Who is to say what 2021 will have to offer us – and if it will be better than 2020. But one thing I am sure about: There will be some wonderful books to guide us through the year, to make us think (and re-think), feel and question. And also just entertain along the ride.
Alaya Dawn Johnson: Reconstruction: Stories
Synopsis: “In Reconstruction, award-winning writer and musician Johnson digs into the lives of those trodden underfoot by the powers that be: from the lives of vampires and those caught in their circle in Hawai’i to a taxonomy of anger put together by Union soldiers in the American Civil War, these stories will grab you and not let you go.”
Why I am excited: A writer praised by none other than N.K. Jemisin – and this short story collection promises a bunch of stories of great variety.
Hafsa Zayyan: We Are All Birds of Uganda
Synopsis: “1960s UGANDA. Hasan is struggling to run his family business following the sudden death of his wife. Just as he begins to see a way forward, a new regime seizes power, and a wave of rising prejudice threatens to sweep away everything he has built. Present-day LONDON. Sameer, a young high-flying lawyer, senses an emptiness in what he thought was the life of his dreams. Called back to his family home by an unexpected tragedy, Sameer begins to find the missing pieces of himself not in his future plans, but in a past he never knew.”
Why I am excited: A multi-generational family saga focussing on the experiences of Asian Ugandas – in Uganda and the diaspora. Zayyan has already won the #Merky Books New Writers’ Prize.
Torrey Peters: Detransition, Baby
Synopsis: “Reese almost had it all: a loving relationship with Amy, an apartment in New York City, a job she didn’t hate. She had scraped together what previous generations of trans women could only dream of: a life of mundane, bourgeois comforts. The only thing missing was a child. But then her girlfriend, Amy, detransitioned and became Ames, and everything fell apart. Now Reese is caught in a self-destructive pattern: avoiding her loneliness by sleeping with married men.
Ames isn’t happy either. He thought detransitioning to live as a man would make life easier, but that decision cost him his relationship with Reese–and losing her meant losing his only family. Even though their romance is over, he longs to find a way back to her. When Ames’s boss and lover, Katrina, reveals that she’s pregnant with his baby–and that she’s not sure whether she wants to keep it–Ames wonders if this is the chance he’s been waiting for. Could the three of them form some kind of unconventional family–and raise the baby together?”
Why I am excited: This promises to be very queer and very messy; messy in a way life is and dissecting feelings and experiences which rarely get room in cis-centric discourses. It could also be a disaster but the reviews I have seen so far speak against that.
Musa Okwonga: In The End, It Was All About Love
Synopsis: “The narrator arrives in Berlin, a place famed for its hedonism, to find peace and maybe love; only to discover that the problems which have long haunted him have arrived there too, and are more present than ever. As he approaches his fortieth birthday, nearing the age where his father was killed in a brutal revolution, he drifts through this endlessly addictive and sometimes mystical city, through its slow days and bottomless nights, wondering whether he will ever escape the damage left by his father’s death. With the world as a whole more uncertain, as both the far-right and global temperatures rise at frightening speed, he finds himself fighting a fierce inner battle against his turbulent past, for a future free of his fear of failure, of persecution, and of intimacy.
In The End, It Was All About Love is a journey of loss and self-acceptance that takes its nameless narrator all the way through bustling Berlin to his roots, a quiet village on the Uganda-Sudan border. It is a bracingly honest story of love, sexuality and spirituality, of racism, dating, and alienation; of fleeing the greatest possible pain, and of the hopeful road home.”
Why I am excited: I just very much enjoy how Musa Okwonga looks at the world and am excited to follow his gaze through Berlin, my hometown, and beyond to Uganda. Also great: Each book cover is a one-off! (I have spoken with Musa about his creative process in my podcast.)
Malindo Lo: Last Night At The Telegraph Club
Synopsis: ““That book. It was about two women, and they fell in love with each other.” And then Lily asked the question that had taken root in her, that was even now unfurling its leaves and demanding to be shown the sun: “Have you ever heard of such a thing?”
