My request for the best books you read this year had an overwhelming response! Thank you to those of you who sent in their lists.
The lists below not only cover a wide range of subjects, but also span centuries, from 2018 to those published hundreds of years ago. Fiction includes fantasy, crime and family sagas. The non-fiction books range from an account of the attack on Charlie Hebdo, problems with the Indian judicial system, to history, autobiography, politics, science and travel. We also have poetry, so there is something for everyone. I was delighted to find so many books in translation. Some are in French or Spanish and have not been translated (yet).
And I am proud to say that Achala Upendran’s first book made the cut—it’s incredible to see someone I have known since she was a child mature into a talented and successful writer.
There is plenty for you to explore. Links are to reviews on this site (or to reviews on Women on the Road). Blurbs in quotes are from contributors.
Contributors: Caroline Dommen, Dalip Mehta, David Dunkley, Deborah Eade, Jenifer Freedman, Jo Grin-Yates, Kamakshi Balasubramanian, Kristine Goulding, Leslie Jones, Leyla Alyanak, Mariana Duarte Mutzenberg, Marie-Graziella Nguini, Sajid Mahmood, Sally-Anne Sader, Sergio Sandoval, Sophia Murphy, Stara Amidouch, Suroor Alikhan, Susie Partridge, Thomas Fitzsimons, Tom Peak, Usha Raman and Will Ramsay.
If you are not among the contributors, do share your list with us. We would love to hear from you. And here’s to another year of fantastic books!
Photo: Hackley Public Library (CC BY 2.0)
- Ocean-Rimmed World: Joe D’Cruz (2005, translated from Tamil into English in 2018)
The struggles and changing fortunes of the Parathavars of the Tuticorin coast—a community of seafarers and fisherfolk.
- Go, Went, Gone: Jenny Erpenbeck (2015, translated from German into English in 2018)
A retired professor gets to know some African refugees in Berlin. A scathing indictment of Western policy toward the European refugee crisis.
- Des ailes au loin: Jadd Hilal (2018)
A story of four generations of Palestinian-Lebanese women for whom migration becomes a way of life.
- Qui a tué mon père: Edouard Louis (2018)
“Especially in these times of gilets jaunes, this is a very powerful and personal account of what we call la France d’en-bas.”
- Les prénoms épicènes: Amélie Nothomb (2018)
The relationship between a father and daughter.
- The Overstory: Richard Powers (2018)
Nine Americans come together to fight the destruction of forests. “A compelling book.”
- Flights: Olga Tokarczuk (2018)
Interweaves reflections on travel with an in-depth exploration of the human body. “At times uneven, but I liked her language.”
- The Labyrinth of the Spirits: Carlos Ruiz Zafón (2016, translated from Spanish into English in 2018)
The last in the Cemetry of Forgotten Books series. Alicia uncovers murders tied to the Franco regime.
- Stay with Me: Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀ (2017)
A Nigerian couple’s unsuccessful attempts to have children tells on their marriage.
- Lincoln in the Bardo: George Saunders (2017)
“An unusual book—a sort of fragmented Spoon River Anthology.”
- Behold the Dreamers: Imbolo Mbue (2016)
A Cameroonian couple try to stay in New York—a story of migrants trying to make a life for themselves.
- A Gentleman in Moscow: Amor Towles (2016)
About a man who is ordered to spend the rest of his life inside a luxury hotel.
- The Sellout: Paul Beatty (2015)
Subversive look at race in the US.
- Go Set a Watchman: Harper Lee (2015)
The sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird.
- Optic Nerve: Maria Gainza (2014, to be translated from Spanish into English in 2019)
The story of a woman’s life told through artists and paintings.
- Americanah: Chimananda Ngozi Adichie (2013)
The experiences of a young Nigerian in the US and in Nigeria. Raises questions of race and belonging.
- A Man called Ove: Fredrik Backman (2012, translated from Swedish into English in 2013)
A curmudgeon finds his world turned around when a chatty family moves in next door. “It made me laugh out loud, and I love books that do that.”
