Here we are again: Finally, I put together my list with most-anticipated books for the first three months of 2020. I am very much excited for all the books listed (and I am also excited to still discover books I don’t know of yet). I share brief descriptions of the book (either from Goodreads or the publisher’s page, sometimes abridged) and in a few words why I am excited about this book in particular!
The Magical Language of Others: A Memoir (E. J. Koh)
Synopsis: “After living in America for over a decade, Eun Ji Koh’s parents return to South Korea for work, leaving fifteen-year-old Eun Ji and her brother behind in California. Overnight, Eun Ji finds herself abandoned and adrift in a world made strange by her mother’s absence. Her mother writes letters, in Korean, over the years seeking forgiveness and love—letters Eun Ji cannot fully understand until she finds them years later hidden in a box.
As Eun Ji translates the letters, she looks to history—her grandmother Jun’s years as a lovesick wife in Daejeon, the horrors her grandmother Kumiko witnessed during the Jeju Island Massacre—and to poetry, as well as her own lived experience to answer questions inside all of us. Where do the stories of our mothers and grandmothers end and ours begin? How do we find words—in Korean, Japanese, English, or any language—to articulate the profound ways that distance can shape love? Eun Ji Koh fearlessly grapples with forgiveness, reconciliation, legacy, and intergenerational trauma, arriving at insights that are essential reading for anyone who has ever had to balance love, longing, heartbreak, and joy.”
Why I am excited: This memoir melds a lot of things I love reading about: women’s stories, interrogations of language and memory, complex family histories. Also last year I read (and loved) Lisa See’s novel The Island of Sea Women which is set on Jeju Island and deals – besides other things – with the massacre, so I am very interested to read some nonfiction on the topic.
Hitting a Straight Lick with a Crooked Stick: Stories from the Harlem Renaissance (Zora Neale Hurston)
Synopsis: “In 1925, Barnard student Zora Neale Hurston—the sole black student at the college—was living in New York, “desperately striving for a toe-hold on the world.” During this period, she began writing short works that captured the zeitgeist of African American life and transformed her into one of the central figures of the Harlem Renaissance. Nearly a century later, this singular talent is recognized as one of the most influential and revered American artists of the modern period.
Hitting a Straight Lick with a Crooked Stick is an outstanding collection of stories about love and migration, gender and class, racism and sexism that proudly reflect African American folk culture. Brought together for the first time in one volume, they include eight of Hurston’s “lost” Harlem stories, which were found in forgotten periodicals and archives. These stories challenge conceptions of Hurston as an author of rural fiction and include gems that flash with her biting, satiric humor, as well as more serious tales reflective of the cultural currents of Hurston’s world. All are timeless classics that enrich our understanding and appreciation of this exceptional writer’s voice and her contributions to America’s literary traditions.”
Why I am excited: So far I have read a lot about Zora Neale Hurston – but only one book by her: Barracoon. This post-humously short story collection sounds like a great beginning to venture into her fiction.
Remembrance (Rita Woods)
Synopsis: “Remembrance…It’s a rumor, a whisper passed in the fields and veiled behind sheets of laundry. A hidden stop on the underground road to freedom, a safe haven protected by more than secrecy…if you can make it there.
Ohio, present day. An elderly woman who is more than she seems warns against rising racism as a young woman grapples with her life.
Haiti, 1791, on the brink of revolution. When the slave Abigail is forced from her children to take her mistress to safety, she discovers New Orleans has its own powers.
1857 New Orleans—a city of unrest: Following tragedy, house girl Margot is sold just before her 18th birthday and her promised freedom. Desperate, she escapes and chases a whisper…. Remembrance. ”
Why I am excited: I love stories which connect stories from different centuries and this synopsis is so vague but also intriguiung.
Riot Baby (Tochi Onyebuchi)
Synopsis: “Rooted in foundational loss and the hope that can live in anger, Riot Baby is both a global dystopian narrative an intimate family story with quietly devastating things to say about love, fury, and the black American experience.
Ella and Kev are brother and sister, both gifted with extraordinary power. Their childhoods are defined and destroyed by structural racism and brutality. Their futures might alter the world. When Kev is incarcerated for the crime of being a young black man in America, Ella—through visits both mundane and supernatural—tries to show him the way to a revolution that could burn it all down.”
Why I am excited: It’s published by Tor who published some of my favourite scifi books and this one has a Marlon James on the front. Tochi Onyebuchi has already a couple of novels under his belt but this might be the first of his I’ll pick up – though his other books do sound interesting too.
