In this series we ask authors, Guardian writers and readers to share what they’ve been reading recently. This month, recommendations include excellent nonfiction about migration, immersive romance novels and a sharp account of the coronavirus pandemic. Tell us what you’ve been reading in the comments.
Hannah Giorgis, writer
I read romance novels year-round, but something about the sun shining for more than three consecutive days makes me want nothing more than to lie in the grass with a whole pile of them. It’s not strictly a romance, but Corinne Hoex’s Gentlemen Callers is a scintillating portrait of a woman in pursuit of pleasure. I bought the novel, translated from French by Caitlin O’Neil, within minutes of reading this lovely essay in The Atlantic . The Sex Lives of African Women, meanwhile, offers an exhilaratingly frank series of confessional narratives anthologised by Nana Darkoah Sekyiamah. That one will take me some time to finish – I know I’m not ready to leave those stories behind.
I’m also still working my way through the intellectual revelation that is Nadia Nurhussein’s Black Land: Imperial Ethiopianism and African America. Nurhussein writes with clarity and critical precision about the significance and ironies of the singular position Ethiopia occupies in the diasporic imagination. Though her work is nonfiction, spending time with Nurhussein’s writing often prompts me to turn back toward Caribbean literature, especially novels and poetry. For me, and for many others, it was the indelible George Lamming who loomed especially large last month.
A Double-Edged Inheritance by Hannah Giorgis was shortlisted for the 2022 AKO Caine prize for African writing.
Russell, Guardian reader
I have recently read Devi Sridhar’s Preventable, probably the best account I have read of the response to the pandemic here and across the world. Her chief concern is that we should learn the lessons from what happened, in particular from those countries that dealt successfully with the outbreak by adopting a strategy of suppression, rather than containment. Currently, I’m enjoying Caroline Elkins’ Legacy of Violencedispelling myths about the “goodness” of the British empire with devastating evidence.
Adam Roberts, writer and professor
Deciding the Orwell prize for fiction, along with my excellent fellow judges, has been a wonderful experience, although it has also, inevitably, been pretty time-consuming – so many books to read! In the run-up to the announcement of the winner on the 14 July I reread the winner, Claire Keegan’s exquisite and amazing Small Things Like These. At a little more than 100 pages reading it doesn’t take long, but few books of any length are so penetrating, well-written or memorable. It’s the story of Bill Furlong, a 1980s coal merchant in a small Irish town, a decent family man who makes a delivery to a convent and discovers a neglected young girl working in the Magdalene laundry. Will he do the “right thing” by her? Keegan writes with exquisite clarity and penetration, and her 100 pages open us into a richer world than most writers could evoke with 1,000.
Freed from the requirement to read as a prize judge, I’m now … reading other award lists. The shortlist for the Clarke award, the UK’s blue-riband science fiction prize, has just been announcedso I’m diving into the two already nominated titles I haven’t read: Mercurio Rivera’s space-opera Wergen: the Alien Love War and Aliya Whiteley’s Skyward Inn. But at least I don’t have to decide who the winner will be!
The This by Adam Roberts is published by Orion. To support the Guardian and Observer order your copy at guardianbookshop.com. Delivery charges may apply.
Joshua Chizoma, writer
I’m currently reading Open Water by Caleb Azumah Nelson. I have been for quite a while now. Usually, I do my best to run through a book quickly. But something about the quality of writing in this book tells the reader to slow down, savor the elegance of every sentence, pause and ponder on the wisdom it shares. While I am usually not drawn to romance stories, I am intrigued by the love story in Open Water, to the point that I keep coming back to admire the insistence of the affection the primary characters share.
And a novel is not just about one thing, and this one also explores the interrogation of the black body as an alien in the UK. This is particularly interesting to me as a Nigerian writer who recently visited London for the first time. I had scarcely landed before I experienced my first case of racial profiling.
Open Water is also an excellent depiction of how art forms meander and meet each other. In it, photography, writing and music all come together so perfectly. It will stay with me for a long time. I know it.
Collector of Memories by Joshua Chizoma was shortlisted for the 2022 AKO Caine prize for African writing.
