So today is Throwback Tuesday. LOL. Going through the previous TTT topics, one topic stood out: Debut novels. I was reminded of a similar list one of my fellow book readers did. I found the list interesting and I was hoping to do the same but I kept on pushing on back. Moreover, I have recently resolved to read the debut novels of writers who have become my favorites. It was an interesting journey for it provided me glimpses into the starting point of their literary careers; Salman Rushdie’s Grimus, a book he said he didn’t like, is one of those that I am still looking forward to. But since I already did a Top 10 Debut pre-2000 novels list, I will do a post-2000 Top 10 debut novels list. Happy reading and happy Tuesday everyone!

The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen

As a whole, The Sympathizer is a relevant novel that offers insight into the correlation between war and immigration. Whereas the events took place in the 1970s, the story’s relevance extends to the current state of events, especially with the spate of migration from Syria due to the ISIS attacks. It also gave an intimate peek into the Vietnam War but the story’s highest point was Nguyen’s subtle refusal to blame the war on anyone. In an essay about the book, Nguyen was quoted as saying “we aren’t just victims but victimizers as well.” For a debut novel, Nguyễn Thanh Việt did a remarkable job. It even won the prestigious Pulitzer Prize.

Memphis by Tara M. Stringfellow

I first encountered Tara M. Stringfellow’s Memphis while browsing the books on sale by an online bookseller. Curious, I bought it. In a way, I did expect the premise of the story, considering that it was set in the Deep South. Moreover, the city of Memphis in Tennessee played a seminal role in America’s racial history. It bore witness to many important historical events. We read about a group of resilient women who had to endure racism, sorrow, heartbreaks, and different forms of domestic abuse. It was an engrossing read and the writing was captivating; I, later on, learned that Stringfellow was an accomplished poet.

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

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. These were heavy books but both made me fall in love with Afghanistan, its colorful culture, and also Hosseini’s prose. 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 when I read it. 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.

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

Technically, The Shadow of the Wind is not the Spanish writer’s debut novel. However, it was his first foray into adult fiction. I obtained a copy of Spanish writer Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s The Shadow of the Wind in 2017, but it wasn’t until 2020 that I managed to read it. I was a little apprehensive about reading the book but at the end of the experience, I realized that The Shadow of the Wind was a beautifully sculpted masterpiece. It is a collection of stories within a story, a novel within a novel that was skillfully stitched together by  Ruiz Zafón’s dexterous hands and imaginative storytelling. The way he captured the heart and soul of Barcelona was astounding, as riveting as the story itself. The mystery, the coming-of-age, and the transformations were vividly captured in a magnificent literary tour de force.

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

It was in 2016, I believe, that I first encountered Swedish writer Fredrik Backman’s A Man Called Ove. Because it was ubiquitous, I was, again, apprehensive about reading the book. Like in the case of The Shadow of the Wind, at the end of the book, I was kicking myself for my wrong impressions. A Man Called Ove is definitely a must-read! Everything was well done – the story and the writing were simple but with the perfect undertones of comical and serious textures. But as heartwarming as it is, A Man Called Over is also heartbreaking. Backman’s heartwarming story coaxes us to cherish everything in our lives, even the smallest things in life. It is also a reminder that our small acts of kindness never go unpaid.

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Another case of a book I was apprehensive of but ended up loving. Homegoing was Ghanaian writer Yaa Gyasi’s debut novel and was highly recommended by fellow readers upon its release in 2016. I finally relented and jumped on the bandwagon. With vivid details, Homegoing charted the story of half-sisters Effia and Esi, daughters of an Asante woman named Maame. The setting: 18th century Ghana. A work of historical fiction, it underlined the shortcomings of history. In perfectly engineered conversations, Gyasi subtly underscored how history was written by the people who held power. A lot of history remains murky because it was told from the perspective of the victors.  Its credibility is in question. 

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell touches on everything that makes English fiction soar. All of those 10 years Susanna Clarke spent researching for her work was worth it because she not only wrote a book, she wrote a masterpiece that enthralls with its complexity, density, and overall beauty. It deserves all the accolades it got from all literary pundits. In a manner of speaking, English magic is alive, rather English literature is very much alive. Although Clarke’s magnum opus is a challenging read, it still delights in all the literary elements that it was able to string together in one cohesive piece. The ending ended in an enigma which could be a prelude to a sequel. And if it is indeed true, I will be waiting for it with great anticipation.

Stay with Me by Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀

Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀’s Stay With Me is definitely one of my best reads in 2020, perhaps all time. It is a very powerful and magical tale that sucks the reader in with its moral crossroads, flawless writing, and a captivating plot. It has all the right elements woven together by Adébáyọ̀. It is a literary masterpiece. Yejide and Akin’s story left a lasting impact, a literary hangover.  I’ll keep on singing songs of praise for days but I know it will never be enough to describe the elation and the awe it inspired in me. The nostalgic, and emotionally-charged closing paragraph brimmed with hope. At once heart-wrenching, heartwarming, elating and tear-jerking.

Freshwater by Akwaeki Emezi

Ah. Freshwater. The moment I picked up the book and read its synopsis, I knew I was reeled in. I have always been enamored by tales connected to mental health and Freshwater is even more interesting because it was written through the lens of an African writer. Freshwater is an upbeat tale, an unconventional story that flourishes because of its balance of the supernatural and the conventional. It explored identity and mental health not through the lenses of Western assumptions but through the perspectives of a culture rarely read of in mainstream literature. Yes, it was lacking, but it was a promising debut from a voice that possesses stories the world must hear, or at least read. Her voice echoed from all corners of the world.

Beauty is a Wound by Eka Kurniawan

Before encountering Eka Kurniawan through an online bookseller, my exposure to Indonesian literature was, limited. Over the past few years, my interest in the literary works of my region has grown exponentially. Beauty is a Wound is a complex narrative but it gave me a deeper insight into Indonesian literature and culture. It is an exotic literary rendering that kept me reeled in from the start. It has strong and graphic images which some readers might find obnoxious or off-putting. This is a book not recommended for the faint of heart. Beauty is a Wound has opened a new gate into my adventure into the realms of literature. I am looking forward to more works of Kurniawan and other Indonesian, and consequently, South East Asian writers.