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An Orphan World | Giuseppe Caputo
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Recommended by Alexander Chee
 
“Giuseppe Caputo's An Orphan World, translated by Juana Adcock and Sophia Hughes, is one of those novels about losing yourself in sex in order to find yourself in sex, that is also a genuinely strange and loving story of a father and son struggling to survive abject poverty and terrifying homophobia in Columbia.
 
About the Book
 
In a poverty-stricken neighbourhood wedged between the city and the sea, a father and son struggle to keep their heads above water. Rather than being discouraged by their difficulties and hardship, their response is to come up with increasingly bizarre and imaginative plans in order to get by. Even when a horrifying, macabre event rocks the neighborhood and the locals start to flee, father and son decide to stay put. What matters is staying together.
 

A Grain of Wheat | Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o
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Recommended by Ken Chen
 
A Grain of Wheat is Ngugi's novel about the so-called Mau Mau Revolt in Kenya, where the British killed hundreds of thousands of people and put half the population in concentration camps. As a story, A Grain of Wheat is actually an addictive page-turner. While this is a social realist narrative, one where the woman comes to represent the motherland, there is a surprising sense of irony, in particular when Ngugi writes in the register of the British characters. Similarly, the revolutionary hero who is positioned as the savior is also revealed as a psychopath, part of the novel's structural critique that under colonial conditions, there is no way to avoid complicity.
 
About the Book
 
Set in the wake of the Mau Mau rebellion and on the cusp of Kenya's independence from Britain, A Grain of Wheat follows a group of villagers whose lives have been transformed by the 1952–1960 Emergency. At the center of it all is the reticent Mugo, the village's chosen hero and a man haunted by a terrible secret. As we learn of the villagers' tangled histories in a narrative interwoven with myth and peppered with allusions to real-life leaders, including Jomo Kenyatta, a masterly story unfolds in which compromises are forced, friendships are betrayed, and loves are tested.

Landscape for a Good Woman | Carolyn Kay Steedman
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Recommended by Ken Chen
 
“The British Marxist feminist Carolyn Kay Steedman wanted to write about certain political issues—the counter-intuitive absence of the patriarchy and the similarly counter-intuititive lure of conservatism for the working class—but she found that she could only do so by writing about her own life. This forgotten classic is perhaps the best intellectual book not written by Saidiya Hartman at combining the personal/literary register with a more dispassionate analysis of class, gender, and structures of power. Intellectually uncompromising, Steedman writes with an infallible memory and a surprising, psychoanalytic sense of myth and fairy tale.
 
About the Book
 
Intricate and inspiring, this unusual book uses autobiographical elements to depict a mother and her daughter and two working-class childhoods (Burnley in the 1920s, South London in the 1950s) and to find a place for their stories in history and politics, in psychoanalysis and feminism.
 

Three Poems | Hannah Sullivan
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Recommended by Rachel Ossip
 
“Sullivan’s poetry is undeniably contemporary, but with an attention to music, form, and meter that feels rare today. I mean, when was the last time you read rhyming poetry that wasn’t in a birthday card (and, more impressively, didn’t feel stuffy or sentimental)? Don’t worry if that’s not your thing; not all of it rhymes. But even you rhyme-haters out there might be enticed by these: after all, who couldn’t love a rhyme that remains linguistically stunning while skewering San Francisco tech bros “looking for authentic Mission dives”? (“Angel investors underwrite it all; / The shit-stained can, the iPhone afterlives.”)
 
About the Book
 
“You, Very Young in New York” paints the portrait of a great American city, paying close attention to grand designs as well as local details, and coalescing in a wry and tender study of romantic possibility, disappointment, and the obduracy of innocence. “Repeat Until Time” shifts the scene to California and combines a poetic essay on the nature of repetition with an enquiry into pattern-making of a personal as well as a philosophical kind. “The Sandpit After Rain” explores the birth of a child and death of a father with exacting clarity.
 

Great Short Works of Leo Tolstoy | Leo Tolstoy
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Recommended by Dayna Tortorici
 
“I can't believe I waited so long to read Tolstoy's short fiction, namely ‘The Death of Ivan Ilych,’ ‘The Kreutzer Sonata,’ ‘Master and Man,’ and ‘Alyosha the Pot.’ Don't be like me! Read them now!
 
About the Book
 
Of all Russian writers Leo Tolstoy is probably the best known to the Western world, largely because of War and Peace, his epic in prose, and Anna Karenina, one of the most splendid novels in any language. But during his long lifetime Tolstoy also wrote enough shorter works to fill many volumes. Here reprinted in one volume are his eight finest short novels, together with “Alyosha the Pot,” the little tale that Prince Mirsky described as “a masterpiece of rare perfection.”
 
 

The Big Green Tent | Ludmila Ulitskaya
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Recommended by Rachel Ossip
 
“One of my gnawing anxieties is that 'the power of literature' is too often overstated by those of us who traffic in it. Ulitskaya’s novel provides a useful reminder that, at certain times and in certain places (such as post-Stalin Soviet Union), this would not have been a concern; it was known that literature was deadly serious. The friendship of three young boys across four decades provides the through-line of The Big Green Tent, enlivened by their various intimacies, the joy they find in art and music, and the great risks they take just to traffic in literature.
 
