In this series, we’re asking authors, Guardian writers and readers to share what they’ve read recently. This month’s recommendations include excellent non-fiction about migration, immersive romance novels, and a pointed account of the coronavirus pandemic. Tell us what you read in the comments.
Hannah Giorgis, writer
I read romance novels all year round, but something about the sun shining for more than three days in a row makes me want nothing more than to lay in the grass with a whole bunch of them. It is not strictly speaking a romance, but that of Corinne Hoex gentlemen callers is the scintillating portrait of a woman in search of pleasure. I bought the novel, translated from French by Caitlin O’Neil, a few minutes after reading this beautiful essay in The Atlantic. The sex life of African women, meanwhile, offers a series of confessional stories of exhilarating candor anthologized by Nana Darkoah Sekyiamah. This one will take me a while to finish – I know I’m not ready to leave those stories behind.
I am also still working my way through the intellectual revelation that is Nadia Nurhussein Black Earth: Imperial Ethiopianism and African America. Nurhussein writes with clarity and critical precision about the significance and irony of Ethiopia’s unique position in the diasporic imagination. Although his work is not fiction, spending time with Nurhussein’s writing often inspires me to turn to Caribbean literature, especially novels and poetry. For me, and for many others, it was the indelible George Lamming who stood out especially last month.
A Double-Edged Inheritance by Hannah Giorgis has been shortlisted for the 2022 AKO Caine Prize for African Writing.
Russell, Guardian Reader
I recently read Devi Sridhar Avoidable, probably the best story I’ve read about the pandemic response here and around the world. His main concern is that we should learn from what has happened, especially from countries that have successfully managed the epidemic by adopting a strategy of suppression rather than containment. Currently enjoying Caroline Elkins Legacy of Violencedispelling myths about the “goodness” of the British Empire with devastating evidence.
Adam Roberts, Writer and Professor
Deciding on the Orwell Prize for Fiction, together with my excellent fellow judges, was a wonderful experience, although it also inevitably took a long time – so many books to read! As the announcement of the winner on July 14th approached, I re-read the winner, the exquisite and astonishing by Claire Keegan Little things like these. At just over 100 pages, it doesn’t take long to read, but few books of any length are as penetrating, well-written, or memorable. It’s the story of Bill Furlong, a 1980s coal merchant in a small Irish town, a decent family man who makes a delivery to a convent and discovers a neglected young girl working in the Magdalene laundry. Will he do the “right thing” by her? Keegan writes with exquisite clarity and insight, and his 100 pages open up a richer world than most writers could conjure up with 1,000.
Freed from having to read as a price judge, I am now…reading other price lists. The shortlist for the Clarke Prize, the UK’s most prestigious science fiction prize, has just been announced, so I’m diving into the two nominated titles I haven’t read yet: the space opera of Mercurio Rivera Wergen: The War of Alien Love and Aliya Whiteley sky inn. But at least I don’t have to decide who will be the winner!
The This by Adam Roberts is published by Orion. To support the Guardian and the Observer, order your copy from guardianbookshop.com. Delivery charges may apply.
Joshua Chizoma, writer
I am currently reading The wide by Caleb Azumah Nelson. I’ve had it for quite a while now. Usually I do my best to skim through a book quickly. But something about the quality of this book’s writing prompts the reader to slow down, savor the elegance of each sentence, pause, and reflect on the wisdom it shares. Although I’m not usually drawn to love stories, I am intrigued by the love story in Open Water, so much so that I keep coming back to admire the insistence of affection that the main characters share. .
And a novel isn’t just about one thing, and this one also explores questioning the black body as an outsider in the UK. This is of particular interest to me as a Nigerian writer who recently visited London for the first time. I had barely landed when I experienced my first instance of racial profiling.
Open Water is also a great representation of how art forms meander and come together. Photography, writing and music come together so perfectly. He will stay with me for a long time. I know that.
Collector of Memories by Joshua Chizoma has been shortlisted for the 2022 AKO Caine Prize for African Writing.
