Midnight's Furies

"Named one of the best books of 2015 by NPR, Amazon, Seattle Times, and Shelf Awareness.

A  few bloody months in South Asia during the summer of 1947 explain the world that troubles us today.

Nobody expected the liberation of India and birth of Pakistan to be so bloody — it was supposed to be an answer to the dreams of Muslims and Hindus who had been ruled by the British for centuries. Jawaharlal Nehru, Gandhi’s protégé and the political leader of India, believed Indians were an inherently nonviolent, peaceful people. Pakistan’s founder, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, was a secular lawyer, not a firebrand.  But in August 1946, exactly a year before Independence, Calcutta erupted in street-gang fighting. A cycle of riots — targeting Hindus, then Muslims, then Sikhs — spiraled out of control. As the summer of 1947 approached, all three groups were heavily armed and on edge, and the British rushed to leave. Hell let loose. Trains carried Muslims west and Hindus east to their slaughter. Some of the most brutal and widespread ethnic cleansing in modern history erupted on both sides of the new border, searing a divide between India and Pakistan that remains a root cause of many evils. From jihadi terrorism to nuclear proliferation, the searing tale told in Midnight’s Furies explains all too many of the headlines we read today."

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Climbing the Mango Trees

"The enchanting autobiography of the seven-time James Beard Award-winning cookbook author and acclaimed actress who taught America how to cook Indian food.

Whether climbing the mango trees in her grandparents' orchard in Delhi or picnicking in the Himalayan foothills on meatballs stuffed with raisins and mint tucked into freshly baked spiced pooris, Madhur Jaffrey’s life has been marked by food, and today these childhood pleasures evoke for her the tastes and textures of growing up. Following Jaffrey from India to Britain, this memoir is both an enormously appealing account of an unusual childhood and a testament to the power of food to prompt memory, vividly bringing to life a lost time and place. Also included here are recipes for more than thirty delicious dishes from Jaffrey’s childhood."

A special thank you to book club member, Jo Jackson for the suggestion.

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The Devourers

"For readers of Neil Gaiman, Margaret Atwood, China Miéville, and David Mitchell comes a striking debut novel by a storyteller of keen insight and captivating imagination.

Named one of the best books of the year by the Washington Post & a Lambda Literary Award winner. 

On a cool evening in Kolkata, India, beneath a full moon, as the whirling rhythms of traveling musicians fill the night, college professor Alok encounters a mysterious stranger with a bizarre confession and an extraordinary story. Tantalized by the man’s unfinished tale, Alok will do anything to hear its completion so he agrees to transcribe a collection of battered notebooks, weathered parchments, and once-living skins.

From these documents, spills the chronicle of a race of people more than human, ruled by instincts and desires ages-old. The tale features a rough wanderer in 17th century India who finds himself irrevocably drawn to a defiant woman—and destined to be torn asunder by two clashing worlds. With every chapter of beauty and brutality, Alok’s interest in the stranger grows and evolves into something darker and more urgent.

Shifting dreamlike between present and past with intoxicating language, visceral action, compelling characters, and stark emotion, The Devourers offers a reading experience quite unlike any other novel."

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A Matter of Rats

"It is not only the past that lies in ruins in Patna, it is also the present. But that is not the only truth about the city that Amitava Kumar explores in this vivid, entertaining account of his hometown. We accompany him through many Patnas, the myriad cities locked within the city—the shabby reality of the present-day capital of Bihar; Pataliputra, the storied city of emperors; the dreamlike embodiment of the city in the minds and hearts of those who have escaped contemporary Patna's confines. Full of fascinating observations and impressions, A Matter of Rats reveals a challenging and enduring city that exerts a lasting pull on all those who drift into its orbit.

Kumar's ruminations on one of the world's oldest cities, the capital of India's poorest province, are also a meditation on how to write about place. His memory is partial. All he has going for him is his attentiveness. He carefully observes everything that surrounds him in Patna: rats and poets, artists and politicians, a girl's picture in a historian's study, and a sheet of paper on his mother's desk. The result is this unique book, as cutting as it is honest."

A special thank you to book club member, Ester Elbert for the suggestion.

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Pinjar

"Brought together in this volume are two of the most moving novels by one of India's greatest women writers, The Skeleton and The Man.

The Skeleton, translated from Punjabi into English by Khushwant Singh, is memorable for its lyrical style and depth in her writing. Known as the most important voice for the women in Punjabi literature, Amrita Pritam portrays the most inmost being of the novel's complex characters.

The Man is a compelling account of a young man born under strange circumstances and abandoned at the altar of God."

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The Windfall

"A People/TIME Magazine/Rolling Stone Pick. On Entertainment Weekly's Must-List & Esquire's Best 30 Books of 2017.