About the Book
 
With epic breadth and intimate detail, Ludmila Ulitskaya's remarkable work tells the story of three school friends who meet in Moscow in the 1950s and go on to embody the heroism, folly, compromise, and hope of the Soviet dissident experience. These three boys-—an orphaned poet, a gifted yet fragile pianist, and a budding photographer with a talent for collecting secrets—struggle to reach adulthood in a society where their heroes have been censored and exiled.
 

Stranger Faces | Namwali Serpell
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Recommended by Hannah Zeavin
 
“Earlier this year I asked Twitter (who else) what were the best book-length essays. On this rare occasion, Twitter didn’t disappoint. I’ve made my way through a small fraction of all the books suggested, but my favorite remains Namwali Serpell’s Stranger Faces, which I love down to the syntactical level. Written for Transit Books’ Undelivered Lecture series (all fantastic), Serpell takes us away from “The Ideal Face”—site of truth, relationality, and beauty—to those titular stranger faces. From the Elephant Man to Psycho to the emoji, Serpell offers a theory and reading of their uncanny likeness, their doublings, their meanings. Along the way, Serpell quietly provides a correction to our pervasive cultural emphasis on empathy. For as she argues, via the stranger face, it is precisely in granting humanity to the other that we know how to humiliate them.
 
About the Book
 
If evolutionary biologists, ethical philosophers, and social media gurus are to be believed, the face is the basis for what we call humanity. The face is considered the source of identity, truth, beauty, authenticity, and empathy. It underlies our ideas about what constitutes a human, how we relate emotionally, what is pleasing to the eye, and how we ought to treat each other. But all of this rests on a specific image of the face. We might call it the ideal face.
 
What about the strange face, the stranger's face, the face that thwarts recognition? What do we make of the face that rides the line of legibility? In a collection of speculative essays on a few such stranger faces—the disabled face, the racially ambiguous face, the digital face, the face of the dead—Namwali Serpell probes our contemporary mythology of the face. Stranger Faces imagines a new ethics based on the perverse pleasures we take in the very mutability of faces.

Inventory | Dionne Brand
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Recommended by Doreen St. Félix
 
“The other day, they were posing a question: does the continent have an epic? It may have a lament: Inventory, the finest of Dionne Brand’s book-length poems.
 
About the Book
 
In Dionne Brand’s incantatory, deeply engaged, beautifully crafted long poem, the question is asked, What would an inventory of the tumultuous early years of this new century have to account for? Alert to the upheavals that mark those years, Brand bears powerful witness to the seemingly unending wars, the ascendance of fundamentalisms, the nameless casualties that bloom out from near and distant streets. An inventory in form and substance, Brand’s poem reckons with the revolutionary songs left to fragment, the postmodern cities drowned and blistering, the devastation flickering across TV screens grown rhythmic and predictable. Inventory is an urgent and burning lamentation.
 
 
 
 

The Naked Don't Fear the Water | Matthieu Aikins
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Recommended by Hari Kunzru
 
“This is an extraordinary narrative that took serious bravery to write. The author, a war correspondent, goes undercover to acompany his Afghan friend and former translator along the smuggler’s road from Afghanistan to Europe.
 
About the Book
 
In 2016, a young Afghan driver and translator named Omar makes the heart-wrenching choice to flee his war-torn country, saying goodbye to Laila, the love of his life, without knowing when they might be reunited again. He is one of millions of refugees who leave their homes that year. Matthieu Aikins, a journalist living in Kabul, decides to follow his friend. In order to do so, he must leave his own passport and identity behind to go underground on the refugee trail with Omar. Their odyssey across land and sea from Afghanistan to Europe brings them face to face with the people at heart of the migration crisis: smugglers, cops, activists, and the men, women and children fleeing war in search of a better life. As setbacks and dangers mount for the two friends, Matthieu is also drawn into the escape plans of Omar's entire family, including Maryam, the matriarch who has fought ferociously for her children's survival.

The South | Adolph L. Reed
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Recommended by Hari Kunzru
 
“The author is a noted radical theorist, who often writes about the limits of race as a conceptual tool for understanding the American political scene. This is a short and nuanced memoir about how it felt to live under the Jim Crow system, and how it shaped the everyday reality of millions of Americans, black and white."
 
About the Book
 
The last generation of Americans with a living memory of Jim Crow will soon disappear. They leave behind a collective memory of segregation shaped increasingly by its horrors and heroic defeat but not a nuanced understanding of everyday life in Jim Crow America. In The South, Adolph L. Reed Jr.—New Orleanian, political scientist, and according to Cornel West, "the greatest democratic theorist of his generation"—takes up the urgent task of recounting the granular realities of life in the last decades of the Jim Crow South. Reed illuminates the multifaceted structures of the segregationist order. Through his personal history and political acumen, we see America's apartheid system from the ground up, not just its legal framework or systems of power, but the way these systems structured the day-to-day interactions, lives, and ambitions of ordinary working people. The South unravels the personal and political dimensions of the Jim Crow order, revealing the sources and objectives of this unstable regime, its contradictions and precarity, and the social order that would replace it.
 
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