12 books you must read – OZY
Summer is coming to an end in the northern hemisphere. But as the evenings approach and the temperatures drop, there’s never been a better time to snuggle up with a book and step into a world you didn’t create.
The international literary world has never been more diverse – or downright interesting – than it is today. That’s why we’ve put together for you, dear OZY reader, some of the best new reads from Argentina to Zimbabwe and many fascinating places in between. Read on because we guarantee this: there is no list as interesting as ours.
“Transcendent Kingdom”, by Yaa Gyasi
Ghanaian-American author Yaa Gyasi’s first novel in 2016 Back home was a great success. His second, Transcendent realm, is equally overwhelming and provocative. It follows the life of Stanford University neuroscience researcher Gifty, whose family moved from Ghana to Alabama before he was born. Gifty’s story unfolds as she considers this story and the impact each member of the family has on how she understands and relates to the world around her. One of his most formative experiences is the death of his brother following a heroin overdose. In order to figure this out, Gifty is researching drug addiction in mice. The novel is a nuanced portrayal of Gifty’s struggle with science, reason, and religion. Ultimately, she’s forced to grapple with the idea that none of these things alone are enough to explain our world.
“The other black girl”, by Zakiya Dalila Harris
When 26-year-old Nella Rogers realizes that another black woman will be working alongside her at Wagner Books in New York City, she is excited and a little nervous. Finally, she’s not the only black girl in her office. But soon Nella finds herself slipping into a competition she has never sought out and uncovers the grim underside of the career she fought so hard for. The novel is Zakiya Dalia Harris’ first and is based on her own experiences working at a Manhattan publishing house. The book is a thoughtful examination of the lasting impacts of microaggressions and the fleeting commitment to diversity made by businesses following the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020.
“Cold Wind: A Mystery”, by Paige Shelton
What about mysterious tales set in cold places? Place doubles as a character in Paige Shelton’s second book in the Wild alaska seriess. Having survived a slippery slope on Thin ice, protagonist Beth Rivers kept a low profile in Benedict, Alaska. As she adjusts to her new home and reclaims some of that mysterious writer’s mojo, a mudslide reveals spooky secrets of a small town. A frozen body, two young girls who do not speak and a world of atmospheric intrigue. Reader, don’t forget to brr. . . to eat.
outside of Africa
“At night, all the blood is black”, by David Diop
There are hundreds of novels that deal with the tragedy and violence of the First World War. Corn At night all the blood is black, by the Senegalese-French author David Diop, draws the curtain to reveal the forgotten life of West African soldiers. The novel chronicles the journey of a Senegalese soldier named Alfa Ndiaye into madness as he fought in the trenches for the French. He adopts the ritual of cutting off the hands of enemy soldiers to avenge the death of his friend. It’s a fascinating ride through the atrocities and anarchy of war alongside the protagonist of Diop. First published in French in 2018, the English version, translated by Anna Moschovakis, won the International Booker Prize 2021.
“The Promise”, by Damon Galgut
If you are a fan of South African Nobel laureate JM Coetzee and his dark outlook on life, you are sure to love Damon Galgut. Although love may not be the right word. The writer doesn’t shy away from discomfort and portrays South Africa’s ever-burning race relations with crisp, ruthless clarity. His latest novel on the subject, The promise, is an unwavering look at the country’s current debate over white-owned land and how to right the wrongs in history. The narrative centers on a separated white farming family and moves from 1980s apartheid to the current democratic era as the country evolves. You won’t find any spoilers here, but the end of this very disturbing novel will likely leave you with more questions than answers. The promise was shortlisted for this year’s Booker Prize.
“This body in mourning”, by Tsitsi Dangarembga
This novel was shortlisted for last year’s Booker and its Zimbabwean feminist author received the prestigious PEN Pinter Award as “a voice of hope that we all need to hear”. Dangarembga rose to fame with her 1988 novel Nervous disorders, which was about a young girl and her anorexic cousin in Rhodesia in the 1960s. Both resent the stifling patriarchal society in which they grew up. In This lamentable body, Dangarembga, who was arrested last year for demonstrating against the government of President Emmerson Mnangagwa, looks back on her characters in post-independence Zimbabwe. The PEN committee praised Dangarembga for his “ability to capture and communicate vital truths even in times of upheaval”.
