Welcome to 2022! New Year’s is a time for appreciating the past and looking forward to the future. This year, my resolution is to begin the year by reading the six novels on the 2021 Booker Prize short list. Every year, the Booker Prize selects six contenders for the best novel of the year, with the winning author taking a place in history alongside such greats as Margaret Atwood, Kazuo Ishiguro, and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. 2021’s list features tales that take the reader across the world, back in time, into the tangled web of the internet, and even to other planets.
A Passage North by Anuk Arudpragasam takes on the topic of Sri Lanka’s 30-year Civil War. Protagonist Krishan, having heard of the mysterious death of a beloved family caretaker, leaves the safety of Colombo for the dangerous, war-torn Northern Province to pay his respects while absorbing the violence and devastation of war. This novel is unique in that it contains no dialogue. It takes place entirely in Krishan’s mind as he sifts through his memories, regrets, and grief. It’s a risky concept, but Arudpragasam pulls it off with the skill of a master storyteller.
Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead tells the epic story of Marian Graves, a fearless aviator who attempts to circle the earth from pole to pole. Orphaned in a shipwreck along with her twin brother, Marian becomes fascinated by airplanes while being raised by her uncle in Montana. Marian lives life on her own terms, consistently challenging gender norms and pushing her limits. Marian becomes a legend after she disappears in 1950. One hundred years after her birth, in 2014, Hadley Baxter, an unhappy actress, prepares to play the role of Marian in a Hollywood movie. This is a sweeping adventure story in every sense, and it will have you turning the 600+ pages in anticipation of what will come next for both Marian and Hadley in their seemingly polar-opposite lives.
Patricia Lockwood’s No One is Talking About This introduces the reader to a nameless woman who lives her entire life online, existing in what she deems “The Portal.” Failing to see the absurdity of her reality, she receives two urgent texts from her mother and is suddenly jolted her out of the endless scroll of The Portal and into the real world. Unable to discern between being disconnected from The Portal and being disconnected from reality, she must learn to live a completely different life – one that, as the title suggests, nobody talks about online.
The Fortune Men by Nadia Mohamed centers around Mahmood, a Somalian man in 1950s Cardiff, Wales. Mahmood is a gambler and small-time thief whose antics land him in and out of debt, while his charm endears him to his neighbors. When a Jewish shopkeeper is found murdered, the townspeople begin to whisper about Mahmood, and soon a witch hunt is underway. Mahmood is admittedly a criminal, but he’s no murderer, and he’s confident that his neighbors will help him prove his innocence. Based on a true story about the last man to be hanged in Cardiff, this book explores prejudice, false assumptions, and mob mentality.
Richard Powers’ Bewilderment is a difficult book to categorize. Elements of science fiction, philosophy, and neuroscience converge in this tale of a father/son relationship. Set in a dystopian future, widowed astrobiologist Theo is raising his loving yet volatile nine-year-old son, Robin, while exploring the possibility – or perhaps the reality – of life on other planets. Determined not to put Robin on psychotropic medication, Theo explores otherworldly options. No spoilers – you’ll have to read this one yourself to find out how far Theo will go to save both his son and the planet.
And the winner is…South African writer Damon Galgut’s The Promise. This novel examines a family slowly falling apart outside Pretoria over the course of four funerals. The titular promise of a house of her own is made by the family’s white matriarch on her deathbed to her Black maid, Salome. What follows is a reflection of the social issues facing post-apartheid South Africa – broken promises, devastating decisions, intergenerational confusion, and post-colonial culpability. Readers of J.M. Coetzee and Nadine Gordimer will appreciate Galgut’s powerful writing.
Did the judges make the right choice? Come on down and check out these and other noteworthy books and reach your own conclusion.
From Smiley Library to your home, we wish you a happy new year of reading!