David Edgerton, historian
I had the privilege of chairing the jury for the Orwell Prize for Political Writing this year – so how can we not say something about our fantastic winner? by Sally Hayden My Fourth Time We Drowned: Seeking Refuge on the World’s Deadliest Migration Route is an extraordinary investigation into a subject deliberately ignored: the reality of life for migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean and enter Europe. What is particularly rich in the book is that the migrants themselves do not speak afterwards, but during their ordeals. Thus, although they are often hidden from television and the usual forms of journalism, their stories are told through often secret exchanges on social networks. And the way they tell their stories, and the way Hayden presents them to us, is extraordinarily compelling.
Two other books on our shortlist speak in different ways to these same themes. I was thinking of Kei Miller Things that I remembered hearing about Mo Farah’s recent revelation that he was trafficked to the UK as a child. Miller’s book is a beautifully written meditation on what is said and what is not said; on what cannot be said; and what it is to belong and not to belong. It is also a study of violence and its impact, racial violence in particular. In the end, like Mo Farah, he speaks, but will we hear?
Michela Wrong Do Not Disturb: The Story of Political Murder and an African Regime Gone Wrong is also the story of what is not said and what is not heard, in this case on the Kagame regime in Rwanda to which the British government proposes to deport those very people whom Sally Hayden speaks with so much humanity. It is also a remarkable study in the exercise of power by a small elite, and systematic lying in politics – which also resonates with our current moment. All three books show us how important it is for us to tell ourselves the truth about power.
The Rise and Fall of the British Nation: A Twentieth-Century History by David Edgerton is published by Penguin.
Letlhogonolo Mokgoroaneco-founder of The Cheeky Natives podcast and judge for AKO Caine price 2022
I was looking forward to Warsan Shire’s first collection of poetry Bminus the girl raised by a voice in her headI devoured this book with relish because I loved it. Education My mother how to give birth. Shire’s writing and clarity of thought are a marvel. His book transported me to various places and memories, it felt like a continuation of the important themes explored in the previous book. I think I will read this book for a long time.
After this delightful read, I moved on to Christopher by Nozuko Siyothulaan extraordinary debut that deals with loss and grief in South Africa.
Okey NdibePresident of the jury of the AKO Caine Prize 2022
Uwem Akpan’s first novel, New York, my villageis a worthy sequel to his audacious collection of stories Say you’re one of them. It’s a masterful read, one of those rare novels that — because they’re snappy, unforgiving, thought-provoking, and voluminous — are meant for timelessness but take their time to gain fans.
There are two main story tracks in the novel – the tragic drama of Nigeria’s civil war told for the first time in a major novel through the perspective of the country’s ethnic minority groups, and the publishing world to large scale, fraught with myopia, racism and other cruelties.
I was a child during Nigeria’s ruinous war, often called the Biafran War, in which over two million people perished. As a witness to the gravity of war – the starvation, the days wasted by gunfire, the boom of mortars, the ever-present death – war has stolen my childhood innocence. As a young adult, I made it a point to read as many war books as I could find. But until I read Akpan’s book, it hadn’t occurred to me that there was a gap in my understanding of war.
Akpan’s novel offers a harrowing account of how the country’s unfortunate minority groups were often caught in a vise – trapped between brutal Biafran soldiers and savage Nigerian forces. I expect the book, over time, to herald a much-needed conversation in Nigeria, not only about the full cost of war, but also about the significance of Nigeria, a British-made entity that continues to confuse its citizens as well as foreign observers. .
The novel’s protagonist, Ekong, briefly moves from Nigeria to New York – arguably the capital of book publishing – to take up a scholarship at a publishing company. His perspective allows him – and allows us – to grasp the parochial impulses that inform what might be called publishing politics.
I can’t help but wonder if the novel’s unflattering portrayal of the publishing industry is responsible for the lukewarm attention it’s received so far.
Yet the novel does its work with such virtuosic power and incandescent intelligence that, inevitably, many readers will find it, be amplified by it, and fall in love with it.
Okey Ndibe is the author of the novels Arrows of Rain and Foreign Gods, Inc, and the memoir Never Look an American in the eye. He has just finished a novel called Memories Lie in Water.