It is already November! Time is surely flying fast. In October, I managed to purchase a score of interesting titles. Three books were nominated for the 2021 Booker Prize while three books are works of Japanese Literature, a part of the literary world that I absolutely love. Also in the mix are the works of authors I have never encountered previously and the latest novels of writers with who I am already familiar. Interestingly, six of these books were published this year. Without more ado, here are the books I purchased during the month.


Title: Bewilderment
Author: Richard Powers
Publisher: Hutchinson Heinemann
Publishing Date: 2021
No. of Pages: 278

Synopsis: A moving new novel from the Pulitzer Prize-winning, New York Times bestselling and Booker-shortlisted author of The Overstory.

Theo Bryne is a promising young scientist who has found a way to search for life on other planets dozens of light years away. He is also the widowed father of a most unusual nine-year-old. His son Robin is funny, loving and filled with plans. He thinks and feels deeply, adores animals and can spend hours painting elaborate pictures. He is also on the verge of being expelled from school for smashing his friend’s face with a thermos.

What can a father do, when the only solution offered to his rare and troubled boy is to put him on psychoactive drugs? What can he say when his boy comes to him wanting an explanation for a world that is clearly in love with its won destruction? The only thing for it is to take the boy to other planets, all while fostering his son’s desperate attempt to save this one.

At the heart of Bewilderment lies the question: How can we tell our children the truth about this beautiful, imperilled planet?

Title: The Promise
Author: Damon Galgut
Publisher: Chatto & Windus
Publishing Date: 2021
No. of Pages: 293

Synopsis: The Promise charts the crash and burn of a white South African family, living on a farm outside Pretoria. The Swarts are gathering for Ma’s funeral. The younger generation, Anton and Amor, detest everything the family stand for – not least the failed promise to the Black woman who has worked for them her whole life. After years of service, Salome was promised her own house, her own land…yet somehow, as each decade passes, that promise remains unfulfilled.

The narrator’s eye shifts and blinks: moving fluidly between characters, flying into their dreams; deliciously lethal in its obersvaito. And as the country moves from old deep divisions to its new so-called fairer society, the lost promise of more than just one family hovers behind the novel’s title.

In this story of a diminished family, sharp and tender emotional truths hit home. Confident, deft and quietly powerful, The Promise is literary fiction at its finest.

Title: Harlem Shuffle
Author: Colson Whitehead
Publisher: Doubleday
Publishing Date: 2021
No. of Pages: 318

Synopsis: To his customers and neighbors on 125th Street, Carney is an upstanding salesman of reasonably priced furniture, making a decent life for himself and his family He and his wife, Elizabeth are expecting their second child, and if her parents on Striver’s Row don’t approve of him or their cramped apartment across from the subway tracks, it’s still home.

Few people know he descends from a line of uptown hoods and crooks, and that his facade of normalcy has more than a few cracks in it. Cracks that are getting bigger all the time.

Cash is tight, especially with all those installment-plan sofas, so if his cousin Freddie occasionally drops off the odd ring or necklace, Ray doesn’t ask where it comes from. He knows a discreet jeweler downtown who doesn’t ask questions either.

Then Freddie falls in with a crew who plan to rob the Hotel Thersa – the “Waldorf of Harlem” – and volunteers Ray’s services as the fence. The heist didn’t go as planned; they rarely do. Now Ray has a new clientele, one made up of shady cops, vicious local gangsters, two-bit pornographers, and other assorted Harlem lowlifes.

Thus begins the internal tussle between Ray the strive and Ray the crook. As Ray navigates this double life, he begins to see who actually pulls the strings in Harlem. Can Ray avoid getting killed, save his cousin, and grab his share of the big score, all while maintaining his reputation as the go-to source for all your quality home furniture needs?

Harlem Shuffle’s ingenious story plays out in a beautifully re-created New York City of the early 1960s. It’s a family saga masquerading as a crime novel, a hilarious morality play, a social novel about race and power, and ultimately, a love letter to Harlem.

But mostly, it’s a joy to read, another dazzling novel from the Pulitzer Prize – and NationalBook Award-winning Colson Whitehead.

Title: Cloud Cuckoo Land
Author: Anthony Doerr
Publisher: Scribner
Publishing Date: 2021
No. of Pages: 622

Synopsis: Set in Constantinople in the fifteenth century, in a small town in present-day Idaho, and on an interstellar ship decades from now, Anthony Doerr’s gorgeous third novel is a triumph of imagination and compassion, a soaring story about children on the cusp of adulthood in worlds in peril, who find resilience, hope – and a book. In Cloud Cuckoo Land, Doerr has created a magnificent tapestry of times and places that reflects our vast interconnectedness – with other species, with each other, with those who lived before us, and with those who will be here after we’re gone.

