Ten out of twelve. Wow. We are nearly done with the year. 2023 is looming over the horizon. While I am excited about what the future holds, I also can’t help but be anxious. I am just hoping that with the new year comes better days. As the year slowly draws to a close, I hope that the last two months of the year will be filled with nothing but blessings. I hope your prayers are answered and everything you worked hard for from the start of the year will be repaid to you a hundredfold. More importantly, I hope everyone stays healthy in body, mind, and spirit. Before welcoming this new month, let me look back at the previous month. The past three months have been dedicated to reading books from my active reading challenges. This venture has greatly paid off and I am on the cusp of completing at least two of these challenges. Meanwhile, during November, I was able to snag a score of books that I hope won’t just gather dust on my bookshelf. As I obtained more copies than usual, I have divided my November 2022 Book Haul into two parts. This is the second part. Happy reading!
Title: Detective Story
Author: Imre Kertész
Translator (from Hungarian): Tim Wilkinson
Publisher: Harvill Secker
Publishing Date: 2008
No. of Pages: 112
Synopsis: As readers, we are accustomed to reading stories of war and injustice from the victims’ point of view, sympathising with their plight. In Detective Story, the tables have been turned, leaving us in the mind of a monster, as Nobel Laureate Imre Kertész plunges us into a story of the worst kind, told by a man living outside morality.
Now in prison, Antonio Martens is a torturer for the secret police of a recently defunct dictatorship. He requests and is given writing materials in his cell, and what he has to recount is his involvement in the surveillance, torture and assassination of Federigo and Enrique Salinas, a prominent father and son whose principled but passive opposition to the regime left them vulnerable to the secret police. Preying upon young Enrique’s aimless life, the secret police began to position him as a subversive and then targeted his father. Once this plan was set into motion, any means were justified to reach the regime’s chosen end – the destruction of an entire liberal class.
Inside Marten’s mind, we inhabit the rationalising world of evil and see first-hand the inherent danger of inertia during times of crisis. A slim, explosive novel of justice railroaded by malevolence, Detective Story is a warning cry for our time.
Author: Négar Djavadi
Translator (from French): Tina Kover
Publisher: Europa Editions
Publishing Date: 2018
No. of Pages: 338
Synopsis: At once a sweeping saga of twentieth-century Iran and an intimate story of a young woman’s determination to create a future on her own terms, Disoriental is Négar Djavadi’s timely, passionate, and entertaining debut novel.
Kimiâ Sadr fled Iran with her mother and sisters at the age of ten to join her father in France. Now in her twenties, sitting in a fertility clinic in Paris as she awaits life-changing news, Kimiâ is inundated by memories of her ancestors, reminiscences, and family myths that reach her in unstoppable waves. Generations of flamboyant Sadrs return to her, including her formidable great-grandfather Montazemolmlk with his harem of fifty-two wives, and her distracted but ardent parents, Sara and Darius, stalwart opponents of each political regime that has befallen them.
In this high-spirited, multigenerational tale, key moments of Iranian history punctuate a story about motherhood, family, exile, rebellion, and love. At the heart of this prize-winning international bestseller is the unforgettable Kimiâ Sadr – queer punk-rock aficionado and storyteller extraordinaire, a woman caught between the vibrant intricacies of her origins and the modern life she’s made.
Title: The Plotters
Author: Un-Su Kim
Translator (from Korean): Sora Kim-Russell
Publishing Date: 2019
No. of Pages: 292
Synopsis: Behind every assassination, there is an anonymous mastermind, a plotter, working in the shadows. Plotters quietly dictate the moves of Seoul’s most dangerous criminals, but their existence is little more than legend. Just who are the plotters? And more important, what do they want?
Reseng is a seasoned assassin. Orphaned at birth and raised by a cantankerous killer named Old Raccoon in the criminal headquarters “the library,” Reseng never questioned anything: where to go, who to kill, or why his home was filled with books that no one but him ever read. But one day, a job goes wrong, toppling a set of carefully calibrated plans. And when he uncovers an extraordinary scheme set into motion by an eccentric trio of young women – a convenience store clerk, her wheelchair-bound sister, and a cross-eyed librarian – Reeng has to decide if he will remain a pawn or finally take control of the plot.
Un-Su Kim has crafted a fiercely original and literary novel crackling with action, unforgettable characters, humor, and soul. But make no mistake, The Plotters is a top-notch thriller in which the gun is always loaded, the knife is always sharpened, and you should think twice about getting a cut and shave from someone called the Barber.
Title: The Good Muslim
Author: Tahmima Anam
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Publishing Date: 2011
No. of Pages: 297
Synopsis: In the dying days of a brutal civil war in Bangladesh, Sohail Haque stumbles upon an abandoned building. Inside he finds a young woman whose story will haunt him for a lifetime to come.
Almost a decade later, Sohail’s sister, Maya, returns home after a long absence to find her beloved brother transformed. While Maya has stuck to her revolutionary ideals, Sohail has shunned his old life to become a charismatic religious leader. And when Sohail decides to send his son to a madrasa, the conflict between brother and sister comes to a devastating climax.
The Good Muslim is an epi about faith, family, the rise of religious fundamentalism, and the long shadow of war from prizewinning Bangladeshi novelist Tahmima Anam.
Title: The Strangeness of Beauty
Author: Lydia Minatoya
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publishing Date: 1999
No. of Pages: 382
Synopsis: When Etsuko Sone’s sister dies in childbirth in Seattle’s shabby Japantown, love for the precocious child catapults Etsuko back across the Pacific and into the austere samurai household of her mysterious mother, Chie – a woman who rejected Etsuko at birth. The dubious reconciliation is for the sake of little Hanae, that she might learn her Fuji heritage and the Zen lessons of humility, dignity, self-discipline, and grace.
