We have finally waved goodbye to 2020. After filling in 366 pages, a fresh set of 365 days has been given to us. With the conclusion of a year is the commencement of a new one. 2020 has been eventful and filled with uncertainty. The future is also filled with uncertainty but hope still springs eternal. Staying true to what has become my annual tradition, I am kicking off the new year by looking back to the previous year, its hits, and of course, its mishits. It is also an opportunity to take a glimpse on how the coming year is going to shape up.
This book wrap up is a part of a mini-series which will feature the following:
- 2020 Top Ten Not-So Favorite Reads
- 2020 Top Ten Favorite Books
- 2020 Book Wrap Up
- 2020 Most Memorable Book Quotes (Part I)
- 2020 Most Memorable Book Quotes (Part II)
- 2020 New Favorite Authors
- 2021 Books I Look Forward To List
- 2021 Top 21 Reading List
Over the years, my Top 20 lists have provided me some of my best reading experiences for the year. They are an interesting mix of classics and contemporary books from various genre. In 2021, I am picking it up a notch by adding an extra number (and because it is 20-21). I am filled with hope that my 2021 reading journey will be as stellar as 2020, which was a landmark of a year in terms of reading. Without further ado, here’s my 2021 Top 21 Reading List.
Title: The Librarian of Auschwitz
Author: Antonio Iturbe
Translator: Lilet Zekulin Thwaites
Publisher: Square Fish
Publishing Date: 2019
No. of Pages: 423
Synopsis: “As a young girl, Dita is imprisoned by the Nazis at Auschwitz. taken from her home in Prague in 1939, Dita does her best to adjust to the constant terror of her new reality. But even amidst horror, human strength and ingenuity persevere. When Jewish leader Fredy Hirsch entrusts Dita with eight precious volumes the prisoners have managed to n=sneak into the camp, she embraces the responsibility – and so becomes the librarian of Auschwitz.
From one of the darkest chapters in history comes this extraordinary story of courage and hope.”
Author: Banana Yoshimoto
Translator: Megan Backus
Publisher: Grove Press
Publishing Date: 1993
No. of Pages: 150
Synopsis: “When Banana Yoshimoto’s Kitchen was first published in 1988, “Bananamania” seized the country. Kitchen won two of Japan’s most prestigious literary prizes, climbed its way to the top of the best-seller list, then remained there for over a year and sold millions of copies. With the appearance of the critically acclaimed Tugumi (1989) and NP (1991), the Japanese literary world realized that in Banana Yoshimoto it was confronted not with a passing fluke but with a full-fledged phenomenon: a young writer of great talent and great passion whose work has quickly earned a place among the best of twentieth-century Japanese literature.
Banana Yoshimoto’s Kitchen is an enchantingly original and deeply affecting book that juxtaposes two tales about mothers, transsexuality, kitchens, love, tragedy, and the terms they all come to in the minds of a pair of free-spirited young women in contemporary Japan. Told in a whimsical style that recalls the early Marguerite Duras, “Kitchen” and its companion story, “Mooonlight Shadow,” are elegant tales whose seeming simplicity is the ruse of a masterful storyteller. They are the work of a very special new writer whose voice echoes in the mind and the soul.”
Title: The Makioka Sisters
Author: Jun’ichirō Tanizaki
Translator: Edward G. Seidensticker
Publisher: Vintage International
Publishing Date: October 1995
No. of Pages: 530
Synopsis: “In Osaka in the years immediately before World War II, four aristocratic women try to preserve a way of life that is vanishing. As told by Jun’ichirō Tanizaki, the story of the Makioka sisters forms what is arguably the greatest Japanese novel of the twentieth century, a poignant yet unsparing portrait of a family – and an entire society – sliding into the abyss of modernity.
Tsukuro, the eldest sister, clings obstinately to the prestige of her family name even as her husband prepares to move their household to Tokyo, where that name means nothing. Sachiko compromises valiantly to secure the future of her younger sisters. The unmarried Yukiko is a hostage to her family’s exacting standards, while the spirited Taeko rebels by flinging herself into scandalous romantic alliances. Filled with vignettes of upper-class Japanese life and capturing both the decorum and the heartache of its protagonists, The Makioka Sisters is a classic of international literature.”
