I have my eyes on so many books this year!
Like my beloved colleagues at the Debutante Ball I came up with a list for #Debut19Chat last month, and today’s list is an expansion. I’m excited to delve into these rich and varied worlds! This list is still fluid, I’m certain I’ll be adding to it! In this field, an assortment of literary novels, memoir, YA, works in translation, essays and of course, my favorite: poetry.
With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo: Ever Since she got pregnant freshman year, Emoni Santiago’s life has been about making the tough decisions—doing what has to be done for her daughter and her abuela. The one place she can let all that go is in the kitchen, where she adds a little something magical to everything she cooks, turning her food into straight-up goodness…
At the End of The Century by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala: Nobody has written so powerfully of the relationship between and within India and the Western middle classes than Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. In this selection of stories, chosen by her surviving family, her ability to tenderly and humorously view the situations faced by three (sometimes interacting) cultures–European, post-Independence Indian, and American–is never more acute.
China Dream by Ma Jian: (novel in translation, written by an acclaimed Chinese author whose entire body of work has been banned by his home country, and published in the thirtieth-anniversary year of the Tiananmen Square Massacre). Ma Daode is feeling pleased with himself. He has just been appointed Director of the China Dream Bureau, tasked with overwriting people’s private dreams with President Xi’s great China Dream of national rejuvenation. He has an impressive office, three properties and a bevy of mistresses texting him night and day. But just as Ma Daode is putting the finishing touches to his plan for a mass golden wedding anniversary celebration, things take an uneasy turn. Suddenly plagued by flashbacks of the Cultural Revolution, Ma Daode’s nightmares from the past threaten to undo his dream of a glorious future. In China Dream, Ma Jian takes the reader on a tragicomic ride through the horrors and absurdities of totalitarian power…
Oh! by Mary Robison: In Oh , these marvels have their source in a summer’s romp with a madcap Midwestern family flourishing under the eccentric protection of a father like no other. He is the wifeless Mr. Cleveland, now an enthusiast at gardening and insobriety since passing from active service as ruler of his soda-pop and miniature golf domain.
The Object of Your Affections by Falguni Kothari: Paris Kahn Fraser has it all–a successful career as an assistant district attorney, a beautiful home in New York City, and a handsome, passionate husband who chose her over having a family of his own. Neal’s dream of fatherhood might have been the only shadow in their otherwise happy life…until Paris’s best friend comes to town.
Unmarriageable by Soniah Kamal: Told with wry wit and colorful prose, the novelis a charming update on Jane Austen’s beloved novel Pride and Prejudice and an exhilarating exploration of love, marriage, class, and sisterhood in modern-day Pakistan.
On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong: the novel is a letter from a son to a mother who cannot read. Written when the speaker, Little Dog, is in his late twenties, the letter unearths a family’s history that began before he was born — a history whose epicenter is rooted in Vietnam — and serves as a doorway into parts of his life his mother has never known, all of it leading to an unforgettable revelation. At once a witness to the fraught yet undeniable love between a single mother and her son, it is also a brutally honest exploration of race, class, and masculinity.
Searching for Sylvie Lee by Jean Kwok: A poignant and suspenseful drama that untangles the complicated ties binding three women—two sisters and their mother—in one Chinese immigrant family and explores what happens when the eldest daughter disappears, and a series of family secrets emerge. It is a profound exploration of the many ways culture and language can divide us and the impossibility of ever truly knowing someone—especially those we love.
Miracle Creek by Angie Kim: a thoroughly contemporary take on the courtroom drama, drawing on the author’s own life as a Korean immigrant, former trial lawyer, and mother of a real-life “submarine” patient. Both a compelling page-turner and an excavation of identity and the desire for connection.
Soft Science by Franny Choi: Soft Science explores queer, Asian American femininity. A series of Turing Test-inspired poems grounds its exploration of questions not just of identity, but of consciousness―how to be tender and feeling and still survive a violent world filled with artificial intelligence and automation. We are dropped straight into the tangled intersections of technology, violence, erasure, agency, gender, and loneliness.
Where Reasons End by Yiyun Li: Yiyun Li meets life’s deepest sorrows as she imagines a conversation between a mother and child in a timeless world. Composed in the months after she lost a child to suicide, Where Reasons Endtrespasses into the space between life and death as mother and child talk, free from old images and narratives.
Go Ahead in the Rain: Notes to a Tribe Called Quest by Hanif Abdurraqib: Poet and essayist Hanif Abdurraqib digs into the group’s history and draws from his own experience to reflect on how its distinctive sound resonated among fans like himself. The result is as ambitious and genre-bending as the rap group itself.
Oculus by Sally Wen Mao: Sally Wen Mao explores exile not just as a matter of distance and displacement but as a migration through time and a reckoning with technology. The title poem follows a nineteen-year-old girl in Shanghai who uploaded her suicide onto Instagram. Other poems cross into animated worlds, examine robot culture, and haunt a necropolis for electronic waste.
