PositiveBooklistKumarasamy offers an ambitious, classification-defying novel that straddles the past and the future and offers deeply thoughtful commentary on the lines defining personal and collective identities...The language, especially the references to the challenges of translation, adds to the impact of the story as it ties together individuals and histories across countries and continents...This is a compelling read that tackles some of the most urgent questions of our times, and Kumarasamy demonstrates restraint in not offering simplistic answers.
PositiveBooklistBhat captures the moods of each stage of Nina’s life as she moves from high school to grad school to her working and dating life. Youthful curiosity, the desire to be cool, the self-focus of teenagers, and the ensuing period of self-doubt and a quest for life’s purpose are universal. Bhat succeeds admirably and enjoyably in balancing dramatic moments and comic asides while maintaining the emotional integrity of a character grappling with confusing contexts.
PositiveBooklist... an intense exploration of gender, race, and class rooted in transnational geopolitics and a tale that challenges readers to recognize the gap between sentimental notions of maternal instincts and the sometimes gritty reality of mothering ... The growing girl’s coming to terms with her two mothers, Shannon’s deepening self-awareness, and Souria’s precarious situation in the wake of her harrowing experiences of slavery and sex trafficking are all thoughtfully dramatized and strongly constructed around each compelling character. Townsend’s insights into self, motherhood, freedom, and love and her ability to illuminate multiple realities as this complex tale unfolds ensure that this is a gripping and provocative read.
RaveBooklistSolà offers a fabulous amalgam of the grief of one family and the glorious setting of a Catalan village high in the Pyrenees. A poet, fiction writer, and artist, Solà infuses this world with personality by giving natural elements voices and emotions. The laughter and anger of the clouds and the roe deer are woven into the legends of the region, creating an imaginative context for a powerful story of life, love, and loss ... Lethem’s translation preserves the linguistic artistry of the original in the way the multiple narrators’ respective personalities and complex secrets emerge and in how the descriptions of place, weather, the seasons, plants, and animals are all integral to character revelation and plot development. Solà’s immersive and memorable novel has the deceptively simple elegance and depth of a folktale.
Ayanna Lloyd Banwo
RaveBooklistFirst-time novelist Banwo’s vividly imagined Trinidad is a fitting backdrop for the love story of Darwin and Yejide ... Sharp characterization and the richness of the language make this work of magic realism a truly immersive reading experience. Banwo demonstrates a deftness in balancing descriptive passages with a briskly narrated plot and makes this novel set in a cemetery an intimate exploration of life. She weaves in themes of parental neglect and abandonment, embracing adulthood, and navigating corruption within an intriguing mix of mythical folklore. This layering of the earthly and the otherworldly leaves the reader with much to reexamine long after the last page is turned.
PositiveBooklistAs Ali tackles the difficult reality of racism within ethnic groups tied to assumptions of solidarity, he succinctly delineates memorable characters and complex interactions. The narrative’s leaps back and forward in time can be challenging, even as they serve to escalate the tension of Nur’s damaging choices. In all, a vitally important exploration of deep-rooted prejudice, and the disconnect between understanding and the genuine practice of inclusiveness.
Xavier Navarro Aquino
RaveBooklistAquino sets a mood of charged and desperate hope ... Aquino mixes Spanish into the English text and stacks up details and characters, trusting the readers to engage with the world he creates, which is richer for all that is implied and unexplained. This is a demanding read that rouses high emotions and offers no simplistic resolutions.
RaveBooklistThe pain of grief, the aging of a loved one, the distilled sense of despair from unresolved issues with a now deceased parent, and the murkiness of long-held family secrets are all thoughtfully dramatized. Turkey’s political history is integral to the storyline, underscoring how personal choices are inextricably linked to the larger world. Seçkin’s lively prose and empathic portrayal of her characters make for an evocative and entertaining first novel.
