While I am aware that January is almost over I decided nonetheless to share some of the books published in the first quarter of 2019 I can’t await to read. I share brief descriptions of the book (either from Goodreads or the publisher’s page, sometimes abridged) and in a few words why I am excited about this book!
The Winter of the Witch (Katherine Arden)
Synopsis: “Now Moscow has been struck by disaster. Its people are searching for answers—and for someone to blame. Vasya finds herself alone, beset on all sides. The Grand Prince is in a rage, choosing allies that will lead him on a path to war and ruin. A wicked demon returns, stronger than ever and determined to spread chaos. Caught at the centre of the conflict is Vasya, who finds the fate of two worlds resting on her shoulders. Her destiny uncertain, Vasya will uncover surprising truths about herself and her history as she desperately tries to save Russia, Morozko, and the magical world she treasures. But she may not be able to save them all.”
Why I am excited: This is the third book in Katherine Arden’s Winternight Trilogy. I thoroughly enjoyed the previous two books in the series, especially their magical feel but equally investment in 13th-century Russian politics.
Sugar Run (Mesha Maren)
Synopsis: “In 1989, Jodi McCarty is seventeen years old when she’s sentenced to life in prison for manslaughter. She’s released eighteen years later and finds herself at a Greyhound bus stop, reeling from the shock of unexpected freedom. Not yet able to return to her lost home in the Appalachian mountains, she goes searching for someone she left behind, but on the way, she meets and falls in love with Miranda, a troubled young mother. Together, they try to make a fresh start, but is that even possible in a town that refuses to change?”
Why I am excited: This ticks a lot of my boxes; I am interested in the injustice prisons often perpetuate and I am always here for queer stories. There is a pretty beautiful trailer for the book.
The Far Field (Madhuri Vijay)
Synopsis: “In the wake of her mother’s death, Shalini, a privileged and restless young woman from Bangalore, sets out for a remote Himalayan village in the troubled northern region of Kashmir. Certain that the loss of her mother is somehow connected to the decade-old disappearance of Bashir Ahmed, a charming Kashmiri salesman who frequented her childhood home, she is determined to confront him. But upon her arrival, Shalini is brought face to face with Kashmir’s politics, as well as the tangled history of the local family that takes her in. And when life in the village turns volatile and old hatreds threaten to erupt into violence, Shalini finds herself forced to make a series of choices that could hold dangerous repercussions for the very people she has come to love.”
Why I am excited: This book made quite a few most-anticipated lists and that’s also how I stumbled upon the title. I love good stories delving into the entanglements of personal/family history and wider politics.
Last Night in Nuuk (Niviaq Korneliussen)
Synopsis: “A work of daring invention about young life in Greenland, Korneliussen brilliantly weaves together the coming of age of five young people in the capital city, Nuuk. Fia has recently sworn off sausage (men) only to discover that the woman she wants is unavailable. Arnaq struggles to cope with her past as her hard-partying life spirals out of control and she betrays those she loves most. Inuk, Fia’s brother, is forced to escape Greenland after political scandal implicates him, and confronts the true meaning of home. Meanwhile, Ivik and Sara must confront an important transition in their relationship. In a collection of blurry nights and bleary mornings after, Korneliussen creates a Greenlandic literature unlike any we have known before—young, urbane, stream-of-consciousness, studded with textspeak and delirious with nightlife.”
Why I am excited: This book was first published in 2014 – and published under a couple of different names (to be honest, I am slightly confused), but is now re-published. Description of the wiring style sound super promising, as does the focus on different queer Greenlandic characters. You might also want to read this interview with the author: Greenland’s crimson writer — an interview with Niviaq Korneliussen.
Contemporary Plays by African Women (Yvette Hutchison)
Synopsis: “This volume draws together seven contemporary plays by female African writers, offering a rare insight into the work being produced by these practitioners. These plays, which are selected from writers across the continent, give a rich portrait of identity, politics, culture and society in contemporary Africa from some of today’s finest writers.”
Why I am excited: This looks like a great collection bringing together authors/ playwrights from different African countries (though with a anglophone bias) and also giving context to each play. These are the plays included: Sara Shaarawi (Egypt): Niqabi Ninja, Sophia Kwachuh Mempuh (Cameroon): Bonganyi, JC Niala (Kenya): Unsettled, Adong Judith (Uganda): Silent Voices, Thembelihle Moyo (Zimbabwe) – I Want To Fly, Koleka Putuma (South Africa): Mbuzemi, Tosin Jobi-Tume (Nigeria): Not That Woman.
