Happy New Year everyone! 2022 is now a done deal; we have completed a journal of 365 pages but as they say, every ending is a new beginning. We have been given a fresh set of 365 blank pages which we can fill with good and lasting memories. While the previous years have been shrouded in uncertainties due to the pandemic, 2023 is shaping up to be a year of good tidings. I sure hope so – despite the ominous forecasts vis-a-vis the global economy – because hope is the only thing that springs eternal.
As has been the tradition in the past couple of years, 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 of how the coming year is going to shape up. This book wrap-up is a part of a mini-series that will feature the following:
- 2022 Top Ten Favorite Books
- 2022 Book Wrap Up
- 2022 Most Memorable Book Quotes (Part I)
- 2022 Most Memorable Book Quotes (Part II)
- 2022 New Favorite Authors
- 2023 Books I Look Forward To List
- 2023 Top 23 Reading List
Over the years, my Top 20 reading list opened several doors of opportunity to explore some of the best works of literature. Often an eclectic mix of literary classics and contemporary books from various genres, these lists have provided me some of the most memorable literary journeys I had in years. They have also kept me occupied for the year; particularly toward the end of the year when I would scramble to complete reading all the books in the said lists. HAHA. I am filled with hope that my 2023 reading journey will be as stellar as my 2022 reading journey; 2022 was an unexpectedly record-breaking year as I outdid myself in different areas. I guess it was the product of two equally record-breaking years before. Without further ado, here’s my 2023 Top 23 Reading List.
Title: State of War
Author: Ninotchka Rosca
Publisher: Anvil Publishing
Publishing Date: 2019
No. of Pages: 360
Synopsis: A lavish festival amid a long-drawn war – the defining image of this allegorical novel – portrays the deep-seated consciousness and longings of a people facing the dark days of the Martial Law regime.
Desperate for relief from the violence and repression in the city, Eliza, Adrian, and Anna set sail for the island of K— to take part in a popular festival, hoping to lose themselves in the crowd, to dance and drink the nights away. Yet, amid the merrymaking, the young people find themselves pulled into a series of schemes that shove them, inch by inch, towards an inevitable doom.
In this gripping tale of revelry, torture, subterfuge, and warfare, State of War creates a forceful impression on readers of exhuming the buried bodies and forgotten atrocities of a repressive regime, and illuminates the conflicts and turmoils of an entire country and culture.
Title: Red Sorghum
Author: Mo Yan
Translator: Howard Goldblatt
Publisher: Penguin Books
Publishing Date: 1993
No. of Pages: 359
Synopsis: Spanning three generations, this novel of family and myth is told through a series of flashbacks that depict events of staggering horror set against a landscape of gemlike beauty, as the Chinese battle both Japanese invaders and each other in the turbulent 1930s.
A legend in China, where it won major literary awards and inspired an Oscar-nominated film, Red Sorghum is a book in which fable and history collide to produce fiction that is entirely new – and unforgettable.
Title: The Magic Mountain
Author: Thomas Mann
Translator: H.T. Lowe-Porter
Publisher: Penguin Books
Publishing Date: 1960
No. of Pages: 716
Synopsis: A spectacular novel of ideas, The Magic Mountain is one of Germany’s most formative contributions to modern European literature, both for the themes it discusses and for its highly sophisticated structure.
Young, naive, and impressionable, Hans Castorp arrives at a sanatorium high in the Swiss Alps to find himself surrounded by exponents of widely differing political and philosophical attitudes. Amid sickness and decay he is forced to explore both the meaning of love and death and the relationship of one to the other. As he does so, the pattern that emerges from his discussions with his companions, and from his own musings, becomes a symbol of the forces below – forces that would culminate in the First World War and the destruction of pre-1914 civilization.
Title: Jacob’s Ladder
Author: Ludmila Ulitskaya
Translator: Polly Gannon
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publishing Date: 2019
No. of Pages: 542
Synopsis: One of Russia’s most renowned literary figures and a Man Booker International Prize nominee, Ludmila Ulitskaya presents what may be her final novel. Jacob’s Ladder is a family saga spanning a century of recent Russian history – and represents the summation of the author’s career devoted to sharing the absurd and tragic tales of twentieth-century life in her nation.
