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Reading Challenge: 2021 (Fiction)

Fiction is my go-to any day of the week. It is so easy to get lost in a world so far away from yours, and yet so near you could imagine being a part of it. You could step into any situation, in any part of the world, in any shape or form you want. A bit of healthy voyeurism and escapism does wonders for the mind and soul!

These, listed below, are the books in the fiction genre that I read this year. There were a few misses as always, but overall, it’s a good list of books. I am also glad that the authors I read this year are from diverse cultural backgrounds—Algerian, Indian, Vietnamese, and Dutch, to list just a few. If you’re interested in diversifying your bookshelf, read my previous post on Around the World in Books.

What the Day Owes the Night by Yasmina Khadra

How relationships grow and change during conflicts is the theme of the book. Set in the backdrop of the Algerian War, Younes grows up in a culturally diverse society where he tries to fit in but never wholly does. When revolution and war come around, he questions his beliefs. It’s a good book that looks at the impact of war on societal threads.

“Life is a train that stops at no stations; you either jump abroad or stand on the platform and watch as it passes.”

Cuckold by Kiran Nagarkar 

This is supposedly the story of Meerabai and her Rajput husband, the heir of Mewar. It has everything from love, romance, war, political intrigue, and mystery.  I was glued to the story from start to finish. The ending was ambiguous and could have ended on a better note.

“Life teaches me a hundred things every day, and I forget ninety-nine of them, sometimes all hundred of them.”

A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry

Check out my full review: A Fine Balance

The size of the book can seem intimidating, but it is such a beautiful piece of work that I don’t think a page less would’ve sufficed. The time after India’s Independence and around the Emergency under Indira Gandhi was a tough one for those who couldn’t afford to bribe their way out. We follow four main characters from different walks of life and how their lives are forever changed.

“…our lives are but a sequence of accidents – a clanking chain of chance events. A string of choices, casual or deliberate, which add up to that one big calamity we call life.”

Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal

Imagine signing up to teach English to a group of conservative women, and they turn in essays filled with their deepest erotic desires. That’s what happens with Nikki. She has to encourage these women to express themselves while making sure the misogynistic community members don’t find out and solve a murder mystery while she’s at it. Interesting and funny at times, it was a good read.

“Fiery-eyed and indignant, they would pen their stories for the whole world to read.”

The Discomfort of the Evening by Marieke Lucas Rijneveld 

A child left to deal with death on their own will find meaning and reason as per their understanding. Jas is growing up on a farm in The Netherlands and is learning about life and death through her own ideas and those of her friends. As the title suggests, there are many things said in the book that might make us uncomfortable, but it is an engrossing journey we are taken on.

“I’ve discovered that there are two ways of losing your belief: some people lose God when they find themselves; some people lose God when they lose themselves.”

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez

After so many years of hearing how ground-breaking it is, I picked up this book. I would be able to comment on it if I had managed to get even halfway through it. Honestly, it was just too confusing for me to keep track of what was happening. What I could understand in the beginning was interesting enough, but I was soon lost and couldn’t decipher anything.

“…time was not passing…it was turning in a circle…”

How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House by Cherie Jones 

When a baby is found dead on the beach, the whole town springs into action, trying to find the culprit. We are given a look behind the scenes and the events that led to the horrific moment. What makes a woman choose one life over the other, and is it too late to change her mind?

“You understand that if you must learn to love a man, he is probably not the man you should be loving.”

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath 

We follow a well-placed woman, Esther, as she graduates and starts a new job that she’s supposed to be excited about. But, life and its expectations weigh heavy on her. A lot of us could identify with feelings of the pressure she feels to be perfect and the fear that she’ll always come up short of it.

“I felt very still and empty, the way the eye of a tornado must feel, moving dully along in the middle of the surrounding hullabaloo.”

To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf

I couldn’t get past the first chapter! It is a work of surrealist fiction, and if you’re used to a more straightforward writing style like I am, your head will start spinning after a few paragraphs. She talks about a family planning to go to the beach, but something about the weather not being suitable makes them discuss other things. It is so long-winding that I couldn’t find its point. 

“He smiled the most exquisite smile, veiled by memory, tinged by dreams.”

How Beautiful We Were by Imbolo Mbue

This book hits close to home, no matter what part of the world you live in, especially if you’re in a developing country. Through the main characters’ journeys from childhood, we see a blossoming land and its people exploited and ravaged by greed over decades. No amount of effort or want is enough to reverse the damage done. Some people move on, but what happens to those who stay?

“There was still so much oil under our land—why abandon it because of a conscience?”