- The Sound of Things Falling: Juan Gabriel Vásquez (2011, translated from Spanish into English in 2013)
How the drug trade in Colombia impacted on the lives of people.
- Nazi Literature in the Americas: Roberto Bolaño (1996, translated from Spanish into English in 2008)
A biographical dictionary of fictional right-wing Pan-American writers and Nazi sympathizers. Black humour.
- Disobedience: Naomi Alderman (2006)
A young photographer living in New York goes back to her orthodox Jewish community in London when her father dies and has to confront her past.
- A Way through the Woods: Aminuddin Khan (1997)
“Made me nostalgic for the people and stories of India I remembered hearing about when I first went to Hyderabad in the 1980s.”
- Stoner: John Willams (1965)
Follows William Stoner’s undistinguished academic career and his marriage and affair.
- The Grapes of Wrath: John Steinbeck (1939)
A family of tenant farmers migrates during the Great Depression.
- War and Peace: Leo Tolstoy (1869, first translated from Russian into English in 1898)
“I glazed over some of the war bits, and the epilogue is overwrought. But these are minor in the broad sweep of the novel (partly written by Tolstoy’s wife).”
- The Tenant of Wildfell Hall: Anne Brontë (1848)
“A classic I had never managed to get to and was surprised by how much I enjoyed it and admired both the writing and the characters.”
- The Adventures of Simplicius Simplicissimus: Hans Jakob Christoffel von Grimmelshausen (1668, first translated from German into English in 1912. This entry refers to a 2018 translation.)
“The account of the life of an odd vagrant named Melchior Sternfels von Fuchshaim.” (from the subtitle)
- The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle: Stuart Turton (2018)
“The most unusual whodunit I’ve read. Takes the idea of a murder in a country house and puts a completely different spin on it.”
- IQ (2016), Righteous (2017) and Wrecked (2018): Joe Ide
Joe Ide is a Japanese-American crime fiction writer.
- Inspector Armande Gamache series: Louise Penny
Set in Quebec.
- Last Week Tonight with John Oliver Presents a Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo: Jill Twiss, illustrated by Gerald Kelly (2018)
A story about a gay bunny who belongs to US Vice President Mike Pence. “Something that rounds off the crazy year.”
- The Sultanpur Chronicles: The Shadowed City: Achala Upendran (2018)
Peace reigns in Sultanpur until a spell releases a rakshasiand threatens to plunge the empire into chaos.
- The Power: Naomi Alderman (2016)
What happens when teenage girls have immense physical power to cause pain.
- Laurus: Evgeniy Vodolazkin (2013, translated from Russian into English in 2015)
A healer sets out on a voyage of redemption that spans ages and countries.
- Kafka on the Shore: Haruki Murakami (2002, translated from Japanese into English in 2005)
“A weird and wonderful book about a young runaway and a man damaged by an accident trying to untangle their pasts.”
- The Master and Margarita: Mikhail Bulgakov (1967, first translated from Russian into English in 1967)
The devil pays a visit to Moscow. Subversive with lots of black humour.
- Homecoming: Yaa Gyasi (2017)
The story of two half-sisters from a village in Ghana in the 18th century. One marries an Englishman and the other is sold into slavery.
- Pachinko: Min Jin Lee (2017)
Set in Japan in the early 1900s, it is about Sunja, a pregnant teenager and how her decisions impact on her life.
- L’Art de Perdre: Alice Zeniter (2017)
“The consequences of being on the wrong side of history and not really belonging anywhere, this is about the Harkis in France. Zeniter raises issues that French society does not really want to deal with and that individuals are still struggling with.
- Burial Rites: Hannah Kent (2013)
The final days of a young woman accused of murder in Iceland in 1829.
- Les naufragés de l’île Tromelin: Irene Frain (2009)
In 1761, a ship carrying slaves is wrecked on an unknown island in the Indian Ocean. Fifteen years later, there are only eight survivors. What happened on the island?
- The Book of Night Women: Marlon James (2009)
“A haunting book about slavery in Jamaica in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.”