Alternating between the diaries and letters of Jacob Ossetsky in Kiev in the early 1900s and the experiences of his granddaughter Nora in the theatrical world of Moscow in the 1970s and beyond, Jacob’s Ladder guides the reader through some of the most turbulent times in the history of Russia and Ukraine, and draws suggestive parallels between historical events of the early twentieth century and those of more recent memory.
Spanning the seeming promise of the prerevolutionary years, to the dark Stalinist era, to the corruption and confusion of the present day, Jacob’s Ladder is a pageant of romance, betrayal, and memory. With a scale worthy of Tolstoy, it asks how much control any of us have over our lives—and how much is in fact determined by history, by chance, or indeed by the genes passed down by the generations that have preceded us into the world.
Author: Ramon Muzones
Translator: Ma. Cecilia Locsin-Nava
Publisher: Ateneo de Manila University Press
Publishing Date: 2012
No. of Pages: 220
Synopsis: Ramon L. Muzones claims his rightful place in the national literature of the Philippines with Cecilia Locsin-Nava’s English translation of Margosatubig, a Hiligaynon novel that was to re-write the history of the West Visayan fiction when it first appeared as a serial novel in 1946 in the pages of the popular magazine Yuhum. Muzones tells the story of a fictive Muslim state in Mindanao that loses its legitimate rulers through intrigue and treachery and how the hero-heir Salagunting leads the struggle to recover Margosatubig from the usurpers. Muzones shows himself a master of narrative invention in 30 installments that unfold a wealth of precolonial lore that blended romance, adventure, fantasy, subtle eroticism, and geographic information that so fascinated magazine readers and made Yuhum‘s weekly circulation jump from 2,500 to 37,000.
Dr. Nava’s is a wonder-work of an English translation, literate and literary, a rare, readable English version of a regional literary treasure. It is a lucid, unornamented rendition of the original Yuhum novel that manages quite effectively to suggest the delicious sensation of following the development, chapter by chapter, of the serialized popular novel. Through her labors, she has effectively secured for Muzones a position in the line-up for the title National Artist for Literature.
Title: Chronicles from the Land of the Happiest People on Earth
Author: Wole Soyinka
Publisher: Pantheon Books
Publishing Date: 2021
No. of Pages: 444
Synopsis: The first Black winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature gives us a tour de force, his first novel in nearly half a century: a savagely satiric, gleefully irreverent, rollicking fictional meditation on how power and greed can corrupt the soul of a nation.
In an imaginary Nigeria, a cunning entrepreneur is selling body parts stolen from Dr. Menka’s hospital for use in ritualistic practices. Dr. Menka shares the grisly news with his oldest college friend, bon viveur, star engineer, and Yoruba royal, Duyole Pitan-Payne. The life of every party, Duyole is about to assume a prestigious post at the United Nations in New York, but it now seems that someone is determined that he not make it there. And neither Menka nor Duyole knows why, or how close the enemy is, or how powerful.
Chronicles from the Land of the Happiest People on Earth is at once a literary hoot, a crafty whodunit, and a scathing indictment of political and social corruption. It is a stirring call to arms against the abuse of power from one of our fiercest political activists, who also happens to be a global literary giant.
Title: Life A User’s Manual
Author: Georges Perec
Translator: David Bellos
Publisher: David R. Godine, Publisher, Inc.
Publishing Date: 1988
No. of Pages: 500
Synopsis: Life: A User’s Manual is an unclassified masterpiece, a sprawling compendium as encyclopedic as Dante’s Commedia and Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and, in its break with tradition, as inspiring as Joyce’s Ulysses. Perec’s spellbinding puzzle begins in an apartment block in the XVIIth arrondissement of Paris where, chapter by chapter, room by room, like an onion being peeled, an extraordinary rich cast of characters is revealed in a series of tales that are bizarre, unlikely, moving, funny, or (sometimes) quite ordinary. From the confessions of a racing cyclist to the plans of an avenging murderer, from a young ethnographer obsessed with a Sumatran tribe to the death of a trapeze artist, from the fears of an ex-croupier to the dreams of a sex-change pop star to an eccentric English millionaire who has devised the ultimate pastime, Life is a manual of human irony, portraying the mixed marriages of fortunes, passions and despairs, betrayals and bereavements, of hundreds of lives in Paris and around the world.
