Category Archives: 500 Must-Read Literary Fiction

The Book of M by Peng Shepherd

The Book of M Title: The Book of M
Author: Peng Shepherd
Publisher: William Morrow, HarperCollins
ISBN: 978-0062669605
Genre: Literary, Post-Apocalyptic
Pages: 496
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

I am ecstatic that I read this book. At the same time, I am devastated that it ended. A book that was dystopian, post-apocalyptic, a romance and even literary at that. I really can’t place it anywhere but it is post-apocalyptic for sure.

The M in the book title could very well stand for Memory as the book is about that and its loss. The world is now the one in which people’s shadows start to disappear, without any reason. The only problem is that their shadow is linked to memory, which means that even memory then goes out of the window. Simple memories are lost – skills to begin with – how to open a door, how to brush one’s teeth, etc. The more complex memories (the ones related to the heart) go right after. The world spins out of control. There is chaos everywhere. Nothing has prepared the world for this and people fear that this is going to be the end after all.

Shepherd’s book is fascinating. It touches on memory so closely that it almost frightens you with the thought: what would you do if you lost your memories? Or were on the road to rapidly losing them? Then what? Memory is something which perhaps we take for granted all the time, till we start forgetting. Shepherd plays on that aspect cleverly throughout the book. Each character is struggling with his or her demons and the beauty is in Shepherd tying all the loose-ends superbly. I normally do not enjoy “battle scenes” (no spoilers really) but in this book I didn’t mind them at all. In fact, if anything, I enjoyed them and Shepherd has written them accurately.

“The Book of M” draws you into its world. You want to know the whys and hows and whens of it all. Peng Shepherd creates characters you feel for intensely and cannot do anything but pray it will all work out for them. I was reminded of Emily St John Mandel’s “Station Eleven” while reading this, primarily because of the emotions and the richness of characters and secondary given both are set in post-apocalyptic worlds.

“The Book of M” is deeply moving. It is daunting as well, given the scope of writing and the setting of the novel. It is one of those books that sneak up on you and become popular through a lot of word-of-mouth, say for instance like “Homegoing”. This one is a firecracker of a read. You must read it. You just must.

 

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Anatomy of a Miracle by Jonathan Miles

Anatomy of a Miracle Title: Anatomy of a Miracle
Author: Jonathan Miles
Publisher: Hogarth
ISBN: 9780553447583
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 352
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

You cannot place this book anywhere. Not in any genre, neither in any style of writing. I have read books similar to this book but nothing has come close. “Anatomy of a Miracle” as the title suggests is just that – a dissection of a miracle. The why, the what, the how, the questioning of faith and where does it stand in this world of science and technology. But above all, it is about what it means to be human, when all is lost and what you choose to believe in, no matter what.

Cameron Harris has been living life in a wheelchair, after being rendered paraplegic four years ago. He has literally nothing to look forward to. He lives with his sister Tanya, in a battered Biloxi, where most houses were destroyed in the wake of Katrina. And then suddenly, one fine day Cameron rises up without any explanation from his wheelchair and the world changes inside of and around him.

This is the barebones plot of “Anatomy of a Miracle”. Of course there is a lot more to it but for that you would have to read the book. Miles’ writing is first-grade. The book is written in the form of journalistic pieces and encompass all of Cameron’s family and friends – also the characters that are affected by his story.

“Anatomy of a Miracle” at the same time is not a fast read. It has a lot of details and you have to pay attention to almost each of them. The emotional connect and vulnerability of the book is spot-on and you can relate with questions of faith, kindness, doubt and what does it take after all to believe or walk away from it all. The details are in the characters, as they slowly unveil one layer after another. A firecracker of a read for sure!

 

 

The Revenge of the Non-Vegetarian by Upamanyu Chatterjee

The Revenge of the Non-Vegetarian Title: The Revenge of the Non-Vegetarian
Author: Upamanyu Chatterjee
Publisher: Speaking Tiger Publishing Pvt Ltd
ISBN: 978-9387693562
Genre: Novella, Literary Fiction
Pages: 128
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

So, here’s the thing. I never took a shine to Upamanyu Chatterjee’s books. Especially, English, August. I somehow never could see myself in that place and time. And yet, as I turned the pages of this novella, I could not stop till I was done. I devoured it in one sitting and that’s perhaps the only way to read this book. Might I also add that I have also enjoyed “Way to Go” a lot.

Upamanyu Chatterjee’s work may seem linear and pretty straight-forward but it so isn’t. There are many layers to the narrative – some for you to mull over and reach your own conclusions and some that are perhaps in your face and easy to understand.

The book is about an entire family being wiped out in a fire. Who did it and why forms the crux of the tale. I could speak about the characters and motives and more but I have often realized that when it comes to a novella, it is the writing that is of the essence. Sure, characters matter the most and some do stand out in this one as well, like Madhusudan Sen, ICS who turns vegetarian until justice has been served. To me, the setting also was very important – 1949. And not to forget that the book fits the times we live in where a person’s eating habits are of most important in our country.

The structure of the novella is also such that it is fast-paced, moreover, Chatterjee has written this in really short chapters, which works even better. “The Revenge of the Non-Vegetarian” is a tale for our times. It is sad but true. Chatterjee’s writing of this one is surreal (maybe because it hits home). It is the kind of book that will be read and not forgotten.  You might not think about it regularly but it sure will resonate every now and then.

