Looking for something to read this month? We have a suggestion or four! Welcome to an experiment: a Fusion monthly reading list. Fix yourself a cup of cocoa, hunt down one of the seven dozen bookmarks you've managed to lose around your apartment, find a cozy spot, and dive in.
This month's selections have a few similarities binding them together. Three of our picks are by African writers (from Nigeria and Kenya), the bulk of our stories deal with female characters making sense of their surroundings and of their places within them, and a good chunk of our selections show how history dictates, or at least greatly informs, the circumstances of our lives today. All deal with a profound sadness (Yeah, these are, like. Really sad. Apologies for getting "Vincent from the video store" on you guys.), some are uplifting, all of them are written in beautiful, sometimes challenging prose.
Boy, Snow, Bird - Helen Oyeyemi
Oyeyemi's latest novel reimagines the classic tale of Snow White in a way that takes the familiar tale of one woman's obsession with appearance and wraps it tight in the mundane horror of contemporary views on race and beauty. The story focuses on Boy, a woman who finds herself transforming into a wicked stepmother to her husband's child, Snow Whitman, after giving birth to a baby she names Bird. Bird is dark-skinned, revealing to the world that the Whitman family is of black descent, passing for white. All three women become obsessed with mirrors, reflections, appearance, and the fluid nature of who we are and if we ever can really find out what that is.
Slate's review says that the story "defies classification, seeming to dip its toes in one genre, say magical realism, hop out, and settle into historical fiction or fractured fairy tale."
Prayers for the Stolen - Jennifer Clement
Set partially in Guerrero, Mexico, Prayers for the Stolen follows Ladydi Garcia Martínez (named for Princess Diana) as she copes with growing up in a town shattered by drug lords and the regular disappearances of women, a town where young girls dress like boys or paint their teeth to look rotted in the hopes that men will leave them alone. Guerrero is a place where abducted women learn to mark themselves with cigarette burns so that, if recovered, their corpses will tell their stories. Ladydi hopes that a new job working for a wealthy family in Acapulco will bring her a better life, but learns firsthand that the cartels' influence is far-reaching, extending beyond her childhood home, beyond a place dotted with holes for women to hide in.
Clement wrote that, while conducting research for her novel, she "interviewed the girlfriends, wives and daughters of drug traffickers and quickly came to realize that Mexico is a warren of hidden women. They hide in places that look like supermarkets or grocery stores on the outside, but that are really hiding places with false façades; in the basements of convents, where women live with their children and have not seen daylight for years; and in privately-owned hotels that are rented by the government — a surreal, Third World concept of a Witness Protection Program."
Dust - Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor
After Ajany returns from Brazil to bury her murdered brother in Kenya, she finds her story, and her grief, intertwined with those of an Englishman seeking answers, a policeman reopening a cold case, and a mother who has run away. Through this, the story of one family's mourning becomes part of Kenya's history, folded into revolution, upheaval, and a cry for change.
The New York Times' Sunday Book Review says Owuor's novel "moves as the human mind moves: forward and backward, incoherent, indulgent, lingering on the light on a tree, sliding into murky reverie…Ultimately, the disjointed prose mirrors brilliantly the fragmented nature of both memory-keeping and nation-building. This is form as content, a text in the shape of its subject."
Americanah - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
You might recognize Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie as the woman sampled on Beyoncé's "Flawless" (the discussion on feminism was taken from Adichie's 2012 TEDx Talk presentation, "We Should All Be Feminists"). Her newest novel centers on Ifemelu and Obinze, who fall in love in Nigeria. When Ifemelu must leave her hometown — and Obinze — to escape military rule, she finds it difficult to adjust to life in America, particularly its attitudes towards race and what that means for her future with Obinze.
The Guardian says that "There are some novels that tell a great story and others that make you change the way you look at the world. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Americanah is a book that manages to do both."
Read them. Spend some time with them. And let me know what you think.
Have any recommendations for April's list? Are you or do you represent a writer whose work you'd like considered? Email me at email@example.com and let me know.