12 Books You Need to Read
By Kate Bartlett, Sohini Das Gupta and Isabelle Lee
Summer is coming to a close in the Northern Hemisphere. But as the evenings draw in and temperatures fall, there’s never been a better time to curl up with a book and enter a world not of your own making.
The international literary world has never been as diverse — or downright interesting — as it is today. That’s why we’ve collated for you, dearest OZY reader, some of the best new reads from Argentina to Zimbabwe and many fascinating places in between. Read on because we guarantee you this: There’s no list as interesting as ours.
‘Transcendent Kingdom,’ by Yaa Gyasi
Ghanaian-American author Yaa Gyasi’s debut 2016 novel Homegoing was a rousing success. Her second, Transcendent Kingdom, is equally soul-shattering and provocative. It follows the life of Stanford University neuroscience researcher Gifty, whose family moved from Ghana to Alabama before she was born. Gifty’s story unfolds as she reckons with that history and each family member’s impact on how she understands and relates to the world around her. One of her most formative experiences is her brother’s death from a heroin overdose. In order to understand him, Gifty conducts addiction research on mice. The novel is a nuanced portrayal of Gifty’s struggle with science, reason and religion. In the end, she is forced to contend with the idea that none of those things on their own is sufficient to explain our world.
‘The Other Black Girl,’ by Zakiya Dalila Harris
When 26-year-old Nella Rogers realizes that another Black woman will be working alongside her at Wagner Books in New York City, she is excited and a little nervous. Finally, she isn’t the only Black girl on her office floor. But soon Nella finds herself sliding into a competition she never sought and uncovers the sinister underbelly of the career she’s fought so hard for. The novel is Zakiya Dalia Harris’ first and is based on her own experiences working at a Manhattan publishing house. The book is a thoughtful examination of the lasting impacts of microaggressions and fleeting commitment to diversity made by corporations in the aftermath of the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020.
‘Cold Wind: A Mystery,’ by Paige Shelton
What is it about mystery narratives set in cold places? Place doubles as a character in Paige Shelton’s second book in the Alaska Wild series. Having survived a slippery slope on Thin Ice, protagonist Beth Rivers has been laying low in Benedict, Alaska. Just as she is adapting to her new home and getting back some of that mystery writer mojo, a mudslide unearths chilling small town secrets. One frozen body, two young girls who do not speak and a world of atmospheric intrigue. Reader, remember to brr . . . eathe.
out of africa
‘At Night All Blood Is Black,’ by David Diop
There are hundreds of novels that deal with the tragedy and violence of World War I. But At Night All Blood Is Black, by Senegalese-French author David Diop, pulls back the curtain to reveal the forgotten lives of West African soldiers. The novel chronicles the journey of a Senegalese soldier named Alfa Ndiaye into madness while fighting in the trenches for the French. He adopts the ritual of chopping off the hands of enemy soldiers to avenge his friend’s death. It is a mesmerizing ride through the atrocities and lawlessness of war alongside Diop’s protagonist. First published in French in 2018, the English version, translated by Anna Moschovakis, won the 2021 International Booker Prize.
‘The Promise,’ by Damon Galgut
If you’re a fan of South African Nobel laureate J.M. Coetzee and his bleak outlook on life, you’re sure to love Damon Galgut. Though love is perhaps not the right word. The writer doesn’t shy from the uncomfortable, and depicts South Africa’s still searing race relations with sharp and unforgiving clarity. His on-topic latest novel, The Promise, is an unflinching look at the country’s current debate over white-owned land and how to right the wrongs of history. The narrative centers on an estranged white farming family and moves from 1980s apartheid into the current democratic era as the country evolves. You’ll find no spoilers here, but the ending of this highly disturbing novel will probably leave you with more questions than answers. The Promise was longlisted for this year’s Booker Prize.
‘This Mournable Body,’ by Tsitsi Dangarembga
This novel was shortlisted for last year’s Booker and its Zimbabwean feminist author was awarded the prestigious PEN Pinter Prize as “a voice of hope we all need to hear.” Dangarembga rose to fame with her 1988 novel Nervous Conditions, which focused on a young girl and her anorexic cousin in 1960s Rhodesia. Both chafe against the stifling patriarchal society in which they grow up. In This Mournable Body, Dangarembga, who was arrested last year for protesting against the government of President Emmerson Mnangagwa, revisits her characters in a post-independence Zimbabwe. The PEN committee lauded Dangarembga for her “ability to capture and communicate vital truths even amidst times of upheaval.”
