Tag Archives: Yaa Gyasi

Paperbacks to Look Out for in October 2017

There’s a nicely varied bunch of paperbacks in the offing for October. I’ll start off with a book that’s been popular in my neck of the Twitter woods for quite some months. ‘What if I don’t want to hold your baby? – Can I date you without ever hearing about your divorce? – What can I demand of my mother now that I am an adult? – Is therapy pointless? – At what point does drinking a lot become a drinking problem? – Why does everyone keep asking me why I am not married?’ are some of the questions posed by Jami Attenberg’s All Grown Up, about twenty-first century womanhood narrated by a thirty-nine-year-old childless woman battling through society’s expectations and her own desires. I haven’t enjoyed everything Attenberg’s written but her last novel, Saint Mazie, was excellent and that blurb reminds me a little of Claire Messud’s take on the same subject, The Woman Upstairs, which immediately piques my interest.

My next choice also met with a good deal of tweeted enthusiasm when it was published in hardback although I’ve haven’t see much about it lately. Yaa Gyasi’s debut, Homegoing, follows the fortunes of two sisters – one sold into slavery, the other a slave-trader’s wife – taking her readers across three continents and seven generations. Homegoing tells ‘the very story of America’ according to the publishers, a somewhat ambitious claim but it does sound well worth a read.

I’m not sure I can say that about Paul Auster’s Man Booker shortlisted chunkster, 4321 which weighs in at over 850 pages. It’s the story of Archibald Isaac Ferguson, born on March 3rd 1947, just a month after Auster’s own birth – make of that what you will. The novel tells four parallel Cover imagestories of Ferguson’s life. ‘Each version of Ferguson’s story rushes across the fractured terrain of mid-twentieth century America, in this sweeping story of birthright and possibility, of love and the fullness of life itself’ say the publishers which is all very enticing and I’m a fan of much of Auster’s writing but the size of this one is intimidating to say the least. Perhaps Annabel’s review over at Annabookbel will help you to make up your mind about this one.

Per Petterson’s Echoland explores childhood through twelve-year-old Arvid, on holiday with his family at his grandparents’ in Denmark. About to make the leap from childhood to adolescence, Arvid takes himself off exploring on his bike, escaping the household’s intergenerational tensions and glorying in his new-found freedom. ‘Echoland is an extraordinarily subtle and truthful snapshot of growing up, with an emotional depth that lingers long after its final pages’ say the publishers which sounds very much in Petterson territory to me. He writes the kind of beautifully clipped yet often lyrical prose of which I’m very fond.

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Robert Olen Butler’s Perfume River looks at the fallout of the Vietnam War through the lens of one family, also beset by divisions. Although his father is close to death, Robert’s estranged brother refuses to come home. Instead a homeless stranger appears who will rock the entire family’s foundations. ‘Profound and poignant, Perfume River is an examination of relationships, personal choice, and how war resonates down the generations’ Cover imagesay the publishers.

My final choice, Gerard Reve’s The Evenings, is set in one of my favourite European cities which is one of its draws for me. It’s the story of ten evenings in the life of Frits van Egters as he walks the streets of post-war Amsterdam. That may seem a tad dull but it’s been voted one of the greatest novels of all time by the highly literary Dutch. Described by the publishers as ‘edgy, mesmerising, darkly ironical’ it sounds quite intriguing.

That’s it for October’s paperbacks. A click on a title will take you to a fuller synopsis should you want to know more and If you’d like to catch up with October’s new titles they’re here.

Books to Look Out for January in 2017: Part One

Cover imageFor those of you fed up with picking over the bones of 2016, I’m delighted to say that 2017 is starting with a literary bang. So many enticing books out in January that this will be a two-post preview, something not warranted for several months. My first choice – the subject of a good deal of pre-publication brouhaha for months – wanders about the globe but, according to the publishers, tells ‘the very story of America’. Like Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad, one of 2016’s much-praised titles, the theme of Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing is slavery. In what sounds like a very ambitious debut, Gyasi’s novel follows the fortunes of two sisters – one sold into slavery, the other a slave-trader’s wife – taking her readers across three continents and seven generations. Weary comments about hype aside, this does sound well worth a read.

Nadeem Aslam can always be relied upon to deliver a novel to get your teeth into and The Golden Legend sounds like no exception. When Nargis loses her husband – caught in cross-fire and shot by an American – she comes under increasing pressure from the military to pardon his killer. In a city riven with fear at the broadcasting of intimate secrets from its mosques, Nargis is already terrified that her own past will be revealed. In ‘his characteristically luminous prose, Nadeem Aslam reflects Pakistan’s past and present in a single mirror – a story of corruption, resilience, and the hope that only love and the human spirit can offer’ say the publishers. Like Kamila Shamsie, Aslam has a knack for the kind of vivid storytelling that helps enlighten Westerners like me about this part of the world.cover image

This one’s here partly because I can’t resist novels set in places I’ve visited on holiday. Set in the seventeenth century with the Western world on the brink of the Enlightenment, Meelis Friedenthal’s The Willow King follows a Dutch melancholic student who arrives in the famous Estonian university town of Tartu with a parrot in tow. Laurentius has been drawn to Tartu in the hope of a scientific explanation for his unhappiness but finds himself attracted back into the world of superstition and magic familiar from his childhood. Holiday nostalgia aside, it sounds intriguing and it’s published by Pushkin Press who seem to have a particularly sharp editorial eye.

Laurentius’ childhood home doesn’t sound a million miles away – literally and metaphorically – from Wiola’s in Wioletta Greg’s debut Swallowing Mercury. Wiola lives in a small village with her taxidermist father, seamstress mother and a black cat. Without having read it, I suspect the publisher’s slightly opaque blurb will be more useful than any summary I can come up with: ‘Wiola lives in a Poland that is both very recent and lost in time. Swallowing Mercury is about the ordinary passing of years filled with extraordinary days. In vivid prose filled with texture, colour and sound, it describes the adult world encroaching on the child’s. From childhood to adolescence, Wiola dances to the strange music of her own imagination.’ Sounds a little fey, I know, but engaging enough to warrant further investigation for me, and Greg’s a poet which augurs well for her writing.swimming-lessons

No doubts about my last choice. Claire Fuller’s prize-winning debut Our Endless Numbered Days was a joy so hopes for Swimming Lessons are understandably high. Gil Coleman’s wife has been missing for twelve years when he thinks he sees her standing on a pavement. Summoned home, his two children set about trying to solve the mystery of her disappearance and whether their father has been entirely truthful with them. Fingers crossed for more absorbing story-telling from Ms Fuller. Beautiful jacket, too.

That’s it for the first January post. A click on a title will take you to a fuller synopsis should you want to know more. Part two, which will not set foot outside the USA, to follow very shortly…