The BBC listed ten books to read during April, which are as follows:
Akwaeke Emezi, Freshwater:
This first novel from a gifted Nigerian-born writer of Igbo and Tamil descent (mentored by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie) centres around Ada, who as a baby was “chubby and beautiful and insane if anyone had known enough to see it”. Her mother Saachi is a nurse from Kuala Lumpur; her Igbo father Saul works for a hospital in Umuahia, near his birthplace in Nigeria. She is born with “one foot on the other side”, the gate not fully closed. Her multiple selves, who narrate the story, identify themselves as ogbanje, evil spirits who reincarnate in continuing cycles.
Tom Sleigh, The Land Between Two Rivers:
Sleigh, a poet and a journalist who has reported from Africa and the Middle East (the region once called Mesopotamia or “the land between two rivers”), offers essays with rare insight. He writes of his first assignment in Qana, a village south of Beirut where 28 Lebanese civilians were killed during the 2006 war with Israel. After “meandering” through Iraq in the title essay, dipping into war zones, and sharing conversations with a fellow writer, he returns to Yeats, “who once said the purpose of all art is: to hold reality and justice in a single thought.” He writes of Syria, Jordan, Kenya, Somalia, and concludes with a remarkable appreciation of Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney, his poet friend, who, through the Troubles in Northern Ireland, became “finely tuned” to impending violence.
Mario Vargas Llosa, The Neighborhood:
the Peruvian Nobel laureate reaches back to the Fujimori regime in the 1990s for this thriller, translated from the Spanish by Edith Grossman, encompassing political corruption, tabloid scandals, blackmail and murder. At this time, every household in Lima is obsessed with the Shining Path and the Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement’s attacks and kidnappings, the explosions at midnight and dawn followed by the black-outs. Then Rolando Garro, editor of Exposed, is murdered after he publishes compromising photos of a wealthy businessman, Enrique. Before Enrique is arrested for the killing we learn family secrets about Enrique’s Chinese grandmother, whose origins are kept secret; and his wife Marisa’s affair with Chabela, the wife of his best friend Luciano. The plot drives the murder mystery, but it’s Vargas Llosa’s depiction of the creeping political corruption that takes the breath away.
Brooks D Simpson, editor, Reconstruction:
Writings and speeches from 150 years ago, during the 12-year period after the American Civil War, reveal the hopes and failures of the original fight for racial equality in the US. In 1865, Frederick Douglass tells fellow abolitionists what the black man wants: “‘immediate, unconditional, and universal’ enfranchisement of the black man, in every state of the Union.” President Andrew Johnson’s 1865 speech to the 1st US Colored Infantry promises equality to soldiers who helped the North win the war: “This is your country as well as anybody else’s country.” In 1874, former abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison writes of the ‘White Leaguers’ creating “a new reign of terror in the South”. Other documents in this invaluable resource detail massacres of black and pro-Union residents and voter suppression in the South, the first presidential impeachment and pioneering civil rights legislation.
Terese Marie Mailhot, Heart Berries:
Mailhot, a postdoctoral fellow at Purdue University, grew up on the Seabird Island Indian reservation in southwestern Canada. “I learned how story was always meant to be for Indian women: immediate and necessary and fearless, like all good lies,” she writes in her memoir. Mailhot tells “ugly truths”: the pain of losing her first son while giving birth to her second, her despair when an affair with her writing professor becomes shaky, her week in a hospital when she “spirals out of control”. Diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and Bipolar II, she writes herself out of despair. As she peels back the layers of her story, hoping to calm the chaos within, Mailhot reaches back to family – her activist mother; her father, an artist who left shattering memories; and her beloved grandmother.
Mark Whitaker, Smoketown:
Pittsburgh, where long-time journalist Whitaker’s grandparents lived, was once “one of the most vibrant and consequential communities of color in US history,” he writes in this panoramic history. Pittsburgh is known today as the birthplace of August Wilson, “bard of the broken world,” who chronicled life in its Hill district through each decade of the 20th Century in his award-winning cycle of plays. It was once home to one of the most influential black newspapers in the country. From the 1920s through the 1950s, the Pittsburgh Courier chronicled politics, sports and the arts covering baseball great Jackie Robinson, and jazz legends Billy Eckstine, Billy Strayhorn, Earl Hines, Mary Lou Williams and Erroll Garner. In its heyday, Whitaker argues persuasively, Pittsburgh hosted a black renaissance to rival Harlem’s.
Lisa Halliday, Asymmetry:
Halliday’s first novel combines two exquisitely written tales that encompass power, love, literary ambition and global conflict. In her erotic opening section, titled Folly, she traces the relationship between Ezra Blazer, 75, a Nobel-calibre Manhattan novelist, and Mary-Alice, 25. In Madness, Amar, an Iraqi-American economist, describes being detained at Heathrow Airport during the last week of 2008 on a trip from Los Angeles, where he lives, to Kurdistan, to visit his brother Sami. His musings cover decades, from his birth aboard an Iraqi Airways plane to visits to Baghdad to visit Sami, a physician often working in war zones. Halliday’s third section, in which Ezra is interviewed for the BBC programme Desert Island Discs, is a subtle and fitting finale.
Tara Westover, Educated:
Westover’s gorgeously written memoir begins with scenes from her Mormon childhood in an isolated mountain valley in Idaho. The youngest of seven, she was home schooled by her mother, a midwife. Her father, obsessed with the End of Days, stockpiled food and ammunition and hid his children from the Feds. One brother brutalises her, another brother urges her to go to college, where a psychology lecture makes her wonder if her father is bipolar. One professor calls her a scholar – “pure gold”. She writes about spiritual movements, including Mormonism, to earn a PhD in history from Cambridge. Westover describes the pain of confronting then separating from her family, and the courage it took to be transformed and to discover a strong voice of her own.
Will Boast, Daphne:
Boast transforms the myth of Daphne and Apollo into a moving modern-day love story. Daphne’s teenage years in Indiana change her future. She begins to have strange spells, which a neurophysiologist diagnoses when she is sixteen as a condition in which she is paralysed by emotion. Rage, ecstasy, sorrow, horror, surprise or disgust can leave her unable to move. He teaches her coping skills. She trains as an engineer, takes a job managing a Silicon Valley tech lab and puts together a routine life, working to remain low-key and unstimulated. She knows that falling in love can be dangerous. Then she meets Ollie. He’s sympathetic, supportive – and all too tempting. Boast, winner of the Iowa Short Fiction award, has crafted a delightful, artful first novel.
Lexie Elliott, The French Girl:
Six classmates celebrate graduation from Oxford with a week in the French countryside. Their idyll is interrupted by visits from neighbour Severine, 19. Ten years later, Kate, who now runs a London legal recruitment company, learns that Severine’s body has been found in the farmhouse well. A French detective wants to question them all, leading to an awkward reunion. Kate confronts painful memories of breaking up with her boyfriend Seb, who had his eye on Severine. Lara flirts with the detective while Caro works to influence everyone’s story, making Kate the most likely suspect. In her chilling and insightful first novel, Scottish-born Elliott gives pitch-perfect portrayals of attraction, betrayal, and the uneven playing field an outsider faces when the chips are down, the BBC reported.