Time really did flew past us, eleven months have already gone by and in a couple of days, we are going to wave goodbye to 2020. Despite the challenging and uncertain times, I hope everyone is remaining optimistic for better times. I am hoping that everyone is safe even though the the virus’ remains ubiquitous. I am hoping that things would start to look up in the coming year.
Reading-wise, November has been a pretty normal month. I managed to complete eight books despite being wrapped up in work. Basically a continuation of September, I focused my reading energy on more recent works (except for the first two books of the month of course). A self-confessed backlist type of reader, it is against my nature to read “new” books but I guess I don’t want to be left behind in bookish discussions. 2020 has shaped up to be a different year in more than one way as I have nearly doubled my “new” books output.
Without more ado, here are the magnificent reads I had in November.
Dream of the Red Chamber by Tsao Hsueh-Chin
One of the best works that originated from China, Tsao Hsueh-Chin’s Dream of the Red Chamber was the last book in my October 2020 1,001 Books You Must Read Before You Die Catchup. Also considered as one of China’s Four Great Classical Novels, it paints the life of two households belonging to the same family, the great house of Chia. It was a quicker read that I expected but it came with its own challenges. Whilst the story was related through the perspective of Baoyu, it introduces a massive cast of characters named after virtues, flowers, or ordinary things. Hsueh-Chin, however, paints a very vivid and domestic picture of Qing Dynasty China. It certainly wasn’t an easy read but an insightful one nonetheless.
Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell
George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four is another book listed as one of the 1,001 Books You Must Read Before You Die. It was because of this and its several references in other works, e.g. Haruki Murakami’s colossal 1Q84, that piqued my interest in the book. Published in 1949, it is often considered as one of the pioneers of the modern dystopian fiction. Nineteen Eighty-Four eerily captures Orwell’s vision of a world where capitalism is dead, everything is censored, and an invisible force familiarly referred to as “Big Brother” watches over everyone’s actions. For its time, it was an innovative work and some of its realities are starting to reverberate in the contemporary.
The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi
Nigerian writer Akwaeke Emezi caught the literary world’s attention (and consequently mine) with her powerful debut, Freshwater. It was an out-of-the-box story that instantly turned me into a fan of Emezi’s writing. When I learned that they are going to publish a work later in 2020, I was on my toes and the moment it became available, I ordered a copy of the book. It was the first “new” novel I read in November and it deals with a lot of facets of Nigerian society and culture. It explores identity, grief, and tradition in a rapidly changing Nigeria. Whilst I liked the premise and the writing, the execution fell a little short of my expectations. It was still a good story and would have been more powerful had Vivek’s voice been more prevalent, more prominent.
A Burning by Megha Majumdar
Earlier this year, whilst researching for books to include in my 2020 Top 10 Books I Look Forward to List, Megha Majumdar’s debut novel, A Burning, was a repeated recommendation. Needless to say, the book became part of my list and was looking forward to reading it. Thankfully, I managed to purchase a copy of the book through an online bookseller. The titular burning refers to a terrorist attack on a Kolkata commuter train. Over a hundred commuters perished and the public was hungry for the smell of blood. Immediately, Jivan, a young Muslim woman was captured because of discoveries linking her to terrorist. Her unpatriotic comments in her social media pages didn’t help her cause. A Burning is more than just a suspense or a terrorism novel. It dives deep into the contemporary state of India as a nation. However, at times, I feel like this novel was more of a social commentary rather than a literary work. Still, props to Majumdar’s prose.
A Woman is No Man by Etaf Rum
From Kolkata, India, my literary journey next brought me to the Big Apple where I met eighteen-year-old Deya, her mother Isra and her paternal grandmother Fareeda. Despite growing up in suburban Brooklyn, Deya was raised in the traditional Palestine upbringing by her domineering grandmother after her parents’ unfortunate passing. Deya was being forced to choose a man who she’ll marry. Rum vividly depicted how women were treated in Palestine homes – financial burdens waiting for a man to remove her the family home. In writing this novel, Rum took inspiration from her own experiences and Deya was a conduit of the author. Whilst the story needs to be heard, there were some technical issues that watered down my appreciation of the novel.
Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi
Apart from the number of “new” books I have read this year, another element that distinguishes my 2020 reading year is the number of African books I have read this year. Just like Emezi, Ghanaian writer Yaa Gyasi’s debut novel, Homegoing, has won a fan in me and when I learned that she was publishing a book later in 2020, I was up on my toes. Transcendent Kingdom relates the story of Gifty, the daughter of Ghanaian parents who migrated to Alabama before her birth. She was a candidate for PhD in neuroscience at Stanford University. She was, in a way, running away from her roots which was muddled by grief and loss. But whilst running away, she was also being reeled back in. It was an odd but interesting exploration of science, family, substance abuse, and religion.
The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
Brit Bennett’s The Vanishing Half is a book I wasn’t really keen on. However, after reading some positive and glowing reviews of the book, I decided to give it a try. Thankfully, I managed to cop a copy of the novel during my latest trip to the book store. Without more ado, I immersed into it (strike while the iron is hot they say after all). The Vanishing Half is the story of twin sisters Stella and Desiree Vignes. When they were sixteen-years-old, they ran away from their small community of Mallard, Louisiana. Although inseparable at first, different visions led them down different paths. A family saga, The Vanishing Half explores a bevy of subject such as the sociological concept of “passing”, homosexuality, identity, and family. It was a promising story but it didn’t soar the way I wanted it to.
Piranesi by Susanna Clarke
Susanna Clarke’s debut work, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, was a literary sensation that elevated Clarke to worldwide fame. However, it took her nearly two decades to publish her second novel. I was reluctant at first to read Piranesi, thinking it would be as lengthy as its predecessor. Thankfully, it was just a quarter of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell‘s length. It, however, doesn’t mean that it isn’t as magical or as powerful. Piranesi explores the theme of isolation, something that we can all relate to because of the current situation. The novel, however, goes beyond theme of solitude. It was an oddly satisfying read, a break from the typical, a breath of fresh air.
Current Read: Parallel Stories by Peter Nadas
My current read is Hungarian novelist Peter Nadas’ labyrinthine narrative, Parallel Stories. The last piece in my 2020 Top 20 Reading list, it also happens to be my 800th novel. Oh how far I have gone since I started picking up fictional works! It was truly a journey. Because this novel is over a thousand pages long, it is taking me some time to complete it although I am a short of 200 pages before I can tick this off my list. Colossal is an understatement. Parallel Stories weaves many strands that eventually converge in the Hungarian capital of Budapest. It tackles heavy themes such as war, sexuality, eugenics, and history. I can’t wait to complete this novel.
Reading Challenge Recaps
- My 2020 Top 20 Reading List: 19/20
- Beat The Backlist: 12/12
- My 2020 10 Books I Look Forward To List: 6/10
- Gooodreads 2020 Reading Challenge: 83/85*
- Year of the Asian Reading Challenge: 20/20**
- 1,001 Books You Must Read Before You Die: 26/20
*I have updated my Goodread reading challenge tally from 80 books to 85 as I am way ahead of my target.
**I included Israeli-American Ilana Masad in the count.
Book Reviews Published in November
- Book Review # 210: Mexican Gothic
- Book Review # 211: Journey Under the Midnight Sun
- Book Review # 212: Gods of Jade and Shadow
- Book Review # 213: The Death of Vivek Oji
- Book Review # 214: A True Novel
- Book Review # 215: A Burning
- Book Review # 216: A Woman is No Man
Oh yes, I am getting my groove, at least in terms of writing. I did start slow though and just caught up in the last half of the month. Thankfully, I have written mini reviews in Goodreads which helped me in contructing my other book reviews. Also, I have completed all my pending May 2020 book reviews! My next plan is to complete my six book reviews pending from June 2020. I hope I get to complete them all before the year ends!
I will carry on my reading momentum into the last month of the year. I will catch up with all new books I have on hand. I have quite a handful and I am really thinking that I might not make it before 2021. The goal is just to complete as many books as I can. Apart from David Mitchell’s Utopian Avenue, all writers I have in line are all new to me – T.K. Klune, C Pam Zhang, Maggie O’Farrell, among others. I am waiting to be enchanted.
How about you readers? How was your November reading journey? I hope you had a great journey. You can also share your experiences in the comment box.
Happy reading everyone!