Washington Post Best Books of 2019
- Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James
- Falter by Bill McKibben
- Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo
- A Good Provider Is One Who Leaves by Jason DeParle
- Know My Name by Chanel Miller
- On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong
- Say Nothing by Patrick Radden Keefe
- Strangers and Cousins by Leah Hager Cohen
- The Topeka School by Ben Lerner
- The Yellow House by Sarah M. Broom
Harvard Book Club List for 2020
- The Choice: Embrace the Possible by Dr. Edith Eva Eger
- Non-Fiction – The Politics of Pain: BREXIT…. by Fintan O’Toole
- Classic Fiction – The Short Novels by Anton Chekov
- Non-Fiction – Lakota America by Pekka Hämäläinen
- Non-Fiction – Blowout by Rachel Maddow
- Fiction – The Dutch House by Ann Patchett
- Leadership in Turbulent Times by Doris Goodwin
- Non-Fiction – The Second Founding by Eric Foner
- Non-Fiction – The Education of an Idealist by Samantha Power
1) The Boat People by Sharon Bala (Sri Lanka)
When a rusty cargo ship carrying Mahindan and five hundred fellow refugees from Sri Lanka’s bloody civil war reaches Vancouver’s shores, the young father thinks he and his six-year-old son can finally start a new life. Instead, the group is thrown into a detention processing center, with government officials and news headlines speculating that among the “boat people” are members of a separatist militant organization responsible for countless suicide attacks—and that these terrorists now pose a threat to Canada’s national security. As the refugees become subject to heavy interrogation, Mahindan begins to fear that a desperate act taken in Sri Lanka to fund their escape may now jeopardize his and his son’s chance for asylum.
2) Strangers in Their Own Land by Arlie Hochschild (Louisiana, U.S.)
Renowned sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild embarks on a thought-provoking journey from her liberal hometown of Berkeley, California, deep into Louisiana bayou country – a stronghold of the conservative right. As she gets to know people who strongly oppose many of the ideas she famously champions, Russell Hochschild nevertheless finds common ground and quickly warms to the people she meets – among them a Tea Party activist whose town has been swallowed by a sinkhole caused by a drilling accident – people whose concerns are actually ones that all Americans share: the desire for community, the embrace of family, and hopes for their children.
3) Paris in the Present Tense by Mark Helprin (France)
Mark Helprin’s powerful, rapturous new novel is set in a present-day Paris caught between violent unrest and its well-known, inescapable glories. Seventy-four-year-old Jules Lacour—a maître at Paris-Sorbonne, cellist, widower, veteran of the war in Algeria, and child of the Holocaust—must find a balance between his strong obligations to the past and the attractions and beauties of life and love in the present. Jules is confronted headlong and all at once by a series of challenges to his principles, livelihood, and home, forcing him to grapple with his complex past and find a way forward. He risks fraud to save his terminally ill infant grandson, matches wits with a renegade insurance investigator, is drawn into an act of savage violence, and falls deeply, excitingly in love with a young cellist a third his age.
4) Pachinko by Min Jin Lee (Korea/Japan)
Pachinko follows one Korean family through the generations, beginning in early 1900s Korea with Sunja, the prized daughter of a poor yet proud family, whose unplanned pregnancy threatens to shame them all. Deserted by her lover, Sunja is saved when a young tubercular minister offers to marry and bring her to Japan. So begins a sweeping saga of an exceptional family in exile from its homeland and caught in the indifferent arc of history. Through desperate struggles and hard-won triumphs, its members are bound together by deep roots as they face enduring questions of faith, family, and identity.
5) By Chance Alone
More than 70 years after the Nazi camps were liberated by the Allies, a new Canadian Holocaust memoir details the rural Hungarian deportations to Auschwitz-Birkenau, back-breaking slave labour in Auschwitz I, the infamous “death march” in January 1945, the painful aftermath of liberation, a journey of physical and psychological healing.
