The first quarter of 2019 is almost over and it is time to look into the next three month. There are so many fascinating books coming out – some by already well-loved authors and also super-interesting debuts. I share brief descriptions of each book (either from Goodreads or the publisher’s page, sometimes abridged) and in a few words why I am excited about it! I introduce my five top picks for each month and name a few additional titles because there are just so many promising books.
Sabrina & Corina: Stories (Kali Fajardo-Anstine)
Synopsis: Kali Fajardo-Anstine’s magnetic story collection breathes life into her Latina characters of indigenous ancestry and the land they inhabit. Set against the remarkable backdrop of Denver, Colorado–a place that is as fierce as it is exquisite–these women navigate the land the way they navigate their lives: with caution, grace, and quiet force. In “Sugar Babies,” ancestry and heritage are hidden inside the earth but tend to rise during land disputes. “Any Further West” follows a sex worker and her daughter as they leave their ancestral home in southern Colorado only to find a foreign and hostile land in California. In “Tomi,” a woman leaves prison and finds herself in a gentrified city that is a shadow of the one she remembers from her childhood. And in the title story, “Sabrina & Corina,” a Denver family falls into a cycle of violence against women, coming together only through ritual.
Why I am excited: First of all, I love a good, female-centric short story collection. The themes described in the synopsis sound like something I have rarely read before. Also, this collection has been endorsed by the wonderful @lupita.reads.
Native Country of the Heart (Cherríe Moraga)
Synopsis: Native Country of the Heart: A Memoir is, at its core, a mother-daughter story. The mother, Elvira, was hired out as a child, along with her siblings, by their own father to pick cotton in California’s Imperial Valley. The daughter, Cherríe Moraga, is a brilliant, pioneering, queer Latina feminist. The story of these two women, and of their people, is woven together in an intimate memoir of critical reflection and deep personal revelation. As a young woman, Elvira left California to work as a cigarette girl in glamorous late-1920s Tijuana, where an ambiguous relationship with a wealthy white man taught her life lessons about power, sex, and opportunity. As Moraga charts her mother’s journey–from impressionable young girl to battle-tested matriarch to, later on, an old woman suffering under the yoke of Alzheimer’s–she traces her own self-discovery of her gender-queer body and Lesbian identity, as well as her passion for activism and the history of her pueblo. As her mother’s memory fails, Moraga is driven to unearth forgotten remnants of a U.S. Mexican diaspora, its indigenous origins, and an American story of cultural loss.
Why I am excited: Cherríe Moraga is a legend. She was one of the founders of Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press – the other two founders were Audre Lorde and Barbara Smith. And together with Gloria Anzaldúa, she co-edited This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color (1986). I can’t wait to read more about her mother, too.
The Black Condition ft. Narcissus (jayy dodd)
Synopsis: The Black Condition ft. Narcissus is preemptive memoir, documenting the beginning of the author’s gender transition and paralleling the inauguration of our latest Administration. These poems speak to and from fears holed up inside while contextualizing the cosmic impacts of our political landscape. Ranging from autobiographic melancholy to rigorously meditative, here is a necessary voice to process the world, predicated on unknowable desire and blossoming tragedy.
Why I am excited: In 2017, I read jayy dodd’s poem Exhibition and have followed her work since. This collection will be great.
Manchester Happened (Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi)
Synopsis: If there’s one thing the characters in Jennifer Makumbi’s stories know, it’s how to field a question.
‘Let me buy you a cup of tea…what are you doing in England?’
‘Do these children of yours speak any Luganda?’
‘Did you know that man Idi Amin?’
But perhaps the most difficult question of all is the one they ask themselves: ‘You mean this is England?’
Told with empathy, humour and compassion, these vibrant, kaleidoscopic stories re-imagine the journey of Ugandans who choose to make England their home. Weaving between Manchester and Kampala, this dazzling, polyphonic collection will captivate anyone who has ever wondered what it means to truly belong.
Why I am excited: I think that she has written Kintu should be reason enough.
What My Mother and I Don’t Talk About: Fifteen Writers Break the Silence (Michele Filgate)
Synopsis: As an undergraduate, Michele Filgate started writing an essay about being abused by her stepfather. It took her more than a decade to realize what she was actually trying to write: how this affected her relationship with her mother. When it was finally published, the essay went viral, shared on social media by Anne Lamott, Rebecca Solnit, and many others. The outpouring of responses gave Filgate an idea, and the resulting anthology offers a candid look at our relationships with our mothers. While some of the writers in this book are estranged from their mothers, others are extremely close. Leslie Jamison writes about trying to discover who her seemingly perfect mother was before ever becoming a mom. In Cathi Hanauer’s hilarious piece, she finally gets a chance to have a conversation with her mother that isn’t interrupted by her domineering (but lovable) father. André Aciman writes about what it was like to have a deaf mother. Melissa Febos uses mythology as a lens to look at her close-knit relationship with her psychotherapist mother. And Julianna Baggott talks about having a mom who tells her everything.
Why I am excited: I love the concept and the author list is glorious. Some of my favourite writers like Carmen Maria Machado and Alexander Chee contributed.
Also this month: Shut Up You’re Pretty (Téa Mutonji), Death Threat (Vivek Shraya), The Body Papers (Grace Talusan), Wolf Light (Yaba Badoe), Without Protection (Gala Mukomolova), Arid Dreams: Stories (Duanwad Pimwana), Walking on the Ceiling (Ayşegül Savaş), Eeg (Daša Drndić), Hot Dog Girl (Jennifer Dugan)
Girl, Woman, Other (Bernardine Evaristo)
Synopsis: Girl, Woman, Other follows the lives and struggles of twelve very different characters. Mostly women, black and British, they tell the stories of their families, friends and lovers, across the country and through the years. Joyfully polyphonic and vibrantly contemporary, this is a gloriously new kind of history, a novel of our times: celebratory, ever-dynamic and utterly irresistible.
Why I am excited: I loved Evaristo’s The Emperor’s Babe and found she did very interesting things in Blonde Roots. Of course, there is much more in her back catalogue I still need to get to, but this new shiny novel will probably come first.
On Intersectionality: Essential Writing (Kimberlé Crenshaw)
Synopsis: Over the past twenty years, the concept of “intersectionality” has emerged as an influential approach to understanding the complex facets of discrimination and exclusion in a society whose members—with often complex racial, gender, or sexual identities—can experience bias in multiple ways. In this incisive introduction to Crenshaw’s groundbreaking work, readers will find the key essays and articles that have defined the concept of intersectionality collected together for the first time. Crenshaw explores how a holistic analysis of discrimination gives rise to a more nuanced understanding of salient social forces. This long-awaited volume examines the Central Park jogger case, Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, LGBT activism, Anita Hill’s testimony against Clarence Thomas, and other significant matters of public interest. In each case, her analysis challenges and exposes the intricate social dynamics among individuals and groups whose identities are increasingly layered. This new account covers the evolution of the meaning of intersectionality over the course of two decades and how this concept has radically changed the face of social justice activism. On Intersectionality is compulsory reading from one of the most brilliant critical race theorists of our time.
Why I am excited: Intersectionality is so often thrown into conversations but more often than not in a superficial way. I hope this will be a book one might want to gift to many people too.
Triangulum (Masande Ntshanga)
Synopsis: In 2040, the South African National Space Agency receives a mysterious package containing a memoir and a set of digital recordings from an unnamed woman who claims the world will end in ten years. Assigned to the case, Dr. Naomi Buthelezi, a retired professor and science-fiction writer, is hired to investigate the veracity of the materials, and whether or not the woman’s claim to have heard from a “force more powerful than humankind” is genuine. Thus begins TRIANGULUM, a found manuscript composed of the mysterious woman’s memoir and her recordings. Haunted by visions of a mysterious machine, the narrator is a seemingly adrift 17-year-old girl, whose sick father never recovered from the shock of losing his wife. She struggles to navigate school, sexual experimentation, and friendship across racial barriers in post-Apartheid South Africa. When three girls go missing from their town, on her mother’s birthday, the narrator is convinced that it has something to do with “the machine” and how her mother also went missing in the 90s. Along with her friends, Litha and Part, she discovers a puzzling book on UFOs at the library, the references and similarities in which lead the friends to believe that the text holds clues to the narrator’s mother’s abduction. Drawing upon suggestions in the text, she and her friends set out on an epic journey that takes them from their small town to an underground lab, a criminal network, and finally, a mysterious, dense forest, in search of clues as to what happened to the narrator’s mother.
Why I am excited: This entire premises sounds just like a lot – in a good way.
Exiles of Eden (Ladan Osman)
Synopsis: Exiles of Eden looks at the origin story of Adam, Eve, and their exile from the Garden of Eden, exploring displacement and alienation from its mythological origins to the present. Steeped in Somali narrative tradition yet formally experimental, Osman’s poems give voice to the experiences and traumas of displaced people over multiple generations. The characters in these poems encounter exile’s strangeness while processing the profoundly isolating experience of knowing that once you are sent out of Eden, you can’t go back.
Why I am excited: The Kitchen-Dweller’s Testimony, Osman’s debut collection, won the Sillerman First Book Prize for African Poets. It was an incredible collection about testimony, colonialism, longing. Can’t wait to read more from her.
The Travelers: A Novel (Regina Porter)
Synopsis: A gripping new novel with a distinctly American edge, THE TRAVELERS highlights the lives of two families—meet James Samuel Vincent—an affluent New York attorney who shirks his modest Irish American upbringing but hews to his father’s wily nilly ways; and Agnes Miller Christie—a beautiful African American woman who encounters tragedy on a Georgia road that propels her to a new life in the Bronx; Eddie Christie, a recently married sailor on an air craft carrier in Vietnam and the Tom Stoppard play that becomes his life anchor; an interracial couple, both academic scholars, who travel to far of Brittany to save their aching marriage; Eloise Delaney, the unapologetic lesbian starting life over again in 1970s’ Berlin; a black moving man stranded during a Thanksgiving storm in Portsmouth, New Hampshire; and two half-brothers who meet for the first time as adult men in a crayon factory. Spanning the 1950s to Obama’s first year as President, THE TRAVELERS is both an intimate family portrait and a sweeping exploration of what it means to be American today. With its piercing humor, dialogue and sense of place, THE TRAVELERS introduces readers to a cast of characters destined to make a lasting impression.
Why I am excited: This one made the list on synopsis alone too. It sounds like such a wonderful layered, interesting, queer novel.
Also this month: Happy Fat (Sofie Hagen), Thirteen Months of Sunrise (Rania Mamoun), With the Fire on High (Elizabeth Acevedo), The Unpassing (Chia-Chia Lin), Kings, Queens, and In-Betweens (Tanya Boteju), The Farm (Joanne Ramos), Home Remedies (Xuan Juliana Wang), Travelers (Helon Habila), Girl at the Door (Veronica Raimo), Birthday (Meredith Russo), Book of Cairo (Raph Cormack ed.), Frankissstein: A Love Story (Jeanette Winterson)
Patsy (Nicole Dennis-Benn)
Synopsis: When Patsy gets her long-coveted visa to America, it’s the culmination of years of yearning to be reunited with Cicely, her oldest friend and secret love, who left home years before for the “land of opportunity.” Patsy’s plans do not include her religious mother or even her young daughter, Tru, both of whom she leaves behind in a bittersweet trail of sadness and relief. But Brooklyn is not at all what Cicely described in her letters, and to survive as an undocumented immigrant, Patsy is forced to work as a bathroom attendant, and ironically, as a nanny. Meanwhile, back in Jamaica, Tru struggles with her own questions of identity and sexuality, grappling every day with what it means to be abandoned by a mother who has no intention of returning. Passionate, moving, and fiercely urgent, Patsy is a haunting depiction of immigration and womanhood, and the silent threads of love stretching across years and oceans.
Why I am excited: I still think about Dennis-Benn’s debut novel Here Comes The Sun and tear up.
On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous (Ocean Vuong)
Synopsis: On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is a letter from a son to a mother who cannot read. Written when the speaker, Little Dog, is in his late twenties, the letter unearths a family’s history that began before he was born — a history whose epicenter is rooted in Vietnam — and serves as a doorway into parts of his life his mother has never known, all of it leading to an unforgettable revelation. At once a witness to the fraught yet undeniable love between a single mother and her son, it is also a brutally honest exploration of race, class, and masculinity. Asking questions central to our American moment, immersed as we are in addiction, violence, and trauma, but undergirded by compassion and tenderness, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is as much about the power of telling one’s own story as it is about the obliterating silence of not being heard.
Why I am excited: Ocean Vuong is already a fantastic poet. I can’t wait to see how he treats many of the themes he picks up in his poems now in prose.
The Deep (Rivers Solomon)
Synopsis: Yetu holds the memories for her people—water-dwelling descendants of pregnant African slave women thrown overboard by slave owners—who live idyllic lives in the deep. Their past, too traumatic to be remembered regularly, is forgotten by everyone, save one—the historian. This demanding role has been bestowed on Yetu.
Yetu remembers for everyone, and the memories, painful and wonderful, traumatic and terrible and miraculous, are destroying her. And so, she flees to the surface, escaping the memories, the expectations, and the responsibilities—and discovers a world her people left behind long ago. Yetu will learn more than she ever expected to about her own past—and about the future of her people. If they are all to survive, they’ll need to reclaim the memories, reclaim their identity—and own who they really are.
Why I am excited: Rivers Solomon’s debut novel An Unkindness of Ghosts left me wrecked. They have an incredible touch with world-building, creating characters and adding emotional depth.
My Past Is a Foreign Country (Zeba Talkhani)
Synopsis: 27-year-old Zeba Talkhani charts her experiences growing up in Saudi Arabia amid patriarchal customs reminiscent of The Handmaid’s Tale, and her journey to find freedom abroad in India, Germany and the UK as a young woman. Talkhani offers a fresh perspective on living as an outsider and examines her relationship with her mother and the challenges she faced when she experienced hair loss at a young age. Rejecting the traditional path her culture had chosen for her, Talkhani became financially independent and married on her own terms in the UK. Drawing on her personal experiences Talkhani shows how she fought for the right to her individuality as a feminist Muslim and refused to let negative experiences define her.
Why I am excited: I have been following Zeba Talkhani’s work online for a few years now. She is so kind and intelligent. This memoir will be insightful and so interesting.
Disintegrate/Dissociate (Arielle Twist)
Synopsis: In her powerful debut collection of poetry, Arielle Twist unravels the complexities of human relationships after death and metamorphosis. In these spare yet powerful poems, she explores, with both rage and tenderness, the parameters of grief, trauma, displacement, and identity. Weaving together a past made murky by uncertainty and a present which exists in multitudes, Arielle Twist poetically navigates through what it means to be an Indigenous trans woman, discovering the possibilities of a hopeful future and a transcendent, beautiful path to regaining softness.
Why I am excited: I am sold on the synopsis. I have not yet read Arielle Twist’s poetry but I think this collection could be right up my alley.
Also this month: In at the Deep End (Kate Davies), Mostly Dead Things (Kristen Arnett), This Brutal House (Niven Govinden), The Faculty of Dreams (Sara Stridsberg), These Witches Don’t Burn (Isabel Sterling)