The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman

This is one of those stories that would be better as a movie or even a series. The idea of a bunch of retirees going around solving crimes is not unique, but it hasn’t been explored as much. We peek into these people’s lives before coming to the retirement home and how they’ve formed new friendships and hobbies!

“It’s great to be the fastest runner, but not when you’re running in the wrong direction.”

The Nothing Man by Catherine Ryan Howard 

Check out the full book review: The Nothing Man

This was an edge-of-the-seat thriller that had me riveted throughout. It was also an uncomfortable thought being a parent—what happens to your surviving kids after they face a tragedy and a life without you? I liked that even though you kind of know the ending mid-way, the twist at the end still surprises you.

“Even if you were already falling, you were technically okay until you hit the ground.”

The Mountains Sing by Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai

Check out my full review: The Mountains Sing

What a beautiful book to listen to! I would highly recommend the Audible version of it. Spanning three generations of women who’ve lived through a country being made, unmade, then trying to rebuild itself. This book encapsulates a large part of Vietnamese history as we follow the lives of these incredible women.

“I realized that war was monstrous. If it didn’t kill those it touched, it took away a piece of their souls, so they could never be whole again.”

Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi

Read the full review here: Transcendent Kingdom

Gifty is an independent woman dealing with her brother’s death and her mom’s depression as well. We go through all the emotions she describes through her growing up years, her brother’s sudden death, her faith, and her relationship with her mother. Sign up for an emotional ride!

“We read the Bible how we want to read it. It doesn’t change, but we do.”

The Henna Artist and The Secret-Keeper of Jaipur by Alka Joshi

 See the full review here: The Jaipur Series 

I read both as I had bought both of them going by rave reviews. That was my mistake—these were by Western readers who would love the idea of Indian culture. Story-wise, there’s a plotline, but the cliches and writing let it down completely. 

“The poor weren’t the only ones imprisoned by their caste.”

Vintage Chughtai by Ismat Chughtai 

Check out the detailed review: Ismat Chughtai

The book is a collection of short stories, barely a few pages long, about women’s lives. There are often twists, but mostly they’re just matter-of-fact tales about women in relation to society, family, and themselves—a good one to pick up and flip through any time.

The Maidens by Alex Michaelides

The book started with a lot of promise, and the build-up was great even though repetitive in many places. However, the ending was such a cringey letdown that I shudder thinking about it. One of the rare Do Not Read.

“That was the horror of it. We all secretly hope that tragedy will only ever happen to other people… sooner or later, it happens to you.”

The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles

See the full review here: The Lincoln Highway

The story starts with two brothers trying to build a new life for themselves. However, their past does not let go so easily. It’s a delightful tale of family, friendship, betrayal, and cunning. The book size is enormous, but the story’s flow keeps it interesting even though it is not fast-paced.

“those who are given something of value without having to earn it are bound to squander it.”

She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan

I have mixed feelings about this one. It’s about a woman blending in to do a man’s job and exceeding at it. There’s grit and determination, war and political intrigues, and some mysticism is thrown in as well. However, mid-way onwards, I was struggling to get it over with. It didn’t feel as exciting or interesting throughout—or maybe that’s just me!

“Pure emotions are the luxury of children and animals,”

Blue Skinned Gods by S J Sindu

Check out the full review here: Blue-skinned Gods

Kalki has always believed himself to be of divine origin. That’s what his parents told him, and his parents could never be wrong. We journey through this boy’s childhood and coming of age as he discovers more about himself and the world around him. 

Of Women and Salt by Gabriela Garcia

So many emotions crop up reading this. Women trying to survive in fear, kids having to grow up in confinement, family separations, and the guilt of wanting and getting something better. The immigrants’ journey is painfully described with empathy. 

“What kind of fear is credible? There are so many kinds of fear.”

The One by John Marrs

Check the full review: The One

A bit of romance, a bit of mystery, and a bit of future tech. What if one day we could all find our actual soulmates? Would we jump at the opportunity or take our chances the natural way? While we delve into the world of ethics in the tech world, we meet 6 different couples and get to know their stories—a good quick read that gives you something to think about.

“Maybe when you took it back to basics, that’s what love really was: just being there for someone when the sun rises and sets.”

The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yōko Ogawa

A heartwarming story about how connections are formed with simple acts of kindness: set in Japan, the story revolves around a housekeeper who has been hired to take care of an old professor with memory lapse and how she and her son form a bond with someone who can barely remember them.

“A problem isn’t finished just because you’ve found the right answer.”

Note: Some links are part of an affiliate program, which means that if you click on a link and buy something, I might receive a percentage of the sale, at no extra cost to you.

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