‘The Wife Upstairs,’ by Rachel Hawkins
There’s a gated community for ultra elites, a young broke girl with a haunted past and a handsome widower who may be battling ghosts of his own. Fans of Jane Eyre — and fence-sitters too — should give this modern, winking ode to the 1847 classic a chance. Sharp, stormy and rife with new-age Gothic romance, The Wife Upstairs is not quite a retelling, though it shows off customary parallels with Charlotte Brontë’s story. Luckily, the plot comes bearing delicious twists and turns that keep you from getting too comfortable. Enter if you fancy the uncanny feeling of losing your way in a maze made to resemble your favorite place. You’ll come away with a quick fix, and maybe even some reimagined power dynamics!
‘Klara and the Sun,’ by Kazuo Ishiguro
This is another on the Booker Prize longlist, but if you’re a fan of Remains of the Day — Ishiguro’s novel set in early 20th-century England focused on the unspoken love between the butler and housekeeper in an English manor — his new book will be quite a departure. The Japanese-born British writer, who received the Nobel Prize for literature in 2017, turns his attention to artificial intelligence in Klara and the Sun. Here, an android narrator, an “Artificial Friend” for a teenager, observes the humans around her. This novel has more in common with clone romance Never Let Me Go, and the Booker judging panel has called it a “genuinely innocent, ego-less perspective on the strange behavior of humans obsessed and wounded by power, status and fear.”
‘Who’s Loving You: Love Stories by Women of Colour’
Edited by British author Sareeta Domingo, this collection of short stories delivers what it promises: the glorious mess of love as experienced by women of color. As with any such collection, there’s a chance that some narratives will stick with you while others slide away, or even sit uneasily. But between a multicultural mix of emerging voices and literary prize-winners, it’s hard not to marvel at the age-old yet radical attempt to make sense of the plurality of love. If you’re wondering, this book is not all strawberries and kisses. There’s grief, identity, family, the strangeness of diasporas and an unflinching vocabulary of desire. In short: a heart so earnest you’ll want to love it just for having written itself out.
‘The Dangers of Smoking in Bed,’ by Mariana Enríquez
Set against the backdrop of contemporary Argentina, Mariana Enríquez’s unsettling anthology of short stories will enthrall and sometimes horrify you. Each story has a compelling undercurrent tied to far-reaching subjects, such as morality or modern-day femininity. In one story, two teenage girls can’t accept the death of their idol and do some wild things to keep his memory alive. In another, a woman becomes sexually obsessed with heartbeats. The Argentinian author is known for her mastery of horror and for bending the rules into a convoluted, hazy moral landscape. Enríquez’s writing will have you questioning the line between the real and imaginary, and rethinking just how precarious it can be.
‘Whereabouts,’ by Jhumpa Lahiri
Is there anything Jhumpa Lahiri can’t do? Not only did the American author of Indian descent win the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, she went to live in Rome to learn Italian for fun and is now writing in that language. Her latest work is the first author-translated book ever published by Knopf, which credits it with signaling “a bold shift of style and sensibility.” Many of Lahiri’s previous novels and short stories focus on the lives of Indians and Indian Americans, but her new novel centers on an unnamed Roman narrator over the period of a year. “Translation, to me, is metamorphosis,” Lahiri says. “It is a kind of radical re-creation of the work.”
‘Where the Wild Ladies Are,’ by Aoko Matsuda and Polly Barton (Translator)
From emotional ghosts to real ones, in literature, the call of the wild is hard to ignore. Especially if it involves a band of feisty women who are both haunted and haunting. Aoko Matsuda delves into Japan’s tradition of supernatural folklore and reinterprets it with feminist candor. The result? A tapestry of interlinked short stories that deal in humor and wistfulness, glass ceilings and body positivity. Few things are spookier than the patriarchy’s need to strip women of their visibility . . . until they speak up — in this case as their own stereotype of vengeful female spirits. Is it fiction? Is it a metaphor? Decide for yourself in gems such as Smartening Up, The Peony Lanterns and Quite a Catch.