Homie: Poems (Danez Smith)
Synopsis: “Homie is Danez Smith’s magnificent anthem about the saving grace of friendship. Rooted in the loss of one of Smith’s close friends, this book comes out of the search for joy and intimacy within a nation where both can seem scarce and getting scarcer. In poems of rare power and generosity, Smith acknowledges that in a country overrun by violence, xenophobia, and disparity, and in a body defined by race, queerness, and diagnosis, it can be hard to survive, even harder to remember reasons for living. But then the phone lights up, or a shout comes up to the window, and family—blood and chosen—arrives with just the right food and some redemption. Part friendship diary, part bright elegy, part war cry, Homie is the exuberant new book written for Danez and for Danez’s friends and for you and for yours.”
Why I am excited: Don’t Call Us Dead , Smith’s last collection, is one of my favourite poetry collections. I still think about it regularily. Their poetry – queer in content and form – is the kind of poetry I really love.
Also this month: The Black Cathedral: A Novel (Marcial Gala; translated by Anna Kushner), Come Tumbling Down (Seanan McGuire), The Missing American (An Emma Djan Investigation) (Kwei Quartey), We Wish You Luck: A Novel (Caroline Zancan), Pine (Francine Toon) The Truants (Kate Weinberg), Something That May Shock and Discredit You (Daniel Mallory Ortberg)
My Autobiography of Carson McCullers (Jenn Shapland)
Synopsis: “While working as an intern in the archives at the Harry Ransom Center, Jenn Shapland encounters the love letters of Carson and a woman named Annemarie―letters are that are tender, intimate, and unabashed in their feelings. Shapland recognizes herself in the letters’ language―but does not see Carson as history has portrayed her.
And so, Shapland is compelled to undertake a recovery of the full narrative and language of Carson’s life: She wades through the therapy transcripts; she stays at Carson’s childhood home, where she lounges in her bathtub and eats delivery pizza; she relives Carson’s days at her beloved Yaddo. As Shapland reckons with the expanding and collapsing distance between her and Carson, she see the way Carson’s story has become a way to articulate something about herself. The results articulate something entirely new not only about this one remarkable, walleyed life, but about the way we tell queer love stories.In genre-defying vignettes, Jenn Shapland interweaves her own story with Carson McCullers’s to create a vital new portrait of one of America’s most beloved writers, and shows us how the writers we love and the stories we tell about ourselves make us who we are.
In genre-defying vignettes, Jenn Shapland interweaves her own story with Carson McCullers’s to create a vital new portrait of one of America’s most beloved writers, and shows us how the writers we love and the stories we tell about ourselves make us who we are.”
Why I am excited: Queer literary history and also interwoven with memoir elements? That’s sounds exactly like something I would pick up. The Annemarie mentioned in the blurb is of course Annemarie Schwarzenbach about whom I read already quite a bit. To be exact, there is already one book about Schwarzenbach’s and McCuller’s relationsship (at least in German?) but I am very excited to read this one.
A Tall History of Sugar (Curdella Forbes)
Synopsis: “A Tall History of Sugar tells the story of Moshe Fisher, a man who was “born without skin,” so that no one is able to tell what race he belongs to; and Arrienne Christie, his quixotic soul mate who makes it her duty in life to protect Moshe from the social and emotional consequences of his strange appearance.
The narrative begins with Moshe’s birth in the late 1950s, four years before Jamaica’s independence from colonial rule, and ends in the era of what Forbes calls “the fall of empire,” the era of Brexit and Donald Trump. The historical trajectory layers but never overwhelms the scintillating love story as the pair fight to establish their own view of loving, against the moral force of the colonial “plantation” and its legacies that continue to affect their lives and the lives of those around them.
Written in lyrical, luminous prose that spans the range of Jamaican Englishes, this remarkable story follows the couple’s mysterious love affair from childhood to adulthood, from the haunted environs of rural Jamaica to the city of Kingston, and then to England—another haunted locale in Forbes’s rendition.”
Why I am excited: The synopsis just captivated me. Forbes has written four novels before (which I have not read yet) and she is also a professor of Carribean literature having written on gender besides many other topics.
Where The Wild Ladies Are (Matsuda Aoko; translated by Polly Barton)
Synopsis: “Witty, inventive, and profound, Where the Wild Ladies Are is a contemporary feminist retelling of traditional ghost stories by one of Japan’s most exciting writers.