Adele by Leila Slimani: Adèle appears to have the perfect life: She is a successful journalist in Paris who lives in a beautiful apartment with her surgeon husband and their young son. But underneath the surface, she is bored–and consumed by an insatiable need…
The Nickel Boys by Colton Whitehead: As the Civil Rights movement begins to reach the black enclave of Frenchtown in segregated Tallahassee, Elwood Curtis takes the words of Dr. Martin Luther King to heart: He is “as good as anyone.” Abandoned by his parents, but kept on the straight and narrow by his grandmother, Elwood is about to enroll in the local black college. But for a black boy in the Jim Crow South of the early 1960s, one innocent mistake is enough to destroy the future…
The Tenth Muse by Catherine Chung: From childhood, Katherine knows she is different, and that her parents are not who they seem to be. But in becoming a mathematician, she must face the most human of problems–who is she? What is the cost of love, and what is the cost of ambition? On her quest to conquer the Riemann Hypothesis, the greatest unsolved mathematical problem of her time, she turns to a theorem with a mysterious history that holds both the lock and key to her identity, and to secrets long buried during World War II.
A Woman is No Man by Etaf Rum: Three generations of Palestinian-American women living in Brooklyn are torn between individual desire and the strict mores of Arab culture in this powerful debut—a heart-wrenching story of love, intrigue, courage, and betrayal that will resonate with women from all backgrounds, giving voice to the silenced and agency to the oppressed.
The Tradition by Jericho Brown: The Tradition details the normalization of evil and its history at the intersection of the past and the personal. Brown’s poetic concerns are both broad and intimate, and at their very core a distillation of the incredibly human: What is safety? Who is this nation? Where does freedom truly lie?
Deaf Republic by Ilya Kaminksy: Deaf Republic opens in an occupied country in a time of political unrest. When soldiers breaking up a protest kill a deaf boy, Petya, the gunshot becomes the last thing the citizens hear—they all have gone deaf, and their dissent becomes coordinated by sign language. The story follows the private lives of townspeople encircled by public violence.
On the Come Up by Angie Thomas: Sixteen-year-old Bri wants to be one of the greatest rappers of all time. Or at least win her first battle. As the daughter of an underground hip hop legend who died right before he hit big, Bri’s got massive shoes to fill. But it’s hard to get your come up when you’re labeled a hoodlum at school, and your fridge at home is empty after your mom loses her job.
An Orchestra of Minorities by Chigozie Obioma: Set on the outskirts of Umuahia, Nigeria and narrated by a chi, or guardian spirit, the novel tells the story of Chinonso, a young poultry farmer whose soul is ignited when he sees a woman attempting to jump from a highway bridge. Horrified by her recklessness, Chinonso joins her on the roadside and hurls two of his prized chickens into the water below to express the severity of such a fall. The woman, Ndali, is stopped her in her tracks.
Gingerbread by Helen Oyeyemi: Influenced by the mysterious place gingerbread holds in classic children’s stories—equal parts wholesome and uncanny, from the tantalizing witch’s house in “Hansel and Gretel” to the man-shaped confection who one day decides to run as fast as he can—beloved novelist Helen Oyeyemi invites readers into a delightful tale of a surprising family legacy, in which the inheritance is a recipe.
The Source of Self-Regard by Toni Morrison: brimming with all the elegance of mind and style, the literary prowess and moral compass that are Toni Morrison’s inimitable hallmark. It is divided into three parts: the first is introduced by a powerful prayer for the dead of 9/11; the second by a searching meditation on Martin Luther King Jr., and the last by a heart-wrenching eulogy for James Baldwin.
Magical Negro by Morgan Parker: an archive of black everydayness, a catalog of contemporary folk heroes, an ethnography of ancestral grief, and an inventory of figureheads, idioms, and customs. These American poems are both elegy and jive, joke and declaration, songs of congregation and self-conception.
Casting Deep Shade by C.D. Wright: a poetic exploration of humanity’s shared history with the beech tree. Before Wright’s unexpected death in 2016, she was deeply engaged in years of ambling research to better know this tree―she visited hundreds of beech trees, interviewed arborists, and delved into the etymology, folk lore, and American history of the species.
The Collected Schizophrenias by Esme Weijun Wangcuts right to the core. Schizophrenia is not a single unifying diagnosis, and Esmé Weijun Wang writes not just to her fellow members of the “collected schizophrenias” but to those who wish to understand it as well.
What My Mother and I Don’t Talk About, edited by Michele Filgate: an anthology about the powerful and sometimes painful things that we can’t discuss with the person who is supposed to know us and love us the most. An intimate, therapeutic, and universally resonant look at our relationships with our mothers, with contributions by Cathi Hanauer, Melissa Febos, Alexander Chee, Dylan Landis, Bernice L. McFadden, Julianna Baggott, Lynn Steger Strong, Kiese Laymon, Carmen Maria Machado, André Aciman, Sari Botton, Nayomi Munaweera, Brandon Taylor, Leslie Jamison.
Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli: “Impossibly smart, full of beauty, heart and insight . . . Everyone should read this book.”–Tommy Orange
From the two-time NBCC Finalist, an emotionally resonant, fiercely imaginative new novel about a family whose road trip across America collides with an immigration crisis at the southwestern border–an indelible journey told with breathtaking imagery, spare lyricism, and profound humanity.
A mother and father set out with their two children, a boy and a girl, driving from New York to Arizona in the heat of summer. Their destination: Apacheria, the place the Apaches once called home…