Seventeen-year-old Lily Hu can’t remember exactly when the question took root, but the answer was in full bloom the moment she and Kathleen Miller walked under the flashing neon sign of a lesbian bar called the Telegraph Club. America in 1954 is not a safe place for two girls to fall in love, especially not in Chinatown. Red-Scare paranoia threatens everyone, including Chinese Americans like Lily. With deportation looming over her father—despite his hard-won citizenship—Lily and Kath risk everything to let their love see the light of day.”
Why I am excited: I love Malinda Lo’s work (Ash and Huntress are wonderful queer fantasy books) and her writing historical fiction with a queer Chinese-American protagonist sounds more than perfect. (Also, what a beautiful cover.)
Also this month:
- Robert Jones, Jr.: The Prophets
- Nadia Owusu: Aftershocks
- Nnedi Okorafor: Remote Control
- Ruth Coker Burks: All The Young Men
- Various: The Passenger: Turkey
- C.M. Waggoner: The Ruthless Lady’s Guide to Wizardry
Sharon Dodua Otoo: Adas Raum
Synopsis: “Ada ist nicht eine, sondern viele Frauen: In Schleifen bewegt sie sich von Ghana nach England, um schließlich in Berlin zu landen. Sie ist aber auch alle Frauen, denn die Schleifen transportieren sie von einem Jahrhundert zum nächsten. So erlebt sie das Elend, aber auch das Glück, Frau zu sein, sie ist Opfer, leistet Widerstand und kämpft für ihre Unabhängigkeit.
Mit einer bildreichen Sprache und unendlicher Imagination, mit Empathie und Humor zeichnet Sharon Dodua Otoo in ihrem Roman »Adas Raum« ein überraschendes Bild davon, was es bedeutet, Frau zu sein.”
Why I am excited: February will be a fantastic month for German-language literature with Sharon Dodua Otoo’s and Hengameh Yaghoobifarah’s novels being published. There is barely anyone more thoughtful than Otoo and I am very interested to see how her first German language novel turned out. I was fortunate enough to have read parts of different drafts and this will be such an interesting one. If you can’t read German, you might want to listen to my Interview with Sharon – and read one of her English-language publications.
Randa Jarrar: Love Is an Ex-Country
Synopsis: “As an American raised for a time in Egypt, and finding herself captivated by the story of a celebrated Egyptian belly dancer’s journey across the United States in the 1940s, she sets off from her home in California to her parents’ in Connecticut.
Coloring this road trip are journeys abroad and recollections of a life lived with daring. Reclaiming her autonomy after a life of survival—domestic assault as a child, and later, as a wife; threats and doxxing after her viral tweet about Barbara Bush—Jarrar offers a bold look at domestic violence, single motherhood, and sexuality through the lens of the punished-yet-triumphant body. On the way, she schools a rest-stop racist, destroys Confederate flags in the desert, and visits the Chicago neighborhood where her immigrant parents first lived.”
Why I am excited: I read somewher Jarrar’s self-description as “Queer. Muslim. Arab American. A proudly Fat woman.”. So I am interested in her perspective – and I have a deep love for queer memoirs. But here I am even more interested in the historical connection.
Aliette de Bodard: Fireheart Tiger
Synopsis: “Quiet, thoughtful princess Thanh was sent away as a hostage to the powerful faraway country of Ephteria as a child. Now she’s returned to her mother’s imperial court, haunted not only by memories of her first romance, but by worrying magical echoes of a fire that devastated Ephteria’s royal palace.
Thanh’s new role as a diplomat places her once again in the path of her first love, the powerful and magnetic Eldris of Ephteria, who knows exactly what she wants: romance from Thanh and much more from Thanh’s home. Eldris won’t take no for an answer, on either front. But the fire that burned down one palace is tempting Thanh with the possibility of making her own dangerous decisions.
Can Thanh find the freedom to shape her country’s fate—and her own?”
Why I am excited: Tor.com puts out some of the most fascinating SF/F novellas and I hope this one won’t be different. I am seeing forward to the pre-colonial Vietnam inspired word-building – and the promised f/f romance along the way.
