2018 is what I would call as ‘the year that transformed me as a reader.’ I read many new-releases, classics, books that had been in my wishlist for ages and discovered and fell in love with previously unread authors (Shashi Tharoor and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. How can I have not read them before? *inserts shocked emoji* ) Amidst all this, I developed a new-found love for non-fiction -a genre that I had strictly stayed away from till 2018. In fact, I ended up reading 11 non-fiction last year. It has also been the year where I read a number of Indian translations and truly admired Indian literature.
I know that I am late to the party, but I have finally managed to drag my lazy bum to compile a list of 10 books I loved reading in 2018.
1.When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi (2016)
This was my first non-fiction and set a standard for memoirs/autobiographies for me. It is the memoir of Paul Kalanithi, a gifted neurosurgeon and a brilliant writer who was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer when he was only 36 years old. The book takes one through Paul’s quest to find the meaning of life. He passed away in March 2015, halfway through the completion of this book. It is the best non-fiction/memoir/biography that I have read and I highly recommend it. Go in armed with tissues; if Paul’s writing does not break you, his wife’s epilogue at the end sure will. To know more about the book and my thoughts after reading it, check out When Breath Becomes Air: A Must-Read Masterpiece
2. The Tree With a Thousand Apples by Sanchit Gupta (2016)
This book solely made it to the list because it is the best-underrated book I have read. It tells the story of childhood friends Safeena Malik, Deewan Bhat and Bilal Ahanagar, who grew up in Srinagar, Kashmir. Through them, the author sheds light on how the insurgency in Kashmir transformed the lives of the inhabitants. It is a great debut by the author; he has put forth such an extraordinary tale backed by extremely skilful writing. Read more about the book on The Tree With A Thousand Apples: A Book You Shouldn’t Miss For Anything
3. Why I Am a Hindu by Shashi Tharoor (2018)
Why I Am a Hindu came out in early 2018, when the Hindutva brigades in the country were exercising their powers unhindered. From cow vigilantism to mob lynchings to the Padmavat row, atrocities being performed in the name of Hinduism were enough to question the ideologies of Hinduism. Through his book, Tharoor reminds us what the true nature of Hinduism is. The book gives a great insight into the history of Hinduism as well as about the great souls of Hinduism. Read more about the book on: Book Review: Why I Am A Hindu
4. I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh (2014)
Having read a lot of thrillers, my expectations for this psychological thriller was low. Over the years I have developed a knack for predicting thrillers that the twists do not usually surprise me. But I Let You Go had unpredictability written all over it. The story follows Genna Grey, who moves to a remote cottage post a tragic accident, to start afresh. But before she knows it, the skeletons are tumbling out of her closet. This stellar debut has everything to grab your attention –a great plot, convincing characters, unexpected twists and brilliant writing. Read my entire review of the book on: Book Review: I Let You Go
5. Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2007)
I discovered Adichie’s stellar writing through this book and it had me craving for more. Centered around Nigeria’s Biafran war in the 1960s, the book tells how the war affected the people through the story of Odenigbo, a university professor; Ugwu, the professor’s thirteen-year-old houseboy; Olanna, the professor’s young mistress; Olanna’s twin sister Kainene and Richard, a young Englishman in love with Kainene. Through these characters, Adichie brings alive the horrors of a forgottten war and highlights the power of friendship, love and forgiveness.
6. Poonachi or the Story of a Black Goat by Perumal Murugan (2018)
Poonachi was translated from the Tamil novel Poonachi Allathu Oru Vellatin Kathai by N Kalyan Raman. The book talks about life through the perspective of Poonachi –a black goat. A fragile baby goat that is given to her family, she fights all odds to grow up into an adult. Her life is not all that different from a woman; she falls in love, becomes a mother and has to conform to all the nuances of her gender. The novel has also been compared to 1984 by George Orwell due to the overwhelming presence of an authoritarian government that keeps a tab on all the goats born in their regime. Poonachi is a gentle yet thought-provoking novel that has won several accolades.
7. Jasmine Days by Benyamin (2014)
Jasmine Days is the translation of the Malyalam novel Mullappoo Niramulla Pakalukal by Benyamin. It tells the story of Sameera Parvin, a radio jockey that migrated to an unnamed city in Middle East from Pakistan. Her world collapses when the Jasmine revolution begins in her city –she is torn between the beliefs of her family and friends, and her loyalty is tested time and again. Sameera’s character is well-crafted, and I could easily identify with her. Benyamin is an amazing writer and has done a great job in conveying Sameera’s conflicts. Shahnaz Habib has effectively translated the book, keeping intact the essence of the book
8. Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2013)
At its core, Americanah is a love story of two childhood sweethearts, Ifemelu and Obinze, who depart to the west from Nigeria. The story progresses through their struggles of being black in a prevalently racist country. 15 years later, Ifemelu re-unites with Obinze, now a married man, in Nigeria, where their friendship and loyalty is tested. With the novel, Adichie paints a larger picture through her exploration of racism. In Ifemelu, and especially in the blog that she creates while in America called “Raceteenth or Various Observations About American Blacks (Those Formerly Known as Negroes) by a Non-American Black,” one can see reflections of the author herself.
9. Em and the Big Hoom by Jerry Pinto (2012)
This is one gem of a book that I fell in love with and is hands down one of the best works of fiction I have read by an Indian author. Em and the Big Hoom tells the story of Em (Imelda Mendes, but Em to her children) and The Big Hoom (Em’s husband) and their two children. Em is battling with mental illness and the story revolves around how the family deals with the unpredictabilities of Em’s illness. Narrated by Em’s son, the book is a heart-wrenching tale of love, relationships and holding on when the tides turn without any warning. The book also gives us a glimpse into the life in a “small flat in a city of small flats.” To say that Jerry weaves magic with his words would be an understatement. Read this book. If you are not convinced, check out Em and the Big Hoom: A heart-wrenching read
10. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (1985)
This was my first stint with Atwood and boy, what a writer! If you are a fan of dystopian novels, the Handmaid’s Tale is a must read. The novel is set in the near-future in the USA, where the government has been overthrown and the women are deprived of all their civil rights. The story is narrated by Offred, a handmaid –a class of women with a healthy reproductive system who are assigned to a ‘commander’ (powerful men) with an infertile wife, for the sole purpose of conceiving his child. They have to wear a voluminous red dress and a white headdress that almost covers their entire face. They are not allowed to read or write, they cannot even use their birth name; their name changes according to the commander they are assigned to. The novel vividly explores the subjugation of women in a patriarchal society. It is bold and very convincing in the dystopian world it depicts.