But the novel is more than an extraordinary range of fictions; it is a closely observed account of life and experience. The apartment block’s one hundred rooms are arranged in a magic square, and the book as a whole is peppered with a staggering range of literary puzzles and allusions, acrostics, problems of chess and logic, crosswords, and mathematical formulae. All are there for the reader to solve in the best tradition of the detective novel. (Source: Goodreads)
Author: Roberto Bolaño
Translator: Natasha Wimmer
Publishing Date: September 2009
No. of Pages: 893
Synopsis: Three academics on the trail of a reclusive German author; a New York reporter on his first Mexican assignment; a widowed philosopher; a police detective in love with an elusive older woman – these are among the searchers drawn to the border city of Santa Teresa, where over the course of a decade hundred of women have disappeared.
In the words of The Washington Post, “With 2666, Bolaño joins the ambitious overachievers of the twentieth-century novel, those like Proust, Musil, Joyce, Gaddis, Pynchon, Fuentes, and Vollmann, who push the novel far past its conventional size and scope to encompass an entire era, deploying encyclopedic knowledge and stylistic verve to offer a grand if sometimes idiosyncratic, summation of their vulture and the novelist’s place in it. Bolaño has joined the immortals.
Author: Emma Donoghue
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Publishing Date: 2010
No. of Pages: 321
Synopsis: To five-year-old Jack, Room is the world. It’s where he was born, it’s where he and his Ma eat and sleep and play and learn. There are endless wonders that let loose Jack’s imagination – the snake under Bed that he constructs out of eggshells, the imaginary world projected through the TV, the coziness of Wardrobe below Ma’s clothes, where she tucks him in safely at night in case Old Nick comes.
Room is home to Jack, but to Ma it’s the prison where she has been held since she was nineteen – for seven years. Through her fierce love for her son, she has created a life for him in that eleven-by-eleven-foot space. But Jack’s curiosity is building alongside her own desperation – and she knows that room cannot contain either much longer.
Told in the poignant and funny voice of Jack, Room is a story of unconquerable love in harrowing circumstances, and of the diamond-hard bond between a mother and her child. It is a shocking, exhilarating, and riveting novel – but always deeply human and always moving. Room is a place you will never forget.
Title: The Robber Bride
Author: Margaret Atwood
Publisher: Nan A. Talese
Publishing Date: November 1993
No. of Pages: 466
Synopsis: From the extraordinary imagination of Margaret Atwood, the author of the bestselling The Handmaid’s Tale and Cat’s Eye, comes her most intricate and subversive novel yet.
Roz. Charis, and Tony – war babies all – share a wound, and her name is Zenia. Zenia is beautiful and smart and hungry, by turns manipulative and vulnerable, needy and ruthless, the turbulent center of her own never-ending saga. Zenia entered their lives when they were in college, in the sixties; and over the three decades since, she damaged each of them badly, ensnaring their sympathy, betraying their trust, and treating their men as loot. Then Zenia died, or at any rate, the three women – with much relief – attended her funeral. But as The Robber Bride begins, she’s suddenly alive again, sauntering into the restaurant where they are innocently eating lunch.
In this consistently entertaining and profound new novel, Margaret Atwood reports from the farthest reaches of the war between the sexes, provocatively suggesting that if women are to be equal they must realize that they share with men both the capacity for villainy and the responsibility for moral choice. The group of women and men at the center of this funny and wholly involving story all fall prey to a chillingly recognizable menace, which is given power by their own fantasies and illusions. The Robber Bride is a novel to delight in – for its consummately crafted prose, for its rich and devious humor, and ultimately, for its compassion.
Title: The Candy House
Author: Jennifer Egan
Publishing Date: April 2022
No. of Pages: 334
Synopsis: The Candy House opens with the staggeringly brilliant Bix Bouton, “a tech demigod on a first-name basis with the world.” Bix is forty, with four kids, restless, desperate for a new idea, when he learns about a professor experimenting with downloading or “externalizing” memory. It’s 2010. Within a decade, Bix’s new technology, “Own Your Unconscious” – which allows you to access every memory you’ve ever had, and to share your own in exchange for access to the memories of others – has seduced multitudes. But not everyone.
