I read over 50 books across a variety of genres – literary fiction, fantasy, YA, memoirs and more – in 2015. Here’s a round-up of 8 of my absolute favorites. Please enjoy.
Seahorse Janice Pariat
Nem was not like his college classmates. Instead of crowding around a TV set, Nem opted for lonely walks where he could indulge his passion for photography, until the night he saw Nicholas, a young professor from London, with another male student. The affair is passionate and brief. When Nicholas returns to London, Nem must move on. He graduates and soon finds success as a critic in New Delhi’s burgeoning art world. Then comes an invitation to speak to artists in London, and the past is suddenly resurrected. As London’s cosmopolitan art scene envelops Nem, he is haunted by the possibilities of a life with Nicholas. But Nicholas eludes Nem, avoiding a reunion with his old student, but leaving clues that lead to someone else: Myra, a woman Nem thought was Nicholas’s sister. Brought together by their love for Nicholas, Nem and Myra embark on a surprising friendship.
This book simply took my breath away! Pariat is one of the few Indian authors that I absolutely love. The language, the cadence – it’s almost like prose poetry at times. If you’ve never read any of her novels, do yourself a favour and add this one to your shopping list now! You can read the full review here.
A Strangeness in My Mind – Orhan Pamuk
Since his boyhood in a poor village in Central Anatolia, Mevlut Karataş has fantasized about what his life would become. Not getting as far in school as he’d hoped, at the age of twelve he comes to Istanbul—“the center of the world”—and is immediately enthralled by both the old city that is disappearing and the new one that is fast being built. He follows his father’s trade, selling boza (a traditional mildly alcoholic Turkish drink) on the street, and hoping to become rich, like other villagers who have settled the desolate hills outside the booming metropolis. But luck never seems to be on Mevlut’s side. As he watches his relations settle down and make their fortunes, he spends three years writing love letters to a girl he saw just once at a wedding, only to elope by mistake with her sister. And though he grows to cherish his wife and the family they have, he stumbles toward middle age in a series of jobs leading nowhere. His sense of missing something leads him sometimes to the politics of his friends and intermittently to the teachings of a charismatic religious guide. But every evening, without fail, Mevlut still wanders the streets of Istanbul, selling boza and wondering at the “strangeness” in his mind, the sensation that makes him feel different from everyone else, until fortune conspires once more to let him understand at last what it is he has always yearned for.
I read this novel soon after I returned from Turkey, which made me fall in love with it just that little bit more. But regardless of whether or not you’ve been to Istanbul, this is a beautiful book that chronicles the growth of a city through the eyes of boza seller Mevlut (and a whole host of charming characters) and the trials and travails of his incredibly hard – yet beautiful – life. This is a must-read for Pamuk fans and newcomers to his work alike.
The Golem and the Djinni – Helene Wecker
In The Golem and the Jinni, a chance meeting between mythical beings takes readers on a dazzling journey through cultures in turn-of-the-century New York. Chava is a golem, a creature made of clay, brought to life to by a disgraced rabbi who dabbles in dark Kabbalistic magic and dies at sea on the voyage from Poland. Chava is unmoored and adrift as the ship arrives in New York harbor in 1899. Ahmad is a jinni, a being of fire born in the ancient Syrian desert, trapped in an old copper flask, and released in New York City, though still not entirely free. Ahmad and Chava become unlikely friends and soul mates with a mystical connection. Marvelous and compulsively readable, Helene Wecker’s debut novel The Golem and the Jinni weaves strands of Yiddish and Middle Eastern literature, historical fiction and magical fable, into a wondrously inventive and unforgettable tale.
This entirely beguiling novel pulls you into its world from the very first page and doesn’t let you go until long after you’ve put the book down. An absolute delight and a definite must-read. You can read the full review here.
Time for Tanechka – N.A. Millington
There are two very special ‘egg timers’ in the world, both capable of transporting their handlers to any specific time they wish to visit… or that the timer wishes them to visit. Down-and-out suicidal loner Arthur Benjamin discovers one of these timers and unwittingly transports Tatiana Nicolaivna, a Grand Duchess of 1918 Imperial Russia confined to the Ipatiev House with her family, to his sanctuary by the sea in present-day South Africa. On a mission to uncover the truth behind certain historical events, Arthur and Tatiana begin to experience the timer’s power as they discover what isn’t recorded in today’s history books. But they aren’t the only ones with a mysterious egg timer – the unscrupulous Winston Peabody, a master jewel thief from 1912, has stolen the other timer and won’t stop until Tatiana tells him where the most valuable of the Fabergé eggs is hidden…
Millington takes a light-hearted gander at clearing away some of the mystery surrounding the murder of Czar Nicholas and his entire family in Imperial Russia in 1918. Not really – because this is pure fiction – but he’s penned a thrilling journey that explores the ties of family, the bonds of love, and pure human greed. Imaginative and engaging, this novel by an author I’d never heard of before was an absolute delight!