A charming satire, Basu unfolds the story of a family discovering what it means to 'make it' in modern India. Mr. and Mrs. Jha's lives have been defined by cramped spaces and the small dramas of stolen yoga pants and stale marriages. They'd settled comfortably into their golden years, pleased with their son’s acceptance into an American business school. But then Mr. Jha comes into an unexpected sum of money, and moves his wife from their housing complex to the super-rich side of town, where he becomes eager to fit in as a man of status: skinny ties, hired guards, and all.
 
The move sets off a chain of events that rock their neighbors, their marriage, and their son, who is struggling to keep a lid on his romantic dilemmas and slipping grades, and brings unintended consequences, ultimately forcing the Jha family to reckon with what really matters. Hilarious and wise, The Windfall illuminates with warmth and charm the precariousness of social status, the fragility of pride, and, above all, the human drive to build and share a home. Even the rich, it turns out, need to belong somewhere."

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Adios, Cowboy (aka Farewell, Cowboy)

"Dada's life is at a standstill in Zagreb—she’s sleeping with a married man, working a dead-end job, and even the parties have started to feel exhausting. So when her sister calls her back home to help with their aging mother, she doesn’t hesitate to leave the city behind. But she arrives to find her mother hoarding pills, her sister chain-smoking, her long-dead father’s shoes still lined up on the steps, and the cowboy posters of her younger brother Daniel (who threw himself under a train four years ago) still on the walls.

Hoping to free her family from the grip of the past, Dada vows to unravel the mystery of Daniel’s final days. This debut by a poet from Croatia’s 'lost generation' explores a beautiful Mediterranean town’s darkest alleys: the bars where secrets can be bought, the rooms where bodies can be sold, the streets and houses where blood is shed. By the end of the long summer, the lies, lust, feuds, and frustration will come to a violent and hallucinatory head."

Note: This book may be listed under the title Adios, Cowboy or Farewell, Cowboy.

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44 Months in Jasenovac

"An eyewitness account of a prisoner in Jasenovac, a concentration camp in the former Yugoslavia [now Croatia] during WWII. 

For every 100,000 people in the Jasenovac camp during its horrifying four-year existence, there was only one—literally one—who survived. Those were the odds in the balance of life and death: 100,000 dead and one alive.

And there is a witness who found the strength to reminisce, to go back to the place of his torture, to break the psychological barriers, and to lead us step by step through his nightmare, through waves of terror that exceed every notion of horror. From the beginning of his time at Jasenovac to the end, Egon Berger was witness—and victim—to a rampage without limit. Of those who survived, he is the only one who told the story.

Berger does not bring us a literary masterpiece—he brings us only the experience, a story about 44 months of his life in a camp, told simply. The story is enough—a story that calls images to mind and makes us tremble with the thought, 'Are such things possible?'"

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Beauty of the Beast (aka Beauty of Beast)

Though not a gruesome book, this is a dark, gritty novel written by the award-winning "Croatian Queen of Horror" and beloved by many. Different from the other vampire books out there, this novel centers on the Balkan conflicts of the early 1990s with gothic, war vampires drawn by the slaughter on battlefields.

"Viktoria, a young and not particularly talented painter, comes across war vampires in the middle of war-torn Croatia in 1992. She becomes obsessed with them, but socializing with vampires is dangerous. One of them attacks and infects her with what she believes is AIDS. To save herself, she leaves with the oldest of the vampires on an adventure that will prolong her life forever...or end it."

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The Hotel Tito

"The Hotel Tito is an award-winning autobiographical novel of the Serbo-Croatian War.

Author Ivana Bodrozic was born in the Croatian town of Vukovar, just across the Danube from Serbia. In 1991, Vukovar was besieged by the Yugoslav People's Army for 87 days. When the army broke the siege,  women and children were allowed out of the city, but the army bused 400 men to a farm on the outskirts where soldiers massacred them. Bodrozic's father was among those taken and murdered. In The Hotel Tito, after fleeing the war zone their town has become, the mother and two children are housed along with other displaced persons at a former communist school. For years, they share a single room just large enough for their three beds, waiting to hear whether the narrator's father survived and when they'll be granted an apartment of their own.

In the meantime, life goes on for the teenage protagonist, first loves bloom and burn quickly, new friendships are acquired and lost, new truths emerge. But she never loses her shy, insightful voice, nor her self-deprecating sense of humor. The Hotel Tito is a sensitive and forthright coming of age novel in a time of atrocity and loss."

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Karoke Culture

"Finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in the category of Criticism.

Over the past three decades, Ugresic has established herself as one of Europe's greatest—and most entertaining—thinkers and creators, and it's in her essays that Ugresic is at her sharpest. With laser focus, she pierces our pop culture, dissecting the absurdity of daily life with a wit and style that's all her own.