Title: Women Without Men
Author: Shahrnush Parsipur
Translator(s): Kamram Talattof, Jocelyn Sharlet
Publisher: Feminist Press at the City University of New York
Publishing Date: 2004
No. of Pages: 131
Synopsis: “A modern literary masterpiece, Women Without Men creates an evocative and powerfully drawn allegory of life in contemporary Iran. With a tone that is stark and bold, yet magical, as its elegantly drawn settings and characters, internationally acclaimed writer Shahrnush Parsipur follows the interwoven destinies of five women – including a prostitute, a wealthy middle-aged housewife, and a schoolteacher – as they arrive, by many different paths, to live in a garden on the outskirts of Tehran. Reminiscent of a wry fable and drawing on elements of Islamic mysticism and recent Iranian history. Women Without Men depicts women escaping the narrow precincts of family and society – only to face daunting new challenges.
Shortly after the novel’s 1989 publication, Parsipur was arrested and jailed for her frank and defiant portrayal of women’s sexuality. Though still banned in Iran, this national best-seller was eventually translated into several languages, delighting new readers with the witty and subversive work of a brilliant Persian writer.”
Title: Watership Down
Author: Richard Adams
Publisher: Perennial Classics
Publishing Date: 2001
No. of Pages: 476
Synopsis: “First published in 1972, Richard Adams’s extraordinary bestseller Watership Down takes us to a world we have never truly seen: to the remarkable life that teems in the fields, forests, and riverbanks, far beyond our cities and towns. It is a powerful saga of courage, leadership, and survival; an epic tale of a hardy band of Berkshire rabbits forced to flee the destruction of their fragile community and their trials and triumphs in the face of extraordinary adversity as they pursue a glorious dream called “home.””
Title: The Song of Achilles
Author: Madeline Miller
Publishing Date: 2012
No. of Pages: 369
Synopsis: “Achilles, “The best of all the Greeks,” son of the cruel sea goddess Thetis and the legendary king Peleus, is strong, swift and beautiful – irresistible to all who meet him. Patroclus is an awkward young prince, exiled from his homeland after an act of shocking violence. Brought together by chance, they forge an inseparable bond, despite risking the god’s wrath.
They are trained by the centaur Chiron in the arts of war and medicine, but when word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped, all the heroes of Greece are called upon to lay siege to Troy in her name. Seduced by the promise of a glorious destiny, Achilles joins their cause, and torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus follows. Little do they know that the cruel Fates will test them both as never before and demand a terrible sacrifice.”
Title: Go Tell It on the Mountain
Author: James Baldwin
Publisher: Delta Publishing
Publishing Date: June 2000
No. of Pages: 226
Synopsis: “James Baldwin’s stunning first novel is now an American classic. With startling realism that brings Harlem and the black experience vividly to life, this is a work that touches the heart with emotion while it stimulates the mind with its narrative style, symbolism, and excoriating vision of racism in America.
Moving through time from the rural South to the northern ghetto, starkly contrasting the attitudes of two generations of an embattled family, Go Tell It on the Mountain is an unsurpassed portrayal of human beings caught up in a dramatic struggle and of a society confronting inevitable change.”
Title: The Christmas Oratorio
Author: Goran Tunstrom
Translator: Paul Hoover
Publisher: David R. Godine, Publisher Inc.
Publishing Date: 1995
No. of Pages: 347
Synopsis: “The Christmas Oratorio is a grand fresco of human striving, ambition, and desire by Sweden’s foremost contemporary novelist. Centering on three generations of Nodensson men, it unravels a saga as elaborately structured as a Bach cantata and as emotionally complex as a Bergman film.