In spellbinding interlocking narratives, Egan spins out the consequences of Own Your Unconscious through the lives of multiple characters whose paths intersect over several decades. Intellectually dazzling, The Candy House is also a testament to the tenacity and transcendence of human longing for real connection, love, family, privacy, and redemption.
The Candy House is a bold, brilliant imagining of a world that is moments away. Egan takes new heights her “deeply intuitive forays into the darker aspects of our technology-driven, image-saturated culture” (Vogue). The Candy House delivers an absolutely extraordinary combination of fierce, exhilarating intelligence and heart.
Author: José Mármol
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Publishing Date: 2001
No. of Pages: 643
Synopsis: Written by José Mármol while in exile, Amalia was conceived to protest the cut-throat dictatorship of Juan Migheul de Rosas during the tumultuous years of post-independence Argentina and to provide a picture of the political events during his regime. A year after its publication in 1851, Rosa fell from power, and Amalia became Argentina’s national novel. Though its classic and obligatory status as required reading in Argentina’s schools has clouded its sparkle, it is above all a brilliant and passionate book whose popularity stemmed from the love story that fuels its plot.
Mármol recounts the story of Eduardo and Amalia, who fall in love while Eduardo convalesces from a death-squad attack in Amalia’s home. At once a detailed picture of life under a dictatorship and a tragic love story between a provincial girl and a young man from Buenos Aires, Amalia displays Mármol’s patience with historical detail and his flair for dialogue and description and remains an enduring work of literature in Latin American and the world.
Title: The Lodging House
Author: Khairy Shalaby
Translator: Farouk Abdel Wahab
Publisher: The American University in Cairo Press
Publishing Date: 2006
No. of Pages: 426
Synopsis: A young man’s dreams for a better future as a student in the Teachers’ Institute are shattered after he assaults one of his instructors for discriminating against him. From then on, he begins his descent into the underworld. Penniless, he seeks refuge in Wikalat Atiya, a historic but now completely run-down caravanserai that has become the home of the town’s marginal and underprivileged characters.
This award-winning novel takes on epic dimensions as the narrator escorts us on a journey to this underworld, portraying – as he sinks further into its intricate relationships – the many characters that inhabit it.
Through a labyrinth of tales, reminiscent of the popular Arab tradition of storytelling, we are introduced to these denizens, whose lives oscillate between the real and the fantastic, the contemporary and the timeless. And while the narrator starts out as a spectator of these characters’ lives, he soon becomes an integral part of the lodging house’s community of rogues.
Title: The Day of the Owl
Author: Leonardo Sciascia
Translator: Archibald Colquhoun and Arthur Olvier
Publisher: The New York Review of Books
Publishing Date: 2003
No. of Pages: 120
Synopsis: A man is shot dead as he runs to catch the bus in the piazza of a small Sicilian town. Captain Bellodi, the detective on the case, is new to his job and determined to prove himself. Bellodi suspects the Mafia, and his suspicions grow when he finds himself against an apparently unbreachable wall of silence. A surprise turn puts him on the track of a series of nasty crimes. But all the while Bellodi’s investigation is being carefully monitored by a host of observers, near and far. They share a single concern: to keep the truth from coming out.
This short, beautifully paced novel is a mesmerizing description of the Mafia at work.
Title: The Swan Thieves
Author: Elizabeth Kostova
Publishing Date: 2010
No. of Pages: 607
Synopsis: Dr. Andrew Marlow has a perfectly ordered life, full of devotion to his work and the painting hobby he loves. This order is destroyed when renowned artist Robert Oliver attacks a canvas in the National Gallery and becomes his patient.
As Oliver refuses to speak, Marlow’s only clue is the beautiful haunted woman Oliver paints obsessively day after day. Who is she, and what strange hold does she have over this tormented genius? Desperate to help, Marlow embarks on a journey that leads him into the lives of the women closest to Oliver, and to a dark story at the heart of French Impressionism – a tragedy that ripples out to touch present-day lives.
