Books to Look Out for: April – June 2022
The Return of Faraz Ali by Aamina Ahmed. Sent back to his birthplace–Lahore’s notorious red-light district–to hush up the murder of a girl, a man finds himself in an unexpected reckoning with his past.
Not since childhood has Faraz returned to the Mohalla, in Lahore’s walled inner city, where women continue to pass down the art of courtesan from mother to daughter. But he still remembers the day he was abducted from the home he shared with his mother and sister there, at the direction of his powerful father, who wanted to give him a chance at a respectable life. Now Wajid, once more dictating his fate from afar, has sent Faraz back to Lahore, installing him as head of the Mohalla police station and charging him with a mission: to cover up the violent death of a young girl.
It should be a simple assignment to carry out in a marginalized community, but for the first time in his career, Faraz finds himself unable to follow orders. As the city assails him with a jumble of memories, he cannot stop asking questions or winding through the walled city’s labyrinthine alleyways chasing the secrets–his family’s and his own–that risk shattering his precariously constructed existence.
Profoundly intimate and propulsive, The Return of Faraz Ali is a spellbindingly assured first novel that poses a timeless question: Whom do we choose to protect, and at what price?
Take My Hand By Dolen Perkins- Valdez. Montgomery, Alabama 1973. Fresh out of nursing school, Civil Townsend has big plans to make a difference, especially in her African American community. At the Montgomery Family Planning Clinic, she intends to help women make their own choices for their lives and bodies.
But when her first week on the job takes her down a dusty country road to a worn down one-room cabin, she’s shocked to learn that her new patients are children—just 11 and 13 years old. Neither of the Williams sisters has even kissed a boy, but they are poor and Black and for those handling the family’s welfare benefits that’s reason enough to have the girls on birth control. As Civil grapples with her role, she takes India, Erica and their family into her heart. Until one day, she arrives at the door to learn the unthinkable has happened and nothing will ever be the same for any of them.
Decades later, with her daughter grown and a long career in her wake, Dr. Civil Townsend is ready to retire, to find her peace and to leave the past behind. But there are people and stories that refuse to be forgotten. That must not be forgotten.
Because history repeats what we don’t remember.
The Body Family by Hope Wabuke. This visceral and revelatory poetry collection tells the story of a family’s journey to flee the murderous reign of Uganda’s Idi Amin only to land in a racist American landscape. Wabuke digs deeply into a personal and ancestral history to bring these poems to life, articulating what it means to live in a Black female body navigating a diaspora haunted by British colonization and American enslavement.
Patience is a Subtle Thief by Abi Ishola-Ayodeji. For as long as she can remember, Patience Adewale, the eldest daughter of Chief Kolade Adewale, has been waiting for confirmation that she is loved, that there is a place where she truly belongs. She lives a sheltered life within the secure walls of the family’s mansion in Ibadan, but finds no comfort from her distant father and stepmother Modupe. Her only ally is her younger sister, yet even Margaret’s love and support cannot overcome Patience’s insecurity and uncertainty. More than anything, Patience wants to know why her father and uncle banished her mother from their compound years ago–and whether her mother is even alive. Determined to discover the truth, Patience embarks on a desperate search to find her mother. Answers begin to surface when she moves to Lagos for university and unexpectedly reconnects with her cousin Kash.
Kash and his friend Emeka are petty thieves with an opportunity to make a big score. To pull it off they need help–and enlist Patience and Emeka’s straight-arrow brother, Chike, to become partners in their scheme. The thieves’ plan is to quit after this job. But unforeseen events lead to unexpected consequences–and demand a price from Patience that may be too steep to pay.
Suspenseful and evoking the subtleties of Nigerian life in a fresh and unexpected way, Patience Is a Subtle Thief is a heart-wrenching story of one young woman’s precarious journey to adulthood, and the risks and sacrifices it takes to follow her heart.
Love Marriage by Monica Ali. Yasmin Ghorami is twenty-six years old, in training to be a doctor (like her Indian-born father), and engaged to the charismatic, upper-class Joe Sangster, whose formidable mother, Harriet, is a famous feminist. The gulf between families is vast. So, too, is the gulf in sexual experience between Yasmin and Joe.
As the wedding day draws near, misunderstandings, infidelities, and long-held secrets upend both Yasmin’s relationship and that of her parents, a “love marriage,” according to the family lore that Yasmin has believed all her life.
The Other Mother by Rachel M. Harper. Raised by a single mother in Miami, Florida, Jenry Castillo, newly arrived at Brown University on a music scholarship, finds himself searching for information about his late father Jasper Patterson, an internationally recognized principal ballet dancer who died tragically when Jenry was two. Jenry thinks his estranged grandfather, Winston Patterson, a professor of African American history at Brown and a titan in his field, might have the answers he seeks. Already more than a little intimidating, Winston explodes Jenry’s world with one question: Why is the young man so interested in his son Jasper? It was Winston’s daughter, Juliet, who was his mother’s lover. Juliet is the parent he should be looking for—his other mother.