“The Woman Upstairs” by Rachel Hawkins
There’s a gated community for the ultra-elites, a broke maiden with a haunted past, and a handsome widower who may be fighting his own ghosts. Fans of Jane eyre – and the fence guards too – should give this modern, flashy ode to the 1847 classic a chance. Sharp, stormy and rife with New-Age Gothic romance, The woman upstairs isn’t quite a narrative, though it does show some usual parallels to Charlotte Brontë’s story. Fortunately, the plot has some delicious twists that keep you from getting too comfortable. Enter if you fancy getting lost in a maze designed to look like your favorite spot. You’ll come away with a quick fix, and maybe even reinvented power dynamics!
“Klara and the Sun”, by Kazuo Ishigaru
This is another on the Long List of the Booker Prize, but if you are a fan of Remains of the day – Ishigaru’s novel set in early 20th century England focused on the unspoken love between the butler and the housekeeper in an English mansion – his new book will be quite a start. British writer of Japanese descent, who received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2017, turns to artificial intelligence in Klara and the Sun. Here, an android narrator, an “artificial friend” to a teenage girl, observes the humans around him. This novel has more in common with cloned romance Never let Me Go, and Booker’s jury called it a “genuinely innocent and egoless perspective on the bizarre behavior of humans obsessed and hurt by power, status and fear.”
“Who loves you: love stories of women of color”
Edited by British author Sareeta Domingo, this collection of short stories keeps its promises: the glorious waste of love experienced by women of color. As with any collection of this type, it is possible that some stories will stay with you while others disappear, or even remain uncomfortable. But between a multicultural mix of emerging voices and literary laureates, it’s hard not to marvel at the age-old but radical attempt to make sense of the plurality of love. If you’re wondering, this book isn’t all about strawberries and kisses. There is mourning, identity, family, the strangeness of the diasporas and an unwavering vocabulary of desire. In short: a heart so serious you’ll want to love it just for writing yourself.
“The dangers of smoking in bed”, by Mariana Enríquez
In the context of contemporary Argentina, that of Mariana Enriquez a disturbing anthology of short stories will captivate you and sometimes horrify you. Each story has a compelling undercurrent related to high-profile topics, such as modern morality or femininity. In one story, two teenage girls can’t accept the death of their idol and do crazy things to keep her memory alive. In another, a woman becomes sexually obsessed with the heartbeat. The Argentinian author is known for her mastery of horror and for bending the rules in a convoluted and hazy moral landscape. The writing of Enríquez will make you question the border between the real and the imaginary, and rethink how precarious it can be.
‘Where,’ by Jhumpa Lahiri
Is there something Jhumpa Lahiri can not do? Not only did the Indian-born American author win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2000, she moved to Rome to learn Italian for fun and now writes in that language. His latest work is the first book translated by the author never published by Knopf, who credits it for signaling “a daring change of style and sensibility.” Many of Lahiri’s previous novels and short stories focus on Indian and Native American life, but his new novel focuses on an anonymous Roman narrator over a period of one year. “Translation, for me, is metamorphosis” Lahiri says. “It’s a kind of radical recreation of the work. “
“Where are the wild women”, by Aoko Matsuda and Polly Barton (translator)
From emotional ghosts to real ones, in literature, the call of the wild is hard to ignore. Especially if it’s a bunch of fiery women who are both haunted and haunted. Aoko Matsuda delves into the Japanese tradition of supernatural folklore and reinterprets it with feminist candor. The result? An interlacing tapestry short stories that deal with humor and melancholy, glass ceilings and body positivity. Few things are more frightening than the patriarchy’s need to deprive women of their visibility. . . until they speak – in this case as their own stereotype of vengeful female spirits. Is this fiction? Is it a metaphor? Decide for yourself in such gems as Smartening Up, The peony lanterns and A nice catch.