Well as we round off 2012 and look forward to another year of literary delight (and occasional disappointment), I’d like to share my favorite reads this year. The titles are not necessarily of books published in 2012 but just titles I happened to read. In no particular order here are the books that awed me in one way or another:
This is the first novel I read by Nobel Laureate Naguib Mahfouz and it certainly won’t be the last. The story is set in Cairo where the author is from and the flavor of the city is felt throughout the text. The story begins with Sitt Ain (mother of the protagonist: Ezzat) who is the engine of the story and the link to all the events. Considered a great woman in her neighborhood due to her charitable role, she is immediately drawn as a person with superior morals and manners. As a child, Ezzat tries to live up to his mother’s expectations in order to receive her blessings. This quickly changes as he falls in love with his childhood friend Badriya in his teens and his mother opposes a possible marriage between them. Ezzat eventually marries Sayyida his other childhood friend but this is a one-sided marriage to Sayyida’s and Sitt Ain’s dismay. Ezzat discovers that his best friend is also in love with Badriya and they elope and run away, which leaves Ezzat confused with feelings of betrayal and misplaced loyalties. This is just the beginning of the tale and in only 120 pages, the author takes us through unfolding events that span the rest of the protagonist’s life. This is a compact novel where every word counts. The translator Kay Heikkinen did a remarkable job where I can almost here the poetic verse of Arabic in English.
My first foray into the literature of Nin and I find myself wanting more, lots more. This small book of erotic short stories by the French born American author is both stirring and captivating. Her use of language to describe desire and passion is unparalleled. The coupling of her protagonists and the circumstances leading to their sexual encounters are freshly original yet tantalizingly familiar. There is psychological depth here in untangling the base emotional wants of companionship, desire, love and sexual fantasy. Each story subtly yet powerfully enforces the suspension of disbelief allowing the reader to fully explore along with the protagonist the emotional impact of the unfolding scenario.
The Trinidadian author writes a fictional account about his countrymen who migrate to post World War II London in search of work and the ‘dream’ life. These characters arrive only to find a London that does not particularly welcome them as there’s too many of them already, with little work left for the British as it is. They stick together in their own communities, living in ghetto-like neighborhoods and depending on each other to get by. Their dreams are quickly shattered in the face of brute reality while those naïve enough to think otherwise end up suffering the most. With no clear plot, the story takes the form of different character narratives which are all linked through the protagonist Moses Aloetta, whose homesickness helps us to understand where he comes from and how comparably different Trinidad is from grimy London. The narrative is told through creolized English (which wasn’t too difficult due to my familiarity with pidgin English) but after some recurring words and phrases, it should be easy to decipher the text. However, for those unfamiliar with non-standard Englishes it might not be a quick read. The most remarkable thing about this book is that for a non-plot based narrative, it’s one of the best page turners I’ve read in a while.
I hope you will have the opportunity to explore all or some of these titles and enjoy them as much as I have. If you do read them, let me know what your thoughts are. For those who enjoy such books and would like to find out more about my reading habits, you can follow me on Goodreads. More importantly, if you like such books then I’d like to follow you on Goodreads – so drop me a line.
P.S. I just realized that all three titles are first time authors I’ve read this year.