- The Jewel of Medina: Sherry Jones (2008)
A fictional biography of Aisha, the favourite wife of Prophet Muhammed.
- Pompeii: Robert Harris (2003)
A recreation of Pompeii in the days before Vesuvius erupted.
- The Known World: Edward P. Jones (2003)
About black slave owners in the US.
- The World My Wilderness: Rose Macauley (1950)
A story of post-war Italy and London and the casual neglect of children by adults who were too busy with the aftermath of war to pay much attention to their children’s needs.”
- Circe: Madeline Miller (2018)
A reworking of the story of Circe, the Greek goddess.
- Frankenstein in Baghdad: Ahmed Saadawi (2013, translated from Arabic into English in 2018)
Frankenstein in present-day Baghdad.
- Norse Mythology: Neil Gaiman (2017)
An enjoyable retelling of the Norse myths.
- Hag-Seed: Margaret Atwood (2016)
Margaret Atwood’s take on The Tempest.
- Home Fires: Kamila Shamsie (2017)
The story of a Pakistani immigrant family in Britain, and about being Muslim in the UK. Based on Sophocles’s Antigone.
- Le Lambeau: Philippe Lançon (2018)
“An account by one of the surviving journalists of the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attack.”
- Becoming: Michelle Obama (2018)
The inspiring autobiography from the First Lady
- What Happened: Hillary Rodham Clinton (2017)
“Political analysis of the shocker vote that saw Donald trump rise to the US presidency, as well as an honest introspection for Hillary – her life, career, mistakes, regrets and unfaltering sense of hope.”
British in India: David Gilmour (2018)
“Excellent and a marvellous compilation of the subject matter.”
- Midnight in Peking: How the Murder of a Young Englishwoman Haunted the Last Days of Old China: Paul French (2011)
- Kohinoor: The Story of the World’s Most Infamous Diamond: William Dalrymple (2017)
Science and living
Comes to Town: Menno Schilthuizen (2018)
“Linking two of my favourite things: cities and biology.”
- Building and Dwelling: Ethics for the City: Richard Sennett (2018)
- I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life: Ed Yong (2015)
- Revolutionary Ride: On the Road in Search of the Real Iran: Lois Pryce (2017)
- Under the Tuscan Sun: At Home in Italy: Frances Mayes (1996)
“Absolutely charming and inspirational for any woman (or man) who wants to make a new start and enjoy life. Incredible eye for detail.”
Writing and reading
- First You Write a Sentence: The Elements of Reading, Writing … and Life: Joe Moran (2018)
- The Library Book: Susan Orlean (2018)
- Essayism: On Form, Feeling, and Nonfiction: Brian Dillon (2017)
- The Practicing Stoic: A Philosophical User’s Manual: David R. Godine (2018)
with Nietzsche: On Becoming Who You Are: John Kaag (2018)
“He made Nietzsche a personal experience beyond the philosophy and linked to Nietzsche’s time in the Engadine.”
- The Great Delusion: Liberal Dreams and International Realities: John J. Mearsheimer (2018)
- Anita Gets Bail: What Are Our Courts Doing? What Should We Do About Them?: Arun Shourie (2018)
- Fear: Trump
in the White House: Bob Woodward (2018)
“Absolutely terrifying—this man has the nuclear codes! I developed an unexpected respect for Tillerson, Mattis, Porter and Kelly as I read.”
- Women and Power: Mary Beard (2017)
- Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City: Matthew Desmond (2016)
- Indian Muslim Spring: Why is No One Talking About It?: Hassan Suroor (2014)
Poetry and reflections
- Kumukanda: Kayo Chingonyi (2017)
- Benedictus: A Book of Blessings: John O’Donohue (2007)
“A mixture of poems and reflections on blessing different events from Beginnings to Endings to Callings.”
- The Beauty of the Husband: A Fictional Essay in 29 Tangos: Anne Carson (2001)
 Yellow jackets, the symbol of the popular protest in France in 2018.
 A female demon.
 The generic term for native Muslim Algerians who served as auxiliaries in the French Army during the Algerian War of Independence from 1954 to 1962.