And just like that, the first month of 2020 flew past. Uncompromising and eventful, it was indeed a month that is filled with triumphs and tribulations. In a span of 31 days, a lot has already happened. These events are critical and are shaping both the local and the global landscape. I can’t help but echo every one’s sentiments – January 2020 is one dreadful month.
But we’re not here to linger on that. In the global stage, January was very eventful. I can say the same with my reading journey. Despite the negative news that have been lingering in the past month, I can take delight in how my reading journey shaped up to be.
Late in 2019, I was scrambling to finish many of my reading challenges. It is due to this that I pushed back reading many of the 2019 Man Booker longlisted and shortlisted books. As a compromise, I promised myself to get to them in early 2020. As promised, I immersed in these 2019 Man Booker Prize nominated books. It was a satisfying journey, to say the list. Before I go on any further, here are the books that I’ve read in the past month.
Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo
Declared joint-winner of the 2019 plum, Bernardine Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other immediately caught my attention. I just knew I had to read it, especially considering how underwhelmed I was with its co-winner, Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments. I guess I was trying to find some reprieve. Just like its co-winner, Girl, Woman, Other revolves around the lives of female lead characters, in this case, 12 female characters. But rather than one straight line, the novel is an amalgamation of their stories. Their individual stories detail the Black Female British experience and covers a plethora of subjects such as identity, sexuality, homophobia. sexual abuse, domestic violence, to name a few. Its upbeat tempo syncopates with the beating of an African drum – vivid, intoxicating, harmonious.
Quichotte by Salman Rushdie
From an unfamiliar author to an author who I’ve gotten quite acquainted with this past few years. Salman Rushdie has certainly won over me with his brand of magical surrealism and captivating storytelling, from Midnight’s Children to Haroun and the Sea of Stories. Quichotte is no different. A modern picaresque novel influenced by Miguel de Cervantes’ seminal work, Don Quixote. Like its antecedent, Quichotte is an amusing and witty take on contemporary America’s social and cultural atmosphere. Partly political, partly fantasy, it is a sly censure on America’s contemporary attitude, highlighting critical issues such as sexual abuse, racism, and opioid addiction. On a more personal note, I find quite a score of similarities with the The Golden House, Rushdie’s last book before this one. I can’t help but notice how his writing has revolved. But then it’s inevitable.
10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World by Elif Shafak
Turkish-British author Elif Shafak is the most widely read female author in her native Turkey. However, I’ve never encountered any of her works until 2019 when I bought, out of curiosity, Bastard of Istanbul. I still have to read it. It was timely that Shafak’s latest work, 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World was shortlisted for the 2019 Man Booker Prize. Inspired by a research paper published in a Canadian Journal wherein it was observed that brain activities persist 10 minutes 38 Seconds post-death. The book then follows Tequila Leila’s story as she flashes back before her brain finally shuts off. The premise is interesting, and with the Turkish history as its backdrop, it is even more compelling. What is lacking, however, is exploration of her relationship with her mother. The writing, however, is promising and makes me look forward to her controversial work, The Bastard of Istanbul.
Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellmann
When The Testaments and Girl, Woman, Other were both declared as co-winners of the 2019 Man Booker Prize, Lucy Ellmann’s Ducks, Newburyport trended on Twitter as many a reader is claiming that it is a more worthy winner. This instantly piqued my interest and I admit it, of this bunch, this is the book I looked forward to, even though it was a thousand-pages long. Told through the stream of thoughts of its anonymous narrator, the book dealt with the contemporary state of American affairs, similar to Quichotte. Its upbeat tempo is reminiscent to Girl, Woman, Other, which made me conclude that it is a marriage of the two works although it is individualistic on its own. Apart from that, it represents the anxieties of the modern middle-income wife and mother in an ever changing America where school-shooting has become rampant and the political atmosphere has become predatory. At the onset, there seems to be no story but pan a little more and an unusual story unfolds. It is not for the fainthearted though because of its sheer length.
My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite
Okay, this is one of the 2019 titles that has really captured my attention even before it was longlisted in the Man Booker Prize. The author is African and the title is, well, pulling me in with a burgeoning curiosity. What does this book hold? Contrary to initial impression, My Sister, the Serial Killer is not a mystery or a suspense story. Just like most books nominated for the Man Booker Prize, it is a study of human relationship and behavior. It follows the story of sisters Korede and Ayoola, two contrasting characters. Korede is plain but hardworking, while Ayoola is her antithesis – beautiful but lazy. However, Korede is devoted to her younger sister and will do anything to protect her. At the end of the story, the reader is asked the critical question – is Korede an enabler or is she excused by her blind love for her sister? It is a witty and satirical story that is both entertaining and thought-provoking.
Current Read: An Orchestra of Minorities by Chigozie Obioma
I am guilty. I am often times pulled towards a book because of its title. This is despite the fact that I haven’t even read the synopsis nor do I have an inking on who the author is. This is the case with Chigozie Obioma’s An Orchestra of Minorities. The moment I read its shortlisting in the 2019 Man Booker Prize, I knew I have to read it, which is currently what I am doing. I am nearly halfway through the book and my feelings are mixed. The writing is very intimate and just the way I like it. My reservations are with the story. It is predictable, or perhaps I am reading too much into it. Nevertheless, I still have about 200 pages so I guess there is still enough space for the story to pick up and evolve.
As expected, these five (about to be six) 2019 Man Booker nominated books didn’t fail to fascinate. Whilst there were some low points, it was overall, a satisfying journey. The diversity and the different writing styles kept me hooked. Each book is unique and powerful in its own way.
What to look forward to February. As you might have surmised, February is going to be dedicated to African authors. If you haven’t noticed it yet, the last two books in my January reading list were written by African authors. They were designed to be my transition to my February reading journey. I have quite an interesting mix of African authors in my pile. I am looking forward to the experience!
Reading Challenge Recaps:
- My 2019 Top 20 Reading List: 2/20
- Beat The Backlist: 0/12
- My 2019 10 Books I Look Forward To List: 0/10
- Gooodreads 2019 Reading Challenge: 5/60
Book Reviews Published in January:
- Book Review # 153: The Good Earth
- Book Review # 154: Uncle Tom’s Cabin
- Book Review # 155: Girl, Woman, Other
How about you readers? How was your January reading journey? I hope you had a great journey. You can also share your experiences in the comment box.
Happy reading everyone!