In a company run by the mysterious Mr Tei, strange things are afoot – incense sticks lead to a surprise encounter; a young man reflects on his mother’s death; a foxlike woman finally finds her true calling. As female ghosts appear in unexpected guises, their gently humorous encounters with unsuspecting humans lead to deeper questions about emancipation and recent changes in Japanese women’s lives.”
Why I am excited: This is published (with another cover, I ust used this one as a stand-in) by Tilted Axis, a wonderful publishing house mostly specializing on translated fiction from Asian languages. “Feminist retellings of traditional ghost stories”? This sounds like something I need in my life.
Real Life (Brandon Taylor)
Synopsis: “A novel of rare emotional power that excavates the social intricacies of a late-summer weekend–and a lifetime of buried pain. Almost everything about Wallace, an introverted African-American transplant from Alabama, is at odds with the lakeside Midwestern university town where he is working toward a biochem degree. For reasons of self-preservation, Wallace has enforced a wary distance even within his own circle of friends–some dating each other, some dating women, some feigning straightness. But a series of confrontations with colleagues, and an unexpected encounter with a young straight man, conspire to fracture his defenses, while revealing hidden currents of resentment and desire that threaten the equilibrium of their community.
Real Life is a gut punch of a novel, a story that asks if it’s ever really possible to overcome our private wounds and buried histories–and at what cost. ”
Why I am excited: I have followed Brandon Taylor online for some time and loved his writing which was for example published at LitHub (look at this beautiful text on what Mary Oliver gifted us). His debut novel – a queer campus novel like none I have heard of yet – seems to be exactly my thing.
Finna (Nino Cipri)
Synopsis: “Nino Cipri’s Finna is a rambunctious, touching story that blends all the horrors the multiverse has to offer with the everyday awfulness of low-wage work. It explores queer relationships and queer feelings, capitalism and accountability, labor and love, all with a bouncing sense of humor and a commitment to the strange.
When an elderly customer at a big box furniture store slips through a portal to another dimension, it’s up to two minimum-wage employees to track her across the multiverse and protect their company’s bottom line. Multi-dimensional swashbuckling would be hard enough, but our two unfortunate souls broke up a week ago. Can friendship blossom from the ashes of a relationship? In infinite dimensions, all things are possible.”
Why I am excited: Last year I read Nino Cipri’s short story collection Homesick which made my favourite books of 2019 list with its delightful mix of eerieness, fun, and tenderness. This new novel is also described as a “magical anti-capitalist adventure”. All these things make me already excited, then adding in its focus on queer friendship and I really can’t wait until February.
Also this month:
Nairobi Noir (Peter Kimani), Black Sunday: A Novel (Tola Rotimi Abraham), Upright Women Wanted (Sarah Gailey), Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line: A Novel (Deepa Anappara), Verge: Stories (Lidia Yuknavitch), A Golden Age (Tahmima Anam), Sex and Lies (Leïla Slimani), Hood Feminism: Notes from the Women That a Movement Forgot (Mikki Kendall), Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning (Cathy Park Hong), The Girl with the Louding Voice (Abi Daré)
The Night Watchman (Louise Erdrich)
Synopsis: “Thomas Wazhashk is the night watchman at the jewel bearing plant, the first factory located near the Turtle Mountain Reservation in rural North Dakota. He is also a Chippewa Council member who is trying to understand the consequences of a new “emancipation” bill on its way to the floor of the United States Congress. It is 1953 and he and the other council members know the bill isn’t about freedom; Congress is fed up with Indians. The bill is a “termination” that threatens the rights of Native Americans to their land and their very identity. How can the government abandon treaties made in good faith with Native Americans “for as long as the grasses shall grow, and the rivers run”?
Since graduating high school, Pixie Paranteau has insisted that everyone call her Patrice. Unlike most of the girls on the reservation, Patrice, the class valedictorian, has no desire to wear herself down with a husband and kids. She makes jewel bearings at the plant, a job that barely pays her enough to support her mother and brother. Patrice’s shameful alcoholic father returns home sporadically to terrorize his wife and children and bully her for money. But Patrice needs every penny to follow her beloved older sister, Vera, who moved to the big city of Minneapolis. Vera may have disappeared; she hasn’t been in touch in months, and is rumored to have had a baby. Determined to find Vera and her child, Patrice makes a fateful trip to Minnesota that introduces her to unexpected forms of exploitation and violence, and endangers her life.
In the Night Watchman, Louise Erdrich creates a fictional world populated with memorable characters who are forced to grapple with the worst and best impulses of human nature. Illuminating the loves and lives, the desires and ambitions of these characters with compassion, wit, and intelligence, The Night Watchman is a majestic work of fiction from this revered cultural treasure.”
