Here are my 12 books you should read before you leave this world

This week’s ‘defection’ dramas, theatrical comedies from the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission and other tantalizing news are spurring a return to politics despite the declaration of a ‘political fast’.

However, we remain determined to survive abstinence.

Therefore, this week’s column focuses on a very marginalized habit in Kenya, and I’m told that across much of the continent. A common but mean joke is that if you want to hide anything from the native, keep it in a book!

So today I decided to make you “eat a book” by sharing my very own “12 Books You Must Read Before You Go”. A book for each month of the year. The first three of these books revolve around forbidden love, betrayal, and related matters of the heart.

These are “Cutting for Stone” by Abraham Verghese, “The Thorn Birds” by Colleen McCullough and “Gone with the Wind” by Margaret Mitchell.

The first two books reveal the very humanity of those whom religion has forbidden to experience that ultimate human emotion and the occasional immeasurable sorrow and happiness they must experience.

One is set in contemporary Ethiopia while the other is set in wild Australia in a much earlier time, but the tenor of the stories are eerily similar. To appreciate Mitchel’s book, please ignore latent racial and gender bias and focus only on the literary beauty of the story.

At number 4, I didn’t know which of Chimamanda Adiche’s books to recommend. I find ‘Half a Yellow Stone’ rather bloody, so I would recommend ‘Purple Hibiscus’ which also chronicles the turbulent events in Nigeria, but with additional insight into the effect of war on human lives.

The 5th book you must read is by our own Ngugi Wa Thiongo. Before becoming a “writer in politics”, Ngugi was the author of many great names in literature. I suggest you try to get “The River Between” and if you absolutely can’t get “A Grain of Wheat”.

These stories revolve around a season of political and cultural transition, but have such vivid characters that stay with you long after you’ve put the book down. Number 6 is undoubtedly “A Thousand Years of Solitude” by Nobel Prize winner Gabriel Garcia Marquez. The story covers 100 years of Latin American history through the experience of one family.

It is full of colorful characters with sometimes comical life experiences that give the impression of knowing Latin America.

I’ll be in trouble with my daughter if I don’t mention a book we both enjoyed, “Watership Down” by Richard Adams as number 7. The story follows the life of a group of rabbits but is about themes human struggle, tyranny of freedom and room for groupthink and individual expression.

Numbers 8 and 9 are biographies. I have to say Nelson Mandela’s “Long Walk to Freedom” and “Titan; The Lives of John Rockefeller” are as different as they are similar. They tell stories of these characters who are transforming the world, one through personal sacrifice and the other through corporate insight and courage.

For book number 10, I suggest you read any book by Khaleed Hosseini. “Kite Runner” remains one of my top reads, but if you can get your hands on “A Thousand Splendid Suns,” that will do, too.

Number 11, “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night” by Mark Haddon is a great story about a boy with autism. Tearful.

And we are at number 12 and I am tempted to review my list! “The Dragonfly Sea” by Kenyan Yvonne Adhiambo Owour completes this literary journey. She is a great writer who has already won the Caine Prize with an earlier book “Weight of Whispers”.

Happy reading and if you have any books I need to read, I’m an email away.

About Herbert L. Leonard

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