My favorite book of 2017 was Sing Unburied Sing by Jesmyn Ward. I read a lot of books this year set in the American South and dealing with race and social justice and this book just broke my heart. It is poetic and so brilliantly written, the narration has a dream-like quality with a lot of Gothic elements. The story is dark and troubling but you really root for the characters and they continue to haunt you.
Another book I really enjoyed this year was Chemistry by Weike Wang. The prose in this is very stark and bare but the unique voice lends itself very well to this story of dealing with personal failure and disillusionment as well as cultural expectations and pressure. I really related to the central character’s self doubt and struggles. I was amazed at how well, with such few words, the author was able to switch from humour to dark inner monologues and then portray great empathy and poignancy so seamlessly.
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee is my third pick. I love multi-generational family sagas set in different cultural milieus and this tale of a Korean family in Japan during the early parts of the 20th century was so engrossing. It deals with issues like immigration, racism, identity, patriarchy and family bonds, all relevant in our current political environment. It is very well written and the author’s style is stoic with a flourish, starting right at the book’s opening with “History has failed us, but no matter”.
Special mention to Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders which has topped a lot of lists in 2017. I loved the book so much! The style and authorial conceit takes a little getting used to but by page 25 I was hooked and so moved by the book. It deals with grief, mortality and empathy in an unconventional style. A true triumph of the written word!
I read River of Fire (Aag ka Darya) thanks to a friend’s recommendation and discovered Qurratulain Hyder in 2017. The sheer ambition and force of her writing just blew my mind, and I really want to read more of her work in translation. Another book I’m really looking forward to reading this year is Jeet Thayil’s The Book of Chocolate Saints, having loved Narcopolis.