My pick of the best books of 2019 are from around the globe, from a murder mystery to a historical novel to a teenager grappling with love and life, and the year that went by saw me reading from a variety of genres and not sticking to one, so my list too is quite eclectic; so let’s check it out!
- The Old Drift by Namwali Serpell
On the banks of the amazing Zambezi river, is set the story of three generations of a family and the complexities of life moving along the grand sweep of time as it changes everything from people, places to perceptions is, in fact, a debut novel by Namwali Serpell. An amazing tale, this has to be on any book lover’s best books list. The story grips the reader as it meanders through the hopes and aspirations and the real lives of people in the old settlement known as the “The Old Drift”. It is historical yet fantastic, surreal at times and psychologically philosophical too, all at once! This book is difficult to categorise in fiction or non- fiction as it takes on some elements from history and most from the lives of the Zambian people and the writer’s own experiences. The numero-uno book on my list of 2019 books.
2. The Topeka School by Ben Lerner
This third book by Ben Lerner, who is well known for his earlier fiction novels 10:04 and Leaving the Atocha Station, is a wonderful family drama set in the American Midwest at the turn of the century. The main character is Adam Gordon, who is a senior at Topeka High school, in the class of 1997 and is a bright kid preparing for a national championship in extempore debating. Adam’s mother and father are both psychologists in the book and provide an engaging yet dysfunctional background to Adam’s thinking and the way he conducts himself. It is a 300-page concise spread of American society and the conflicts within. As the story proceeds, Lerner pairs the abuse of rhetoric with an important theme about the collapse of language in general and violence through language.
3. Say Nothing, A true Tale of murder and memory in Northern Ireland by Patrick Radden Keefe
It is one great racy, heartrending, spicy work of storytelling, based on the true story of the disappearance and murder of Jean McConville, the mother of 10 who was taken from her home in 1972, by the IRA in 1972. By tracing the intersecting lives of the characters, Keefe was able to tell the story of a tragedy long forgotten and make it relevant for even today’s audience. The title has been taken from an old Irish phrase, “Whatever you say, say nothing,” and then goes to say it all! On 21st Feb 2019, the author finally announced that he had identified the killer as an IRA volunteer who pulled the trigger on Jean McConville, thus solving an unsolved homicide.
“He also examines the obsessive tribalism that can turn ordinary men and women into murderers, and deftly unpacks the trauma they leave in their wake.” — Sophie Gilbert
4. Trust Exercise by Susan Choi
Susan Choi’s first novel, The Foreign Student, won the Asian-American Literary Award for fiction and her second novel, American Woman, was adapted into a popular film, this is her fifth acclaimed book, one that looks at adolescence and the ever-changing life of a teenager in an Arts High school. The main characters Sarah and David are highly ambitious and keep falling in and out of love with each other as they compete in the cut-throat world of theatre. Susan Choi manages to beautifully merge a tale of teen angst and ambition with a more relevant topic about the failures of our teaching institutions to actually guide and inspire today’s youth. Using unreliable and shifting narrators, Choi crafts a story within a story, making this book an absolute must-read for anyone looking to understand and feel teenager angst in an everchanging world.
5. Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli
It was five years ago that the author began research work on child refugees from Mexico and Spain and this book is a conclusion of that. The book opens as the family readies for a road trip and begins their journey with seven boxes, one for the narrator, four boxes for the husband and one each for each child. In fact, the narrative spills out there itself, as the narrator moves through the contents of each box and begins to layer up the compositional technique of the entire storytelling by Luiselli. We find that the” novel-within-the-novel” technique is used by Luiselli as the kids find a small, slim book entitled “Eulogies for Lost Children”, in their father’s belongings and the archival theories, from a reading list, tucked in the mother’s box. If good writers borrow, and great writers steal, then Valerie is a writer who provides a syllabus to the reader before beginning the “documentary on the lost children of Mexico trying to cross the borders, looking for a better life but ending up in graves or prisons”. Lost and obscure. Luiselli mixes genres and perspectives, the personal and the political, as she tracks her own dissolving marriage and the changing family dynamics across the social and physical landscape, which makes the novel hauntingly vivid and alluring to its readers.
6. Lot by Bryan Washington
In the city of Houston – a sprawling, diverse microcosm of America – the son of a black mother and a Latino father is coming of age. He’s working at his family’s restaurant, weathering his brother’s blows, resenting his older sister’s absence while discovering he likes boys. With soulful insight into what makes a community, a family, and a life, Lot is about love in all its unsparing and unsteady forms. Washington writes with tender style and immediacy, thus getting by tough moments with a level of grace and compassion without being patronising. This collection of short stories is a debut novel of Bryan Washington, one that he has put his soul into. It seems like “art” that was lived and it will be too simplistic to call it just biographical. All of the short stories follow people living in other parts of the protagonist’s city, Lockwood, 610 North 610 West, Wayside… all of the titles to are inspired by the author’s city, Houston. “Houston is moulting. The city sheds all over the concrete,” the author writes, evoking the same visual clarity that could have been conjured up while talking of any old city like Mumbai or Old Delhi. Delicately written and a joy to read. Sensitive and stark at the same time!
7. She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story That Helped Ignite a Movement by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey
Well, the name is almost like a sentence but the book is an astonishingly impressive piece of journalistic excellence. Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, the two investigative journalists who broke the Weinstein story, embrace that complexity of sexual harassment at workplaces in this epic book called “ She Said”…..The title is justified because in these cases it mostly boils down to “he said, she said..” and who is more powerful.. the truth being collateral damage somewhere. But these two brilliant journalists have managed to keep the narrative simple, factual and unbiased. Painstakingly researched, their account is less interested in Weinstein the monster and more in the surrounding structures and social ambience that enabled him to flourish.
The #MeToo movement is sometimes likened to the toppling of dominoes: individual pieces stacked so closely that when one fell, the others went along with it. It started from the US and took into its stride the whole world literally. To read this book is to appreciate and uphold investigative journalism and what path it took to bring this to the forefront. Indeed a page-turner!
8. EEG by Daša Drndić
The final book that is on my top 10 books of 2019 is the swan song of Croatian writer Dasa Drndic. Electroencephalogram of the mind or EEG was published in the original by Fraktura in Zagreb in 2016, in England in 2018, translated by Celia Hawksworth, and in the same translation in the United States at the end of April 2019. She died in 2018 and had she been alive, many including me, believe that she would have been a frontrunner for a Nobel Prize in Literature! Such powerful and heart-warming words, cold at times but hot too, depending on the situation. EEG is a continuation of Dasa’s previous novel, Belladonna, which recalls many passages from Trieste and particularly of World War II. The narrative through the complex is an absolute marvel to read. Even though it is a historical novel, it is so well researched that the characters don’t feel fictional at all. In fact, Dasa suffering from Lung Cancer spent the last 3 years of her life writing this masterpiece.
It’s easy to believe as it’s clear that an incredible amount of research went into the composition of this book. Andreas Ban, the protagonist is a retired psychologist and EEG’s fiery narrator, who has survived, but he has not escaped death—it consumes him mentally …completely and out of that chaos comes out EEG! A must-read book for those that enjoy complex, psychoanalytical books and like to think deeply about life and its myriad issues.
This list of the best books of 2019 includes authors from around the world. Check out our collection of best books by Indian Authors as well! With this, I end the list of the top 8 books of 2019, do comment and let’s share more beautiful thoughts on the books that changed your life and perceptions in 2019!