Tibor “Max” Eisen was born in Moldava, Czechoslovakia into an Orthodox Jewish family. He had an extended family of sixty members, and he lived in a family compound with his parents, his two younger brothers, his baby sister, his paternal grandparents and his uncle and aunt. In the spring of 1944–five and a half years after his region had been annexed to Hungary and the morning after the family’s yearly Passover Seder–gendarmes forcibly removed Eisen and his family from their home. They were brought to a brickyard and eventually loaded onto crowded cattle cars bound for Auschwitz-Birkenau. At fifteen years of age, Eisen survived the selection process and he was inducted into the camp as a slave labourer.
One day, Eisen received a terrible blow from an SS guard. Severely injured, he was dumped at the hospital where a Polish political prisoner and physician, Tadeusz Orzeszko, operated on him. Despite his significant injury, Orzeszko saved Eisen from certain death in the gas chambers by giving him a job as a cleaner in the operating room. After his liberation and new trials in Communist Czechoslovakia, Eisen immigrated to Canada in 1949, where he has dedicated the last twenty-two years of his life to educating others about the Holocaust across Canada and around the world.
6) Go, Went Gone
Richard has spent his life as a university professor, immersed in the world of books and ideas, but now he is retired, his books remain in their packing boxes and he steps into the streets of his city, Berlin. Here, on Alexanderplatz, he discovers a new community — a tent city, established by African asylum seekers. Hesitantly, getting to know the new arrivals, Richard finds his life changing, as he begins to question his own sense of belonging in a city that once divided its citizens into them and us.
7) I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
Sent by their mother to live with their devout, self-sufficient grandmother in a small Southern town, Maya and her brother, Bailey, endure the ache of abandonment and the prejudice of the local “powhitetrash.” At eight years old and back at her mother’s side in St. Louis, Maya is attacked by a man many times her age—and has to live with the consequences for a lifetime. Years later, in San Francisco, Maya learns that love for herself, the kindness of others, her own strong spirit, and the ideas of great authors (“I met and fell in love with William Shakespeare”) will allow her to be free instead of imprisoned.
8) Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland
Patrick Radden Keefe
In December 1972, Jean McConville, a thirty-eight-year-old mother of ten, was dragged from her Belfast home by masked intruders, her children clinging to her legs. They never saw her again. Her abduction was one of the most notorious episodes of the vicious conflict known as The Troubles. Everyone in the neighborhood knew the I.R.A. was responsible. But in a climate of fear and paranoia, no one would speak of it. In 2003, five years after an accord brought an uneasy peace to Northern Ireland, a set of human bones was discovered on a beach. McConville’s children knew it was their mother when they were told a blue safety pin was attached to the dress–with so many kids, she had always kept it handy for diapers or ripped clothes.
Patrick Radden Keefe’s mesmerizing book on the bitter conflict in Northern Ireland and its aftermath uses the McConville case as a starting point for the tale of a society wracked by a violent guerrilla war, a war whose consequences have never been reckoned with. The brutal violence seared not only people like the McConville children, but also I.R.A. members embittered by a peace that fell far short of the goal of a united Ireland, and left them wondering whether the killings they committed were not justified acts of war, but simple murders. From radical and impetuous I.R.A. terrorists such as Dolours Price, who, when she was barely out of her teens, was already planting bombs in London and targeting informers for execution; to the ferocious I.R.A. mastermind known as The Dark; to the spy games and dirty schemes of the British Army; to Gerry Adams, who negotiated the peace but betrayed his hardcore comrades by denying his I.R.A. past, Say Nothing conjures a world of passion, betrayal, vengeance, and anguish.
9) The Hate U Give – WAS READ
Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.
Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.
But what Starr does—or does not—say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.
10) The Mars Room
It’s 2003 and Romy Hall is at the start of two consecutive life sentences at Stanville Women’s Correctional Facility, deep in California’s Central Valley. Outside is the world from which she has been severed: the San Francisco of her youth and her young son, Jackson. Inside is a new reality: thousands of women hustling for the bare essentials needed to survive; the bluffing and pageantry and casual acts of violence by guards and prisoners alike; and the deadpan absurdities of institutional living, which Kushner evokes with great humor and precision.
