For four years, I tracked my reading, and as a result, I got to the point where it’s kind of a habit that I read broadly ([ahem] at least within literary fiction), that I read as much as possible in translation, and that I am deliberate about what I read next.
It’s been a while since I read R.F. Kuang’s Babel which I recommend enthusiastically. To aim to write a smart, accessible, thoughtful, & suspenseful novel is quite a narrow target to hit, and that one definitely did. Ada Limon’s The Hurting Kind is similarly smart & accessible, with a really gentle seasonal organization that never feels like it limits the poems. I reread Peter Carey’s True History of the Kelly Gang, which is an engrossing story about a man pushed too far and the lengths he’ll go to set the story straight (even if it’s not entirely factual). But this post is about a chunk of reading that’s a little more deliberate, a set of books that I hoped would get outside of myself.
Usna Aslam Khan’s The Miraculous True History of Nomi Ali is a historical novel about a place I’ve never even heard of–the Andaman Islands. Leave it to an independent press (Dallas’s Deep Vellum) to take a chance on a novel like this one, that deserves a wide readership and will challenge anyone that picks it up. Khan’s Nomi of the title is not the main character, nor is she explicitly any more of a witness or a survivor than her brother Zee (who suffers a terrible fate due to a single courageous act) or her father (bent low, literally, by his punishment for a crime he committed, which brought him to the islands) or her mother (who suffers losses that eventually become unspeakable). Khan makes the reader feel deeply about almost every character, no mean feat, given that some of the colonial administrators are complicit in, at best, cruel & unusual punishment. This might fit under historical fiction or post-colonial literature, and in ways that test the limits of each genre. It is a novel in which the bravest act of all is staying put and trying to find the beauty & the humanity around you.
I’ll update this post when I finish Rodaan Al Galidi’s light-hearted (or is that deep-heared?) refugee novel The Leash & the Ball, Melody Razak’s debut about 1947’s Partition Moth, Ingrid Rojas Monteras’s memoir about a journey into her family’s history in Colombia The Man Who Could Move Clouds