 

The House of Impossible Beauties by Joseph Cassara

The House of Impossible Beauties Title: The House of Impossible Beauties
Author: Joseph Cassara
Publisher: Ecco, HarperCollins
ISBN: 978-0062676979
Genre: Literary Fiction, LGBT Fiction,
Pages: 416
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

Authors need to write more in the LGBT space. I know a lot is being written, but, I also think that a lot is still not enough. Books such as “The House of Impossible Beauties” make you see, realize and understand that. I had been wanting to read this one for a while now and I am so happy that the wait paid off because I absolutely loved this gem of a book. There are some books that stick with you, no matter what and this will for sure be one of them.

“The House of Impossible Beauties” is literally that – a house of people living on the edge in the ’80s of New York – a time riddled with confusion, mayhem, and change. From all that I have read and understand, I know it isn’t easy to write an AIDS novel, but this one is so much more than just that. In so many places in the book, I had to put it down and breathe a little, because I could see myself in its pages and not just when it came down to one character or one incident. It was an amalgamation of it all. And yes, I did weep, if not cry while reading it.

At the center of this gregarious, big-hearted novel is Angel – barely seventeen, new to the drag world and ball culture, with a big heart to care for those who need it the most – people who are like her and those without love. She falls in love with Hector, who shares the dream of forming the House of Xtravaganza, the first-ever all-Latino house in the Harlem ball circuit. When Hector dies to AIDS, Angel decides to build the house all by herself and she does.

And this is where it all begins in the book. Part One is about introducing these characters who inhabit the house – Angel, Venus – the trans girl who just wants someone rich to look after her, Daniel who in a way saves Venus and himself and Juanito – the quiet one who is in love with fabrics. The marginality of these characters – of not just being gay or trans but also Latino in the ’80s (and even today it isn’t easy, being either or both of these) shines – almost jumping out of the pages. Cassara opens you to a new world (if new to you that is) and merges it beautifully with characters who sear through your heart.

The writing is not only taut but also funny in so many places. The book is not without humour and perhaps we need more of it to get through the day. The novel is, of course, raw and you wish certain things didn’t happen to them, but they do and through all of it, the House of Xtravaganza stands tall, sheltering them, and how the shifting views of people regarding LGBT population, gives it a totally different form and shape. What I loved is the history of LGBT interspersed far and few in-between the pages, quite cleverly by the author.

“The House of Impossible Beauties” should be read by one and all and not only the LGBT population. It is a novel about empathy, kindness, forgiveness and above all just being who you are, without fear or inhibitions. I only wish I had a house like this to go to when I was growing-up and needed a friend, a mother, or even a lover.

 

 

 

Disoriental by Négar Djavadi. Translated from the French by Tina Kover

Disoriental by Négar Djavadi Title: Disoriental
Author: Négar Djavadi
Translated from the French by Tina Kover
Publisher: Europa Editions
ISBN: 978-1609454517
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 320
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

At the very onset, let me tell you that “Disoriental” is not an easy book to read. I think most literary fiction isn’t. You have to give the genre some time to grow on you and once it does, there is no looking back. Having said that, the reading experience differs with every book.

The thing with “Disoriental” is that (and to me, this was important while reading it) it is written in French (the adopted country of the author) and not in the author’s native language Farsi. This in itself says so much about the book and its progression.

The readers are in for a treat when it comes to this book. From a modern-day fertility clinic, we are transported to modern Iranian culture and in the bargain the history of a country. Might I add that there are magic realism elements as well that take your breath away, even if you have read Márquez or Rushdie. Kimiâ Sadr fled Iran with her mother and sisters to join her father in France, at the tender age of ten. She is now twenty-five, in a fertility clinic waiting for her turn and memories come rushing by.

I love how Djavadi has integrated the personal and the political. It is as if they are intertwined and to a very large extent maybe they are. The past, present, and future of the country of birth will somehow in so many ways, will always be linked to ours, whether we choose to acknowledge it or not. The Sadrs are a flamboyant lot – from Kimiâ’s formidable great-grandfather to her father and uncles. Not to forget her mother from whom she was greatly inspired.

“Disoriental” besides being a book on identity, exile, and homelessness, is also a book on a family in the midst of political upheaval and regime change. Iran is described on point (not that I have been there but can figure, only going by movies I have watched and other books I have read) and there is mention of “THE EVENT” of March 13, 1994, which is spoken about throughout the book and revealed with a feeling of horror toward the end.

The thing also about “Disoriental” is that it feels as though it has come from a very personal space, almost autobiographical and maybe it is. Family looms large in the narrative and plays along beautifully alongside, combining the personal and the political. Also, not to forget the sexual. Kimiâ’s sexual identity is also explored which I thought was much needed.

“Disoriental” is about distances and perhaps also about the ones we do not sometimes want to traverse. It is about alienation and somehow feeling grounded wherever you are, in a very strange manner. The tone and voice of the narration keep changing in the book, which to me made it jumpy and out of the flow. Having said that, it was needed to give background about characters and the place they came from. There are multiple journeys in one book – they run parallelly to each other and the author uses deep, lyrical sentences that give it the much-needed elegance. At the same time, to understand that all of this is translated into English makes one be in awe of Tina Kover, given how dense the book is.

There is a lot of thread of memory – through objects, people, place and time (you will keep reading about THE EVENT a lot by the way), lending it the Proustian quality (I wasn’t surprised at all). All I can say is that “Disoriental” is a book that has so much to offer, and does it in a lot of ways and stupendously at that.