The Christmas Oratorio begins in the 1930s, when Solveig Nordensson (wife of Aron and mother of Sidner) is accidentally killed. The grieving family abandons its home and moves to another town, hoping to start afresh, but finds that its emotional burdens have emigrated with it. Aron, bereft by the loss of his wife, starts “seeing” her in capricious hallucinations, and tragically seeks her reincarnation in a love-starved woman half a world away. The introverted Sidner begins a quest for emotional maturity that leads him into odd friendships with a remarkably self-reliant street boy and a free-spirited older woman. And grandson Victor, heir to the tortured legacy left by Solveig’s death, finds redemption for himself in a staging of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio – a performance begun by Solveig half a century earlier and interrupted by her tragic death.
More than a generational saga, however, The Christmas Oratorio is one of those rare works that encompasses the entirety of human drama, in terms at once touching, comic, erotic, and surreal. This is a novel of phenomenal breadth and insight, and a stunning debut in English, by one of the most celebrated authors in Scandinavia today.”
Author: Olga Tokarczuk
Translator: Jennifer Croft
Publisher: Riverhead Books
Publishing Date: 2018
No. of Pages: 403
Synopsis: “Incomparably original, Flights interweaves reflections on travel with an exploration of the human body, broaching life, death, motion, and migration. Chopin’s heart is carried back to Warsaw in secret by his adoring sister. A woman must return to her native Poland in order to poison her terminally ill highly school sweetheart. A young man slowly descends into madness when his wife and child mysteriously vanish during a vacation and just as suddenly reappear. Through these brilliantly imagined characters and stories, interwoven with haunting, playful, and revelatory meditations, Flights explores what is means to be a traveler, a wanderer, a body in motion not only through space but through time. Where are you coming from? Where are you going? we call to the traveler. Enchanting, unsettling, and wholly original, Flights is a master storyteller’s answer.”
Title: Crossing the Mangrove
Author: Maryse Conde
Translator: Richard Philcox
Publisher: Anchor Books
Publishing Date: March 1995
No. of Pages: 208
Synopsis: “In this beautifully crafted, Rashomon-like novel, Maryse Conde has written a gripping story imbued with all the nuances and traditions of Caribbean culture.
Francis Sancher – a handsome outsider, loved by some and reviled by others – is found dead, face down in the mud on a path outside Riviere au Sel, a small village in Guadeloupe. None of the villagers are particularly surprised, since Sancher, a secretive and melancholy man, had often predicted an unnatural death for himself. As the villagers come to pay their respects they each – either in a speech to the mourners or in an internal monologue – reveal another piece of the mystery behind Sancher’s life and death. Like pieces of an elaborate puzzle, their memories interlock to create a rich and intriguing portrait of a man and a community.
In the lush and vivid prose for which she has become famous, Conde has constructed a Guadeloupean wake for Francis Sancher. Retaining the full color and vibrancy of Conde’s homeland, Crossing the Mangrove pays homage to Guadeloupe in both subject and structure.”
Title: The Savage Detectives
Author: Roberto Bolaño
Translator: Natasha Wimmer
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publishing Date: 2007
No. of Pages: 575
Synopsis: “New Year’s Eve, 1975: Arturo Belano and Ulises Lima, poets and leaders of a movement they call visceral realism, leave Mexico City in a borrowed white Impala. Their mission: to track down the poet Cesarea Tinajero, who disappeared into the Sonoran Desert (and obscurity) decades before. But the detectives are themselves hunted men, and their search for the past will end in violence, flight, and permanent exile.
In this dazzling novel, the book that established Roberto Bolaño’s international reputation, he tells the story of two modern-day Quixotes – the last survivors of an underground literary movement, perhaps of literature itself – on a tragicomic quest through a darkening, entropic universe: our own. The Savage Detectives, is, in the words of El Pais, “the kind of novel Borges would have written… An original and magnificent book: funny, moving, important.”
Title: Schindler’s List
Author: Thomas Keneally
Publishing Date: 1993
No. of Pages: 397
Synopsis: “A stunning novel based on the true story of how German war profiteer and prison camp Direktor Oskar Schindler came to save more Jews from the gas chambers than any other single person during World War II.
In this milestone of Holocaust literature, Thomas Keneally uses the actual testimony of the Schindlerjuden – Schindler’s Jews – to brilliantly portray the courage and cunning of a good man in the midst of unspeakable evil.”
