We’ve halfway through February and it wasn’t until I was updating my Goodreads profile this morning that I realized I never posted a recap of the books I read in the last quarter of 2017.
But better late than never, right?
The Books I Loved
Homegoing by Yaa Gysai
Homegoing was tied for best book I read in 2017. It was just SO, SO GOOD. Spanning three hundred years, the novel begins with two half sisters in Ghana that are born into different villages. One is married off to a wealthy Englishman and lives in the Cape Coast Castle, the other is imprisoned in the castle dungeons to be sold as a slave and shipped off to America. The two threads of the novel follows the future generations of both women. It is a breathtaking work of emotional power, and I can’t recommend it enough.
To the Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey
To the Bright Edge of the World takes place at the end of the 19th century in Alaska. Colonel Allen Forrester is tapped to lead the exploration of Alaska’s impassible Wolverine River, with only a small group of men to accompany him. He leaves behind his newly pregnant wife, Sophie, who is left on her own to worry about her husband and their young marriage for a year in the military barracks. A sense of magic and otherworldly wonder is woven throughout this novel, and I loved how skillfully Ivey balanced Allen and Sophie’s narratives. I have always wanted to visit Alaska, but I’m not sure Alaska in the 19th century is something I’d ever want to experience.
The Books I Liked
Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeline Thien
Do Not Say We Have Nothing tells the story of two generations during critical periods of Chinese history — Mao’s Cultural Revolution, and the students protesting in Tiananmen Square. In the present day, Marie strives to make sense of her father, who left her family twice, and how he and his fellow musicians had to shield and reinvent their art and their lives during political campaigns. The more she learns, the more she realizes how much her father’s choices, and his fate, reverberated throughout the years. Movingly written, I can’t remember the last time I was so affected by the closing chapters of a book.
Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson
I was thoroughly charmed by Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand. Retired Major Pettigrew leads a quiet and properly English life in the countryside, but his daily routine is upended when his brother’s death leads to a friendship with Mrs. Ali, the Pakistani village shopkeeper. As their friendship blossoms into something more, society proves to be the potentially biggest obstacle of them all. I loved the characters in this book, and I especially loved the story.
News of the World by Paulette Jiles
In News of the World, Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd finds himself transporting a young orphan, Johanna, to her relatives in San Antonio for a $50 gold piece. Four years before, she had been raised by the Kiowa raiders that had killed her parents and sister; now, the U.S. Army took her from the Kiowa, leaving Johanna once again without a home. The journey is long and treacherous, and Johanna tries to escape at every opportunity. Captain Kidd is forced to come to a decision: does he abandon the girl to her fate of reuniting with extended family she’s never known, or become a kidnapper himself in the eyes of the law? I won’t say anything about the choice Captain Kidd made, but I was unexpectedly moved by how sentimental this story got without being saccharine. A worthwhile read, indeed.
Private Citizens by Tony Tulathimutte
A satirical novel that skewers millennial stereotypes with love, Private Citizens is about four millennials living in San Francisco. They can’t decide whether to save the world or destroy it, to be the heroes society needs or the heroes society deserves. The writing was sharp and on point, and I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it given how tricky it can be to balance satire with heart.
The Story of a Brief Marriage by Anuk Arudpragasam
A stunningly written book about the human existence, The Story of a Brief Marriage tells the story of Dinesh, an evacuee of Sri Lanka’s civil war, and an old man’s request for him to marry his daughter, Ganga. The marriage is the old man’s attempt at providing safety for his daughter, for couples were less likely to be conscripted or abused. It’s an eerily haunting book that broke my heart.
The Two Family House by Linda Cohen Loigman
In the midst of a blizzard, in a two family house, two babies are born mere minutes apart to two women. The Two Family House is the story of the bond between the two sisters-in-law that was forged during that night, and the cracks that begin to show as the bond begins to break over time. Beautifully crafted, this story is one that I devoured and kept thinking about long after I read the final few pages.
The Book I Didn’t Finish
Life Without a Recipe: A Memoir by Diana Abu-Jaber
While it started out strong, Life Without a Recipe completely petered out somewhere in the middle and I couldn’t be bothered to finish it. It’s badly structured and I wanted to read so much more about her father and grandmother, and not so much about the meandering approach she took to both her life as well as structuring her book.
The Books Somewhere in the Middle
Every Last One by Anna Quindlen; Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok; Ice Cream for Breakfast: How Rediscovering Your Inner Child Can Make You Calmer, Happier, and Solve Your Bullsh*t Adult Problems by Laura Jane Williams; The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson; The Summer that Melted Everything by Tiffany McDaniel