Whether it's commentary on jaded youth, the ways technology has made us soft in the head, or how wrestling a hotel minibar into a bathtub is the best way to stick it to The Man, Ugresic writes with unmatched honesty and panache. Karaoke Culture is full of candid, personal, and opinionated accounts of topics ranging from the baffling worldwide-pop-culture phenomena to the detriments of conformist nationalism. Sarcastic, biting, and, at times, even heartbreaking, this new collection of essays fully captures the outspoken brilliance of Ugresic's insights into our modern world's culture and conformism, the many ways in which it is ridiculous, and how (deep, deep down) we are all true suckers for it."

A special thank you to book club member, Neha Mehta for the suggestion.

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Zagreb Noir

"Eastern European history is filled with harrowing tales, and Zagreb, the capital city of Croatia, certainly has its fill. Continuing its groundbreaking series of original noir anthologies, Akashic Books again sets its series of dark crime stories in a distinct neighborhood with a curated group of diverse and powerful narratives that offer tremendous insight into the perspectives of modern day Croatians.

'Zagreb's noirish underbelly comes from a new nation familiar with both war and war crimes. Mr. Srsen's handpicked selections are anything but ordinary.'
- New York Journal of Books

'An inherently fascinating and entertaining read from beginning to end.'
- Midwest Book Review"

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Memoirs of a Woman Doctor

"Rebelling against the constraints of family and society, a young Egyptian woman decides to study medicine, becoming the only woman in a class of men. Her encounters with the other students - as well as with male and female corpses in the autopsy room - intensify her search for identity. She realises that men are not gods, as her mother had taught her, that science cannot explain everything, and that she cannot be satisfied by living a life purely of the mind. After a brief and unhappy marriage, she throws herself into her work, becoming a successful and wealthy doctor. But at the same time, she becomes more aware of the injustice and hypocrisy in society. She comes to find fulfillment, not in isolation, but through her relationship with others. This novel will enhance Dr. Nawal El Saadawi's international reputation as a writer of power and compassion, deeply committed to the rights of Arab women."

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City of Love and Ashes

"'Like the Russian aristocrats of Chekhov, the provincial bourgeoisie of Flaubert, or the Ibo villagers of Achebe, Idris raises his authentic characters into convincing types within their context: he makes us live their agonies and hopes.' - Ferial Ghazoul.

Cairo, January 1952. Egypt is at a critical point in its modern history, struggling to throw off the yoke of the seventy-year British occupation and its corrupt royalist allies. Hamza is a committed young radical, his goal to build a secret armed brigade to fight for freedom, independence, and national self-esteem. Fawziya is a woman with a mission too, keen to support the cause. Among the ashes of the city love may grow, but at a time of national struggle what place do personal feelings have beside the greater love for a shackled homeland? In this finely crafted novel, Yusuf Idris, best known as the master of the Arabic short story, brings to life not only some of the most human characters in modern Arabic fiction but the soul of Cairo itself and the soul of a national consciousness focused on liberation."

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In the Eye of the Sun

"'This densely detailed, richly textured novel impeccably recreates the milieus of Cairo & London as it recounts the maturing of Asya, a beautiful Egyptian. ... Her impressive and only slightly overlong novel [at 801 pages], with its acutely observed vision of male-female relations as a series of complex power struggles, suggests the emergence of a major new talent.' - Publishers Weekly

Set amidst the turmoil of contemporary Middle Eastern politics, this vivid and highly-acclaimed novel by an Egyptian journalist is an intimate look into the lives of Arab women today. Here, a woman who grows up among the Egyptian elite, marries a Westernized husband, and, while pursuing graduate study, becomes embroiled in a love affair with an uncouth Englishman."

A special thank you to book club member, Julie Jacobs for the suggestion.

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Midaq Alley

"Widely acclaimed as Naguib Mahfouz's best novel, Midaq Alley brings to life one of the hustling, teeming back alleys of Cairo in the 1940s. From Zaita the cripple-maker to Kirsha the hedonistic cafe owner, from Abbas the barber who mistakes greed for love to Hamida who sells her soul to escape the alley, from waiters and widows to politicians, pimps, and poets, the inhabitants of Midaq Alley vividly evoke Egypt's largest city as it teeters on the brink of change. Never has Nobel Prize-winner Mahfouz's talent for rich and luxurious storytelling been more evident than here, in his portrait of one small street as a microcosm of the world on the threshold of modernity."