David Edgerton, editor
I have had the privilege of chairing the judges of the Orwell prize for political writing this year – so how could I not say something about our fantastic winner? Sally Hayden’s My Fourth Time, We Drowned: Seeking Refuge on the World’s Deadliest Migration Route is an extraordinary investigation of a topic that people deliberately ignore: the reality of the lives of migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean and get into Europe. What is especially rich about the book is that the migrants themselves speak not after the fact, but during their ordeals. So, although they are often out of sight when it comes to television and the usual forms of journalism, their stories are told through often secret exchanges on social media. And the way they tell their stories, and the way Hayden brings them to us, is extraordinarily compelling.
Two other books on our shortlist speak in different ways to these same themes. I was thinking about Kei Miller’s Things I Have Withheld when hearing about Mo Farah’s recent revelation that he was promoted into the UK as a child. Miller’s book is a beautifully written meditation on what is said, and what is unsaid; on what cannot be said; and on what it is to belong and not belong. It is also a study of violence and its impact, racial violence in particular. In the end, like Mo Farah, he speaks, but will we hear?
Michela Wrong’s Do Not Disturb: The Story of a Political Murder and an African Regime Gone Bad is also an account of what is not said and what is not heard, in this case about the Kagame regime in Rwanda to which the British government is proposing to deport the very people Sally Hayden writes about with such humanity. It is also a remarkable study in the exercise of power by a small elite, and systematic mendacity in politics – which also resonates with our current moment. All three books show us just how important it is that we tell each other the truth about power.
The Rise and Fall of the British Nation: A Twentieth-Century History by David Edgerton is published by Penguin.
Letlhogonolo Mokgoroaneco-founder of The Cheeky Natives podcast and judge for AKO Caine prize 2022
I was waiting for Warsan Shire’s eagerly awaited debut poetry collection Bless the Daughter Raised By a Voice in Her HeadI devoured this book greedily because I loved Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth. Shire’s writing and clarity of thought is a marvel. Her book transported me to various places and memories, it felt like a continuation of the important themes explored in the earlier book. I suspect that I am going to be reading this book for a long time.
After that delightful read, I moved on to Christopher by Nozuko Siyothulaan extraordinary debut that deals with loss and grief set in South Africa.
Okey Ndibechair of judges for AKO Caine prize 2022
Uwem Akpan’s debut novel, New York, My Villageis a worthy follow-up to his audacious story collection Say You’re One of Them. It’s a magisterial read, one of those rare novels that – because they are bristly, unsparing, challenging and capacious – are bound for timelessness but take their time winning fans.
There are two main story tracks in the novel – the tragic drama of Nigeria’s civil war told for the first time in a major novel through the perspective of the country’s minority ethnic groups, and the world of big-time publishing, fraught with myopia, racism and other cruelties.
I was a child during Nigeria’s ruinous war, often styled the Biafran war, in which more than two million people perished. As a witness to the war’s grimness – starvation, days marred by gunshots, the kaboom of mortars, ubiquitous death – the war stole my childhood innocence. As a young adult, I made a point of reading as many books on the war as I could find. But until I read Akpan’s book, it had not occurred to me that there was a lacuna in my understanding of the war.
Akpan’s novel offers a harrowing account of how the country’s hapless minority groups were often caught in a vice – trapped between brutish Biafran soldiers and savage Nigerian forces. I expect the book, in time, to herald a much-needed conversation in Nigeria not only about the full cost of the war but also about the meaning of Nigeria, a British-made entity that continues to confound its citizens as well as foreign observers .
The novel’s protagonist, Ekong, briefly relocates from Nigeria to New York – arguably the capital of book publishing – to hold a fellowship at a publishing company. His vantage point enables him – and us – to grasp the parochial impulses that inform what one might call the politics of publishing.
I can’t help wondering whether the novel’s unflattering portrait of the publishing industry is responsible for the lukewarm attention it has so far received.
Still, the novel does its work with such virtuosic power and incandescent intelligence that, inevitably, many readers will find it, find themselves enlarged by it, and fall in love with it.
Okey Ndibe is the author of the novels Arrows of Rain and Foreign Gods, Inc, and the memoir Never Look an American in the Eye. He’s just completed work on a novel titled Memories Lie in Water.