With luck you’ll be awash with book tokens by now and if you haven’t managed to spend them all already, here are a few paperbacks worth keeping an eye out for, starting with one I wasn’t at all drawn to when it was first published but I’ve seen so many good reviews I think it’s time to take a look. Beginning in 1968, Chinelo Okparanta’s Under the Udala Trees is set against the backdrop of the Biafran civil war and its fallout. Ijeoma is effectively orphaned after her father is killed and she’s separated from her mother, taking solace in her friendship with Amina, a relationship which will ‘will shake the foundations of Ijeoma’s faith, test her resolve and flood her heart’ according to the publishers.
Hannah Kohler’s debut, The Outside Lands, also has war as its backdrop, this time the Vietnam war. Jeannie and Kip’s mother died when Jeanie was nineteen and Kip fourteen. Jeannie’s marriage takes her into the unfamiliar world of wealth and politics while Kip turns to petty crime, then volunteers for the Marines. Both are caught up in events leaving them ‘driven by disillusionment to commit unforgivable acts of betrayal that will leave permanent scars’ in a ‘story of people caught in the slipstream of history, how we struggle in the face of loss to build our world, and how easily and with sudden violence it can be swept away’ say the publishers which sounds a little overblown to me but I’m attracted by the idea of a debut that takes its readers from 1960s California to Vietnam.
Fiona McFarlane’s The High Places is a somewhat uncharacteristic choice for me given that it’s a collection of short stories, few of which are reviewed on this blog, although I have been getting a little better at that recently. It’s made up of thirteen stories written over ten years – eight previously unpublished – and ranges far and wide, both in terms of geography and subject. Some tend towards the slightly surreal while others are more conventional but all are inventive and served up with an appealing wry humour. Those who enjoyed McFarlane’s first novel, The Night Guest, should find lots to enjoy here. Still hoping for a novel, though.
Ending with a third yet to-be-read book, this time Sunil Yapa’s debut, Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist, which is set in Seattle against the backdrop of the 1999 World Trade Organization protest. Victor, the estranged son of Seattle’s police chief, finds himself homeless after a family tragedy. On a day that will see the city under siege from protesters, Victor and his father are set on a collision course. This one could go either way but it has an unusual setting and that’s an eye-catching title which you could also say for the cover, I suppose, but not in a good way.
That’s it for January paperbacks. Several treats to help see off the miseries of a UK winter. If you’d like more detail, a click on The High Places will take you to my review and to a more detailed synopsis for the other three. If you missed the first part of January’s paperbacks, it’s here, while the hardback previews are here and here.