Most of my reading so far this year has been of Twitter and news sites, usually accompanied by an expression of disbelief and/or horror, but I did manage to fit in a few books too. Here’s what I read in January:
I’ve set myself a target of reading at least one book in French and one in Spanish per month, so I started with Chanson douce by French-Moroccan author Leïla Slimani. Based on the real-life case of a nanny who murdered two children, it focuses on a young Parisian couple who hire a woman to look after their kids when their mother goes back to work. It was the 2016 winner of the Prix Goncourt, France’s most prestigious literary prize, and well-deservedly so – it’s beautifully written, thought-provoking and disturbing, without being gratuitously violent. My first 5-star read of the year!
The other French books I read this month were Vous n’aurez pas ma haine – published as You Will Not Have My Hate in English – an incredibly moving short memoir by Antoine Leiris, whose wife died in the Bataclan attack in 2015, and Le jardin arc-en-ciel by Ito Ogawa, a translation from Japanese. I had high hopes for this one, as it’s about a lesbian couple who leave Tokyo to raise their two young kids in the countryside, but was rather let down by the ending. It’s an enjoyable read, though, and I did like how it discussed gay rights and difficulties faced by same-sex couples in Japan.
I read another Japanese book this month: The Guest Cat by Takashi Hiraide, a short and deceptively simple book about a couple of Tokyo freelancers and Chibi, the neighbours’ cat who comes to visit them. (My girlfriend and I also work from home and have our own guest cat, Gateau, so I felt it was speaking to me on some level!) It’s a really nice little book, though I felt the translation was a bit stilted at points – there were a few things that jarred, and a couple of sentences I had to read two or three times to get the gist.
Next I moved onto Guapa by Saleem Haddad, about a gay man living in a post-Arab Spring dictatorship. Set over just one day, it begins with his grandmother catching him in bed with his boyfriend of three years and goes on to describe his daily life and work, his time spent studying in the US after 9/11, and the political situation in his (unnamed) country. The structure unravels a little towards the end, but on the whole I loved it – it’s so rich, so dense, and very smart and nuanced. For a debut, in particular, it’s very impressive. I’m looking forward to whatever he writes next.
I read two excellent YA books this month, the first being A Quiet Kind of Thunder by Sara Barnard. In my view, it’s one of the best contemporary UKYA titles of the past few years: the characters, a selectively mute girl called Steffi and a deaf boy called Rhys, are so well done, and the story is super endearing and just really sweet. (I had to put it down to ‘aww’ over it quite a few times.) After that, I read We Are the Ants by Shaun David Hutchinson, which was brilliant – a sometimes bleak, but often very funny and sweet story about a gay teenager regularly abducted by aliens, who give him the opportunity to save the world (or not).
The third YA was my monthly Spanish book, Heima es hogar en islandés by Laia Soler. I visited Iceland a couple of years ago, so this brought back lots of nice memories – it’s about a Spanish girl who, needing a break from her parents and her ex-boyfriend, goes to the airport, hops on a random flight to Reykjavik and takes a trip around the country. I’m not sure if it’s actually marketed as YA, as the characters are in their early 20s, but I’d definitely recommend it for YA fans or Spanish learners – it’s well written, but the language isn’t too complicated at all.
Similarly, I also read Aluta by Adwoa Badoe, about college students in Ghana in the 1980s caught up in political unrest – not technically a YA, but certainly fits the bracket. Finally, I got around to Sofia Khan is Not Obliged by Ayisha Malik, about a 30-year-old English hijabi commissioned to write a book on Muslim dating. I really loved this: it’s so witty, the characters are brilliant, and the ending was Richard Curtis-level heartwarming. The sequel, out in April, has shot right up my TBR list.
Next: I’m dipping into Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari, and I’ve just started Ink by Alice Broadway – one of many 2017 releases I’m excited to read!