Author: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Publisher: Vintage Canada
Publishing Date: 2014
No. of Pages: 588
Synopsis: “Ifemelu and Obinze are young and in love when they depart military-ruled Nigeria for the West. Beautiful, self-assured Ifemelu heads for America, where despite her academic success she is forced to grapple with what it means to be black for the first time. Quiet, thoughtful Obinze had hoped to join her, but with post-9/11 America closed to him, he instead plunges into a dangerous, undocumented life in London. At once powerful and tender, Americana is a remarkable novel of race, love, and identity by the award-winning writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.”
Title: The Bastard of Istanbul
Author: Elif Shafak
Publishing Date: 2007
No. of Pages: 357
Synopsis: “Asya is a nineteen-year-old woman who loves Johnny Cash and the French existentialists. She. Lives in an extended household in Istanbul, where she has been raised, with no father in sight, by her mother, the beautiful and irreverent Zeliha Kazanei, and by Zeliha’s three older sisters: Banu, a devout woman who has rediscovered herself as a clairvoyant; Cevriye, a prim, widowed high school teacher; and Feride, a hypochondriac obsessed with impending disaster. Their one brother, Mustafa, left Turkey many years earlier and now lives in Tucson with an American woman named Rose who has one daughter from a previous marriage to an Armenian man, this daughter, Armanoush, is nineteen and splits her time between Tucson and San Francisco, where her father’s family lives.
As an Armenian living in America, Armanoush feels that part of her identity is missing and that she must make a journey back to the past, to Turkey, in order to start living her life. She secretly flies to Istanbul, finds the Kazanei sisters, and becomes fast friends with Asya. A secret is eventually uncovered that links the two families together and ties them to the 1915 Armenian deportations and massacres.”
Title: Go Set a Watchman
Author: Harper Lee
Publisher: William Heinemann
Publishing Date: 2015
No. of Pages: 278
Synopsis: “Maycomb, Alabama. Twenty-six-year old Jean Louise Finch – ‘Scout’ – returns home from New York City to visit her ageing father, Atticus. Set against the backdrop of the civil rights tension and political turmoil that were transforming the South, Jean Louise’s homecoming turns bittersweet when she learns disturbing truths about her close-knit family, the town and the people dearest to her. Memories from her childhood flood back, and her values and assumptions are thrown into doubt.”
Title: Enduring Love
Author: Ian McEwan
Publisher: Random House
Publishing Date: 1997
No. of Pages: 231
Synopsis: “This story begins on a windy spring day in the Chilterns when the calm, organized life of Joe Rose was shattered by a ballooning accident. The afternoon, Rose reflects, could have ended in mere tragedy, but for his brief meeting with Jed Parry. Unknown to Rose, something passes between them – something that gives birth in Parry to an obsession so powerful that it will test to the limits Rose’s beloved scientific rationalism, threaten the love of his wife Clarissa and drive him to take desperate measures to stay alive.”
Title: Beauty is a Wound
Author: Eka Kurniawan
Translator: Annie Tucker
Publisher: New Directions Books
Publishing Date: 2015
No. of Pages: 470
Synopsis: “The epic Indonesian novel Beauty is a Wound astonishes from its opening line: “One afternoon on a weekend in March, Dewi Ayu rose from her grave after being dead for twenty-one years…
Across generations, the beautiful Indo prostitute Dewi Ayu, her daughters, and her grandchildren are beset by incest, murder, bestiality, rape, and often fiercely vengeful undead.
Kurniawan mixes tender lyricism and gleefully grotesque hyperbole to offer entertainment of a rare order as well as a scathing critique of his young nation’s troubled past: the chaotic struggle for independence; the 1965 mass murders of perhaps a million “communists,” followed by three decades of Suharto’s despotic rule.
Drawing on local sources – folk tales and all -night shadow-puppet plays, with their bawdy wit and epic scope – and inspired by Melville and Gogol, Kurniawan’s distinctive West Javanese voice brings something luscious yet astringent to literature today. Beauty Is a Wound is a prime example of the bravura resilience of art in Indonesia, blossoming after the fall of Suharto.”