Why I am excited: Louise Erdrich is such a prolific writer and at one point I had decided to read her work chronologically. But after finishing her Love Medicine series this year (have read four already and still four to go), I might pick up this brand new novel. Erdrich writes the most wonderful characters and complex relationsships.
Fiebre Tropical: A Novel (Juliana Delgado Lopera)
Synopsis: “Uprooted from her comfortable life in Bogotá, Colombia, into an ant-infested Miami townhouse, fifteen-year-old Francisca is miserable and friendless in her strange new city. Her alienation grows when her mother is swept up into an evangelical church, replete with Christian salsa, abstinent young dancers, and baptisms for the dead.
But there, Francisca also meets the magnetic Carmen: opinionated and charismatic, head of the youth group, and the pastor’s daughter. As her mother’s mental health deteriorates and her grandmother descends into alcoholism, Francisca falls more and more intensely in love with Carmen. To get closer to her, Francisca turns to Jesus to be saved, even as their relationship hurtles toward a shattering conclusion.”
Why I am excited: Again, I have been following Juliana Delgado Lopera on social media for some time. Also I don’t think there can be enough queer coming-of age stories (or any stories for that matter).
That Hair (Djaimilia Pereira de Almeida; translated by Eric M B Becker)
Synopsis: ““The story of my curly hair,” says Mila, the narrator of Djaimilia Pereira de Almeida’s autobiographically inspired tragicomedy, “intersects with the story of at least two countries and, by extension, the indirect story of the relations among several continents: a geopolitics.” Mila is the Luanda-born daughter of a black Angolan mother and a white Portuguese father. She arrives in Lisbon at the tender age of three, and feels like an outsider from the jump. Through the lens of young Mila’s indomitably curly hair, her story interweaves memories of childhood and adolescence, family lore spanning four generations, and present-day reflections on the internal and external tensions of a European and African identity. In layered, intricately constructed prose, That Hair enriches and deepens a global conversation, challenging in necessary ways our understanding of racism, feminism, and the double inheritance of colonialism, not yet fifty years removed from Angola’s independence. It’s the story of coming of age as a black woman in a nation at the edge of Europe that is also rapidly changing, of being considered an outsider in one’s own country, and the impossibility of “returning” to a homeland one doesn’t in fact know.”
Why I am excited: First of all, I read too little lusophone literature. I read an extract of this novel (The Scream at Granta) and really liked it.
The City We Became (N. K. Jemisin)
Synopsis: “Five New Yorkers must come together in order to defend their city in the first book of a stunning new series by Hugo award-winning and NYT bestselling author N. K. Jemisin.
Every city has a soul. Some are as ancient as myths, and others are as new and destructive as children. New York City? She’s got five.
But every city also has a dark side. A roiling, ancient evil stirs beneath the earth, threatening to destroy the city and her five protectors unless they can come together and stop it once and for all.”
Why I am excited: Like a lot of people I think N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth triology is some of the most profound speculative fiction published during the last decade. Her 2018 short story collection How Long ’til Black Future Month? showed again her depth, creativity, and versatility. The City We Became is based on one of the short stories in the collection and promises to be absolutely grant again.
Sacrament of Bodies (Romeo Oriogun)
Synopsis: “In this groundbreaking collection of poems, Sacrament of Bodies, Romeo Oriogun fearlessly interrogates how a queer man in Nigeria can heal in a society where everything is designed to prevent such restoration. With honesty, precision, tenderness of detail, and a light touch, Oriogun explores grief and how the body finds survival through migration.”
Why I am excited: Some of my all-time favourite poetry collections have been published in this African Poetry series, so if there are new books I immideately look into them. I loved Romeo Oriogun’s chapbook The Origin of Butterflies, so I am seeing forward to this full collection. He was also mentioned quite prominently in the recent article Queer Nigerians Rewrite the Body.
Also this month: The Gospel of Breaking (Jillian Christmas), God Child (Nana Oforiatta Ayim), These Ghosts Are Family (Maisy Card), Under the Rainbow: A Novel (Celia Laskey), Postcolonial Love Poem: Poems (Natalie Diaz), So We Can Glow: Stories (Leesa Cross-Smith), Sensuous Knowledge: A Radical Black Feminist Approach for Everyone (Minna Salami), The Book Of Echoes (Rosanna Amaka), An Act of Defiance (Irene Sabatini), The Empress of Salt and Fortune (Nghi Vo), ‘mamaseko (Thabile Makue)