The Great Five from Libromance: Best Fiction Books of 2017

Book Reviews, Fiction, Sunday Spotlight

Running a book blog is lots of hard (but pleasurable!) work and one of the things I’m always excited for are end of the year lists, best picks and titles deemed noteworthy usually announced around this time.

I’ve seen a lot of best of the year book lists and here are some of my favorites:

Out of all these lists though, I’m particularly partial to The New York Times best of the year book list, which usually consists of fiction and nonfiction books. Selected by the editors of The New York Times Book Review, it is something I look forward to every year.

So when it was finally released on November 30th, I was thrilled to see all five of their listed fiction books as titles I read and reviewed this year on the blog! Five-starred and highly rated, these books are the kind I hope to read for the rest of my life, stories that move and shake and empathize and challenge. I cried throughout most of them, and I’ve probably listed them on numerous lists prior to this post. They are the kind of stories I love reading and I hope to write in the same vein someday.

img_1633

The Great Five

Here are *the great five* of 2017, along with excerpts from my book reviews this year:

Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

Reading Jesmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing was like having a deep, deep breath lodged in the cavity of my chest, something I held on to for its entirety. Ward’s newest novel isn’t for the faint of heart either, but for someone who’s strong of will, someone who can understand the gravity of what it means to be healed, and what it means to need healing, specially at a time when the world just feels too heavy. Read the full review here.

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

The book follows the lives of reluctant lovers (at first), Nadia and Saeed in the process of living, of leaving. Saeed is very much the son of his parents, timid and reserved, while Nadia is out on her own, having left the roof of her parents’ house as soon as she was able to. She dons black robes for protection, as she rides her motorcycle through the city of an unspecified country. It is a love story as much as it is a story of migration and transitions. Instead of focusing on the journey out, what Hamid focused on was how wars move and change people. Read the full review here.

Autumn by Ali Smith

This is a novel set in the UK, not a love story but a story about love in many forms. There’s Elisabeth and her mom, living alongside their neighbor, Mr. Daniel Gluck, and the world around them revolving in varying degrees of discovery and reconciliation. Theirs (the main characters’)  was no ordinary friendship, no feudal relationship. They talked about arts, books, ways of looking at the world. The ever-present question, always Gluck’s greeting to the young one was: What you reading? Read the full review here.

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

This endless work and suffering is what bookends the story, manifested in different characters. Lee portrays all kinds of women in Pachinko, as she lays out layers of complexities. With each generation, she highlights the struggles of Korean women within their respective socio-economic contexts: women who aren’t allowed to work because of their husband’s beliefs, women who are imprisoned in their marriages because of economic and social reasons, women who are fiercely independent, women who long to come home to Korea, women who long to move to America, broken women, heavy-hearted women, happy women, but always, suffering women. Read the full review here.

The Power by Naomi Alderman

This book is something I dove right into where men are actually fearful of women. Where young boys are told to be careful while walking by themselves. Where men cry oppression for themselves because in Alderman’s book, women, specially young girls have the upper hand. Many of Alderman’s main characters are young women, specially those who have risen out of difficulties in their life. Out of anger, out of grief, they were able to summon the power within themselves, which came in the form of jolts of electricity emanating from fingertips. Read the full review here.

* * *

Have you read any of these books? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

#GetLit: Labor Day & Pan Dulce

#GetLit

Two book reviews in one week — that’s a first! I guess that’s what happens when your writing can’t keep up with your reading. This week, I published my book reviews for Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West and Jesmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing: A Novel on the blog. Check them out if you’re deciding what book you’re going to read next!

Exit West (1)

SingUnburiedSing (1)

 

 

 

 

* * *

I’m thinking about so many folks out there affected by Hurricane Harvey, and I’ve been debating how I can best help. One thing’s for sure though — do not donate to Red Cross! After this report from NPR and ProPublica came out, I’m not sure I trust the organization to actually do its job. Instead, check out this list compiled by the Crunk Feminist Collective which features organizations focused on people of color and other marginalized communities.

I know most folks are heading out this weekend since it’s a long way, in commemoration of Labor Day. Don’t forget though that this holiday was only invented after governments around the world decided to take the historical significance of the labor movement away from May 1st, away from any Communist ideology. Instead, we get a random date on the calendar which has been synonymous with picnics and retail sales.

Fret not though, Libromance got something for you: read up on posts around the struggle of workers around the world and get educated.

Speaking of workers, here’s a story that brought me to tears this week: as Hurricane Harvey pummeled Texas, I came across an article about four Mexican workers at the El Bolillo Bakery trapped by the heavy rain.

What Alvarado didn’t know was that the four bakers trapped inside the bakery would grow restless.

“They were desperate to get to their families and they couldn’t,” Alvarado said.

So they turned to what they knew best: baking.

For two days, the trapped bakers churned out hundreds of pieces of bread, filling the shelves again with bolillos (a Mexican sandwich bread), kolaches and their signature pan dulce.

You can donate to the workers and their families here directly — a great way to honor workers like Jorge at the bakery this Labor Day.

