
The Architecture of Loss by Z.P. Dala. Estranged at the age of six from her mother, who sent her away from her hometown in Brighton in rural Zululand, brilliant architect Afroze Bhana has carved out an impressive life for herself in Cape Town. But when she receives word that her aging mother is desperately ill, she finds herself compelled to return to the place of of her birth to find answers about her painful childhood. Afroze arrives in Brighton to find that her mother, Sylvie – who was a doctor and a fierce activist during the dark days of the anti-apartheid struggle – is a shadow of her formidable self, but Sylvie has still retained her sarcasm and anger toward the daughter she sent away. Somehow, Sylvie cannot draw her daughter close, even facing the looming threat of her own mortality. A moving novel about the complexities of family ties, The Architecture of Loss, beautifully explores the way the anti-apartheid struggle irrevocably damaged many of its unsung heroes.
Live from Cairo by Ian Bassingthwaighte. President Mubarak has been ousted from power. The oldest city in the world is reeling from political revolution, its consequent hopes and fears, its violence, triumphs and defeats. But for the people actually living there, daily life has not slowed down but it has become wilder, more dangerous, and, occasionally, freeing. Dalia is a strong-willed Iraqi refugee who finds herself trapped in Egypt after her petition to resettle with her husband in America is denied. Charlie is her foolhardy attorney, whose frustration with the legal bureaucracy and complicated feelings for Dalia have led him to forge a not entirely legal plan to get her out. Aos, Charlie’s fastidious translator and only friend, spends his days trying to help people through the system and his nights in Tahrir Square protesting against it. Hana is a young and disenchanted Iraqi-American resettlement officer, assigned to Dalia’s case, deciding whether to treat her plight as merely one more piece of paperwork, or as a full-blooded human crisis. These individuals come together and a plot is formed to help Dalia. Laws are broken, friendships and marriages are tested, and lives are risked. Live from Cairo is a vibrant portrait of a city teeming with chaos and glory and a stunning testament to the unconquerable desire of people to rise above tragedy to seek love, friendship, humor, and joy. We celebrate the arrival of fresh new literary voices this month with debut novels, including one that has been cited as this year’s most promising debut.
The Atlas of Forgotten Places by Jenny D. Williams. After a long career as an aid worker, Sabine Hardt has retreated to her native Germany for a quieter life. But when her American niece Lily, disappears while volunteering in Uganda, Sabine must return to places and memories she once thought buried in order to find her. In Uganda, Rose Akulu – haunted by a troubled past with the Lord’s Resistance Army – becomes distressed when her lover Ocen vanishes without a trace. Side by side, Sabine and Rose must unravel the tangled threads that tie Lily and Ocen’s lives together – ultimately discovering the truth of their loved ones’ disappearance is inescapably entwined to the secrets the two women carry. The Atlas of Forgotten Places delves deep into the heart of compassion and redemption through a journey that spans geographies and generations to lay bare the stories that connect us all.
The Sisters of Alameda Street by Lorena Hughes. When Malvena Sevilla’s tidy, carefully planned world collapses following her father’s mysterious suicide, she finds a letter signed with an “A” – which reveals that her mother is very much alive and living in San Isidro, a quaint town tucked in the Andes Mountains. Intent on meeting her, Malena arrives at Alameda Street and meets four sisters who couldn’t be more different from one another, but who share one thing in common: all of their names begin with an A. To avoid a scandal Malena assumes another woman’s identity and enters their home to discover the truth. Could her mother be Amanda, the iconoclastic widow who opens the first tango nightclub in a conservative town? Ana, the ideal housewife with a less-than-ideal past? Abigail, the sickly sister in love with a forbidden man? Or Alejandra, the artistic introvert scarred by her cousin’s murder? Set in Ecuador in the 1960s,with a plot reminiscent of Shirley Conran’s Lace, The Sisters of Alameda Street is a sweeping tale of how one woman’s search for the truth of her identity forces a family to confront their own past.
The Tower of the Antilles by Achy Obeajas. In this energetic short story collection, the author uses language that is both generous and sensual, to illustrate the lives of her characters who move through a rhythm beyond their control as history and fate intrudes on their existence. In “Supermán”, several possibly story lines emerge about a 1950s Havana sex-show superstar who disappeared as soon as the revolution triumphed. “North/South” portrays a migrant family trying to cope with separation, lives on different hemispheres, and the eventual disintegration of blood ties. “The Cola of Oblivion” follows the path of a young woman who returns to Cuba, and who inadvertently uncorks a history of accommodation and betrayal among family members who stayed behind during the revolution. In the title story, “The Tower of Antilles” an interrogation reveals a series of fantasies about escape and a history of futility.