While these recommendations might seem, in early July, a bit late, I’ve had the opportunity to read incredible books that didn’t happen to be on my list.
Marilynne Robinson is likely to become the most esteemed American writer of this era. She has something to say about an ethic of forgiveness and imperfection, and I recommend most highly her two novels, “Housekeeping” and “Gilead.”
Rahib Alameddine is a gay Lebanese writer who has written the best (so far) AIDS novel, “Koolaids: The Art of War.” Set in a brutal period of the Lebanese Civil War (i.e., post Israeli invasion) it is about death, and what meaning (if any) can be retained in the face of indifference, violence, and prejudice. His most recent novel, “The Hakawati” (which means story teller) features a gay Muslim story teller who tells of four generations of his Lebanese family, mixing Christianity, Druze, Sunni, Shi’ia, and Jewish.
I hope everyone has the opportunity to read Samir El-Youssef’s “The Illusion of Return.” This Palestinian writer was raised in a refugee camp and, holding out hope that Israelis might recognize that they supplamented an ancient, agrarian, peaceful culture, has collaborated with Israeli author Etgar Keret on conditions in the Gaza. For El-Youssef, the return of the Palestinians is an illusion–the will to return has been undermined by exhaustion, violence, poverty, and despair. On the other hand, exile is the condition of humanity, an idea explored in the final section, in which a Palestinian encounters an old Jewish man from the Pale.
Uwem Akpan is a Nigerian Jesuit priest whose collection of short stories, “Say You’re One of Them,” focuses on the stories of children in five (or so) African countries. His writing induces humility, shame, and wonder in the reader, who knows she has only 2-3 degrees of separation from this reality. In one story, a young girl is told by her Tutsi mother (in Rwanda) to “say you’re one of them” when the Hutu soldiers arrive. It’s not that simple, and neither are the situations of the other African children.