10 books to read in 2019

Colson Whitehead, The Nickel Boys“Even in death the boys were trouble.” So begins this spare and haunting novel from the winner of the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award (for The Underground Railroad)...


Colson Whitehead, The Nickel Boys“Even in death the boys were trouble.” So begins this spare and haunting novel from the winner of the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award (for The Underground Railroad). Whitehead tells the stories of black teenagers sent to The Nickel Academy, a fictional Florida reform school in the Jim Crow era that promises “physical, intellectual and moral training” but delivers monstrous lessons – savage whippings, sexual abuse, and, in some cases, trips to the “out back” from which boys never return. The Nickel Boys focuses on Elwood, who takes Martin Luther King’s teachings to heart and excels in school until he makes an innocent misstep, and Turner, a second-timer at Nickel who protects him until he can’t. Whitehead’s inspiration: accounts and archaeological findings of brutalised bodies secretly buried at a real Florida boys’ school. (Credit: Doubleday)

Toni Morrison, The Source of Self-RegardMorrison’s marvellous new collection offers essays, speeches and meditations on culture, art, and social justice spanning four decades. It includes her eloquent 1993 Nobel lecture, her bittersweet James Baldwin eulogy, commentary on Martin Luther King’s speeches, and revelatory explorations of her own work. Her novel Sula was inspired by a childhood memory of a woman who was easily forgiven by other women; in Beloved, she was interested in what contributed most significantly to a slave woman’s self-regard. “In my own writing, in order to reveal what seems to me the hard and the true and the lasting things, I am drawn to describing people under duress, not in easy circumstances, but backed up into a corner, people called upon to fish or cut bait,” she writes. (Credit: Knopf)

Brenda Wineapple, The ImpeachersOn 25 February 1868, Thaddeus Stevens, supported by a House of Representatives vote, commenced the impeachment of Andrew Johnson for “high crimes and misdemeanours in office”. Johnson, Abraham Lincoln’s vice president, had refused to accept acts of Congress, usurped its prerogatives, and had violated a law that he pretended to wave away as unconstitutional. Johnson’s position: “This is a country for white men, and as long as I am president it shall be a government for white men.” Wineapple, a National Book Critics Circle award-winning biographer, recreates the political tensions, the machinations, and the legislative repercussions accompanying the first ever impeachment of a president of the United States – “one of the last great battles with slavery,” as Senator Charles Sumner put it at the time. (Credit: Random House)

Marlon James, Black Leopard, Red WolfJamaican-born James, winner of the Man Booker Prize, unleashes the fantasy trilogy he has dubbed an “African Game of Thrones” with a phantasmagorical volume. It stars a mercenary named Tracker, who has a prodigious nose for scents and a lot to learn. His mission is to find a missing boy. Over nine years, Tracker’s trials connect him with the Leopard, a shape-shifting hunter; Nyka, a skin-shedding mercenary; the Sangoma, a divinatory healer; a centuries-old Moon Witch, griots, and dozens more. Tracker is threatened by mad kings, knights and necromancers, by Omoluzu (roof walkers), shape-shifting hyena avengers, and blood-drinking Ipundulu, who may have kidnapped the boy. James offers a clue to his underlying theme early on in the saga: “Truth changes shape just as the crocodile eats away the moon.” (Credit: Riverhead)

Ocean Vuong, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous“I am writing to reach you…” Little Dog, a Saigon-born refugee relocated to the US as a child, addresses his mother, who cannot read, in this incantatory first novel from the TS Eliot Prize-winning poet. Ever sensitive to subtleties of race, class, gender, and his refugee status, Little Dog examines childhood moments both tender and violent, and his teenage years, when he and co-worker Trevor share intimate discoveries. His grandmother Lan tells stories of her youth in Vietnam, the war years when her body kept her alive, her GI husband who became Little Dog’s grandfather. Vuong spins a history of memory in exquisite sensual language, shaping a spiral that encircles a mother, a son, a grandmother, a first love and the beginnings of a writing life. (Credit: Penguin Press)