Also this month: In an Absent Dream (Seanan McGuire)
The Collected Schizophrenias (Esmé Weijun Wang)
Synopsis: “An intimate, moving book written with the immediacy and directness of one who still struggles with the effects of mental and chronic illness, The Collected Schizophrenias cuts right to the core. Schizophrenia is not a single unifying diagnosis, and Esmé Weijun Wang writes not just to her fellow members of the “collected schizophrenias” but to those who wish to understand it as well. Opening with the journey toward her diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder, Wang discusses the medical community’s own disagreement about labels and procedures for diagnosing those with mental illness, and then follows an arc that examines the manifestations of schizophrenia in her life.”
Why I am excited: Is there a trend of more women and non-binary authors writing absolutely fascinating non-fiction about chronic illness (mental and physical)? I am very much here for that and this sounds like a complex take.
Black Leopard, Red Wolf (Marlon James)
Synopsis: “Tracker is known far and wide for his skills as a hunter: “He has a nose,” people say. Engaged to track down a mysterious boy who disappeared three years earlier, Tracker breaks his own rule of always working alone when he finds himself part of a group that comes together to search for the boy. The band is a hodgepodge, full of unusual characters with secrets of their own, including a shape-shifting man-animal known as Leopard. As Tracker follows the boy’s scent–from one ancient city to another; into dense forests and across deep rivers–he and the band are set upon by creatures intent on destroying them. As he struggles to survive, Tracker starts to wonder: Who, really, is this boy? Why has he been missing for so long? Why do so many people want to keep Tracker from finding him? And perhaps the most important questions of all: Who is telling the truth, and who is lying?”
Why I am excited: At this point, who isn’t excited? But it would have felt ingenious to not include the book even though it is such an obvious choice. But a fantasy series by Marlon James borrowing widely from African (as in from all over the continent) inspirations? @kenyanbibliophile’s review on IG is another good point in case.
Living on the Borderlines (Melissa Michal)
Synopsis: “For the loosely connected Seneca community members living in Upstate New York, intergenerational memory slips into everyday life: a teenager struggles to understand her grandmother’s silences, a family seeks to reconnect with a lost sibling, and a young woman searches for a cave that’s called to her family for generations. With these stories, debut writer Melissa Michal weaves together an understated and contemplative collection exploring what it means to be Native.”
Why I am excited: I stumbled upon this collection when I browsed the upcoming releases by Feminist Press, a publisher I admire and trust.
Stubborn Archivist (Yara Rodrigues Fowler)
Synopsis: “In Stubborn Archivist, a young British Brazilian woman from South London navigates growing up between two cultures and into a fuller understanding of her body, relying on signposts such as history, family conversation, and the eyes of the women who have shaped her—her mother, grandmother, and aunt. Our stubborn archivist takes us through first love and loss, losing and finding home, trauma and healing, and various awakenings of sexuality and identity. Shot through the novel are the narrator’s trips to Brazil, sometimes alone, often with family, where she accesses a different side of herself—one, she begins to realize, that is as much of who she is as anything else.”
Why I am excited: This book has been everywhere in my bubble and gathered a lot of praise. Musa Okwonga, who will be the second guest in my podcast, has contributed a blurb: “My goodness. Yara Rodrigues-Fowler has conjured a work of rare power, startlingly original form, and devastating beauty. This novel is a triumph”.
Eure Heimat ist unser Albtraum (Hengameh Yaghoobifarah, Fatma Yademir)
Synopsis: “Dieses Buch ist ein Manifest gegen Heimat – einem völkisch verklärten Konzept, gegen dessen Normalisierung sich 14 deutschsprachige Autor_innen wehren. Zum einjährigen Bestehen des sogenannten „Heimatministeriums“ sammeln Fatma Aydemir und Hengameh Yaghoobifarah schonungslose Perspektiven auf eine rassistische und antisemitische Gesellschaft. In persönlichen Essays geben sie Einblick in ihren Alltag und halten Deutschland den Spiegel vor: einem Land, das sich als vorbildliche Demokratie begreift und gleichzeitig einen Teil seiner Mitglieder als »anders« markiert, kaum schützt oder wertschätzt. ”
Why I am excited:A German-language anthology interrogating the concept of “Heimat” (home) and its nationalistic use. Edited by two fantastic people and including essay by people whose work I admire (and some friends I cherrish intellectualy and love in general – so yes, I might be biased).
Also this month: On The Come Up (Angie Thomas), The Atlas of Red and Blues (Devi S. Laskar), The Source of Self-Regard (Toni Morrison), Watch Us Rise (Renée Watson, Ellen Hagan)
Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls (T. Kira Madden)
Synopsis: “As a child, Madden lived a life of extravagance, from her exclusive private school to her equestrian trophies and designer shoe-brand name. But under the surface was a wild instability. The only child of parents continually battling drug and alcohol addictions, Madden confronted her environment alone. Facing a culture of assault and objectification, she found lifelines in the desperately loving friendships of fatherless girls. With unflinching honesty and lyrical prose, spanning from 1960s Hawai’i to the present-day struggle of a young woman mourning the loss of a father while unearthing truths that reframe her reality, Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls is equal parts eulogy and love letter. It’s a story about trauma and forgiveness, about families of blood and affinity, both lost and found, unmade and rebuilt, crooked and beautiful.”