Khadija Abdalla Bajaber
RaveBooklistBajaber weaves together the mythical and the real and uses the cadences of the oral storytelling traditions of Kenya to create a remarkable coming-of-age narrative. Aisha’s sea adventure, evoking memories of Sinbad and Ulysses, is in a sense only a prequel, because when she returns, it is with the thirst for more knowledge. As the story flows, Bajaber offers strongly developed characters and recognizable family dynamics that root this fabulist tale in a cultural context. Bajaber’s debut novel, winner of the first Graywolf Press African Fiction Prize, is imaginative with its personality-infused crows and goats and empathetic in its dramatization of difficult choices.
Myriam J A Chancy
PositiveBooklistThe January 2010 earthquake in Haiti was global news because of the scale of the tragedy. In this remarkable novel, Chancy reminds us that the headlines and statistics were but part of the story of death and destruction. By giving voice to distinct individuals, Chancy creates, in each chapter, another layer of insight into this island community before and after. The story of Sara, Ma Lou, Sonia, Richard, Anne, and Olivier root the grief and trauma in lost loves and laughter; and they all add up to commentary on disaster management in a postcolonial world. Chancy draws us in with story lines that illuminate the social hierarchy of Port-au-Prince, glimpses of market life, and various neighborhood experiences, taking us through physical and emotional suffering to track generational loss in art, business, and developmental work. In her intricate tale of how the tragedy is multiplied by systemic social failures that follow the earthquake, Chancy examines the difficult question of how people move past grief of this magnitude, personally and collectively. Every element of the writing and characterization delivers a poignant experience.
RaveBooklistThis juxtaposition of the intensely physical reality of a body battling cancer and the spirit searching for answers and strength in literature makes for an unflinching narrative and a remarkable read. D’Aguiar’s acceptance of his body’s changes and his resilience are made all the more real as he shares vulnerabilities. Whether he describes difficulty peeing or getting ready for a shot in his buttocks or closely examines his relationship with his long-missing father, D’Aguiar offers keen and candid insights into the complexities of the human condition in the here and now.
PositiveBooklistKopacz’s commitment to a vision of healing even while detailing tragedies shapes this tale’s themes of redemption and the universal soul. Most remarkable is Kopacz’s abilty to maintain a brisk narrative pace as she delves into the weighty issues and complex experiences that shaped Yemaya’s quest.
Lyn Liao Butler
PositiveBooklistButler offers a fast-moving, easy-to-read story that almost belies the depth of her thematic preoccupations as she recounts funny dating episodes and other diverting strands. The martial-arts story line is empowering, as are the glimpses into the reality of growing up biracial and the enormous pressures of cultural expectations. The interesting array of characters and energetic plot will please readers.
RaveBooklistRaina’s debut novel lives up to its billing as a fun caper and social satire thanks to strong characterization, a fast-paced plot, and an eye for the ridiculous. His delicious skewering of the social mores of Delhi’s über-rich and clear-eyed rendering of India’s social hierarchy propel sheer entertainment into striking elucidation in the mode of Aravind Adiga ... There is drama in the dizzying turns of events, which Raina makes good use of with his unerring ability to neatly capture whole segments of Indian society and their corresponding absurdities, while his keen depictions of rich, ambitious, and unscrupulous parents, the frenzied media, and systemic inequities are universally recognizable.
RaveBooklistThe edgy pain of loss, the anxiety of connection, and the challenges of alignment that are integral parts of all true relationships are richly explored and the resulting happy endings feel all the more vital for Babalola’s having acknowledged those difficult realities ... Babalola presents fairy tales for our times with women’s agency and ambition built into the narrative arc. By situating her magical dramas in contemporary offices, dorms, and clubs, the author builds new contexts for Scheherazade, Psyche, and Thisbe. This is a joyous read for those interested in literary reworkings and for those looking to explore the complications of loving relationships from fresh perspectives.
Mazie K. Hirono
RaveBooklistHirono is fierce and forthright as she shares the life experiences that led to her becoming a U.S. senator from Hawaii ... Her unsentimental yet transparent sharing of her personal history makes this memoir a gripping read. While Hirono’s ideological evolution over the various stages of her political life is fascinating, her grit and determination make this a motivating story even for those who are not ordinarily interested in politics. Recent events in Washington, DC, and Hirono’s part in them make this a very timely reminder of the varied and significant backgrounds guiding our nation’s lawmakers.