Title: Far from the Madding Crowd
Author: Thomas Hardy
Publisher: William Collins
Publishing Date: 2015
No. of Pages: 429
Synopsis: I shall do one thing in this life – one thing certain – that is, love you, and long for you, and keep wanting you till I die.
Independent and spirited, Bathsheba Everdene owns the hearts of three men. Striving to win her love in different ways, their relationships with Bathsheba complicate her life in idyllic Wessex – and cast shadows over their own. With the morals and expectations of rural society weighing heavily upon her, Bathsheba experiences the torture of unrequited love and betrayal, and discovers how random acts of chance and tragedy can alter life’s course dramatically.
Title: The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge
Author: Rainer Maria Rilke
Translator: Stephen Mitchell
Publishing Date: April 1985
No. of Pages: 260
Synopsis: ”She this is where people come to live; I would have thought it is a city to die in.” So begins Rilke’s only novel, the brief, haunting Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge. First published in 1910, it has proven to be one of the most influential and enduring works fiction of our century – an instance of lyric expression unmatched in modern prose.
Malte Laurids Brigge is a young Danish nobleman and poet living in Paris. Obsessed with death and with the reality that lurks behind appearances, Brigge muses on his family and their history and on the teeming, alien life he sees in the city around him. Many of the themes and images that occur in Rilke’s poetry can also be found in the resonant pages of the novel, which pre-figures the modernist movement in its self-awareness and imagistic immediacy. As Rilke wrote after the book was published, “Poor Malte begins so deep in misery and, in a strict sense, reaches to eternal bliss; he is a heart that strikes a whole octave: after him almost all songs are possible.
William H. Gass has contributed an introduction to accompany Stephen Mitchell’s powerfully fluent contemporary version of this great book.
Title: The House of Nire
Author: Morio Kita
Translator: Dennis Keene
Publisher: Kodansha International
Publishing Date: 1990
No. of Pages: 765
Synopsis: The House of Nire will come as a surprise to readers who expect a Japanese novel to be a mixture of gloom and sensitivity. This one is unashamedly comic, and its view of human life derives from a warm curiosity that accepts the world as it is and wastes no time complaining about it. The book relates the history of the Nire family from the end of the First World War to the end of the Second. We meet Kiichiro Nire, founder not only of the family mental hospital but of the family itself, for he has changed their real name to something more sophisticated. Kiichiro, in all his vanity, selfishness, and absurdity, is one of the great comic creations of Japanese literature. His children, adopted children, grandchildren, and any number of hangers-on including a friendly but flabby Sumo wrestler whose career is going nowhere, form a cast of characters who, for all their oddities, tell us more about actual Japanese people and their lives than almost anything we have yet seen in English. And when, with the eventual fall of the House of Nire, the mood changes and the laughter dies away, one recognizes just how true to life this novel is and how involved in it one has become. (Source: Goodreads)
Title: Fear of Flying
Author: Erica Jong
Publisher: Henry Holt and Company
Publishing Date: 2013
No. of Pages: 354
Synopsis: Fear of Flying is the story of Isadora Wing, a compulsive daydreamer, a seeker of saviors and psychiatrists, the author of a book of supposedly erotic poems, and a full-pledged phobic who fears flying but will not allow that fear to keep her off planes. Isadora relates to her adventures and misadventures with wit, exuberance, and the sort of absolute candor that for centuries before her was permitted only to men.
On a trip to Vienna to attend a psychoanalytic congress with her psychiatrist husband, she meets an uninhibited Laingian analyst who seems the embodiment of all her steamiest fantasies. He lures her away from her husband on an existential jaunt across Europe, sleeping by roadsides, changing partners with people met at campsites, and she reevaluates her life in some painful and funny ways. But the trip proves to be a journey backward in time as well as a reshuffle of the present. Increasingly, Isadora is haunted by ghosts of the past: a conductor who loved his baton; a Florentine philanderer; a professor of philosophy; any number of miscellaneous lays in the night; and her ex-husband, the graduate student who thought he could walk on water and almost tried it in Central Park. She is also haunted by her outrageous and amusing family: an artist mother who adores and resents her children; a father who makes wisecracks and money in abundance; and three sisters who have fled the family to marry a black man, an Arab, and an Israeli, respectively, and are now raising their polyglot children from Boston to Beirut.
