December is always a time to reflect on everything that the year had in store and let’s face it: Reflecting on books will be most likely the reflection we can enjoy most this year.
Like in years before most of these books I could read thanks to Netgalley and I still love this service so much.
If I Had Your Face by Frances Cha (Published by Ballantine Books)
Set in Seoul, we follow several women who all live in the same Officetel in Gangnam and by learning of their lives, we find out the realities of being a woman in contemporary Korea. Recently I did a post on instagram about tropes I love and this book meets several of these tropes: Belonging, female friendship and the “fully-rounded” woman. What I loved the most about this books is how Frances Cha writes women with depth and complexity. So rare to find, so brilliant when you do.
The First Woman by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi (published by OneWorld Publications)
Kirabo is raised by her grandparents in rural Uganda. The older she gets the more she longs to know the mother who abandoned her or to at least understand why she was left with her grandparents. In its essence this is a coming of age story, interwoven with Ugandan myths and thus a strong magical sense, but it is also way more than that. It’s a truly feminist novel exploring themes of belonging and female connection at a time of upheaval and insecurity set to a backdrop of Amin’s regime in the 1970ies.
Braised Pork by An Yu (published by Harvill Secker)
This is a debut novel by Chinese writer An Yu and so many of the themes in this book deeply resonate with me: family, love, grief, belonging. Let me make it clear that if you don’t like magical realism then this book will not be for you. It is very dream like, almost like floating. Jia Jia finds her husband dead in the bathtub one day after breakfast. It was a marriage of convenience so Jia Jia is both grieving for something she does not really miss and also having for the first time in her life some space and time to ponder who she is and what she wants to do. I liked the imagery of opposites and the dream like nature of this book. A great debut and shall definitely look for more books by the author in future.
Berliner Briefe by Susanne Kerckhoff (published by Das Kulturelle Gedächtnis)
“Berliner Briefe” (Berlin letters) is a series of ficitonal letters written after WWII by a young woman in Berlin to her German-Jewish friend living in exile. She describes the situation of a post-war Germany where you did not see the guilt you expected, where there was no “oh no what have we done” but where life was dominated by annoyance of having lost the war, being occupied. Helene struggles with this, struggles with her own guilt despite not having been a Nazi. It really is not so much an epistolary novel more a monologue in which she explains to Hans what life is like in post-war Germany, her struggles with joining a political party, meeting her old classmates from school, the divide already forming between East and West, the fear of a possible new war… for such a small book it really packs a punch and it was an amazing, if depressing read. The postscript annoyed me. Let’s call it an unnecessary smudge. The book itself top, harrowing in how much you can see being repeated especially with the Brexit nightmare we are experiencing.
Trümmerfrauen: Ein Heimatroman by Christine Koschmieder (published by Nautilus)
That was a lot of book. Current, yet looking back on German history. Exploring what Heimat is to some and what it means to others. That German word that has so many translations into English but none that actually truly convey it. A word that lead to crimes being committed and a word much touted by those that want their “country back”. A tricky concept “Heimat” for a lot of us Germans. Koschmieder packs a lot into this novel and after reading it, I felt a lot like Lou: demons are descending on me and I have a lot of questions but really no answers whatsoever. And I have a hunch that was what she wanted to evoke in the reader.
Kim JiYoung Born 1982 by Cho Nam-Joo (translated by Jamie Chang) (published by Scribner UK)
Misogyny can drive you to a mental breakdown and the protagonists experience of it is harrowing to read. It begins while she is growing up with a brother who is favoured and spoiled through school right into the workplace. It’s relentless. So much was relatable, sadly. An important read, I hope particularly that lots of men read it.
The Address Book by Deirdre Mask (published by St. Martin’s Press)
I never really thought about much about addresses and what they say about about politics and our world. It made me understand aspects of equality, equity and racism from a completely fresh angle. Fascinating when you shift the lens slightly, how you can look at the same thing but see something completely different.
Almond by Won Pyung-Sohn (translated by Joosun Lee) (published by HarperVia)
I did not expect this to by YA, so that took me a bit by surprise, but it was a good surprise and one of the books both my teenager and I read and talked about. As a k-drama addict, this book had many elements you know and love from dramas. For example, the theme of Alexithymia is something, we encountered a couple of times in dramas before, so it was not an unusual concept to us. I liked the detached writing style, because it really felt we were in the characters head. What my daughter liked was that there was no “this is how you should think about this” forced on her as the reader, but that the writer allowed her the reader to let herself make up her mind. Something that is more important to teenagers than some authors think.
Poor by Caleb Femi (published by Penguin)
This was part of my favourite books in November post and so let me just repeat this: Best poetry collection this year. Handsdown! No argument, if this does not go on to win some awards, well then I am going to be upset. It should win all the things. All of them.
Terraformed by Dr. Joy White (published by Repeater Books)
In many ways, you should read Terraformed and Poor in conjunction, because they are the perfect book pair. I was overwhelmed by this book. I believe that if you work in any shape or form with “community” then book is a must read to prevent “good intentions” from pushing out Black and Brown members of the community. There is a lot more to say but really I just want every English person to read it. It’s a very well written book, incredibly accessible but absolutely important. I relate so much to her thoughts on austerity and predatory capitalism and their impact on communities like Newham.
Antlers of Water by Kathleen Jamie (published by Canongate)
In any normal year, my best lists will include several nature writing titles, so that this year there is just one is a bit of a surprise to me. Normally collections and anthologies never quite work for me, but this book did. I love that the remit was exploring what natural world means beyond the big wild spaces that may not be accessible to most, hostile to some and bringing up all sorts of issues for some. I hope this sets the tone for a new wave of nature writing, after all we are nature and we are part of it. My backgarden and the roads of my neighbourhood are just as much a “nature experience” then when I travel to the Scottish Highlands and hike there.
The Thief of the Winged Horse by Kate Mascarenhas
I loved Mascarenhas’ book “The Psychology of Time Travel” because she had the knack to create women characters that were complex and intelligent. So I had expectations for this book, big expectations for this book and by and large, they were met in this book. The author is just excellent at creating characters, I felt instantly interested in all of the characters introduced and wanted to keep reading to learn more about them. In this book, there are more male characters and I am pleased to say that especially Larkin and Briar were really fascinating. The secrecy of the eyot and the Kendricks business were intriguing from the first page and it was an absolutely entertaining read throughout, even if the ending fell short for me. Still, Mascarenhas has won me over and she has now become an “instant read” author for me.
A Pretty Deceit by Anna Lee Huber
I love a mystery and I am in the middle of many series (many of which are still being written). If I consider that I almost did not continue with the series after book 1… well, I am glad I did. This 4th instalment in the series is hands down the best book of the series yet: the characters are well established, we have a formidable enemy that always seems to be a step ahead, a main mystery for the book, riddles, dashing about, the aftermath of WWI… all in all just a jolly good read. The perfect book for locking reality out and disappearing somewhere else. It’s been a while since I was thoroughly entertained by a mystery, this one absolutely delivered.