Books to Look Out for in March 2021: Part One

Cover image for Saint X by Alexis Schaitkin A healthy two-parter preview for March with a wide range of books to look out for including several I’ve already read beginning with Alexis Schaitkin’s enjoyable Saint X, a casualty of last year’s slipping and sliding in the publishing schedules. A little outside my usual literary territory as you can probably tell from that cover, it’s about Claire who’s seven when her older sister’s body washes up on the shores of the island resort where the family is holidaying. Two local men are arrested but soon released. Years later Claire spots the name of one of them on a New York cab driver’s license, sparking an obsessive search and an unexpected intimacy. Review soon…

I’ve also read Georgina Harding’s Harvest. A much more predictable choice for me, it’s her third novel about the Ashe family following on from The Gun Room and Land of the Living. Jonathan has been home for six months before he sends his Japanese lover an invitation to visit the family farm in Norfolk. Kimiko decides to spend the summer in England, enjoying the company of Jonathan’s mother while his brother, who runs the farm, remains aloof. By the end of the novel, a revelation has been made which undermines the fragile structure of this family, built on half-truths and silence. Harding’s prose is eloquently spare, punctuated with gorgeous descriptions of the Norfolk summer. She’s one of those writers whose work I’ve long thought underrated. Review shortly…

Lured by its vibrant jacket on a dull winter’s day, I couldn’t resist Peace Adzo Medie’s His Only Wife, the story of a young Ghanaian woman caught Cover image for His Only Wife by Peace Adzo Medie up in a web of obligation yanked tight by a manipulative matriarch whose generosity comes at a very high price. Afi and Eli’s wedding is as lavish as any rich family might be expected to stage, the only difference being the groom’s absence. Afi knows she’s been selected by the Ganyo family in an attempt to lure Eli away from the Liberian woman with whom he has a daughter but she also knows she has to comply. By the end of this thoroughly enjoyable debut, Afi has grown into herself sufficiently to take a courageous decision which has you both cheering her on and hoping for the best for her. Review shortly…

There’s been quite a head of Twitter steam building up around Yaa Gyasi’s second novel, Transcendent Kingdom, which follows a Ghanaian family who begin a new life in the American south, a story which Gifty loves to hear her parents tell. Tragedy in the shape of opioid addiction strikes, leaving Gifty ‘tracing her family’s story through continents and generations will take her deep into the dark heart of modern America’ according to the blurb. I still haven’t got around to reading Gyasi’s Homegoing despite it having taken up residence on my list quite some time ago.

First published in 1928, Rudolph Fisher’s satirical The Walls of Jericho comes billed as a classic Harlem Renaissence novel. Black lawyer, Fred Merrit, buys a house in an exclusive white neighbourhood on Harlem’s fringes, employing the services of two removal men who seem to go out of their way to enflame hostilities between Merrit and his new neighbours.This hilarious satire of jazz-age Harlem derides the walls people build around themselves-colour and class being chief among them. In their reactions to Merrit and to one another, the characters provide an invaluable view of the social and philosophical scene of the times’ say the publishers who’ve included a short story catching up with Jinx and Bubber during the Depression in this new edition.

No slouch in satirising racial tension, himself, I’m sure Percival Everett is familiar with Fisher’s work. I’ve long admired Everett’s writing, frustrated that much of his extensive backlist is unavailable here but, to my delight, last year saw the UK publication of I Am Not Sidney Poitier while this year sees his short story collection, Damned If I Do, arrive in British bookshops which may well have reopened by the time it’s published. ‘Everett skewers race, class, identity, surrealism and much more in this exceptional work’ say the publishers, qualities that have made me such a fan. Ridicule goes a long way in exposing bigotry for what it is, something Everett excels at.

Danielle Evans’ The Office of Historical Corrections, March’s second collection, comprises a novella as well as a set of short stories. It explores present day Cover image for The Office of Historical Corrections by Danielle Evans America through a cast of characters at a point of crisis in their lives by the sound of it: a white student has been caught wearing a Confederate flag bikini, a photojournalist is faced with her own losses at a friend’s wedding while a woman’s job is on the line thanks to her solving a mystery spanning generations. ‘Evans zooms in on particular moments and relationships in her characters’ lives in a way that allows them to speak to larger issues of race, culture, and history’ according to the blurb which sounds excellent.

That’s it for the first part of March’s potential goodies. As ever, a click on a title will lead to a more detailed synopsis for any that have taken your fancy. Part two soon…

36 thoughts on “Books to Look Out for in March 2021: Part One”

    1. I read Saint X at a time when print proofs were thin on the ground and was pleasantly surprised although it’s not one I’d usually have read. Will definitely get on to Gyasi!

  1. As usual, an awesome list of some very interesting books. I’ve almost read His Only Wife a couple of times, i.e., picked it up browsing, read a few pages, almost got hooked but firmly resisted (perhaps next time I’ll give in. Your review makes it sound even more interesting). I really have a mountain of unread books, including Gyasi’s Homecoming! Also included among the unread is The Office of Historical Corrections, which I’ve been dipping into now and again. Harding’s novels sound very tempting — perhaps when a spot clears up on Mount TBR I’ll be adding at least one!

  2. The Walls of Jericho sounds interesting. I’ve become fascinated by the Harlem Renaissance after reading Nella Larsen and George Hutchinson’s biography of her.

    1. I’m keen to read that one, too. Thanks for mentioning the Hutchinson. I’ll add that to my list. I still vividly remember Quicksand and Passing quite some time after reading them .

  3. I was just saying to Ali a little earlier that there seems to have been a bit of a resurgence of interest in stories of the Harlem Renaissance in recent years – and here’s another reissue to add to the list. I’m probably more interested in Nella Larsen and Dorothy, but it’s useful to hear about the Fisher, too.

    I’m sure Transcendent Kingdom will do well, especially given the love for Homegoing. Have you decided whether or not you’ll read it or will you wait and see?

    1. I suspect the Black Lives Matter movement may have inspired some publishers to investigate Harlem Renaissance authors. I’ll probably wait for Transcendent Kingdom. I really should get my hands on a copy of Homegoing first.

  4. Really enjoyed Land of the Living and have a copy of Harvest to get round to–this is a promising synopsis! And I’ve got The Office of Historical Corrections, too, which I’m looking forward to very much.

  5. There was much to enjoy in Homegoing, especially her ability to create characters though I thought it was a little too fragmented so I’m interested in what she does with the second novel.

  6. I’ll be interested to hear what you both think of Transcendent Kingdom. I thought the story leaned too heavily toward illustrating issues/concerns and also didn’t sufficiently arc in all but one of the plotlines. I’m pretty much alone in this camp! 🙂 I haven’t read Homecoming, though, and probably should for comparison.

  7. Also, I’m pretty excited to read Office of Historical Corrections. That may be enhanced by the local university providing “book clubs” of professors talking about one book for an hour virtually every month and this book is next. I’ve heard the novella alone is extraordinary.

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