11) The Feather Thief
Beauty, Obsession, and the Natural History Heist of the Century
Kirk W. Johnson
“On a cool June evening in 2009, after performing a concert at London’s Royal Academy of Music, twenty-year-old American flautist Edwin Rist boarded a train for a suburban outpost of the British Museum of Natural History. Home to one of the largest ornithological collections in the world, the Tring museum was full of rare bird specimens whose gorgeous feathers were worth staggering amounts of money to the men who shared Edwin’s obsession: the Victorian art of salmon fly-tying. Once inside the museum, the champion fly-tier grabbed hundreds of bird skins–some collected 150 years earlier by a contemporary of Darwin’s, Alfred Russel Wallace, who’d risked everything to gather them–and escaped into the darkness. Two years later, Kirk Wallace Johnson was waist high in a river in northern New Mexico when his fly-fishing guide told him about the heist. He was soon consumed by the strange case of the feather thief. What would possess a
person to steal dead birds? Had Edwin paid the price for his crime? What became of the missing skins? In his search for answers, Johnson was catapulted into a years-long, worldwide investigation. The gripping story of a bizarre and shocking crime, and one man’s relentless pursuit of justice, The Feather Thief is also a fascinating exploration of obsession, and man’s destructive instinct to harvest the beauty of nature.
12) Ask Again, Yes
Mary Beth Keane
“A family saga about two Irish American families in a New York suburb, the love between two of their children, and the tragedies that threaten to tear them apart and destroy their futures”– Provided by publisher.
Francis Gleeson and Brian Stanhope are two NYPD rookies assigned to the same Bronx precinct in 1973. They aren’t close friends on the job, but end up living next door to each other outside the city. What goes on behind closed doors in both houses–the loneliness of Francis’s wife, Lena, and the instability of Brian’s wife, Anne, sets the stage for the stunning events to come. Ask Again, Yes by award-winning author Mary Beth Keane, is a beautifully moving exploration of the friendship and love that blossoms between Francis’s youngest daughter, Kate, and Brian’s son, Peter, who are born six months apart. In the spring of Kate and Peter’s eighth grade year a violent event divides the neighbors, the Stanhopes are forced to move away, and the children are forbidden to have any further contact.
But Kate and Peter find a way back to each other, and their relationship is tested by the echoes from their past.
13) Rabbits for Food – current book
“Master of razor-edged literary humor Binnie Kirshenbaum returns with her first novel in a decade, a devastating, laugh-out-loud funny story of a writer’s slide into depression and institutionalization. It’s New Year’s Eve, the holiday of forced fellowship, mandatory fun, and paper hats. While dining out with her husband and their friends, Kirshenbaum’s protagonist–an acerbic, mordantly witty, and clinically depressed writer–fully unravels. Her breakdown lands her in the psych ward of a prestigious New York hospital where she refuses all modes of recommended treatment. Instead, she passes the time chronicling the lives of her fellow “lunatics” and writing a novel about how she got to this place. Her story is a hilarious and harrowing deep dive into the disordered mind of a woman who sees the world all too clearly. Propelled by stand-up comic timing and rife with pinpoint insights, Kirshenbaum examines what it means to be unloved and loved, to succeed and fail, to be at once impervious and raw. Rabbits for Food shows how art can lead us out of–or into–the depths of disconsolate loneliness and piercing grief. A bravura literary performance from one of our most witty and indispensable writers
14) The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell
Born with ocular albinism, small-town eye doctor Sam Hill must finally face a pasttragedy that caused him to turn his back on his friends, his hometown, and thelife he’d always known–a journey that makes him realize what truly matters.
15) The Girl Who Wrote in Silk
Inara Erickson’s discovery of an elaborately stitched piece of fabric in her deceased aunt’s island estate leads her to the century-old story of Mei Lien, and a difficult truth about her about her family
16) Magpie Murders
A “brilliant and strikingly original reimagining of the classic whodunit (a la Agatha Christie) with a contemporary mystery wrapped around it”– Provided by publisher.