Lips Touch Three Times Laini Taylor
- Everyone dreams of getting the kiss of a lifetime… but what if that kiss carried some unexpected consequences? A girl who’s always been in the shadows finds herself pursued by the unbelievably attractive new boy at school, who may or may not be the death of her. Another girl grows up mute because of a curse placed on her by a vindictive spirit, and later must decide whether to utter her first words to the boy she loves and risk killing everyone who hears her if the curse is real. And a third girl discovers that the real reason for her transient life with her mother has to do with belonging – literally belonging – to anther world entirely, full of dreaded creatures who can transform into animals, and whose queen keeps little girls as personal pets until they grow to child-bearing age. From a writer of unparalleled imagination and emotional insight, three stories about the deliciousness of wanting and waiting for that moment when lips touch.
This delightful collection of three novellas by fantasy author Laini Taylor captivated my imagination. She’s woven three incredibly beautiful stories of longing and loss that will leave you wanting more!
Windhorse – Kaushik Barua
Windhorse follows the lives of a group of Tibetan rebels who set up an armed resistance movement against the Chinese. Lhasang grows up in Eastern Tibet but is forced to flee after the Chinese occupation, making the death-defying trek across the Himalayas with his family. In forced exile, he realizes his only option is to fight to return home. Norbu is from an affluent Tibetan expatriate family based in Delhi. As he befriends Dolma, a young college student, and interacts with the newly arrived refugees from Tibet, he is drawn towards the resistance. They join a motley group of fighters: an ex-monk who has renounced his vows of non-violence; a former serf who is scarred by his past; a trader who joins the resistance for profit but stays on for his beliefs. But in taking up arms, they have to defy the instructions of their spiritual head, the Dalai Lama. To restore their religion in its home, they have to first relinquish their faith.
This is the first novel I’ve read that’s set in Tibet and that tackles their culture, their flight from an increasingly intolerant Chinese invasion, and their plight on fleeing their homes and being forced to settle in a foreign land. I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised by Barua’s novel, and would recommend it without reservations. You can read the full review here.
A Dictionary of Mutual Understanding – Jackie Copleton
When Amaterasu Takahashi opens the door of her Philadelphia home to a badly scarred man claiming to be her grandson, she doesn’t believe him. Her grandson and her daughter, Yuko, perished nearly forty years ago during the bombing of Nagasaki. But the man carries with him a collection of sealed private letters that open a Pandora’s Box of family secrets Ama had sworn to leave behind when she fled Japan. She is forced to confront her memories of the years before the war: of the daughter she tried too hard to protect and the love affair that would drive them apart, and even further back, to the long, sake-pouring nights at a hostess bar where Ama first learned that a soft heart was a dangerous thing. Will Ama allow herself to believe in a miracle?
You’d think a book where the Nagasaki bombing plays a central role in the lives of the central characters would be depressing and unbearably sad. Yet that isn’t so. This is a book about love – unrequited, unresolved, smothering, liberating, cut short, lost, found – love in all its beautiful and terrible glory. Love between lovers, between mothers and daughters, between grandmothers and grandchildren, between a doctor and his young patients. This is a story that needs to be read and savoured and re-read and remembered. I especially loved the meanings of the different Japanese words and traditions that headed each chapter.
Love Stories – Annie Zaidi
A woman who won’t let the shadow of death disrupt her love life, another who falls irrevocably in love with a dead police officer, a devoted wife who steps out twice a week for Narcotics Anonymous meetings, friends who should have been lovers, the woman who offers all her pent-up love to a railway announcer’s voice … Annie Zaidi’s stories are at once warm and distant, violent and gentle – and, above all, untroubled by cynicism. This is a look at love, straight in the eye, to understand the alluring nature of the beast.
I admit I left this one on my bookshelf for a really long time after I read some less than complimentary reviews. But I’m so glad I finally decided to give this one a chance. As in all short story collections, you won’t love all of the stories. Some are really a bit silly – after all, who falls in love with a voice? – but all of the stories take a hard, unflinching look at love in all its avatars. It’s a beautiful collection; I’ll be looking out for more of her work.