March 19, 2022
We head out once more to farther shores in this selection: Iceland (a favorite returns), India (fiction from a journalist), Trinidad and Tobago (a Caribbean debut), Lagos (an artist turns to fiction), and the Pyrenees Mountains (from a multi-talented young woman). Enjoy the change of scenery.
Buyer, The Center for Fiction Bookstore
P.S. This is our 100th column! Thanks to all who have followed along since we began our weekly recommendations in April 2020, as well as to our new readers! It is a pleasure to share our love of storytelling with you and we are ever-grateful for your support of our indie bookstore.
By HALLDÓR LAXNESS
Published by ARCHIPELAGO BOOKS
Translated by Philip Roughton
Laxness (Independent People) won the Nobel Prize in 1955 and has been praised as the master of Icelandic epic fiction by the likes of Susan Sontag and Annie Proulx. This acknowledged masterpiece, first published in 1931 and now in a new translation, is set in the early twentieth century and takes place in a small fishing village. Sigurlina, a single mother and sometime sex worker, and her 11-year-old daughter Salvör attempt to make their way among the working-class fishermen. Their circumstances are difficult enough, but when Sigurlina dies, her daughter must then find a way to take care of her herself. Laxness’s elegiac novel touches upon feminism, class, politics and the harshness of life in the early 20th century.
Run and Hide
By PANKAJ MISHRA
Published by FSG
Mishra, based in London, well known for his journalism in the Guardian and the New Yorker, turns to fiction in a story that also addresses class inequality. Born into a low-caste family in a small Indian town, Arun gets the opportunity to study at university, where he and his friends become successful in the world of finance usually dominated by those of higher castes. After globe-trotting to glamorous locations, he returns home when his mother becomes sick, but is then drawn back into fast-paced society where an act with serious consequences changes his life..
When We Were Birds
By AYANNA LLOYD BANWO
Published by DOUBLEDAY BOOKS
Banwo’s enchanting debut is contemporary magical realism at its best. It begins with young Yejide’s grandmother recounting for the nth time the origin myth that explains how the animals of the forest battled against the humans who came to ravage the natural land, and the green parrots that turned into flesh-eating corbeaux (ravens). Told in the musical patois of the Trinidadian voice, this is a haunting tale of the living and the dead. The story is enriched by ancient Caribbean rituals, encompassing past, present and the afterlife, and the relationship between Yejide and the Rastafarian Darwin whom she first meets in a cemetery.
By ELOGHOSA OSUNDE
Published by RIVERHEAD
Osunde’s new fiction is also infused with folklore, and takes inspiration from Toni Morrison, the music she listens to (even while writing) and the Bible, “. . . one of the highest expressions of what . . . language can do to spirits over time.” In her novel, set in Lagos, an unseen god-like character narrates the lives of “vagabonds.” These vagabonds, particularly queer people and others like the poor and displaced, are considered illegal. In this way Osunde can comment upon her country’s discriminatory policies (as in the 2014 same-sex marriage prohibition act) while the reader encounters a vibrant city of lovers, politicians, churchgoers and more. It is a joyful ride..
When I Sing, Mountains Dance
By IRENE SOLÀ
Published by GRAYWOLF PRESS
Translated by Mara Faye Lethem
More ghosts appear in poet Solà’s lyrical new novel set high in the Catalan Pyrenees. In a village haunted by the specter of the Spanish Civil War, clouds and animals are given voice as well as the members of a family whose patriarch, the farmer Domènec is struck dead by a lightning bolt. This folk-like tale is related from the perspective of many speakers giving the natural world of mushrooms and roe-deer equal importance to the humans who populate this original, poetic drama. Solà was awarded the European Union Prize for Literature, among others, and is a celebrated visual artist as well, already so accomplished for a young artist under 35.