After working with bestselling crime writer Alan Conway for years, editor Susan Ryeland is intimately familiar with his detective, Atticus Pünd, who solves mysteries in sleepy English villages. His traditional formula has proved hugely successful, so successful that Susan must continue to put up with his troubling behavior if she wants to keep her job. Conway’s latest tale involves a murder at Pye Hall, with dead bodies and a host of intriguing suspects. But the more Susan reads, the more she’s convinced that there is another story hidden in the pages of the manuscript: one of real-life jealousy, greed, ruthless ambition, and murder.
17) A Tale for the Time Being
Ruth L. Ozeki
“A time being is someone who lives in time, and that means you, and me, and every one of us who is, or was, or ever will be.” In Tokyo, sixteen-year-old Nao has decided there’s only one escape from her aching loneliness and her classmates’ bullying. But before she ends it all, Nao first plans to document the life of her great grandmother, a Buddhist nun who’s lived more than a century. A diary is Nao’s only solace–and will touch lives in ways she can scarcely imagine. Across the Pacific, we meet Ruth, a novelist living on a remote island who discovers a collection of artifacts washed ashore in a Hello Kitty lunchbox–possibly debris from the devastating 2011 tsunami. As the mystery of its contents unfolds, Ruth is pulled into the past, into Nao’s drama and her unknown fate, and forward into her own future.
18) Born A Crime
Noah’s path from apartheid South Africa to the desk of The Daily Show began with a criminal act: his birth. Born to a white Swiss father and a black Xhosa mother, at the time such a union was punishable by five years in prison. As he struggles to find himself in a world where he was never supposed to exist, his mother is determined to save her son from the cycle of poverty, violence, and abuse that would ultimately threaten her own life. With an incisive wit and unflinching honesty, Noah weaves together a moving yet funny portrait of a boy making his way through a damaged world in a dangerous time.
19) Three Women
Based on years of immersive reporting, and told with astonishing frankness and immediacy, Three Women is a groundbreaking portrait of erotic longing in today’s America, exposing the fragility, complexity, and inequality of female desire with unprecedented depth and emotional power
20) The Identicals – WAS READ
Harper Frost is laid-back, easygoing. She doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her. She likes a beer and a shot and wouldn’t be caught dead wearing anything fashionable. She’s inherited her father’s rundown house on Martha’s Vineyard, but she can’t hold down a job, and her latest romantic disaster has the entire island talking. Tabitha Frost is dignified, refined. She prefers a fine wine and has inherited the impeccable taste of her mother, the iconic fashion designer Eleanor Roxie-Frost. She’s also inherited her mother’s questionable parenting skills — Tabitha’s teenage daughter, Ainsley, is in full rebellion mode — and a flailing fashion boutique on Nantucket in desperate need of a cash infusion. After more than a decade apart, Harper and Tabitha switch islands — and lives — to save what’s left of their splintered family. But the twins quickly discover that the secrets, lies, and gossip they thought they’d outrun can travel between islands just as easily as they can. Will Harper and Tabitha be able to bury the hatchet and end their sibling rivalry once and for all? Before the last beach picnic of the season, there will be enough old resentments, new loves, and cases of mistaken identity to make this the most talked-about summer that Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket have experienced in ages.
21) America Is Not the Heart
by Elaine Castillo
When Hero De Vera arrives in America–haunted by the political upheaval in the Philippines and disowned by her parents–she’s already on her third. Her uncle gives her a fresh start in the Bay Area, and he doesn’t ask about her past. His younger wife knows enough about the might and secrecy of the De Vera family to keep her head down. But their daughter–the first American-born daughter in the family–can’t resist asking Hero about her damaged hands.
An increasingly relevant story told with startling lucidity, humor, and an uncanny ear for the intimacies and shorthand of family ritual, America Is Not the Heart is a sprawling, soulful debut about three generations of women in one family struggling to balance the promise of the American dream and the unshakeable grip of history. With exuberance, grit, and sly tenderness, here is a family saga; an origin story; a romance; a narrative of two nations and the people who leave one home to grasp at another.