Seamlessly moving between the past and the present to piece together the complicated web that has both bound this family together and kept them apart, The Other Mother is a profoundly moving and masterful exploration of the power of love and family; of the intersections of race, class, providence, and sexuality; the role of patriarchy in defining who belongs to whom; and of the relevance of biology in determining familial bonds and what it means to be related.
Unfurling in the most surprising and satisfying of ways, revelation follows revelation as each member of Jenry’s family peels back layers of a story that is at once deeply familiar—of first love, betrayal, and the selfishness of youth, of the beautiful, complicated love between parents and children—and also compelling in its centering of queer lives and people of color.
A Down Home Meal for These Difficult Times by Meron Hadero. Set across the U.S. and abroad, Meron Hadero’s stories feature immigrants, refugees, and those on the brink of dispossession, all struggling to begin again, all fighting to belong. Moving through diverse geographies and styles, this captivating collection follows characters on the journey toward home, which they dream of, create and redefine, lose and find and make their own. Beyond migration, these stories examine themes of race, gender, class, friendship and betrayal, the despair of loss and the enduring resilience of hope.
Kaleidoscopic, powerful, and illuminative, the stories in A Down Home Meal for These Difficult Times expand our understanding of the essential and universal need for connection and the vital refuge of home.
You Made a Fool of Death with Your Beauty by Akwaeke Emezi. Feyi Adekola wants to learn how to be alive again. It’s been five years since the accident that killed the love of her life and she’s almost a new person now—an artist with her own studio, and sharing a brownstone apartment with her ride-or-die best friend, Joy, who insists it’s time for Feyi to ease back into the dating scene. Feyi isn’t ready for anything serious, but a steamy encounter at a rooftop party cascades into a whirlwind summer she could have never imagined: a luxury trip to a tropical island, decadent meals in the glamorous home of a celebrity chef, and a major curator who wants to launch her art career.
She’s even started dating the perfect guy, but their new relationship might be sabotaged before it has a chance by the dangerous thrill Feyi feels every time she locks eyes with the one person in the house who is most definitely off-limits. This new life she asked for just got a lot more complicated, and Feyi must begin her search for real answers. Who is she ready to become? Can she release her past and honor her grief while still embracing her future? And, of course, there’s the biggest question of all—how far is she willing to go for a second chance at love?
These Impossible Things by Salma El-Wardany. It’s always been Malak, Kees, and Jenna against the world. Since childhood, under the watchful eyes of their parents, aunties and uncles, they’ve learned to live their own lives alongside the expectations of being good Muslim women. Staying over at a boyfriend’s place is disguised as a best friend’s sleepover, and tiredness can be blamed on studying instead of partying. They know they’re existing in a perfect moment. With growing older and the stakes of love and life growing higher, the delicate balancing act between rebellion and religion is becoming increasingly difficult to navigate.
Malak wants the dream: for her partner, community, and faith to coexist happily, and she wants this so much she’s willing to break her own heart to get it. Kees is in love with Harry, a white Catholic man who her parents can never know about. When he proposes, she must decide between her future happiness and the life she knows and family she loves. Jenna is the life of the party, always ready for new pleasures, even though she’s plagued by a loneliness she can’t shake. Through it all, they have always had each other. But as their college years come to a close, one night changes everything when harsh truths are revealed.
As their lives begin to take different paths, Malak, Kees, and Jenna—now on the precipice of true adulthood—must find a way back to each other as they reconcile faith, family, and tradition with their own needs and desires. These Impossible Things is a paean to youth and female friendship—and to all the joy and messiness love holds.
A Trail of Crab Tracks by Patrice Nganang. For the first time, Nithap flies across the world to visit his son, Tanou, in the United States. After countless staticky phone calls and transatlantic silences, he has agreed to leave Bangwa, in western Cameroon: the city where he has always lived, where he became a doctor and, despite himself, a rebel, where he fell in love, and where his children were born. When illness extends his stay, his son finds an opportunity to unravel the history of the mysterious man who raised him, following the trail of crab tracks to discover the truth of his father and his country.
At last, Nithap’s throat clears and his voice rises, and he drifts back in time to tell his son the story that is burned into his memory and into the land he left behind. He speaks about the civil war that tore Cameroon apart, the great men who lived and died, about his soldiers, his martyrs, and his great loves. As the tale unfolds, Tanou listens to his father tell the history of his family, and the prayer of the bloodsoaked land.
From New York to Bamileke country, voices mingle, the borders of time dissolve, and generations merge. A Trail of Crab Tracks is the third part of Patrice Nganang’s magisterial trilogy.