Title: The Memory Police
Author: Yoko Ogawa
Translator: Stephen Snyder
Publisher: Vintage Books
Publishing Date: July 2020
No. of Pages: 274
Synopsis: “On an unnamed island, objects are disappearing: first hats, then ribbons, birds, roses…. Most of the inhabitants are oblivious to these changes, while those few able to recall the lost objects live in fear of the draconian Memory Police, who are committed to ensuring that what has disappeared remains forgotten. When a young writer discovers that her editor is in danger, she concocts a plan to hide him beneath her floorboards, and together they cling to her writing as the last way of preserving the past. Powerful and provocative, The Memory Police is a stunning novel about the trauma of loss.”
Title: Zorba the Greek
Author: Nikos Kazantzakis
Translator: Carl Wildman
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publishing Date: 1996
No. of Pages: 311
Synopsis: “Zorba the Greek is the story of a Greek workman who accompanies the narrator to Crete to work a lignite mine and becomes the narrator’s greatest friend and inspiration. Zorba has been acclaimed as one of the truly memorable creations of literature – a character in the great tradition of Sinbad the Sailor, Falstaff, and Sancho Panza. He is a figure created on a huge scale. His years have not dimmed the gusto with which he responds to all that life offers him, whether he’s supervising laborers at a mine, confronting mad monks in a mountain monastery, embellishing the tales of his past adventures, or making love. Zorba’s life is rich with all the joys and sorrows that living brings, and this is one of the great life-affirming novels of our time.”
Title: The Elegance of the Hedgehog
Author: Muriel Barbery
Translator: Alison Anderson
Publisher: Gallic Books
Publishing Date: 2008
No. of Pages: 320
Synopsis: “Renee is the concierge of a grand Parisian apartment building on the Left Bank. To the residents she is honest, reliable and uncultivated – an ideal concierge. But Renee has a secret Beneath this conventional façade she is passionate about culture and the arts, and more knowledgeable in many ways than her self-important employers.
Down in her lodge, Renee is resigned to living a lie; meanwhile, several floors up, twelve-year old Paloma Josse is determined to avoid a predictably bourgeois future, and plans to commit suicide on her thirteenth birthday.
But the death of one of their privileged neighbours will bring dramatic change to number 7, Rue de Grenelle, altering the course of both their lives forever.”
Author: László Krasznahorkai
Translator: George Szirtes
Publisher: Tuskar Rock Press
Publishing Date: 2012
No. of Pages: 274
Synopsis: “In the darkening embers of a communist utopia, life in a desolate Hungarian village has come to a virtual standstill. Flies buzz, spiders weave, water drips and animals root desultorily in the barnyard of a collective farm. But when the charismatic Irimias – long thought dead – returns to the commune, the villagers fall under his spell. The Devil has arrived in their midst.
Irimias will divide and rule: his arrival heralds the beginning of a period of violence and greed for the villagers as he sets about swindling them out of a fortune that would allow them to escape the emptiness and futility of their existence. He soon takes on a messianic aspect, as he plays on the fears of the townsfolk and a series of increasingly brutal events unfold.
Satantango follows the villagers as they are exploited and taken in by Irimias, as they drink and stumble their way toward the gradual realization of their mistake and ultimate demise. In its measured prose and long sentences, Satantango is nothing short of a literary masterpiece, a formal meditation on death and avarice, human fallibility and faith.”
And thus ends my 2021 Top 21 Reading List. Whew. Looking at it right now makes me intimidated as most were written by authors whose prose I have never read previously. Of the 21 authors in the list, I’ve only ad experiences with eight of them. I am both excited and daunted at the same time. I am excited because of the prospect of charging towards uncharted territories. I am daunted, ironically, for the same reasons.
Beyond my intimidation, I am quite proud of the list I came up with. It has variety and diversity. 13 are translated works and the spectrum of nationalities covered is actually, astounding, if I may say so myself. I hope that in 2021 I’ll manage to read all of them. How about you fellow reader? What books are you looking forward to in 2021? I hope you could share it in the comment box.
As always, keep safe and enjoy reading!