One of my reading resolutions this 2021 is to read more and buy less; this is a resolution that I carried on from previous years because I can never seem to accomplish it. And if January is a precursor to what 2021 is going to be, then I am again bound to fail (AHAHA!). I read eight books but purchased eleven. To my credit, some of these books were purchased in late December 2020 and were just delivered in January. Nevertheless, here is a list of my January 2021 book haul. Happy reading!
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 the 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: Real Life
Author: Brandon Taylor
Publisher: Riverhead Books
Publishing Date: 2020
No. of Pages: 327
Synopsis: “Almost everything about Wallace is at odds with the Midwestern university town where he is working uneasily toward a biochem degree. An introverted young man from Alabama, black and queer, he has left behind his family without escaping the long shadows of his childhood. For reasons of self-preservation, Wallace was enforced a wary distance even within his own circle of friends – some dating women, some feigning straightness. But over the course of a late summer weekend, a series of confrontations with colleagues and an unexpected encounter with an ostensibly straight, white classmate conspire to fracture his defenses while exposing long-hidden currents of hostility and desire within their community.
Real Life is a novel of profound and lacerating power, a story that asks if it’s ever really possible to overcome our private wounds, and at what cost.”
Title: Shuggie Bain
Author: Douglas Stuart
Publisher: Grove Press
Publishing Date: October 2020
No. of Pages: 430
Synopsis: “Shuggie Bain is the unforgettable story of Hugh “Shuggie” Bain, a sweet and lonely boy who spends his 1980s childhood in run-down public housing in Glasgow, Scotland, taking care of his beloved mother Agnes. Agnes is a proud, beautiful woman who turns herself out like her idol Elizabeth Taylor, but she is an alcoholic, who spends most of the family’s weekly benefits money on extra-strong lager and bottles of vodka. A heartbreaking story of addition, sexuality, and love, Shuggie Bain is an epic portrayal of a working-class family and a queer childhood from a masterful novelist, one of the most talented debut writers of recent years.”
Title: Redhead by the Side of the Road
Author: Anne Tyler
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf
Publishing Date: 2020
No. of Pages: 178
Synopsis: “Micah Mortimer is a creature of habit, content leading a steady, circumscribed life. But one day his woman friend (he refuses to call anyone in her thirties a “girlfriend”) tells him she’s facing eviction and then a teenager shows up at Micah’s door claiming to be his son. These surprises, and the ways they throw Micah’s meticulously organized life off-kilter, risk changing him forever. An intimate look into the heart and mind of a man who finds those around him just beyond reach, and a funny, joyful, deeply compassionate story about seeing the world through new eyes, Redhead by the Side of the Road is a triumph, filled with wit and keen observation.”
Title: 4 3 2 1
Author: Paul Auster
Publisher: Henry Holt and Company
Publishing Date: 2017
No. of Pages: 866
Synopsis: “On March 3, 1947, in the maternity ward of Beth Israel Hospital in Newark, New Jersey, Archibald Isaac Ferguson, the one and only child of Rose and Stanley Ferguson is born. From that single beginning, Ferguson’s life will take four simultaneous and independent fictional paths. Four Fergusons made of the same genetic material, four boys who are the same boy, will go on to lead four parallel and entirely different lives. Family fortunes diverge. Loves and friendships and intellectual passions contrast. Chapter by chapter, the rotating narratives evolve into an elaborate dance of inner worlds enfolded within the outer forces of history as, one by one, the intimate plot of each Ferguson’s story rushes on across the tumultuous and fractured terrain of mid-twentieth century America. A boy grows up – again and again and again.
As inventive and dexterously constructed as anything Paul Auster has ever written, 4 3 2 1 is an unforgettable tour de force, the crowning work of this masterful writer’s extraordinary career.”
Title: Red April
Author: Santiago Roncagliolo
Translator: Edith Grossman
Publisher: Pantheon Books
Publishing Date: 2009
No. of Pages: 866
Synopsis: “A chilling, internationally acclaimed political thriller, Red April is a grand achievement in contemporary Latin American fiction, written by the youngest winner ever of the Alfaguara Prize – one of the most prestigious in the Spanish-speaking world – and translate from the Spanish by one of our most celebrated literary translators, Edith Grossman. It evokes Holy Week during a cruel, bloody, and terrifying time in Peru’s history, shocking for its corrosive mix of assassination, bribery, intrigue, torture, and enforced disappearance – a war between grim, ideologically driven terrorism and morally bankrupt government counterinsurgency.
Mother-haunted, wife-abandoned, literature-loving, quietly eccentric Flex Chacaltana Saldivar is a hapless, by-the-book, unambitious prosecutor living in Lima. Until now he has lived a life in which nothing exceptionally good or bad has ever happened to him. But, inexplicably, he has been put in charge of a bizarre and horrible murder investigation. As it unfold by propulsive twists and turns – full of paradoxes and surprises – Saldivar is compelled to confront what happens to a man and a society when death becomes the only certainty in life.
