Happy reading in 2011
As we embark on the second decade of the new millennium, e-books and technology seem poised to take over chunks of our literary landscape. But even as we grapple with new ways of thinking, creating and reading, nothing beats the pleasure of curling up with a good book. Our contribution to this happy pastime is a selection of international fiction by an array of writers from outside India who promise to play with language, culture, story and form over the coming year.
A Palace in the Old Village, Translated by Linda Coverdale, Tahar Ben Jelloun.
Morocco's best-known novelist Tahar Ben Jelloun, who is based in Paris, weaves a tale of immigration and home, parents and children that is set between the two important countries in his own life: Morocco and France. After 40 years in France Mohammed retires home to Morocco. He spends all his money on building a “palace” in the village, and assumes, somewhat tragically, that his family will come to be with him.
Collected Short Fiction,V.S. Naipaul
The controversial Nobel Prize winner's short fiction is gathered into one volume, and comes with an introduction by the author. The stories are compelling studies of colonised peoples creating lives and identities in post-colonial geographies that range from Trinidad to London to Africa. The works were originally in three collections: the Somerset Maugham Award–winning Miguel Street; the arguably more minor works in A Flag on the Island; and Booker Prize-winning In a Free State.
The Tragedy of Arthur, Arthur Phillips
Arthur's talented if unreliable father is a con artist, who gifts him and his twin an undiscovered play by William Shakespeare, which he wants published by Random House. Apart from the gripping lives of the two Arthurs — the novelist and the king — we're also treated to a literary feat: Phillips has actually written a “new” Shakespeare play, that, apparently, Shakespeare experts have pronounced as being extraordinarily similar to the Bard's work. This faux play is appended to the end of the novel.
The Lake, Translated by Michael Emmerich, Banana Yoshimoto
If some critics regard her as lightweight, equally, The New Yorker has said, “Yoshimoto transforms the trite into the essential.” The Lake, her 13th fictional work translated into English, centres on the love story between a graphic artist trying to get over the grief of losing her mother, and a young man with a traumatised past. The Lake bears her signature characteristics — simple prose, unusual characters — but the story is darker, and has resonances with Japan's sinister Aum Shinrikyo cult.
Embassytown, China Mieville
Multiple award-winning, cult favourite China Miéville offers us Embassytown, a literary science-fiction novel — i.e., a work that promises to have crowd-pleasing aliens and spaceships, yet also play with language as metaphor. Embassytown exists in a distant future, on a planet on the outskirts of the universe where humans and aliens co-exist in an uneasy truce that could spiral out of control, when newcomers arrive on the planet.
Mistaken, Neil Jordan
Neil Jordon is better known as a filmmaker — and Oscar-winning scriptwriter of The Crying Game — but his literary fiction has also earned him critical attention. The latest is Mistaken, which is about identity, death, and growing up with a doppelganger in Dublin in the 1960s. It's not just that Kevin Thunder lives next door to Bram Stoker's house; he is also haunted by a boy named Gerry Spain who looks exactly like him but with a more privileged upbringing.
Day of the Oprichnik, Vladimir Sorokin, translated by Jamey Gambrell
English-speaking fans of Vladimir Sorokin — described by The New York Review of Books as “[the] only real prose writer, and resident genius” of late-Soviet fiction — can finally read his dystopian saga that begins on a “cold, snowy morning” in Moscow, 2028. This is the new New Russia, a place of futuristic technology, a draconian “divine monarch” and folk who get high on hallucinogenic, genetically modified fish. The narrative follows the strange life and times of Andrei Danilovich Komiaga who is an oprichnik, i.e., a trusted and feared courtier of the Czar.
Among the guilty pleasures of a new year are the latest exploits of favourite crime busters such as Lee Child's Jack Reacher, or Daniel Silva's Gabriel Allon or Patricia Cornwell's Dr. Kay Scarpetta.
The serial crime thrillers guaranteed in 2011 include Myron Bolitar in Live Wire by Harlan Coben, where, unusually, Bolitar's family takes centrestage alongside a pregnant client with a missing husband; The Fallen Angel by David Hewson, where Detective Nic Costa's case is set in motion by a British academic “falling” to her death from a Rome apartment; Drawing Conclusions, the 20th book by Donna Leon that features Commissario Guido Brunetti in Venice, and a crime that begins with the death of an old woman; and Stephanie Plum in Janet Evanovich's Smokin' Seventeen, where the feisty Ms. Plum shares a motor home with a dancing bear and is still flipping a coin between the two smoking-hot men in her life, Morelli and Ranger.
Caleb's Crossing, Geraldine Brooks
The first Native American to graduate from Harvard College was a young man from Martha's Vineyard in 1665. This meagre historical detail is the platform on which Pulitzer Prize-winning Geraldine Brooks builds her story, with elements of love, magic and adventure. Bethia Mayfield, the daughter of a minister, lives in Great Harbor and chafes at the things she is denied, being a woman. The defining fact of her life becomes her friendship with Caleb, the young son of a chieftain of the native Wampanoag inhabitants — who unexpectedly gets the education that Bethia desired.
Bullfighting, Roddy Doyle
Hard to believe that not too long ago, people were lamenting the dying art of the short story — now a hugely popular form again. Bullfighting is the second set of short fiction by Booker Prize winner Roddy Doyle, who has a dedicated fan following for his wry, wittily observed tales of Ireland. Bullfighting's stories, which move from the promised bullrings of the title to classrooms and pubs, look at issues of men and middle age, love and loss.
The Summer Without Men, Siri Hustvedt
Mia Fredricksen is asked by her husband of 30 years, for time-out from marriage to indulge in a sexual infatuation. She is shattered, but a summer spent in her hometown in the company of an eclectic range of women, offers fresh perspectives. Siri Hustvedt, meanwhile, is known to offer psychological insights in finely-crafted prose.
The Lake of Dreams, Kim Edwards
The New York Times bestselling author of The Memory Keeper's Daughter returns with a new novel about a woman's homecoming. When Lucy Jarrett comes home from Japan, she is haunted by unanswered questions about her father's death and a set of seemingly useless curiosities that might offer her the answers she seeks.
1. Reach for the Skies: Ballooning, Birdmen, and Blasting into Space by Richard Branson
2 The Secret Knowledge: On the Left's Dismantling of America by David Mamet
3. Known and Unknown: A Memoir by Donald Rumsfeld
4. Late for Tea at the Deer Palace: The Lost Dreams of My Iraqi Family by Tamara Chalabi
5. Between Parentheses by Roberto Bolano
6. Our Last Best Chance: The Pursuit of Peace in a Time of Peril By King Abdullah II of Jordan
7. Idea Man: A Memoir by the Co-founder of Microsoft By Paul Allen
8. Under the Sun: The Letters of Bruce Chatwin, Selected and Edited by Elizabeth Chatwin and Nicholas Shakespeare
9. The Widow's Story: A Memoir by Joyce Carol Oates
10. To a Mountain in Tibet by Colin Thubron
11. Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better And How They Can Change The World by Jane McGonigal
12. My Life In and Out of the Ring by Sugar Ray Leonard with Michael Arkush
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