Maya Abu Al-Hayat (ed.): The Book of Ramallah (Translated from the Arabic by Basma Ghalayini, Alexander Hong, Thoraya El-Rayyes, Mohammed Ghalaieny, Raph Cormack, Adam Talib, Yasmine Seale, Andrew Leber, Emre Bennett & Raph Cohen)
Synopsis: “As the stories in this anthology demonstrate, Ramallah is a city of countless contradictions; defiant in its resistance against the occupying forces, but frustrated and divided by its own secrets and conservatism. Characters fall in love, have affairs, poke fun at the heavy military presence, but also see their aspirations cut short, their lives eaten into, their morale beaten down by the daily humiliations of the conflict. Through humour, and precious moments of intimacy, however, we glimpse life inside this city of refuge; an image of hope abiding even under the eye of a merciless occupation.”
Why I am excited: I really enjoy Comma Press’ series of short story books of (mostly translated) short stories set in one specific place. They take you on such interesting journeys and might introduce you to new-to-you writers. Also, I believe, I have never read anything set in Ramallah and seeing forward to rectify that.
Becky Chambers: The Galaxy, and the Ground Within
Synopsis: “With no water, no air, and no native life, the planet Gora is unremarkable. The only thing it has going for it is a chance proximity to more popular worlds, making it a decent stopover for ships traveling between the wormholes that keep the Galactic Commons connected. If deep space is a highway, Gora is just your average truck stop.
At the Five-Hop One-Stop, long-haul spacers can stretch their legs (if they have legs, that is), and get fuel, transit permits, and assorted supplies. The Five-Hop is run by an enterprising alien and her sometimes helpful child, who work hard to provide a little piece of home to everyone passing through.
When a freak technological failure halts all traffic to and from Gora, three strangers—all different species with different aims—are thrown together at the Five-Hop. Grounded, with nothing to do but wait, the trio—an exiled artist with an appointment to keep, a cargo runner at a personal crossroads, and a mysterious individual doing her best to help those on the fringes—are compelled to confront where they’ve been, where they might go, and what they are, or could be, to each other.”
Why I am excited: This is the fourth – and heartbreakingly the last – book in Chamber’s wonderful Wayfarers series. These books are so close to my heart; the most wonderful kind and thoughtful sci-fi.
Also this month:
- Caleb Azumah Nelson: Open Water
- Cherie Jones: How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House
- Te-Ping Chen: Land of Big Numbers
- R.O Kwon and Garth Greenwell: KINK
- Jeremy Atherton Lin: Gay Bar: Why We Went Out
- Jen Silverman: We Play Ourselves
- Namina Forna: The Gilded Ones
- Hengameh Yaghoobifarah: Ministerium der Träume
- Niven Govinden: Diary of a Film
- Patricia Engel: Infinite Country
Safia Elhillo: Home is not a Country
Synopsis: “Nima doesn’t feel understood. By her mother, who grew up far away in a different land. By her suburban town, which makes her feel too much like an outsider to fit in and not enough like an outsider to feel like that she belongs somewhere else. At least she has her childhood friend Haitham, with whom she can let her guard down and be herself. Until she doesn’t.
As the ground is pulled out from under her, Nima must grapple with the phantom of a life not chosen, the name her parents didn’t give her at birth: Yasmeen. But that other name, that other girl, might just be more real than Nima knows. And more hungry. And the life Nima has, the one she keeps wishing were someone else’s. . .she might have to fight for it with a fierceness she never knew she had.”
Why I am excited: The January Children, Safia Elhillo’s debut full-length poetry collection, is one of my favourite collections hands-down (and you can hear me and Safia talk about the collection, her writing process and more in a podcast episode). So naturally, I have high hopes for this novel in verse.
Aslı Biçen: Snapping Point (Translated from the Turkish by Feyza Howell)
Synopsis: “‘But for that slender connection with the mainland, Andalıç would have been a regular island,’ says Aslı Biçen in the opening chapter of this deliciously multi-layered novel. And it would have been an ordinary story about love and loss, if it weren’t for the earthquake that unexpectedly sets the landmass afloat on the Aegean, kindling a series of increasingly oppressive measures by the authorities; ostensibly to keep public order. As Andalıç drifts between Greece and Turkey, things get from bad to worse, until eventually our heroes, Cemal and Jülide, join the growing resistance, and even nature lends a helping hand, offering a secret underground system that plays its part in ousting the tyranny.