Stunning for its self-assured and nimble clarity of style – reminiscent of classic noir fiction – the inexorable momentum of its plot, and the moral complexity of its concerns, Red April is at once riveting and profound, informed as it it by deft artistry in the shaping of conflict between competing venalities. As The New York Times declares, “Lima is once again one of Latin America’s brightest literary scenes.””
Title: The Joys of Motherhood
Author: Buchi Emecheta
Publisher: Heinemann Educational Publishers
Publishing Date: 1994
No. of Pages: 224
Synopsis: “First published in 1979, The Joys of Motherhood is the story of Nnu Ego, a Nigerian woman struggling in a patriarchal society. Unable to conceive in her first marriage, Nnu is banished to Lagos where she succeeds in becoming a mother. Then, against the backdrop of World War II, Nnu must fiercely protect herself and her children when she is abandoned by her husband and her people. Emecheta “writes with subtlety, power, and abundant compassion” (New York Times) (Source: Goodreads)”
Title: The Lake
Author: Yasunari Kawabata
Translator: Reiko Tsukimura
Publisher: Kodansha International Ltd.
Publishing Date: 1974
No. of Pages: 160
Synopsis: “The Lake is the history of an obsession. It traces a man’s sad pursuit of an unattainable perfection, a beauty out of reach, admired from a distance, unconsummated. Homeless, a fugitive from an ambiguous crime, his is an incurable longing that drives him to shadow nameless women in the street and hide in ditches as they pass above him, beautiful and aloof. For their beauty is not of this world, but of a dream – the voice of a girl he meets in a Turkish bath is “an angel’s,” the figures of two students he follows seem “to glide over the green grass that hid their knees.” Reality is the durable ugliness that is his constant companion and is symbolized in the grotesque deformity of the hero’s feet. And it is the irreconcilable nature of these worlds that explains the strangely dehumanized, shadowy quality of the eroticism that pervades this novel.
In a sense The Lake is a formless novel, a “happening,” making it one of the most modern of all Kawabata’s works. Just as the hero’s interest might be caught by some passing stranger, so the course of the novel swerves abruptly from present to past, memory shades into hallucination, dreams break suddenly into daylight. It is an extraordinary performance of free association, made all the more astonishing for the skill with which these fragments are resolved within the completed tapestry.”
Title: Native Son
Author: Richard Wright
Publisher: Perennial Classics
Publishing Date: 1998
No. of Pages: 462
Synopsis: “Right from the start, Bigger Thomas had been headed for jail. It could have been for assault or petty larceny; by chance, it was for murder and rape. Native Son tells the story of this young black man caught in a downward spiral after he kills a young white woman in a brief moment of panic. Set in Chicago in the 1930s, Wright’s powerful novel is an unsparing reflection of the poverty and feelings of hopelessness experienced by people in inner cities across the country and of what it means to be black in America.”
Title: Sassafrass, Cypress & Indigo
Author: Ntozake Shange
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Publishing Date: 1982
No. of Pages: 225
Synopsis: “Sassafrass, Cypress & Indigo is the story of three colored girls, three sisters and their mama from Charleston, South Carolina: Sassafrass, the oldest, a poet and a weaver like her mother, gone north to college, living in L.A> and trying to weave a life out of her work, her man, her memories, and dreams; Cypress, the dancer who leaves home to find new ways of moving and easing the contradictions of her soul; Indigo, the youngest, still a child of Charleston – “too much of the South in her” – who can hear her dolls talk and has the great gift of seeing the obvious magic of the world.”
Author: Neil Gaiman
Publisher: William Morrow
Publishing Date: 2006
No. of Pages: 248
Synopsis: “Young Tristan Thorn will do anything to win the cold heart of beautiful Victoria – even fetch her the star they watch fall from the night sky. But to do so, he must enter the unexplored lands on the other side of the ancient wall that gives their tiny village its name. Beyond that old stone wall, Tristan learns, lies Faerie – where nothing, not even a fallen star, is what he imagined.
From #1 New York Times bestselling author Neil Gaiman comes a remarkable quest into the dark and miraculous – in pursuit of love and the utterly impossible.”
Title: Crying Mountain
Author: Criselda Yabes
Publisher: Penguin Books
Publishing Date: 2019
No. of Pages: 179
Synopsis: “In Crying Mountain, the Moro Rebellion that broke out in the Sulu archipelago in the 1970s, and that continues to wound the nation, is seen vividly through the lives of the mestiza Rosy Wright, the Tausug girl Nahla, the rebel leader Professor Hassan, the soldier Captain Rodolfo as well as in the quest of the book’s narrator.
Follow the transformation of Jolo – from its former glory days of prestigious parties to the ushering in of a new era of more zealous religious observance – through the eyes of the narrator.”