Thus Isadora fears flying (in all possible senses of the word), she forces herself to keep traveling, to risk her marriage and her life, until she finds her own brand of liberation.
Originally published in 1973 by Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Fear of Flying, the internationally bestselling story of Isadora Wing by Erica Jong, coined a new phrase for a sex act and launched a new way of thinking about gender, sexuality, and liberty in our society.
Title: The Fishermen
Author: Chigozie Obioma
Publisher: Little, Brown, and Company
Publishing Date: 2015
No. of Pages: 295
Synopsis: In a Nigerian town in the mid-1990s, four brothers encounter a madman whose mystic prophecy of violence threatens the core of their close-knit family.
Told from the point of view of nine-year-old Benjamin, the youngest of the four brothers, The Fishermen is the Cain and Abel-esque story of an unforgettable childhood in 1990s Nigeria, in the small town of Akure. When their strict father has to travel to a distant city for work, the brothers take advantage of his extended absence to skip school and go fishing. At the ominous, forbidden nearby river, they meet a dangerous local madman who persuades the oldest of the boys that he is destined to be killed by one of his siblings.
What happens next is an almost mythic event whose impact – both tragic and redemptive – will transcend the lives and imaginations of the book’s characters and its readers. Dazzling and viscerally powerful, The Fishermen never leaves Akure, but the story it tells has enormous universal appeal. Seen through the prism of one family’s destiny, this is an essential novel about Africa, with all its contradictions – economic, political, and religious – and the epic beauty of its culture.
With this bold debut, Chigozie Obioma emerges as one of the most original new voices of modern African literature, echoing its older generation’s masterly storytelling with a contemporary fearlessness and purpose.
Title: Lost Children Archive
Author: Valeria Luiselli
Publisher: Vintage Books
Publishing Date: 2019
No. of Pages: 350
Synopsis: In Valeria Luiselli’s fiercely imaginative novel, a mother and father set out with their two children, a boy and girl, driving form New York to Arizona in the heat of summer. As the family travels west, through Virginia, to Tennessee, across Oklahoma and Texas, their bonds begin to fray: a fissure is growing between the parents, one the children can almost feel beneath their feet.
Through sons and maps and Polaroid camera’s lens, the children try to make sense of both their family’s crisis and the larger one engulfing the news: the stories of thousands of kids trying tor cross the southwestern border into the United States but being detained – or getting lost in the desert along the way.
A breathtaking feat of literary virtuosity, Lost Children Archive is timely, compassionate, subtly hilarious, and formally inventive – a powerful, urgent story about what it is to be human in an inhuman world.
Title: Forbidden Colors
Author: Yukio Mishima
Translators: Alfred H. Marks
Publisher: Vintage International
Publishing Date: March 1999
No. of Pages: 403
Synopsis: From one of Japan’s greatest modern writers comes an exquisitely disturbing novel of sexual combat and concealed passion, a work that distills beauty, longing, and loathing into an intoxicating poisoned cocktail. An aging, embittered novelist sets out to avenge himself on the women who have betrayed him. He finds the perfect instrument in Yuichi, a young man whose beauty makes him irresistible to women but who is just discovering his attraction to other men.
As Yuichi’s mentor presses him into a loveless marriage and series of equally loveless philanderings, his protege enters the gay underworld of postwar Japan. In that hidden society of parks and tearooms, prostitutes and aristocratic blackmailers, Yuichi is as defenseless as any of the women he preys on. Mordantly observed, intellectually provocative, and filled with icy eroticism, Forbidden Colors is a masterpiece.
Author: James Joyce
Publisher: Dover Publications, Inc.
Publishing Date: 2009
No. of Pages: 732
Synopsis: Originally reviled as obscure and obscene, Joyce’s masterpiece now stands as one of the great literary achievement of the twentieth century. Loosely based on Homer’s Odyssey, the novel traces the paths of Leopold Bloom and other Dubliners through an ordinary summer day and night in 1904-a typical day, transformed by Joyce’s narrative powers into an epic celebration of life.