Why I am excited: I love reading memoirs by women (and in general by authors of marginalized genders). The best attempts offer a perspective on lived experiences different from one’s own (or sometimes eerily mirroring one’s life) while also go beyond mere recollection. This synopsis sounds quite mesmerizing.
Bird Summons (Leila Aboulela)
Synopsis: “Salma, Moni and Iman are embarking on a road trip to the highlands to pay homage to Lady Evelyn Cobbold, the first British woman convert to Islam to perform the pilgrimage to Mecca. The women are looking for more than a holiday. Each wants to escape her life; each wants an answer. On a remote hillside in Inverness, each woman is visited by the Hoopoe, a sacred bird who comes with fables from Muslim literature and Celtic folklore, forcing the women to question how much they have sacrificed in the name of love.”
Why I am excited: Leila Aboulela’s short story “The Museum” is one of my favourite and thus I was delighted last year that her short stories were published in a collection (Elsewhere, Home). But I also thoroughly enjoy her longer form writing. The way she writes complex female figures always delights me.
Mars (Asja Bakić)
Synopsis: “Mars showcases a series of unique and twisted universes, where every character is tasked with making sense of their strange reality. One woman will be freed from purgatory once she writes the perfect book; another abides in a world devoid of physical contact. With wry prose and skewed humor, an emerging feminist writer explores post-Soviet promises of knowledge, freedom, and power.”
Why I am excited: Another book published by Feminist Press. I like my short stories dark and twisty and that’s what these promise to be. I also like to see women’s literature translated by female translators.
The Dragonfly Sea (Yvonne Owuor)
Synopsis: “On the island of Pate, off the coast of Kenya, lives solitary, stubborn Ayaana and her mother, Munira. When a sailor named Muhidin, also an outsider, enters their lives, Ayaana finds something she has never had before: a father. But as Ayaana grows into adulthood, forces of nature and history begin to reshape her life and the island itself–from a taciturn visitor with a murky past to a sanctuary-seeking religious extremist, from dragonflies to a tsunami, from black-clad kidnappers to cultural emissaries from China. Ayaana ends up embarking on a dramatic ship’s journey to the Far East, where she will discover friends and enemies; be seduced by the charming but unreliable scion of a powerful Turkish business family; reclaim her devotion to the sea; and come to find her own tenuous place amid a landscape of beauty and violence and surprising joy. Told with a glorious lyricism and an unerring sense of compassion, The Dragonfly Sea is a transcendent story of adventure, fraught choices, and of the inexorable need for shelter in a dangerous world.”
Why I am excited: Admission: I have stared Yvonne Owuor’s last novel (Dust) but not yet finished it. The reason being that I absolutely fell in love with the first few pages but also realized I need to sit down with some quite to really appreciate the beautiful poetical writing. But I will read Dust before March and I can’t wait to get into this epic sounding book.
The Old Drift (Namwali Serpell)
Synopsis: “On the banks of the Zambezi River, a few miles from the majestic Victoria Falls, there was once a colonial settlement called The Old Drift. Here begins the epic story of a small African nation, told by a mysterious swarm-like chorus that calls itself man’s greatest nemesis. The tale? A playful panorama of history, fairytale, romance and science fiction. The moral? To err is human.
In 1904, in a smoky room at the hotel across the river, an Old Drifter named Percy M. Clark, foggy with fever, makes a mistake that entangles the fates of an Italian hotelier and an African busboy. This sets off a cycle of unwitting retribution between three Zambian families (black, white, brown) as they collide and converge over the course of the century, into the present and beyond. As the generations pass, their lives – their triumphs, errors, losses and hopes – form a symphony about what it means to be human.
From a woman covered with hair and another plagued with endless tears, to forbidden love affairs and fiery political ones, to homegrown technological marvels like Afronauts, microdrones and viral vaccines – this gripping, unforgettable novel sweeps over the years and the globe, subverting expectations along the way. Exploding with colour and energy, The Old Drift is a testament to our yearning to create and cross borders, and a meditation on the slow, grand passage of time.”
Why I am excited: In 2014 Serpell was named on the Hay Festival’s Africa39 list, a year later she won the Caine Prize for African fiction in English. I have enjoyed her short fiction so far and the synopsis of this book just sounds amazing.
Also this month: The Careless Seamstress (Tjawangwa Dema), New Daughters of Africa (Margaret Busby), The True Queen (Zen Cho), Half-God of Rainfall (Innua Ellams), Gingerbread (Helen Oyeyemi), The White Card (Claudia Rankine), Bombay Brides (Esther David), Spring (Ali Smith)