Thursday, December 31, 2020

My Favorites of 2020

 2020 was trying and books came to the rescue more than ever. Here are my top ten for the year:

  1. Eat the Buddha: Life and Death in a Tibetan Town by Barbara Demick

  2. To the Lake: A Balkan Journey of War and Peace by Kapka Kassabova

  3. Street Without a Name: Childhood and Other Misadventures in Bulgaria by Kapka Kassabova

  4. Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu

  5. Nights When Nothing Happened by Simon Han

  6. A Burning by Megha Majumdar

  7. The Book of Rosy: A Mother’s Story of Separation at the Border by Rosayra Pablo Cruz and Julie Schwietert Collazo

  8. A Promised Land by Barack Obama

  9. Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times by Katherine May

  10. The Undocumented Americans by Karla Cornejo Villavicencio

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Homeland Elegies by Ayad Akhtar

Setting down roots as a Pakistani Muslim American. Claiming America as home despite constantly being branded as the other. These tropes might sound like worn ground but they’re sheer dynamite in this awe-inspiring, semi-autobiographical novel. Akhtar tears open every wound on the collective American psyche, while chronicling the straight path from the ‘80s to Trump. The process is exhilarating and insightful. One of those rare novels that is as necessary to read as it is enjoyable. I am glad I took President Obama’s recommendation on this one. Warning: the book includes a couple of brief instances of rather graphic sex.

Thursday, December 24, 2020

A Promised Land by Barack Obama


Full disclosure: I’m a fan. Even if you’re not, this remarkable memoir is worth reading for the quality of writing and to understand how the political sausage is made. Starting with his political ambitions, Obama reminisces about his historic election, the passage of the ACA, the Deepwater Horizon accident, the Arab spring, and the Navy SEALS operation that lead to Osama Bin Laden. For a volume this long, the pacing is incredible — the book reads like a cliffhanger. Even those who are not political junkies will find this to be an illuminating account from an intelligent and deeply introspective president. 

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

The Art of Losing by Alice Zeniter

It is in the outskirts of Paris, in a drab concrete apartment building, that three generations of Algerians can trace the beginnings of life in their new country. Ali flees his small Algerian town in the wake of the Algerian independence movement in 1962 when nationalists threaten his family. His stature diminishes slowly over his years in France. Told through the lens of three generations of a displaced family, this is a moving exploration of the immigrant experience. “It’s possible to be from a country without belonging to it,” says an acquaintance in Algeria. Truer words have not been spoken.

Saturday, December 12, 2020

Whereabouts by Jhumpa Lahiri


Light and shadow interplay in this much-awaited performance from a legendary writer. Lahiri’s keen powers of observation are on full display here as a 45+ unnamed single woman in Italy narrates her everyday choices. Having grown accustomed to solitude, she reflects on the vise-like grip her parents continue to exert on her psyche. A sandwich from a favorite deli, a purchase of an annual planner, a chance encounter with an old friend, sadness over a store closure, a litany of minor regrets all populate these pages. Together they deliver an impressive chorus but with a tad too many staccato notes.