Elizabeth McCracken, BowlawayMcCracken’s idiosyncratic comic novel about a century of small-town New England life revolves around Bertha Truitt, a plump otherworldly woman who is discovered unconscious in a Salford, Massachusetts, cemetery as if dropped from the clouds. With a single-minded passion for candlepin bowling, Bertha sets up an alley, hires two employees, and gathers the women of the town into a pioneering team. She marries Leviticus Sprague, an erudite black man from New Brunswick. Their daughter Minna’s talent ultimately spins her into the highest echelons of the New York music scene. Over time Bertha’s bowling alley draws a new sort of clientele, aimed at banning women. McCracken has conjured up a continuously unfolding riff on gender, small town divisions and aspirations, and the magical dimensions of everyday life. (Credit: Ecco)

Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Little BoyPoet, novelist, playwright, City Lights founder and publisher Ferlinghetti invokes Beckett, Joyce, Ginsberg and Proust in this ‘experimental novel’ published to coincide with his 100th birthday: a mix of autobiography, philosophy and poetry. Born into the greatest generation in Bronxville, New York and raised partly in France, ‘Little Boy’ witnesses the aftermath of the atomic bomb blast at Nagasaki. Later, as a PhD student in Montparnasse, he thinks he is “some sort of wild poet or artist”. He returns to the US to let loose “his word-hoard pent up within him”, helping usher in the Beat era. From a perspective decades later, “in this existential café on the left coast, he watches reality pass by with a ‘wild eye’.” This exuberant word storm, narrated in Ferlinghetti’s idiosyncratic “wide-open” style, captures invaluable “crystal moments in time”. (Credit: Viking)

Christian Kiefer, PhantomsSergeant Ray Kawasaki, who volunteered for World War Two from the Tule Lake internment camp, comes home to Placer County, California in 1945 to find he is no longer welcome. Nearly 40 years later John Frazier, a Vietnam vet, sets out to discover the end to Ray’s story, which overlaps his own family history. John is recruited as a driver by his aunt Evelyn Wilson, who wants to visit Ray’s mother Kimiko Takahashi in Oakland. The two women, once neighbours, hadn’t seen each other since Kimiko and her family were bussed away in 1942. Over several visits, John witnesses a sharing of secrets that breaks both families apart. Told in vivid lyrical prose, Kiefer’s novel reveals the sorrows and lingering guilt of wartime, and the dangers of forgetting. (Credit: Liveright)

Namwali Serpell, The Old DriftThis inventive first novel by Serpell, a Caine Prize winner, spans two centuries in Zambian history, mixing styles from Gothic to Afrofuturist. She opens in 1850 with Scotsman David Livingstone encountering Mosi-oa-Tunya – ‘The Smoke That Thunders’ – and renaming it Victoria Falls. She tracks three Zambian families, descended from British, Indian and Italian immigrants who settled in Old Drift, the stillest waters of the Zambezi, home to mosquitos carrying malaria. A recurring chorus of mosquitoes narrates the tale. In a prologue, they describe “a tiny chaos” that triggers a destructive cycle spiralling across families for generations to come. Her finale involves a love triangle between activists in 2050, when individual lives are documented by embedded ‘Beads’ and swarms of man-made drones known as Moskeetoze spread disaster. (Credit: Hogarth)

Laila Lalami, The Other AmericansDriss Guerraoui closes up his diner in the Mojave one night, crosses the highway and is killed by a car that speeds on. Guerraoui’s death connects a varied cast of characters, all struggling to juggle love, family and work: his Moroccan-born daughter Nora, an Oakland-based jazz pianist; his wife, who yearns for home in Casablanca; Jeremy, an Iraq War veteran who was Nora’s high-school classmate; Coleman, the novice police investigator; Anderson, the old-timer who sees Driss’s diner as competition, and Efrain, the undocumented worker who is the sole witness to the crime. Lalami packs sibling rivalry, a crime investigation, a love story and family secrets into her propulsive plotline. By crafting a masterful and intimate polyphonic narrative, she unveils the inner lives of each character – including Driss himself. (Credit: Pantheon)

Source : BBC



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