Thirteen-year-old Anna, an orphan, lives inside the formidable walls of Constantinople in a house of women who make their living embroidering the robes of priests. Restless, insatiably curious, Anna learns to read, and in this ancient city, famous for its libraries, she finds a book, the story of Aethon, who longs to be turned into a bird so that he can fly to a utopian paradise in the sky. This she reads to her ailing sister as the walls of the only place she has known are bombarded in the great siege of Constantinople. Outside the walls is Omeir, a village boy, miles from home, conscripted with his beloved oxen into the invading army. His path and Anna’s will cross.

Five hundred years later, in a library in Idaho, octogenarian Zeno, who learned Greek as a prisoner of war, rehearses five children in a play adaptation of Aethon’s story, preserved against all odds through centuries. Tucked among the library shelves is a bomb, planted by a troubled, idealistic teenager, Seymour. This is another siege. And in a not-so-distant future, on the interstellar ship Argos, Konstance is alone in a vault, copying on scraps of sacking the story of Aethon, told to her by her father. She has never set foot on our planet.

Like Marie-Laure and Werner in All the Light We Cannot See, Anna, Omeir, Seymour, Zeno, and Konstance are dreamer and outsiders who find resourcefulness and hope in the midst of gravest danger. Their lives are gloriously intertwined. Doerr’s dazzling imagination transports us to worlds so dramatic and immersive that we forget, for a time, our own. Dedicated to “the librarians then, now, and in the years to come,” Cloud Cuckoo Land is a beautiful and redemptive novel about stewardship – of the book, of the Earth, of the human heart.

Title: Olga
Author: Bernhard Schlink
Translator (from German): Charlotte Collins
Publisher: HarperVia
Publishing Date: 2021
No. of Pages: 269

Synopsis: Orphaned at an early age, Olga lives with her grandmother in a small Prussian village. Unloved by her grandmother and different from the local children, Olga grows up a lonely soul – until she meets Herbert. The son of a local aristocrat, Herbert is different, too: a dreamer. Olga is quickly drawn to his adventurous spirit.

Though hindered by her modest means, Olga is determined to become a teacher – and succeeds. Herbert decides to join the army and volunteers to go to German South West Africa – now Namibia – where he falls in love with the grand, empty expanse of the desert. But he also participates in the brutal war against the Herero, and as Olga reads his letters, her view of him darkens. Then one day Herbert embarks on a quixotic mission into the Arctic, and Olga’s loyalty is put to the test.

By the end of World War II, Olga’s life has seen irreversible changes. She starts a new life in the West, making her living as a seamstress. That’s how Olga befriends Ferdinand, a young boy who loves her attention and her quirks. In his adulthood, Ferdinand will find a cache of Olga’s letters that reveal the secrets she had hidden from him – and everyone.

Seamlessly shifting between different viewpoints and forms, Olga tells the story of a woman, who like many of her generation, is forced to live below her capacities – next to men who live above theirs. Yet Olga manages to cope with the hardships of her era with strength, dignity, and courage. And she loves against all odds: passionately, desperately, wisely.

Title: Aristotle and Date Dive Into the Waters of the World
Author: Benjamin Alire Saenz
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publishing Date: 2021
No. of Pages: 516

Synopsis: In Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, two boys in a border town fell in love.

Now they must discover what it means to stay in love and build a relationship in a world that seems to challenge their very existence.

Ari has spent all of high school burying who he really is, staying silent and invisible. He expected his senior high to be the same. But something in him cracked open when he fell in love with Dante, and he can’t go back. Suddenly he finds himself reaching ut to new friends, standing up to bullies of all kinds, and making his voice heard. And, always, there is Dante – dreamy, witty Dante – who can get on Ari’s nerves and fill him with desire all at once.

The boys are determined to forge a path for themselves in a world that doesn’t understand them. But when Ari is faced with a shocking loss, he’ll have to fight like never before to create a life that is truthfully, joyfully his own.

Title: Second Place
Author: Rachel Cusk
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publishing Date: 2021
No. of Pages: 180

Synopsis: A haunting fable of art, family, and fate from the author of the Outline trilogy.

A woman invites a famous artist to use her guesthouse in the remote coastal landscape where she lives with her family. Powerfully drawn to his paintings, she believes his vision might penetrate the mystery at the center of her life. But as a long, dry summer sets in, his provocative presence itself becomes an enigma – and disrupts the calm of her secluded household.

Second Place, Rachel Cusk’s electrifying new novel, is a study of female fate and male privilege, the geometries of human relationships, and the moral questions that animate our lives. It reminds us of art’s capacity to uplift – and to destroy.