RaveBooklistThe wondrous archipelago of Popisho is a place of magic, from the extraordinary powers of its denizens to the rich tapestry woven from its vividly imagined landscape, traditions, and culture. Emulating the best practitioners of magical realism, Ross takes us beyond normal experience and convinces us of the otherworldly cooking powers of Xavier, the healing energy of Anise, and the lie-detecting abilities of Zaza ... Tears mix with laughter as we learn about death, infidelity, corruption, truth, desire, and love ... [an] expansive weaving, which is held together so effectively by Ross’ creative use of language and gripping characterizations. Passing reminders of the works of Gabriel Garcia Márquez and Alice Walker serve to establish Ross firmly in the global storytelling tradition of bold and beautiful narratives that demand much of the reader, but deliver the promised prize of a stirring literary experience.
RaveBooklistAs the story meanders from Firenze, Alabama, to New York City and Jamaica to Paris, it is filled with characters who become a global family for American-born artist Chris, who travels to Jamaica, his mother’s island, to quietly paint and mourn for his wife. McKenzie uses multiple points of view to portray a strong cast of characters ... The writing is evocative, capturing vivid details in descriptions of a ride on a new highway to Kaya Bay and Chris’s feelings when he sees Monet’s Camille sur son lit de mort, scenes finely balanced, with brisk storytelling that makes each character’s experiences engrossing.
PositiveBooklistWith a focus on race and ethnicity, Khakpour chronicles her gradual coming to terms with her Iranian familial history and delves into the anxiety of being brown skinned in America. Alternately conflicted and confident, excited and anxious, indulgent and exasperated, Khakpour engages with her complex Iranian American heritage with vibrancy and candor ... She offers keen insights into her life in Los Angeles and New York, zeroing in on writers’ vulnerabilities and preoccupations, including financial worries. Khakpour’s willingness to reveal the less than shiny aspects of her past makes her essays richer; her thematic focus on immigrant identity, class, and race make this collection illuminating and rewarding as she demonstrates from varied perspectives just how the personal inevitably becomes the political.
PositiveBooklist[Khar] is very effective in recapturing the irrational nature of spiraling addiction and the unique misery of self-loathing during relapses after treatment. Her descriptions of her relationships, including those with her parents, and her evolution in how she handles them, create a compelling context for her feelings of isolation. The connection between childhood trauma, mental health concerns, and addiction in Khar’s story makes for a very challenging read as does her sense of tragic loss during the years lost to bad choices. Khar doesn’t sugar coat her dysfunctional periods, and this forthrightness goes a long way towards achieving her stated goal of helping to destigmatize opioid addiction. Khar acknowledges that her memoir provides but one window into the epidemic, but it does reveal the complexity of each individual case, thus giving a human face to a national crisis.
RaveBooklistThe spiritual journey trope is engagingly executed ... Once again, [Aboulela\'s] ability to sensitively capture the inner-outer lives of Muslim immigrant women in Scotland shines ... Each well-developed plot line deepens characterization, while Aboulela’s interweaving of Muslim and Celtic fables via the sacred hoopoe bird, adds another dimension to the story and offers a sense of connection between the two traditions and the past and present.
PositiveBooklistMartin’s second novel...combines strong storytelling with interesting characters and compelling themes and offers a discussion-worthy, layered read ... How medical ethics, social stigma regarding sexual orientation and gender identity, sexual harassment, and religious beliefs intersect with medical choices are some of the big questions Martin addresses, while at the center of the story is the beautiful friendship between Georgia and family doctor Jonah Tsukada, who is gay. Martin’s trademark witty repartee makes her characters fun to be with, and she both entertains and tackles thought-provoking questions of honor and integrity in a world where facts matter little, and where the besieged are tempted to adopt the sneaky strategies of opponents to beat them at their own game.
PositiveBooklistEach nameless character is drawn with psychological depth and layered motivations. Paralkar, a physician-scientist, melds medical realism and metaphysical debate, wry humor and somber observations to create a riveting and intriguing tale.
