It’s the second day of the week! It’s also time for a Top 5 Tuesday update. Top 5 Tuesdays was originally created by Shanah @ the Bionic Bookworm but is now currently being hosted by Meeghan @ Meeghan Reads.
This week’s topic: Top 5 Debut Novels
This weeks’ topic has hyped me up. I have been going over my memory to round up some of my favorite debut novels. Because I have missed a lot of reading because of my late start, I have been catching up these past few years while also catching up on the newer ones. As such, I have also been on the hunt for the debut novels of some of my favorite writers; Rushdie’s Grimus comes to mind. This is partly out of curiosity, to see how their storytelling and writing have improved and sharpened over the years. Without more ado, here are my Top 5 debut novels.
A Pale View of Hills by Kazuo Ishiguro
Japanese-born and Nobel Laureate in Literature Kazuo Ishiguro has certainly earned my admiration over the past few years. However, back then, Ishiguro was an unfamiliar name. One of the books that I kept encountering on must-read lists is A Pale View of Hills. I also kept coming across the book on several bookseller’s pages. It did take some time before I finally decided to give Ishiguro and his works a try. However, my first venture into his works was An Artist of the Floating World. It was a poignant but quick read. I would end up reading more of his works. Post his 2017 Nobel victory, I immediately purchased a copy of A Pale View of Hills. Unbeknownst to me, it was his debut work. I relished reading the novel. It contained the literary elements that would be a trademark of his work – the compelling narrator’s voice, the poignant atmosphere, and the effortless storytelling. Apart from this, A Pale View of Hills gave a distinct literary experience, akin to An Artist of the Floating World but different from The Buried Giant or Never Let Me Go.
How Much of These Hills is Gold by C Pam Zhang
It was either late 2019 or early 2020 that I first encountered C Pam Zhang’s How Much of These Hills is Gold. I was then looking for books to include in my 2020 Books I Look Forward To List. Because many readers provided positive feedback on the book, I decided to give it a try. When the book was longlisted for the 2020 Booker Prize, my anticipation for the book doubled (perhaps tripled). However, it took me some time before I can finally purchase a copy of the book; the restrictions due to the pandemic were another factor. Once my copy of the novel was delivered to my doorstep, I immediately immersed myself in the novel. It was the story of two sisters who were recently orphaned. The story was also set during the twilit years of the American Gold Rush but the focus of the narrative was on the Chinese immigrant experience. The storytelling was a little inconsistent but it possesses a rawness that was, somehow, pleasant to experience. It provided promise and potential. It was for this reason alone that I look forward to more of C Pam Zhang’s works.
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
Amongst my favorite books, Afghan-born novelist Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner is a standout. Before I got to read The Kite Runner, I have already read Hosseini’s other works – And the Mountains Echoed and A Thousand Splendid Suns. Both were heavy books but both made me fall in love with Afghanistan, its colorful culture, and its diverse mix. Both were also great factors in my appreciation of Afghan (and Arab) literature. What I didn’t realize is that these two books would prepare me for one of my best reading journeys through Hosseini’s debut novel, The Kite Runner. I actually didn’t know it was his debut novel until a few days ago. What really drew me into the story was the father and son relationship that the novel was centered on; you see, I have a fascination with these filial relationships. The novel was a powerful account of family ties but the background upon which it was juxtaposed was equally powerful. Hosseini painted, with masterful strokes, the equally beautiful and horrifying modern history of Afghanistan. I am hoping Hosseini will publish more works in the coming years.
Stay With Me by Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀
A couple of days before encountering Nigerian writer Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ’s Stay With Me at the 2020 Big Bad Wolf Sale, I came across a glowing review of the book. This made me interested in the book and what do you know, it was one of the books I encountered during the said book fair. I didn’t hesitate in purchasing the book. I also didn’t waste any time in reading the book for I included it in my African Literature month, which was already ongoing by that time. It is the story of Yejide and Akin, a young couple who were struggling to conceive a child. It was both their fervent desire to have children but it was all for naught. Raw emotions were running high, as one can’t help but sympathize with their struggles. Adébáyọ’s writing was both raw and nuanced but did an incredible job of reeling in the readers. She further enriched their story by painting Nigeria’s culture and history on the background. I just cannot praise this book enough. It was, certainly, moving and unforgettable. I can’t wait to read more of Adébáyọ’s works.
A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
Of the books listed in this Top 5 Tuesday update, it was Fredrik Backman’s A Man Called Ove that I was most hesitant to read. Back then, I kept encountering the book. It was, well, ubiquitous. The hype made me step away from it, and for years, I resisted the temptation to buy a copy of the book. That was until I came across a video of NCT 127’s Johnny showing a copy of the book; in the tradition of Korean shows, it wasn’t completely shown but the cover was too familiar. It made me welcome the prospect of reading the book, which I am very glad of because A Man Called Ove ended up becoming one of my best all-time reads. It is the story of Ove, a curmudgeon of a man whose veneer daunted everyone he encountered. However, what people don’t realize is that he has his own story, one that he was also reluctant to share. His icy façade was broken through by his new neighbors, a couple’s young family. What unfolded is a heartwarming story about how our prejudices affect the way we deal with others, insouciant with their own stories. It actually reminded me of another Swedish work, Jonas Jonasson’s The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared. Both were oddly satisfying reads. A Man Called Ove also made me look forward to Backman’s other works. In fact, his latest translated work, Anxious People, was also one of my favorite reads in 2020, and all-time as well.
And that’s my list. However, to be honest, I find the list a little too short for there are a lot of debut novels (some I don’t even realize were debut novels) that have won me over. Among them are Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Sympathizer, Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird, Akwaeke Emezi’s Freshwater, Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing, Abi Dare’s The Girl With the Louding Voice, Eka Kurniawan’s Beauty is a Wound, Imbolo Mbue’s Behold the Dreams, to name a few. How about you fellow reader, what debut novels have made an impression on you?