It’s that time of year again: Booker, arguably the greatest writing competition in the world, has just announced its international shortlist – from India/Pakistan set family drama Tomb of Sand by Geetanjali Shree to magical realism/horror/sci fi mashup Cursed Bunny by Bora Chung, these are six of the best novels you’ll read this year as reviewed by Ultimate Library…
1. Tomb of Sand by Geetanjali Shree (Translated by Daisy Rockwell)-International Booker Prize Winner
In northern India, an 80-year-old woman slips into a deep depression at the death of her husband, then resurfaces to gain a new lease of life. Her determination to fly in the face of convention confuses her bohemian daughter, who is used to thinking of herself as the more ‘modern’ of the two. To her family’s consternation, Ma then insists on travelling to Pakistan, confronting the unresolved trauma of her teenage experiences of Partition.
2. Heaven by Mieko Kawakami (Translated Sam Bett and David Boyd)
A sharp and illuminating novel about a fourteen-year-old boy subjected to relentless bullying. Instead of putting up resistance, the boy suffers in complete resignation. His sole ally is a girl classmate, similarly outcast and preyed upon by the bullies. They meet in secret to take solace in each other’s company, unaware that their relationship has not gone unnoticed by their ormentors…
Mieko asks us to question the fate of the meek in a society that favours the strong, and the lengths to which even children will go in their learnt cruelty.
3. Elena Knows by Claudia Piñeiro (Translated by Frances Riddle)
After Rita is found dead in the bell tower of the church she used to attend, the official investigation into the incident is quickly closed. Her sickly mother is the only person still determined to find the culprit. Chronicling a difficult journey across the suburbs of the city, an old debt and a revealing conversation, Elena Knows unravels the secrets of its characters and the hidden facets of authoritarianism and hypocrisy in our society.
4. A New Name: Septology VI-VII by Jon Fosse (Translated by Damion Searls)
Asle is an ageing painter who lives alone on the coast of Norway. His only friends are his neighbour, Åsleik, a traditional fisherman-farmer, and Beyer, a gallerist who lives in the city. There, in Bjørgvin, lives another Asle, also a painter but lonely and consumed by alcohol. Asle and Asle are doppelgängers – two versions of the same person, two versions of the same life, both grappling with existential questions.
5. Cursed Bunny by Bora Chung (Translated by Anton Hur)
Blurring the lines between magical realism, horror, and science-fiction, Chung’s dazzling collection of short stories uses elements of the fantastic and surreal to address the very real horrors and cruelties of patriarchy and capitalism in modern society.
6. The Books of Jacob by Olga Tokarczuk (Translated by Jennifer Croft)
In the mid-18th century, as new ideas begin to sweep the continent, a young Jewish man of mysterious origins arrives in a village in Poland. Before long, he has changed not only his name but his persona; visited by what seem to be ecstatic experiences, Jacob Frank casts a charismatic spell that attracts an increasingly fervent following. Traversing the Hapsburg and Ottoman empires
he reinvents himself again and again, spreading his increasingly iconoclastic beliefs.