Carola Saavedra, Trans. by Daniel Hahn
PositiveBooklist... [an] unsettling whirlpool of a read ... Saavedra’s writing, particularly in the raw and vulnerable epistles, feels relentless and evocative in Hahn’s translation and creates intensity inside this tale shaped by characters strongly preoccupied with words and meaning. Thematically layered and psychologically demanding, this is a book for readers willing to explore uneasy relationship dynamics.
Golnaz Hashemzadeh Bonde, trans. by Elizabeth Clark Wessel
RaveBooklistThe unapologetic acknowledgment of Nahid’s anger feels authentic, and the intensity of her character is magnetic and fully captures the reader’s attention ... Bonde demonstrates great deftness in her depiction of the turns of events both during Iran’s revolution and in the struggles the refugee family faces in Sweden, but she absolutely shines in her remarkable characterizations ... a must-read.
RaveBooklistCruz masterfully provides insight into the 1960s Dominican immigration to the U.S ... Cruz is consistently strong in her characterization and treats everyone from the desperately ambitious Mama to the conflicted Juan with empathy, while Ana is her crowning achievement as she emerges from girlhood to become a resolute and focused young woman ... This is not an immigrant tale about magically achieving the American dream or any other successes; instead it captures the gritty reality of starting out in a new land with no real footholds. In Ana’s fierce dreams for her child, and Juan’s tender hopes for the next generation, Cruz creates an unforgettable portrayal of immigrant motivation. Cruz’s ability to create mood and atmosphere with her distinctive writing style make her a strong voice in Dominican American literature.
Emiliano Monge, Trans. by Frank Wynne
RaveBooklist\"The relentless pace and vivid language, dynamically translated into English by Wynne, and including phrases from Dante and quotes from actual migrants, brings home the physical and emotional anxiety of those who have risked everything in the faint hope of a better life across the border ... In a remarkable literary feat, this tale of the dire events of one day illuminates the past, the present, and the future. While many questions remain unanswered at the end, this is a comprehensive drama of the human potential for violence and dreams in a fractured land.
RaveBooklistCanadian writer Boyagoda’s ambitious new novel takes on academia, religion, politics, terrorism, international business, and immigrant identity ... Boyagoda delivers a winning combination of academic satire and sociopolitical commentary that leaves readers facing grim reality and acknowledging the irrationality of it all. Globally aware and witty, this is the opening title in a projected trilogy and a tale that offers a fascinating new perspective on journeys of faith and contemporary intellectual pursuits.
RaveBooklistBenz’s first novel combines brisk plotting and striking characterization to provide a compelling read. The layers, voices, and perspectives make this much more than the story of a woman trying to understand her father’s death 30 years ago ... Benz uses alternating viewpoints to create a gripping picture of a town in which past and present seem so melded, and race relations play out in very personal stories. While race is front and center as a thematic focus, Benz displays an uncanny ability to draw individual portraits, which means that everyone, from the dog Rufus to Uncle Dee, Jim McGee, and cousin Lola, anchor it in reality.
PositiveBooklist... ambitious in geographical scope and philosophical engagement ... Acker trusts her readers to keep up with challenging ethical theorizing and to be able to handle the unvarnished truth about her characters. As the family struggles with some shocking secrets during a crisis-driven get-together in Nairobi, they also grapple with issues of identity, heritage, family dysfunction, emotional intimacy, and aspirations. The backstory of the original migration of the family from Gujarat, India, to the African continent offers fascinating insights into the social hierarchies of colonial Africa. Acker presents a complex and compelling tale that offers the possibility of resolutions while boldly acknowledging the restless imperfections of relationships.
PositiveBooklist...delivers quite the punch with its combination of unlikely effervescence, authentic emotion, and literary exploration. Deliberate without being obvious ... Porter builds a complex but eminently readable story in which he considers the nature of trust, parenting, and community. The author’s deftness in rendering typical contemporary reactions to the situation while also delving into the past and the imagination reveals the depth of human life and the fine line between the mystical and the everyday. Porter has created both an entertaining tale and a novel of exceptionally creative experimentation and genre extension.
