17 standout books of 2017 that you must read
Bookworms will be spoilt for choice
Sparkling new voices, curious genre-hybrids, future classics,and a stirring portrait of our time—2017’s standout books gave us everything. Arundhati Roy’s much awaited The Ministry Of Utmost Happiness didn’t disappoint, as Roy harnessed the dizzying plot with provocative prose and political erudition. Man Booker international prize winner David Grossman’s novel, A Horse Walks Into A Bar, focuses on a stand-up comic who begins to unspool on stage before an enthralled audience. But don’t go looking for loud laughs, this one is hard-hitting and unpredictable.
Of course, for a year filled with big wins for feminism, you can’t bypass South And West: From A Notebook by Joan Didion. Notes from the great American essayist’s arduous road trip through the American South in 1970, and her life in liberal, geologically-precarious California, make up this unsparing, eerily prescient portrait of a fractured America.
And there’s plenty more.
18 books to binge read on
A woman goes looking for her estranged husband in the south of Greece, where she’s met with charred landscapes, ominous symbolism, shifty locals and a shocking answer to where he is. In this novel full of menace and unease, Kitamura gives us a unique heroine—distant, bloodless and completely affecting.
Only once she moved to the US, was Gidla able to reflect on her life as a Dalit in India without the muddying effect of shame. The result is this brutally clear-eyed memoir of a family locked in a matrix-like caste system and the promise of an independent India that never did include them.
A cascade of outliers, including a graveyard-dwelling eunuch, strain for self-actualisation in a society drawn by caste, class and religion. Roy harnesses the dizzying plot with provocative prose and political erudition, proving the 20-year wait for her second novel has been well worth it.
The Kannada author has been compared to Kafka for this wry novella about an impoverished Bengaluru family undone by sudden good fortune. Paranoia, betrayal and imaginative ant-murder, are gifts of this new life. Srinath Perur’s excellent translation does right by Shanbhag’s debut in English.
Trees represent everything we should aspire to be—they’re steady, selfless, economic, abundant and unrehearsed. In this genre-defying tribute, the Siliguri-based author draws on literature, science, myth and philosophy, and her own life, to tell of her preternatural obsession with flora. Roy wants to be a tree, romance trees and have tree children—and it makes perfect sense.
In a small Israeli town, a stand-up comic begins to unspool on stage before an enthralled audience. Among them is a friend from the past who doesn’t know why he’s been called there. The winner of this year’s Man Booker International Prize, this novel about comedy (translated by Jessica Cohen)isn’t even a little funny.
Notes from the great American essayist’s arduous road trip through the American South in 1970, and her life in liberal, geologically-precarious California, make up this unsparing, eerily prescient portrait of a fractured America. The 50 years since she jotted them have made her observations only more pertinent.
In this modern-day reimagining of Antigone, a Muslim girl in London and her older sister cut ties when the latter leads the police to their jihadist brother. The entry of the son of a powerful British Muslim politician into the sisters’ lives complicates things: will he end up a lover, or merely a pawn in the bid to save their brother? Her evocative style and nuanced study of the collision of family, faith and love made Shamsie a hot favourite for this year’s Booker Prize.
A daughter of Turkish immigrants has arrived for her first year at Harvard. She signs up for classes willy-nilly, makes a Serbian BFF, and stumbles into a letters-only romance with a Hungarian student over email, which is brand new in 1995. Batuman draws a layered, tenderly droll portrait of life on the cusp of finding yourself, discovering your art and tasting the inscrutability of love.
Chatty-Cathy ghosts are Abraham Lincoln’s young, dead son’s company in purgatory, where he’s stuck because his father can’t let go, even as the Civil War ravages the country. The renowned short story writer’s first novel won this year’s Man Booker Prize for its wildly inventive and deeply compassionate meditation on love, loss and moving on.
Ex-girlfriends-turned-BFFs Frances and Bobbi meet a rich older couple and begin to grow apart when Frances has an affair with the husband she affects not to care about. Rooney is being called the ‘Salinger for the Snapchat Generation’ for this sharp, succinct novel about the betrayal of being young and female.
This collection of personal essays by the BuzzFeed Canada writer gives the immigrant memoir a millennial shot in the arm. To be brown in a white country, even one as multicultural as Canada, is a source of unasked-for comedy, and Koul details her identity crises with an irresistible mix of insouciance and fatalism
Forget your search history; what would your reading history say about you? Paul, the editor of The New York Times Book Review has kept a Book of Books (the titular BOB) of everything she’s ever read in the last 28 years. With sweetness and insight, she traces the evolution of her inner life, reflected in the books she chose, and the ones that chose her.
A young boy and his deeply dysfunctional family drive across Mississippi to meet his father, who’s been released from jail. Along the way, they encounter danger, illness and the ghost of a former inmate who has much to teach the boy. Ward’s visceral road novel won her her second National Book Award (USA), making her the first woman to ever do so.
This debut collection, narrated by adolescent daughters of artist families who escaped imperial China, only to slum it in America, is the first from Lena Dunham’s Lenny imprint. Poet and essayist Zhang’s frank voice and black humour animate these young girls’ coming-of-age, as they struggle to make sense of their past, present, poverty and puberty.
An ageing womaniser, ex-alcoholic and India’s greatest living painter, is returning to New Delhi from New York for a final showing of his work. The journey back is a rambunctious, meandering affair peopled with weirdos from every walk of life. Thayil conducts this orchestra of voices into a bracing commentary on God,sex, death and art.
Ten years ago, the Vietnamese artist began to learn how to draw, expressly in order to tell the story of her family’s escape to America from ’70s war-torn Vietnam. The elegiac art and simple prose capture the refugee experience for the absurd-yet-totally-relatable event it is (families act like families no matter where and in what condition they are). It is the haunting reminder that these subjects of dreary, distant-sounding headlines are not so very different from us at all.