This is the year in which I read too little of contemporary books, even if I bought some 30 or so books, mostly published this year! But in between heavy travels, and a new job that demands my attention like a thrift collector, I found a few. The travel itself brought me in contact with Simon Sylvester’s The Visitors. It is a wonderful book that tells the story of a strange, quiet town in Scotland being transformed by the incursion of “strangers.” It is rare that a novel mines this level of landscape awareness, or that a novel push you to feel the air of an unknown land blowing at you from reading about it on paper. I visited Scotland for the first time this year, but this book imprinted more than my eyes saw of that wonderful nation during my trip there. The Visitors appears in America next year, and I can’t wait to begin crowing more about it.
I read through The Jewish War by the early-century historian, Flavius Josephus. It is a remarkable attempt to portray Jewish history through a secular lens much different than from that contained in the Torah and the Bible.
The howling masterpiece of 2015 must surely be Eka Kurniawan’s Beauty Is a Wound. It is — I mean it — a howl, an outrage, and a sheer burst of particular talent. It is the kind of thing you want fiction to do, and the kind of thing you want to imagine it is doing. It tells the story of a woman who returns from the dead after having birthed a “shirt-like” human being who is uber-ironically named “Beauty.” Kuniarwan sharpens the story of Indonesia with an energy that is rare. An earth-shattering review in Publishers Weekly in June first brought it to my attention, then in October, my agent signed him, and in November I met him in Indonesia.
Just last week, I read Make Your Home Among Strangers by my friend Jennine Capó Crucet, and it struck a chord with me. As a friend, I went into the book with a thicker skin, but it is a genuine, heartfelt portrait of a young woman striving to plant her feet firmly in the soil of an adopted country. It is believable, intriguing, and bright.
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