Mother Ocean Father Nation by Nishan Batsa. On a small Pacific island, a brother and sister tune in to a breaking news radio bulletin. It is 1985, and an Indian grocer has just been attacked by nativists aligned with the recent military coup. Now, fear and shock are rippling through the island’s deeply-rooted Indian community as racial tensions rise to the brink.
Bhumi hears this news from her locked-down dorm room in the capital city. She is the ambitious, intellectual standout of the family–the one destined for success. But when her friendship with the daughter of a prominent government official becomes a liability, she must flee her unstable home for California.
Jaipal feels like the unnoticed, unremarkable sibling, always left to fend for himself. He is stuck working in the family store, avoiding their father’s wrath, with nothing but his hidden desires to distract him. Desperate for money and connection, he seizes a sudden opportunity to take his life into his own hands for the first time. But his decision may leave him vulnerable to the island’s escalating volatility.
Spanning from the lush terrain of the South Pacific to the golden hills of San Francisco, Mother Ocean Father Nation is an entrancing debut about how one family, at the mercy of a nation broken by legacies of power and oppression, forges a path to find a home once again.
Honey & Spice by Bolu Babalola. Sharp-tongued (and secretly soft-hearted) Kiki Banjo has just made a huge mistake. An expert in relationship-evasion and the host of the popular student radio show, Brown Sugar, she’s made it her mission to make sure the women of the Afro-Caribbean Society at Whitewell University do not fall into the mess of “situationships”, players, and heartbreak. But when the Queen of the Unbothered kisses Malakai Korede, the guy she just publicly denounced as “The Wastemen of Whitewell” in front of every Blackwellian on campus, she finds her show and her reputation on the brink.
They’re soon embroiled in a fake relationship to try and salvage their reputations and save their futures. Kiki has never surrendered her heart before and a player like Malakai, no matter how charming he is or how incredible their connection is, won’t be the one to change that.
After surprisingly entertaining study sessions and intimate late-night talks at old-fashioned diners force Kiki to look beyond her own presumptions, is she ready to open herself up to something deeper?
A side-splittingly funny and sparkling debut novel, Honey and Spice is full of delicious tension and romantic intrigue that will make you weak at the knees.
Dele Weds Destiny by Tomi Obaro. Funmi, Enitan, and Zainab first meet at university in Nigeria and become friends for life despite their differences. Funmi is beautiful, brash, and determined; Enitan is homely and eager, seeking escape from her single mother’s smothering and needy love; Zainab is elegant and reserved, raised by her father’s first two wives after her mother’s death in childbirth. Their friendship is complicated but enduring, and over the course of the novel, the reader learns about their loves and losses. How Funmi stole Zainab’s boyfriend and became pregnant, only to have an abortion and lose the boyfriend to police violence. How Enitan was seduced by an American Peace Corps volunteer, the only one who ever really saw her, but is culturally so different from him–a Connecticut WASP–that raising their daughter together put them at odds. How Zainab fell in love with her teacher, a friend of her father’s, and ruptured her relationship with her father to have him.
Now, some thirty years later, the three women are reunited for the first time, in Lagos. The occasion: Funmi’s daughter, Destiny, is getting married. Enitan brings her American daughter, Remi. Zainab travels by bus, nervously leaving her ailing husband in the care of their son. Funmi, hosting the weekend with her wealthy husband, wants everything to go perfectly. But as the big day approaches, it becomes clear that something is not right. As the novel builds powerfully, the complexities of the mothers’ friendship–and the private wisdom each has earned–come to bear on a riveting, heartrending moment of decision.
The Scent of Burnt Flowers by Blitz Bazuwale. When the windshield of his Chevy Impala shatters in a dark diner parking lot in Alabama, Melvin moves without thinking. A split-second reaction marrows in his bones from the days of war, but this time it is the safety of his fianc�, Bernadette, at stake. Impulse keeps them alive, and yet they flee with blood on their hands. What is life like now that they are fugitives? Pack passports. Empty bank accounts. Set their old life on fire. The couple disguise themselves as a pastor and a reluctant pastor’s wife who’s hiding a secret from her fianc�. With a persistent FBI agent on their trail, they travel to Ghana to seek the help of Melvin’s old college friend who happens to be the country’s embattled president, Kwame Nkrumah.
The couple’s chance encounter with Ghana’s most beloved highlife musician, Kwesi Kwayson, who’s on his way to perform for the president, sparks a journey full of suspense, lust, magic, and danger as Nkrumah’s regime crumbles around them. What was meant to be a fresh start quickly spirals into chaos, threatening both their relationship and their lives. Kwesi and Bernadette’s undeniable attraction and otherworldly bond cascades during their three-day trek, and so does Melvin’s intense jealousy. All three must confront one another and their secrets, setting off a series of cataclysmic events.
Steeped in the history and mythology of postcolonial West Africa at the intersection of the civil rights movement in America, this gripping and ambitious debut merges political intrigue, magical encounters, and forbidden romance in an epic collision of morality and power.