* * *

Here’s a quick update on my #FinestFiction reading challenge: I am on book no. 8, Kamila Shamsie’s Home Fire! So far, my top picks are (still) Colson Whitehead’s Underground Railroad, Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West and Arundhati Roy’s The Ministry of Utmost Happiness. I’m also thinking of Ali Smith’s Autumn, which I have yet to review. I’ve got about a month until the winner is announced (October 17)!

Me and my #FinestFiction stack. 

Happy Fall reading! 

On Love & Refuge, with Mohsin Hamid (A Book Review of “Exit West”)

Book Reviews, Fiction, Love

When Warsan Shire, Nigerian poet wrote No one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark, I knew that in spite of my experiences as an immigrant, I knew nothing about being a refugee.

Since the refugee crisis broke in the Middle East, I’ve read different stories about the forced migration of millions of people from Libya, Syria and other countries to neighboring nations and particularly Europe.

Much of the focus in the media has been the trek itself — from buses of refugees in the Balkans, boats carrying migrants capsizing in the Mediterranean sea from Libya to Italy, where they could be met with people smugglers and human traffickers.

Over a year ago, I wrote about how I’ve always turned to literature to try to make sense of things. As I plow through my #FinestFiction reading list, the refugee crisis came to light again as I picked up Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West (Amazon | Indiebound).

The book follows the lives of reluctant lovers (at first), Nadia and Saeed in the process of living, of leaving. Saeed is very much the son of his parents, timid and reserved, while Nadia is out on her own, having left the roof of her parents’ house as soon as she was able to. She dons black robes for protection, as she rides her motorcycle through the city of an unspecified country.

ExitWest - QuotesIt is a love story as much as it is a story of migration and transitions. Instead of focusing on the journey out, what Hamid focused on was how wars move and change people. In Exit West, he showed this up close.

The unfolding war within the city felt personal. It felt incredibly intimate. One day Nadia and Saeed would meet after spending the day in their respective offices, the next day they were left wondering why one of their bosses stopped coming to work, eventually closing down the business.

Electricity went out. People locked themselves in, bolted their doors. Neighbors became militants. With attacks happening daily and fearing for their lives and safety (and sanity), the two sought to find a way out.

Doors, which became prominent throughout the book, became the mode of transportation. I found it funny that I was reading about doors again, after just having read Magda Szabó’s The Door. After paying an agent and putting their trust in a man they barely knew, they waited and prayed for passage.

ExitWest - Quotes2 (1)

Soon they were in settled in a camp in Mykonos. And then in a mansion in London. And then in another camp, where they worked daily to build homes for other refugees. And finally, in the Marina past San Francisco.

They passed through many doors, as other people around the world did in search of home, of love, of safety. With each time they emerged from the other side, they became more of themselves. That even though they went through the same horrific situations, as victims of xenophobic and racist attacks, Hamid focused more on the ebb and flow of their relationship.

I once read a Goodreads review that summed up this book in a phrase: quietly brutal, quietly beautiful. This book was a brilliant read that made me tear up multiple times. Hamid’s language is simple, his words sparse but searing as he narrates a tale of love and refuge, of how we seek safety and comfort in foreign places, in each other, from strangers.

In her poem, Warsan also wrote no one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear saying – leave, run away from me now, I don’t know what I’ve become. As much as time changes all of us, being far-flung changes the dynamics and the chemistry of love. Nothing is ever the same, and the key is to let it all out in the open, whether it changes us or not.

ExitWest - Quotes3 (1)

* * *

51ma6eymr0l-_sx330_bo1204203200_

Exit West (Amazon | Indiebound) by Mohsin Hamid
Riverbed Books (240 pages)
March 7, 2017
My rating: ★★★★★
Exit West

#GetLit: Galaxies & Universe

#GetLit

After Saeed, one of the characters of Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West (Amazon | Indiebound) made a reference to a French photographer who manipulated his photos in such a way that only the night sky lights up entire cities, I knew I had to look.

A quick Google search and finally, I came upon Thierry Cohen. His series called Darkened Cities imposed two different elements: a vibrant night sky and the outline of famous cities. The results are astonishing. Peep a few of the series below, and read an article from WIRED here.

sfo_baybridge

San Francisco

ny_empire

New York City

* * *

With my #FinestFiction reading challenge as well as new book subscriptions, I can’t ignore my reality at the moment: I’m running out of room to put my books in. I’ve tried different ways — converting certain spaces to make room for bookshelves, filling corners with books, stashing some in the garage but as of late, I’ve been just piling them in stacks in my bedroom. If you’ve got any ideas, let me know! For now, I can only ogle at these interiors — so warm and generous and intentional towards book lovers.

bookwall

More of these here.

* * *

I receive a weekly newsletter from Austin Kleon, author of a number of creativity books and I always look forward to what he shares. Today’s newsletter included these images and a worthy tip: never pay for wifi.

austinkleon

Keep these things in mind on your next flight!

* * *

“D’you know why God made Hijras?” she asked Aftab one afternoon while she flipped through a dog-eared 1967 issue of Vogue, lingering over the blonde ladies with bare legs who so enthralled her.
“No, why?”
“It was an experiment. He decided to create something, a living creature that is incapable of happiness. So he made us.”

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy