I spent most of the first quarter of 2021 severely ill but now I am very much seeing forward to a new quarter filled with the kind light of spring and plenty of incredible new publications. As I am based in Germany and can access books published in Germany, UK, and the US equally via my local bookshop these release dates might be a bit all over the place depending on where you are based.
Anja Saleh: Soon, The Future of Memory
Synopsis: “Soon, The Future Of Memory, the first full-length poetry collection by Anja Saleh, is a hopeful and vulnerable portrayal of the life of a German woman of African descent. An odyssey from mere acceptance to reimagining and rethinking definitions of Africanness, Arabness and Blackness and the perceived self in a modern context.”
Why I am excited: In 2012, Sharon Dodua Otoo – the now widely recognized writer and Bachman-Prize winner – initiated the Witnessed series. This English-language book series highlights art and writing from Black creatives who have lived at some point in Germany. After a six-year break, Soon, The Future of Memory is the sixth release in the series and its first poetry collection.
Dawnie Walton: The Final Revival of Opal & Nev
Synopsis: “Opal is a fiercely independent young woman pushing against the grain in her style and attitude, Afro-punk before that term existed. Coming of age in Detroit, she can’t imagine settling for a 9-to-5 job—despite her unusual looks, Opal believes she can be a star. So when the aspiring British singer/songwriter Neville Charles discovers her at a bar’s amateur night, she takes him up on his offer to make rock music together for the fledgling Rivington Records.
In early seventies New York City, just as she’s finding her niche as part of a flamboyant and funky creative scene, a rival band signed to her label brandishes a Confederate flag at a promotional concert. Opal’s bold protest and the violence that ensues set off a chain of events that will not only change the lives of those she loves, but also be a deadly reminder that repercussions are always harsher for women, especially black women, who dare to speak their truth.
Decades later, as Opal considers a 2016 reunion with Nev, music journalist S. Sunny Shelton seizes the chance to curate an oral history about her idols. Sunny thought she knew most of the stories leading up to the cult duo’s most politicized chapter. But as her interviews dig deeper, a nasty new allegation from an unexpected source threatens to blow up everything.”
Why I am excited: This year quite a few novels around music will be published and I am very much here for that. This particular story sounds absolutely fascinating and like nothing I have read before.
Rena Rossner: The Light of the Midnight Stars
Synopsis: “Deep in the Hungarian woods, the sacred magic of King Solomon lives on in his descendants. Gathering under the midnight stars, they pray, sing and perform small miracles – and none are more gifted than the great Rabbi Isaac and his three daughters. Each one is blessed with a unique talent – whether it be coaxing plants to grow, or predicting the future by reading the path of the stars.
When a fateful decision to help an outsider ends in an accusation of witchcraft, fire blazes through their village. Rabbi Isaac and his family are forced to flee, to abandon their magic and settle into a new way of life. But a dark fog is making its way across Europe and will, in the end, reach even those who thought they could run from it. Each of the sisters will have to make a choice – and change the future of their family forever.”
Why I am excited: I really enjoyed Rossner’s previous YA novel The Sisters of the Winter Wood; the way (Eastern European) Jewish traditions, histories, and folklore are the fabric of the text. Also, The Light of the Midnight Stars is supposed to feature a f/f relationship.
Jamal Mahjoub: The Fugitives
Synopsis: “The Kamanga Kings, a Khartoum jazz band of yesteryear, is presented with the opportunity of a lifetime when a surprise letter arrives inviting them to perform in Washington, D.C. The only problem is … the band no longer exists.
Rushdy is a disaffected secondary school teacher and the son of an original Kamanga King. Determined to see a life beyond his own home, he sets out to revive the band. Aided by his unreliable best friend, all too soon an unlikely group are on their way, knowing the eyes of their country are on them.
As the group moves from the familiarity of Khartoum to the chaos of Donald Trump’s America, Jamal Mahjoub weaves a gently humorous and ultimately universal tale of music, belonging and love.”
Why I am excited: Point in case with regards to music-focused novels in 2021. But it also just sounds like such a riveting story in general.
Callum Angus: A Natural History of Transition
Synopsis: “A Natural History of Transition is a collection of short stories that disrupts the notion that trans people can only have one transformation. Like the landscape studied over eons, change does not have an expiration date for these trans characters, who grow as tall as buildings, turn into mountains, unravel hometown mysteries, and give birth to cocoons. Portland-based author Callum Angus infuses his work with a mix of alternative history, horror, and a reality heavily dosed with magic.”
Why I am excited: I love short stories, especially if they touch on speculative, “weird” elements. I am very much seeing forfward to see how Angus weaves this theme of transition throughout the collection.
Also this month:
- Helen Oyeyemi: Peaces
- Nino Cipri: Defekt
- Sarah Moon: Middletown
- Lauren Hough: Leaving Isn’t the Hardest Thing
- Musa Okwonga: One of Them: An Eton College Memoir
- Emmanuel Dongala: The Bridgetower Sonata
- Leone Ross: Popisho
- Abi Palmer: Sanatorium
- Elizabeth Nyamayaro: I Am a Girl from Africa
- Emmanuel Mbolela: Refugee
- Kayo Chingonyi: A Blood Condition
Nanjala Nyabola: Travelling While Black: Essays Inspired by a Life on the Move
Synopsis: “Thoughtful, original reflections on migration and identity from an African woman abroad.
What does it feel like to move through a world designed to limit and exclude you? What are the joys and pains of holidays for people of colour, when guidebooks are never written with them in mind? How are black lives today impacted by the othering legacy of colonial cultures and policies? What can travel tell us about our sense of self, of home, of belonging and identity? Why has the world order become hostile to human mobility, as old as humanity itself, when more people are on the move than ever? Nanjala Nyabola is constantly exploring the world, working with migrants and confronting complex realities challenging common assumptions – both hers and others’. From Nepal to Botswana, Sicily to Haiti, New York to Nairobi, her sharp, humane essays ask tough questions and offer surprising, deeply shocking and sometimes funny answers. It is time we saw the world through her eyes.”
Why I am excited: I have been following Nanjala Nyabola on Twitter and am very interested to read more longform work. And the themes of this essay collection just sound incredibly fascinating.
Olivette Otélé: African Europeans: An Untold History
Synopsis: “Africans or African Europeans are widely believed to be only a recent presence in Europe, a feature of our ‘modern’ society. But as early as the third century, St Maurice—an Egyptian— became the leader of a legendary Roman legion. Ever since, there have been richly varied encounters between those defined as ‘Africans’ and those called ‘Europeans’, right up to the stories of present-day migrants to European cities. Though at times a privileged group that facilitated exchanges between continents, African Europeans have also had to navigate the hardships of slavery, colonialism and their legacies.
Olivette Otélé uncovers the long history of Europeans of African descent, tracing an old and diverse African heritage in Europe through the lives of individuals both ordinary and extraordinary. This hidden history explores a number of questions very much alive today. How much have Afro-European identities been shaped by life in Europe, or in Africa? How are African Europeans’ stories marked by the economics, politics and culture of the societies they live in? And how have race and gender affected those born in Europe, but always seen as Africans?”
Why I am excited: I have read a few books about African presence in Germany (and of course, Johnny Pitts’ Afropean) and am very much seeing forward for this broader historical approach and wider questions Otélé seems to address.
E.C. Osondu: Alien Stories
Synopsis: “These eighteen startling stories, each centered around an encounter with the unexpected, explore what it means to be an alien. With a nod to the dual meaning of alien as both foreigner and extraterrestrial, Osondu turns familiar science-fiction tropes and immigration narratives on their heads, blending one with the other to call forth a whirlwind of otherness. With wry observations about society and human nature, in shifting landscapes from Africa to America to outer space and back again, Alien Stories breaks down the concept of foreignness to reveal what unites us all as ‘aliens’ within a complex and interconnected universe.”
Why I am excited: I love sci-fi and especially the kind of sci-fi which plays around with certain tropes in an interesting way.
Sarah Schulman: Let the Record Show: A Political History of ACT UP New York, 1987-1993
Synopsis: “In just six years, ACT UP, New York, a broad and unlikely coalition of activists from all races, genders, sexualities, and backgrounds, changed the world. Armed with rancor, desperation, intelligence, and creativity, it took on the AIDS crisis with an indefatigable, ingenious, and multifaceted attack on the corporations, institutions, governments, and individuals who stood in the way of AIDS treatment for all. They stormed the FDA and NIH in Washington, DC, and started needle exchange programs in New York; they took over Grand Central Terminal and fought to change the legal definition of AIDS to include women; they transformed the American insurance industry, weaponized art and advertising to push their agenda, and battled—and beat—The New York Times, the Catholic Church, and the pharmaceutical industry. Their activism, in its complex and intersectional power, transformed the lives of people with AIDS and the bigoted society that had abandoned them.
Based on more than two hundred interviews with ACT UP members and rich with lessons for today’s activists, Let the Record Show is a revelatory exploration—and long-overdue reassessment—of the coalition’s inner workings, conflicts, achievements, and ultimate fracture. Schulman, one of the most revered queer writers and thinkers of her generation, explores the how and the why, examining, with her characteristic rigor and bite, how a group of desperate outcasts changed America forever, and in the process created a livable future for generations of people across the world.”
Why I am excited: I have read a few of Schulman’s books and while I not always agree with every single of her conclusions, I do think, she always has something worthwhile to say and makes me think. I read a lot of books last year on the AIDS crises (and the ensuing activism), so I am especially excited to add her perspective.
Mira Sethi: Are You Enjoying?
Synopsis: “An exhilarating debut by a young writer from Pakistan: provocative, funny, disarmingly original stories that upend traditional notions of identity and family, and peer into the vulnerable workings of the human heart.
From the high-stakes worlds of television and politics to the intimate corridors of home–including the bedroom–these wryly observed, deeply revealing stories look at life in Pakistan with humor, compassion, psychological acuity, and emotional immediacy. Childhood best friends agree to marry in order to keep their sexuality a secret. A young woman with an anxiety disorder discovers the numbing pleasures of an illicit love affair. A radicalized student’s preparations for his sister’s wedding involve beating up the groom. An actress is forced to grow up fast on the set of her first major tv show, where the real intrigue takes place off-screen. Every story bears witness to the all-too-universal desire to be loved, and what happens when this longing gets pushed to its limits. Are You Enjoying? is a free-spirited, confident, indelible introduction to a galvanizing new talent.”
Why I am excited: Love the cover – and the storylines which are teased for this story collection. I also heard already people I trust praising the book.
Also this month:
- Alison Bechdel: The Secret to Superhuman Strength
- Lilly Dancyger: Negative Space
- Jan Heller Levi and Christoph Keller (eds.): The Essential June Jordan
- Rivers Solomon: Sorrowland
- Lee Lai: Stone Fruit
- P. Djèlí Clark: A Master of Djinn
- Mũkoma Wa Ngũgĩ: Unbury Our Dead with Song
- Alyssa Cole: How to Find a Princess
- Adiba Jaigirdar: Hani and Ishu’s Guide to Fake Dating
- Monica West: Revival Season
- Nadifa Mohamed: The Fortune Men
Kristen Arnett: With Teeths
Synopsis: “If she’s being honest, Sammie Lucas is scared of her son. Working from home in the close quarters of their Florida house, she lives with one wary eye peeled on Samson, a sullen, unknowable boy who resists her every attempt to bond with him. Uncertain in her own feelings about motherhood, she tries her best–driving, cleaning, cooking, prodding him to finish projects for school–while growing increasingly resentful of Monika, her confident but absent wife. As Samson grows from feral toddler to surly teenager, Sammie’s life begins to deteriorate into a mess of unruly behavior, and her struggle to create a picture-perfect queer family unravels. When her son’s hostility finally spills over into physical aggression, Sammie must confront her role in the mess–and the possibility that it will never be clean again.”
Why I am excited: Arnett’s debut novel Mostly Dead Things was such a fantastic piece of writing, strange in all the best ways. So I also trust her with this storyline which wouldn’t be anything I’d gravitate towards to otherwise.
Akwaeke Emezi: Dear Senthuran: A Black Spirit Memoir
Synopsis: “‘In letters addressed to their friends, to members of their family – both biological and chosen – and to fellow storytellers, Akwaeke describes the shape of a life lived in overlapping realities. Through heartbreak, chronic pain, intimacy with death, becoming a beast, this is embodiment as a nonhuman: outside the boundaries imposed by expectations and legibility. This book is an account of the grueling work of realignment and remaking necessary to carve out a future for oneself.
The result is a black spirit memoir: a powerful, raw unfolding of identity. ”
Why I am excited: Emezi really goes through the genres: two literary novels, a YA novel (all three of which I really liked), and an upcoming poetry collection – and, of course, this memoir which they have also teased as a follow-up to Freshwater but in a different genre.
Jamika Ajalon: Skye Papers
Synopsis: “Twentysomething and restless, Skye flits between cities and stagnant relationships until she meets Scottie, a disarming and disheveled British traveler, and Pieces, an enigmatic artist living in New York. The three recognize each other as kindred spirits—Black, punk, whimsical, revolutionary—and fall in together, leading Skye on an unlikely adventure across the Atlantic. They live a glorious, subterranean existence in 1990s London: making multimedia art, throwing drug-fueled parties, and eking out a living by busking in Tube stations, until their existence is jeopardized by the rise of CCTV and policing.
In fluid and unrelenting prose, Jamika Ajalon’s debut novel explores youth, poetry, and what it means to come terms with queerness. Skye Papers is an imaginative, episodic group portrait of a transatlantic art scene spearheaded by people of color—and of the fraught, dystopian reality of increasing state surveillance.”
Why I am excited: I am regularily checking what Feminist Press is publishing and this novel by inter-disciplinary artist Jamika Ajalon spoke to me.
Nana Nkweti: Walking on Cowrie Shells
Synopsis: “In her powerful, genre-bending debut story collection, Nana Nkweti’s virtuosity is on full display as she mixes deft realism with clever inversions of genre. In the Caine Prize finalist story “It Takes a Village, Some Say,” Nkweti skewers racial prejudice and the practice of international adoption, delivering a sly tale about a teenage girl who leverages her adoptive parents to fast-track her fortunes. In “The Devil Is a Liar,” a pregnant pastor’s wife struggles with the collision of western Christianity and her mother’s traditional Cameroonian belief system as she worries about her unborn child.
In other stories, Nkweti vaults past realism, upending genre expectations in a satirical romp about a jaded PR professional trying to spin a zombie outbreak in West Africa, and in a mermaid tale about a Mami Wata who forgoes her power by remaining faithful to a fisherman she loves. In between these two ends of the spectrum there’s everything from an aspiring graphic novelist at a comic con to a murder investigation driven by statistics to a story organized by the changing hairstyles of the main character.”
Why I am excited: I absolutely love Mami Wata stories (remember last year’s Caine Prize), so this collection was an easy sell for me (and the rest sounds great too).
Juliet Jacques: Variations
Synopsis: “Variations is the debut short story collection from one of Britain’s most compelling voices, Juliet Jacques. Using fiction inspired by found material and real-life events, Variations explores the history of transgender Britain with lyrical, acerbic wit. Variations travels from Oscar Wilde’s London to austerity-era Belfast via inter-war Cardiff, a drag bar in Liverpool just after the decriminalisation of homosexuality, Manchester’s protests against Clause 28, and Brighton in the 2000s. Through diary entries of an illicit love affair, an oral history of a contemporary political collective; a 1920s academic paper to a 1990s film script; a 1950s memoir to a series of 2014 blog posts, Jacques rewrites and reinvigorates a history so often relegated to stale police records and sensationalist news headlines. Innovative and fresh, Variations is a bold and beautiful book of stories unheard; until now.”
Why I am excited: I really enjoyed Juliet Jacques memoir Trans, especially her writing on the music scenes she was involved in (through this music focus I also got my music-enthuisiastic but almost-never-reader brother to read the book and he did enjoy it too). I’d love to see how Jacques approaches fiction and I am very intrigued by the focus of this collection.
Also this month:
- Casey McQuiston: One Last Stop
- Joss Lake: Future Feeling
- Nghi Vo: The Chosen and the Beautiful
- Ashley C. Ford: Somebody’s Daughter
- Nekesa Afia: Dead Dead Girls
- Elinor Cleghorn: Unwell Women: Misdiagnosis and Myth in a Man-Made World
- Chibundu Onuzo: Sankofa
- Alex DiFrancesco: Transmutations
- Ava Reid: The Wolf and the Woodsman
- Arifa Akbar: Consumed
- Mary McCoy: Indestructible Object
- RE Katz: And Then The Gray Heaven
- Becca Parkinson & Vera Juliusdottir (eds): The Book of Reykjavik
- Zoe Hana Mikuta: Gearbreakers