What starts as the realistic tale of a charming provincial town develops into a richly detailed political novel in a fantastic setting. Biçen’s dreamy language weaves a flowing style that transports the reader into every nook and cranny of Andalıç and the crystal-clear waters of the Aegean; her metaphors are imaginative, her observations insightful, and her descriptions melodious.”
Why I am excited: I love fiction which traverses genre boarders and this synopsis sounds utterly interesting.
Buki Papillon: An Ordinary Wonder
Synopsis: “Oto leaves for boarding school with one plan: excel and escape his cruel home. Falling in love with his roommate was certainly not on the agenda, but fear and shame force him to hide his love and true self.
Back home, weighed down by the expectations of their wealthy and powerful family, the love of Oto’s twin sister wavers and, as their world begins to crumble around them, Oto must make drastic choices that will alter the family’s lives for ever.
Richly imagined with art, proverbs and folk tales, this moving and modern novel follows Oto through life at home and at boarding school in Nigeria, through the heartbreak of living as a boy despite their profound belief they are a girl, and through a hunger for freedom that only a new life in the United States can offer.
An Ordinary Wonder is a powerful coming-of-age story that explores complex desires as well as challenges of family, identity, gender and culture, and what it means to feel whole.”
Why I am excited: Another publisher/ imprint whose work I cherish: Dialogue Books. I believe this novel centres an intersex protagonist and I am very interested if this novel can go beyond portraying trauma and dread.
Shira Spector: Red Rock Baby Candy
Synopsis: “Shira Spector literally paints a vivid portrait of the most eventful 10 years of her life, encompassing her tenacious struggle to get pregnant, the emotional turmoil of her father’s cancer diagnosis and eventual death, and her recollections of past relationships with her parents and her partner. Set in a kaleidoscope of Montreal and Toronto, Red Rock Baby Candy unfolds as one of the most formally inventive comics in the history of the medium. It begins in subtle, tonal shades of black ink, introduces color slowly over the next 50 pages until it explodes into a glorious full color palette. The irreverent characters begin to bloom and to live life fully, resurrecting the dead in order to map the geography among infertility, sexuality, choice, and mortality. The drawing is visceral, symbolic, and naturalistic. The visual storytelling eschews traditional comics panels in favor of a series of unique page compositions that convey both a stream of consciousness and the tactile reality of life, both the subjective impressions of the author at each moment of her life and the objective series of events that shape her narrative. ”
Why I am excited: Shira Spector is a Jewish Canadian lesbian and the description of the colour progression in this graphic novel sounds like a fascinating way to visually tell a story.
Veronica Schanoes: Burning Girls and Other Stories
Synopsis: “In Burning Girls and Other Stories, Veronica Schanoes crosses borders and genres with stories of fierce women at the margins of society burning their way toward the center. This debut collection introduces readers to a fantasist in the vein of Karen Russell and Kelly Link, with a voice all her own.
Emma Goldman–yes, that Emma Goldman–takes tea with the Baba Yaga and truths unfold inside of exquisitely crafted lies. In Among the Thorns, a young woman in seventeenth century Germany is intent on avenging the brutal murder of her peddler father, but discovers that vengeance may consume all that it touches. In the showstopping, awards finalist title story, Burning Girls, Schanoes invests the immigrant narrative with a fearsome fairytale quality that tells a story about America we may not want–but need–to hear.”
Why I am excited: You had me at Emma Goldman and Baba Yaga. And short stories.
Also this month:
- Anna Malaika Tubbs: The Three Mothers – How the Mothers of Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and James Baldwin Shaped a Nation
- Lisa Fipps: Starfish
- Jasmine Mans: Black Girl, Call Home
- Elon Green: Last Call: A True Story of Love, Lust, and Murder in Queer New York
- Sam Cohen: Sarahland
- Imbolo Mbue: How Beautiful We Were
- Andrea Lee: Red Island House
- Kaitlyn Greenidge: Libertie