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Murder in the Tower of Happiness

"'A vivid depiction of slices of Egyptian life, the title and summary of Murder in the Tower of Happiness may make it sound like a standard sort of mystery -- and there is indeed a murder at its heart -- but it is far from most conventional crime fiction.' The Complete Review

A fast-paced city thriller laced with dry humor takes us inside Borg al-Saada (Tower of Happiness), one of the luxury high-rises planted like alien bodies amid the fields along the Nile south of Cairo and inside the sordid lives and lavish lifestyles of its super rich and famous denizens. The naked, strangled body of a beautiful young actress, is discovered in one of the elevators, and as the police investigation gets under way, we meet many of the tower's strange characters: the owner's agent, overweight, toupeed, and decked in gold chains; the wealthy contractor insomniac; a psychic with a Ph.D. in genetic engineering from MIT; Farah, his erstwhile sweetheart, who has become one of the very candy dolls she used to scorn; a belly-dancer who would be able to see Timbuktu if she stood on top of a pile of all her money; the society lady from Chile; and the homely doctor somewhat less well off than his neighbors. And of course there is the naughty boy who roams the tower, enters apartments, and overhears conversations, unsettling and exposing the decadent occupants and their relationships."

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The Queue

Winner of the English PEN Translation Award

"In a surreal, but familiar, vision of modern day Egypt, a centralized authority known as ‘the Gate’ has risen to power in the aftermath of the ‘Disgraceful Events,’ a failed popular uprising. Citizens are required to obtain permission from the Gate in order to take care of even the most basic of their daily affairs, yet the Gate never opens, and the queue in front of it grows longer.

Citizens from all walks of life mix and wait in the sun: a revolutionary journalist, a sheikh, a poor woman concerned for her daughter’s health, and even the brother of a security officer killed in clashes with protesters. Among them is Yehia, a man who was shot during the Events and is waiting for permission from the Gate to remove a bullet that remains lodged in his pelvis. Yehia’s health steadily declines, yet at every turn, officials refuse to assist him, actively denying the very existence of the bullet. Ultimately it is Tarek, the principled doctor tending to Yehia’s case, who must decide whether to follow protocol as he has always done, or to disobey the law and risk his career to operate on Yehia and save his life.

Written with dark, subtle humor, The Queue describes the sinister nature of authoritarianism, and illuminates the way that absolute authority manipulates information, mobilizes others in service to it, and fails to uphold the rights of even those faithful to it."

A special thank you to book club member, Aisha Esbhani  for the suggestion.

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The Head of the Saint

"A 2017 LA Times Book Prize Finalist

A quirky story of love, mischief, and forgiveness from Brazil’s foremost award-winning author for young readers, in her U.S. debut. 
 
Fourteen-year-old Samuel is newly orphaned and homeless in a small town in Brazil. He lives in a giant, hollow, concrete head of St. Anthony, the lingering evidence of the village’s inept and failed attempt to build a monolith over a decade ago. He didn’t know what it was when he crawled into it, seeking shelter during a storm, but since coming there, he hears beautiful singing, echoing like magic in the head twice a day. So he stays.

Miraculously, he can also hear the private prayers and longings of the villagers. Feeling mischievous, Samuel begins to help answer these prayers, hoping that if he does, their noise will quiet down and he can listen to the beautiful singing in peace. Ironically, his miracles gain him so many fans that he starts to worry he will never fulfill his own true longing and find the source of the singing. 
 
Filled with beautiful turns of phrase and wonderfully quirky characters, The Head of the Saint is a riotous story of faith and magic that won’t soon leave your thoughts."

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And Still the Earth

"Welcome to São Paulo, Brazil, in the not too distant future. Water is scarce, garbage clogs the city, movement is restricted, and the System—sinister, omnipotent, secret—rules its subjects' every moment and thought. Here, Souza (the name is as common in Portuguese as Smith is in English) is a kind of Brazilian Everyman, struggling to preserve his integrity and hope in the face of tyranny. 

In a strikingly Brazilian way, Mr. Brandao has written a cautionary anti-Utopian novel in the tradition of Yevgeny Zamyatin's We or George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four. Virtually all the phenomena Mr. Brandao describes have some real-life counterparts in the Brazil ruled by the military from 1964 until 1985. Despite the very Brazilian flavor of Mr. Brandao's writing and concerns, though, And Still the Earth makes compelling reading for foreigners. The conditions he describes and the grim future he foresees for his city may also await Lagos, Calcutta, Shanghai and Mexico City. And Still the Earth stands with Loyola Brandão's Zero as one of the author's greatest, and darkest, achievements. Yet Mr. Brandao is an optimist. His title, after all, recalls Galileo's response to his inquisitors after they forced him to recant his proof that the earth revolves around the sun: 'E pur si muove' - 'and still it moves.' At novel's end, the human spirit cannot be destroyed or dominated."

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