Title: The Story of a Goat
Author: Perumal Murugan
Translator (from Tamil): N. Kalyan Raman
Publisher: Black Cat
Publishing Date: December 2019
No. of Pages: 178

Synopsis: In his brilliant new novel, Perumal Murugan paints a bucolic portrait of the rural lives of India’s farming community through the story of a helpless young animal. A farmer in Tamil Nadu, South India, is watching the sun set over his village one evening when a giant man appears on the horizon. He offers the farmer a goat kid who is the runt of the litter, surely too frail to survive. The farmer and his wife take care of the young she-goat, whom they name Poonachi, and soon the little goat is gaining strength and even bounding with joy. But Poonachi’s life is not destined to be a rural idyll – dangers lurk around every corner, and sometimes come from surprising places, including a government that is supposed to protect the weak. A beautiful portrait of the natural world that also examines hierarchies of caste and color, The Story of a Goat is a lyrical fable from a world-class storyteller.

Title: The Copenhagen Trilogy
Author: Tove Ditlevsen
Translator (from Danish): Tiina Nunnally and Michael Favala Goldman
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publishing Date: 2021
No. of Pages: 370

Synopsis: Tove Ditlevsen is today celebrated as one of the most important and unique voices in twentieth-century Danish literature, and The Copenhagen Trilogy (1969-71) is her acknowledged masterpiece. Childhood tells the story of a misfit child’s single-minded determination to become a poet; Youth describes her early experiences of sex, work, and independence. Dependency picks up the story as the narrator embarks on the first of her four marriages and goes on to describe her horrible descent into drug addiction, enabled by her sinister, gaslighting doctor-husband.

Throughout, the narrator grapples with the tension between her vocation as a writer and her competing roles as daughter, wife, mother, and drug addict, and she writes about female experience and identity in a way that feels very fresh and pertinent to today’s discussions around feminism. Ditlevsen’s trilogy is remarkable for its intensity and its immersive depiction of a world of complex female friendships, family and growing up–in this sense, it’s Copenhagen’s answer to Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels. She can also be seen as a spiritual forerunner of confessional writers like Karl Ove Knausgaard, Annie Ernaux, Rachel Cusk and Deborah Levy. Her trilogy is drawn from her own experiences but reads like the most compelling kind of fiction.

Born in a working-class neighborhood in Copenhagen in 1917, Ditlevsen became famous for her poetry while still a teenager, and went on to write novels, stories and memoirs before committing suicide in 1976. Having been dismissed by the critical establishment in her lifetime as a working-class, female writer, she is now being rediscovered and championed as one of Denmark’s most important modern authors, with Tove fever gripping readers. (Source: Goodreads)

Title: The Cake Tree in the Ruins
Author: Akiyuki Nosaka
Translator (from Japanese): Ginny Tapley Takemori
Publisher: Pushkin Press
Publishing Date: 2018
No. of Pages: 157

Synopsis: In 1945, Akiyuki Nosaka lived through the Allied firebombing of Kobe. His father and mother were killed in the raid. His sister died shortly afterwards. The unforgettably powerful stories in this book are inspired by his memories of that time.

A lonely whale searches the oceans for a mate, and sacrifices himself for love; a mother desperately tries to save her son with her tears; a huge, magnificent tree grows amid the ruins of a burnt-out town, its branches made from the sweetest cake imaginable.

Profound, heartbreaking and aglow with a piercing beauty, these stories express the chaos and terror of conflict, yet also reveal how love can illuminate even the darkest moment.

Title: Things Remembered and Things Forgotten
Author: Kyoko Nakajima
Translator (from Japanese): Ian McCullough MacDonald and Ginny Tapley Takemori
Publisher: Sort of Books
Publishing Date: 2021
No. of Pages: 263

Synopsis: “If we want to understand what has been lost to time, there is no way other than through the exercise of imagination… imagination applied with delicate rather than broad strokes.

So writes the award-winning Japanese author Kyoko Nakajima of her story, Things Remembered and Things Forgotten, a piece that illuminates, as if by throwing a switch the layers of wartime devastation that lie just below the surface of Tokyo’s insistently modern culture.

The ten acclaimed stories in this collection are pervaded by an air of ghostliness. In beautifully crafted and deceptively light prose, Kyoko Nakajima portrays men and women beset by cultural amnesia and unaware of how haunted they are – by fragmented memories of war and occupation, by fading traditions, by buildings lost to firestorms and bulldozers, by the spirits of their recent past.

Title: People From My Neighborhood
Author: Hiromi Kawakami
Translator (from Japanese): Ted Goossen
Publisher: Granta
Publishing Date: 2021
No. of Pages: 121

Synopsis: Welcome to the neighbourhood. Meet the neighbours.

The small child who lives under a sheet; the old man who has two shadows, one docile, the other rebellious; two girls named Yoko who are locked in a bitter lifelong rivalry; the people who visit an apartment block and come away with strange afflictions. In Kawakami’s super-short ‘palm of the hand’ stories, the world is never quite as it should be – but you won’t want to leave.