RaveBooklist...[a] compelling collection ... Avoiding an overtly political tone, Aboulela nonetheless sets out to challenge preconceptions and the uneasy intersection of the West with the rest of the world. She captures details with passionate focus ... Connected by a consistent authenticity, these stories display a virtuosity in building on the most relatable emotional hooks ... remarkable.
PositiveBooklistCouto evokes a quality of lingering sadness and dramatizes his characters’ searches for something beyond. His descriptions of landscapes and people have the power and mystery of the best style of folklore. The strength of his characters, whether he’s portraying an old math professor exploring love, a cross-dressing neighbor, or a businessman creating a happy communal space as a gift to God‚ is most apparent in how with few words their varied lives become relatable. Becker’s translation conveys Couto’s precise use of language to capture the innately elusive nature of human experience.
PositiveBooklistVivid in the visual detail a photographer would gather, Collins’ politically complex and psychologically intense tale demands the reader’s complete submersion in a decaying world in which the lines between good and evil sway and vanish ... Though the plot twists like that of a thriller and authentic characters keep the story moving, Collins’ underlying theme of why choices are made and what the consequences are makes for a philosophically compelling read.
PositiveBooklistAn elegy for lost mothers and lost homes and a consideration of the complexity of national and religious identities and gender roles. A feminist framework underpins a narrative peppered with references to Western art and literature from ancient to modern times and extended by many thoughtful detours. The author’s own apparently dueling instincts as a mother and writer are examined with unflinching forthrightness.
RaveBooklistMcGrath’s memoir...is an endearing combination of insightful commentary and sympathetic comedy. This is a book in the best tradition of travel writing as it offers an outsider’s take on a culture with a genuine appreciation for cultural and social differences. Lesotho comes alive as a nation that has the feel of a small community ... laugh-out-loud moments are balanced by heart-warming interludes, and altogether, this is an illuminating and enjoyable read that reminds readers of the essential oneness of humanity.
PositiveBooklistAll the complexity of race and relationships is laid out in Grady’s novel ... This is a moving and eye-opening reminder of history’s deep scars. In the best tradition of Toni Morrison and Colson Whitehead, Grady brings home the truth that there are no simplistic ways to combat and overcome deep-rooted hate and fear.
Gaël Faye, Trans. by Sarah Ardizzone
PositiveBooklistThe Tutsi-Hutu violence, the notion of identity to a biracial child, and the impossible choices of those living in troubled territories are all explored in a straightforward style befitting a young narrator. ...presents a world where there are no easy demarcations of good and evil, sane and insane, or pure and corrupted ... capturing the full impact of social and political disintegration.
RaveBooklistKumarasamy’s brilliant collection of interlinked short stories is a masterful combination of strong, insightful storytelling and tangential political commentary ... The themes are as ambitious in scope as the sprawling canvas .. [a] must read collection.
Mia Couto Trans. by David Brookshaw
RaveBooklist Online\"Couto’s mastery lies in his ability to turn his exploration of this slice of history into a commentary on all of human civilization. Richly translated by Brookshaw in words that suggest more than they say, Couto’s tale evokes a sense of timelessness, especially in the world seen through Imani’s eyes. An intriguing combination of folklore, history, and magic realism, and the first in a trilogy, this is a novel to be read and reread, savored and analyzed as Couto writes \'the names of the dead. So that they may be born again in the footprints we leave.\'\
RaveBooklistMartin’s debut novel, about pediatric cardiologist Zadie Anson and trauma surgeon Emma Colley, is a medical drama executed with just the right balance of intensity, plot twists, tragedy, and humor ... Though the story is definitely a page-turner, Martin’s humorous scenes of parenting failures, evocative settings, and realistic re-creation of the urgency of medical situations make this a remarkably absorbing read as well.
RaveBooklistWhether Craig is describing the family’s escape through the jungle during WWII or student protests in 1962, she transports us to the thick of the conflicts. Though this story is specifically Burmese, the references to the influence of British, American, and communist players emphasizes the intertwined histories of nations, of alliances both widely known and forgotten. Based on real lives, Craig’s historical novel challenges our assumptions about everything from beauty queens to rebels and reminds us that the course of a nation’s history is often determined by the fallibility of individuals.