In Japan, Etsuko is the ultimate outsider: a returning emigrant in a land she left years before; a common woman thrust into a house of secrets and riches; a childless mother and a motherless daughter. As Etsuko and Hanae do their often quite comic best to adapt to life within Chie’s samurai household, Japan is changing in dangerous ways. Worldwide economic strife strips Japan’s people of food and clothing even as wartime preparations strip them of information and freedoms. Chie and Etsuko greet the mounting militarism with resistance, and when the imperial army cuts cruelly into Chinese Manchuria, accusations of treachery, of antipatriotism, begin to rain on the Fuji household. It is then that the women realize their separate independence is their common bond. It is then that Etsuko finds hidden strength to pursue meaning and beauty in a situation beyond her control.
Told with a social scientist’s feel for cultural, historical, and familial confusions and a poet’s ear and eye, The Strangeness of Beauty is a triumphant love story, a celebration of the capacity for transcendence that exists in every one of us.
Title: The Hundred Wells of Salaga
Author: Ayesha Harruna Attah
Publisher: Other Press
Publishing Date: 2019
No. of Pages: 225
Synopsis: Aminah lives an idyllic life until she is brutally separated from her home and forced on a journey that turns her from a daydreamer into a resilient woman. Wurche, the willful daughter of a chief, is desperate to play an important role in her father’s court. Their lives converge as infighting among Wurche’s people threatens the region, during the height of the slave trade at the end of the nineteenth century.
Through the story of these remarkably strong women who challenged the expectations placed on them by society, The Hundred Wells of Salaga offers an intimate, authentic look at what it was like to live and think in Africa before the colonial era. At once heartbreaking and inspiring, this novel is essential for those who loved Homegoing and Things Fall Apart.
Title: The Member of the Wedding
Author: Carson McCullers
Publisher: Mariner Books
Publishing Date: 2004
No. of Pages: 163
Synopsis: The novel that became an award-winning play and a major motion picture that has charmed generation of readers, Carson McCuller’s classic The Member of the Wedding tells the story of the inimitable twelve-year-old Frankie, who is utterly, hopelessly bored with life until she hears about her older brother’s upcoming marriage. Bolstered by lively conversations with the family maid, Berenice, and her six-year-old male cousin – not to mention her own unbridled imagination – Frankie takes an overly active roled in the wedding. She hopes even to go, uninvited, on the honeymoon, so deep is her desire to become part of something larger, more accepting, than herself. “A marvelous study of the agony of adolescence” (Detroit Free Press), The Member of the Wedding showcases McCullers at her most sensitive, most astute, and lasting best.
Title: Down the Rabbit Hole
Author: Juan Pablo Villalobos
Translator (from Spanish): Rosalind Harvey
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publishing Date: 2012
No. of Pages: 70
Synopsis: Tochtli lives in a palace. He loves hats, samurai, guillotines, and dictionaries, and what he wants more than anything right now is a new pet for his private zoo: a pygmy hippopotamus from Liberia. But Tochtli is a child whose father is a drug baron on the verge of taking over a powerful cartel, and Tochtli is growing up in a luxury hideout that he shares with hit men, prostitutes, dealers, servants, and the odd corrupt politician or two.
Short-listed for the Guardian First Book Award, Juan Pablo Villalobos’s Down the Rabbit Hole, a masterful and darkly comic first novel, is the chronicle of a delirious journey to grant a child’s wish.
Title: Bread and Wine
Author: Ignazio Silone
Translator (from Italian): Harvey Fergusson II
Publisher: Time Life Books
Publishing Date: 1965
No. of Pages: 284
Synopsis: (Editor’s Preface) Ignazio Silone’s Bread and Wine is a novel of great force and subtlety, with a deceptively simple look about it. It can be read as a picaresque and occasionally very funny, tale of adventure in the anti-Mussolini underground in Italy – as a kind of political thriller. But it is, of course, a great deal more than an adventure story. At bottom, it is a statement of the awful dilemma that faced men of good will in Europe during the mid-1930s, when the democracies seemed weak and inept; the Fascists seemed powerful and resolute; and the Communists, who offered an alternative to Fascism, were showing themselves to be no less an evil. In the circumstances, where were men of good will to return? How did one go about fighting for justice? Where was one to find allies?
Title: Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands
Author: Jorge Amado
Translator (from Portuguese): Harriet de Onis
Publisher: Avon Books
Publishing Date: May 1988
No. of Pages: 518
Synopsis: In this extraordinary adventure by Brazil’s foremost novelist, the irrepressible Dona Flor is happy with her new husband, who is kind, considerate, a perfect gentleman. Yet, she has to admit she misses his roguish, passionate predecessor, who expired from his amorous exertions. So, in this land of many gods and occasional miracles, Flor approaches the divine Exu with her dilemma… and before she knows it, she has all any woman could possibly want: two husbands – one living, one dead – each consummately skilled in his own way in the infinite art of love.
Title: The Wondrous and Tragic Life of Ivan and Ivana
Author: Maryse Condé
Translator (from French): Richard Philcox
Publisher: World Editions
Publishing Date: 2020
No. of Pages: 266
Synopsis: Born in Guadeloupe, Ivan and Ivana are twins with a bond so strong they become afraid of their feelings for one another. When their mother sends them off to live with their father in Mali they begin to grow apart, until, as young adults in Paris, Ivana’s youthful altruism compels her to join the police academy, while Ivan walks the path of radicalization. The twins, unable to live either with or without each other, become perpetrator and victim in a wave of violent attacks.