2023: A Year in Reading
It is that time of the year when I reflect on the books kept me company over the last 12 months. As with previous years, I have tracked my reading on GoodReads and it appears that I have read 61 books in 2023.
The numbers also point to the fact that I continue to be a loyal fiction reader. Sixteen of my most enjoyable reads were fiction pieces and I am still adding a strong dose of nonfiction pieces to my reading life. In doing so, I am listening to more books. One of the four nonfiction books that I enjoyed this year was a book that I listened to. A few months ago, I wrote about I wrote about my book listening adventures and this puts things in context.
Here are the twenty books that I enjoyed reading this year.
The Wind Rises by Timothée de Fombelle. Translated from French by Holly James. Illustrated by Françoise Place. Narrated by Waceke Wambaa. I did a fascinating thing with this one. I read it in English while listening to the audiobook in French and it was quite an adventure. The first installment in a trilogy, the story transports the reader to 1786 where we meet a cast of interesting characters whose lives become entwined in an unforgettable way.
Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal. It is easy to assume that the book’s title gives so much away. However, within the pages of this delightful book, I found a tale about the immigrant experience and a strong validation that there is so much more that unites us in the human experience than we often care to recognize and acknowledge.
Gaslight by Femi Kayode. I discovered Mr. Kayode’s writing last year with his well-written Lightseekers which was one of my favorite reads for 2022. In this latest installment, his intrepid protagonist, Philip Taiwo, is at it again as we tries to unravel the mystery behind the disappearance of the wife of the pastor of a prominent church. The writer brings Lagos to life with the twists and turns that carries the reader through a rollercoaster ride of a story.
After the Last Border: Two Families and the Story of Refuge in America by Jessica Goudeau. Narrated by Soneela Nankani. I was on the move a lot this year and I had some great books keep me company on these long road trips. It is the fact that the characters in Jessica Goudeau’s books remained with me for so long after I had finished listening that makes it the best audiobook I listened to this year. In narrating their story, she gently humanizes individuals and families that are often reduced to statistics that make them seem more like nuisances than every day people trying to make sense of the curveball that has been thrown at them on their journey through life.
Cobalt Red. How the Blood of the Congo Powers Our Lives by Siddharth Kara. Even before I started reading it, I knew that Cobalt Red would be a heavy and heartbreaking read. Yet it was an important and necessary story that the world needs to be hear. The central issue of the book is that the minerals that make life happen for many of us living in wealthy countries is mined in some of the poorest places on the planet. Mr. Kara shines the spotlight on the cost that modernity is having on the vulnerable individuals and communities with some even paying the highest price.
Small Country by Gaël Faye. Translated from French by Sarah Ardizzone. I first read this book as Petit Pays, devouring it in the original language that it was written in. I noticed the English version on my bookshelf and decided to revisit the story once more and thoroughly enjoyed it.
Les Bouts de Bois de Dieu/God’s Bits of Wood by Ousmane Sembène. Translated from French by Francis Price. I have lost count of the number of times I have read this because it continues to be one of my favorite books of all time. In honor of the 100th year of the author’s birth, I decided to re-read it for the umpteenth time and enjoyed meeting the characters again as the story unfolded in triumphant and heartbreaking turns. You can read more about this in God’s Bits of Wood: Celebrating Ousmane Sembène’s Centenary.
We Were Liars by E. Lockhart. Books play an integral part of my life and in recent times, I have become a lot more organized in my reading life to the point where I plan out the books that I intend to read. Yet, there are too many times when an unplanned book makes it way to me and I find myself pleasantly surprised by this unexpected find. That in a nutshell describes my reading adventure with We Were Liars. I read it in a day because I just could not put it down, and even when I realized that there was a plot twist embedded in the story line, I wanted to see it play out and I was not disappointed.
Strange and Difficult times: Notes on a Global Pandemic by Nanjala Nyabola. Another author whose writing I discovered last year and who makes it on my end of the year list. I find Ms. Nyabola’s writing to be refreshing and validating in so many ways. In these essays, she eloquently highlights the global inequities that have played out before, during, and since the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Hacienda by Isabel Cañas. I have never considered myself a genre fiction aficionado and it was not until I had finished reading this that I discovered that it was in the horror genre. Quel horreur! The one thing that drew me into this story was my curiosity to see how the protagonist would evolve and I did enjoy the ride, even with some of the gory details that the author deftly wove into the narrative.
The Bandit Queens by Parini Shroff. I am a huge fan of stories that show women as the powerhouses that they really are, especially in the face of abuse. This book tells that story in somewhat hilarious ways and introduces us to some interesting and unforgettable characters.
The Wind Knows My Name by Isabel Allende. Another powerful and moving epic tale from one of my favorite authors of all time. Highlighting the impact that forced migration can have, the story takes us through time and space from Europe during the Second World War to the United States in the 21st century.
The Mistress of Bhatia House by Sujata Massey. One of the highlights of the year was meeting the author of the Perveen Mistry series while reading the fourth installment. As with the previous books, Ms. Massey weaves in strong themes such as female discrimination, societal hierarchical issues and complex family dynamics with a good helping of mystery, set in India in the 1920s.
In the Kitchen: Essays on Food and Life by Juliet Annan, Yemisi Aribisala, Laura Freeman, etc. 13 essays by writers who reflect on food, life in the kitchen and so much more delightful and mouthwatering ways. All the essays in this collection are thoughtfully written, from Rachel Roddy’s dissection of the cookers she has lived with to Yemisi Aribisala effortless blend of religion, interracial dating and food, I was intrigued with every turn of the page.
Distant View of a Minaret by Alifa Rifaat. Translated from Arabic by Denys Johnson-Davies. I am almost certain that this was not the first time that I would read the stories in Ms. Rifaat’s collection. However, it had been so long that it felt like I was meeting these characters for the first time. I have had my copy of this book since 2004 and seeing how the world and my thinking has evolved since then, it was a joy to read and reflect on the writing.
Brotherless Night by V. V. Ganeshananthan. Another author whom I got to meet after I had read her book. I always say that in books you can find a window or a mirror and this story certainly opened a window that transported me to Sri Lanka and the series of events that trail a woman as she pursues her ambition to become a doctor even as all that she knows and loves begins to crumble. Narrated with such depth and empathy, the author uses memorable lines to showcase the impact that conflict can have on the fabric of a community.
You must understand: there is no single day on which war begins. The conflict will collect around you gradually, the way carrion birds assemble around the vulnerable, until there are so many predators that the object of the hunger is not even visible. You will not even be able to see yourself in the gathering crowd of those who would kill you.
Not With Silver by Simi Bedford. For many years, I have held on to the hope that one day soon, Simi Bedford would write another book to follow her Yoruba Girl Dancing, which continues to be a favorite. It was this year that it dawned on me that I had not even read her second book. It took me on a reading adventure that transported me from the Old Oyo Empire in West Africa to Southern United States, in a touching multigenerational story.
Independence by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. Set in 1947, during the Partition of India, we see how the decisions of the higher-ups can affect the lives and destinies of individuals and communities. More than anything the power and resilience of womanhood is on showcase in this sad but inspiring tale.
Neighbours: The Story of a Murder by Lília Momplé. Translated from Portuguese by Isaura de Oliveira and Richard Bartlett. It was not until I began to compile my favorite reads that I realized how many old friends I revisited this year. A lot of this has to do with some creative writing projects I am working and some of it has to do with desire to re-read the work of the previous generation and reflect on how far we have come, especially as writers from the African continent. I went in search for some of the writers from my collection of the African Writers Series, with a particular focus on the female writers who were working at the time and pleased to re-read Ms. Momplé’s epic tale . Set in post-independent Mozambique, we follow the lives of three individuals whose lives are intertwined with the politics of the time weighing heavily on the apartheid regime in neighboring South Africa.
All Shades of Iberibe by Kasimma. Another unexpected discovery that scuttled my well-laid reading plans. I am always thrilled to discover new Nigerian writers and even more so when they write short stories which are my favorite to read and write. The stories in the collection are strongly infused with Igbo culture and take a turn from light-hearted to dark and mystical.