genre literature

The Fallen

A powerful, unsettling portrait of ordinary family life in Cuba, Carlos Manuel Álvarez’s debut novel The Fallen is a masterful portrayal of a society in free fall.

Diego, the son, is disillusioned and bitter about the limited freedoms his country offers him. Mariana, the mother, is unwell and forced to relinquish her control over the home to her daughter, Maria, who has left school and is working as a chambermaid in one of the state-owned tourist hotels. The father, Armando, is a committed revolutionary who is sickened by the corruption he perceives all around him.

In meticulously charting the disintegration of a family, The Fallen offers a poignant reflection on contemporary Cuba and the clash of the ardent idealism of the old guard with the jaded pragmatism of the young.”

”A beautiful and painful novel that demonstrates the power of fiction to pursue the unutterable.” - Alejandro Zambra, author of Multiple Choice

(Suggested by Mia DeGiovine Chaveco, book club co-founder)

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Havana is a Really Big City

These humorous and poignant stories that illustrate everyday life in contemporary Havana will challenge the reader's assumptions about the Cuban reality.

Themes of class, race, gender, and sexuality are artfully interwoven in humorous and poignant narratives that make the reader pause to rethink her/his views or assumptions about Cuba and about life. This groundbreaking collection of her work, most of which is available for the first time in English translation, includes La habana es una ciudad bien grande in its entirety as well as other selected stories.

Wildcat21 says: ‘Yanez portrays Cuba as a familiar place, the well-known small-town feel. Each story introduces us to a character, ranging from children to adults to a dog, who tells us a personal account of the highs and lows of life. Each story is so different, covering a variety of themes such as sadness for lost loved ones, unhappiness with life, coming of age, and love. These stories are original and down to earth, and the emotions that flow from character to character and story to story are completely relatable. Yanez weaves so much emotion into such few words. She writes as though she's a good friend just telling you stories.’

(A special thank you to book club member, Beth Cummings for the suggestion.)

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The Collected Short Stories of Gopal Baratham

“The writer possesses a technically excellent prose style, so smooth that it slips down the reader’s throat like a well-made Singapore Sling.”— The Hindu

“This exciting collection brings together thirty-nine of the late Dr. Gopal Baratham’s characteristic and revered pieces. In his usual blunt, strong and controversial style, Baratham’s socio-political critiques are ‘peopled’ by characters from virtually every background and class—with their frustrated hopes, wild illusions and excesses.

Paired with a stylistic and evolving narrative voice, as seen in dialogue that fluctuates from poetic to quirky, this writer’s ambivalent medium is also his message. Readers are drawn into the depth of his work, and left with a sympathetic, sensitive understanding of events, people, actions and the complexities of relationships

(Submitted by Ivor Watkins, book club moderator.)

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Kappa Quartet

Shortlisted for the Singapore Book Awards (Best Book Cover Design)

Epigram Books Fiction Prize Longlist

”Kevin is a young man without a soul, holidaying in Tokyo; Mr. Five, the enigmatic kappa, is the man he so happens to meet. Little does Kevin know that kappas—the river demons of Japanese folklore—desire nothing more than the souls of other humans.

Set between Singapore and Japan, Kappa Quartet is split into eight discrete sections, tracing the rippling effects of this chance encounter across a host of other characters, connected and bound to one another in ways both strange and serendipitous. Together they ask one another: what does it mean to be in possession of something nobody has seen before?”

After reading this novel, some reviewers have cited a comparison to the author Murakami while others have noted some flashes of suppressed terror more Kafkaesque. Each section narrated by a different character loosely intertwined together is certainly reminiscent of David Mitchell's better work with that same thrill you find in connecting the characters & discovering different facets of the story.

(Submitted by Mia DeGiovine Chaveco, book club co-founder.)

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The Last Lesson of Mrs De Souza

“With its deep probing look at the teaching profession, it unveils a rich array of themes and most compellingly, the nature of perhaps the most noble and difficult of vocations.” - Boey Kim Cheng, author of Clear Brightness

“One last time and on her birthday, Rose de Souza is returning to school to give a final lesson to her classroom of secondary school boys before retiring from her long teaching career. What ensues is an unexpected confession in which she recounts the tragic and traumatic story of Amir, a student from her past who overturned the way she saw herself as a teacher, and changed her life forever.

The stunning first novel from award-winning poet Cyril Wong, The Last Lesson of Mrs de Souza is a tour de force, an exceptional examination of the power of choice and the unreliability of memory.”

(Submitted by Ivor Watkins, book club moderator.)

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Ponti

With perspectives from three different women & a narrative which jumps across different time periods, this novel experiments with an unusual and original construct to reflect the very fractured nature of relationships across space and time.

An award-winning fiction debut about the value of friendships in present-day Singapore—a surprising and powerful portrait of Asia that shows the unique blend of modern and traditional cultures coming together.

’I am Miss Frankenstein, I am the bottom of the bell curve.’ So declares Szu, a teenager living in a dark, dank house, at the beginning of this richly atmospheric and endlessly surprising tale of non-belonging and isolation.

Friendless and fatherless, Szu lives in the shadow of her mother Amisa, once a beautiful actress—who gained fame for her portrayal of a ghost—and now a hack medium performing séances with her sister in a rusty house. When Szu meets the privileged, acid-tongued Circe, an unlikely encounter develops into a fraught friendship that will haunt them both for decades to come.

With remarkable emotional acuity, dark comedy, and in vivid prose, Sharlene Teo’s Ponti traces the suffocating tangle the lives of four misfits, women who need each other as much as they need to find their own way. It is an astounding portrayal of the gaping loneliness of adolescence, the surrealness of the modern city, and the strangeness of living with and loving other people.”

(A special thank you to book club member, Patty Gilles Winpenny for the suggestion.)

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The Happy City

“‘I feel terrible. Although he doesn't say it, I know he had been hoping the whole time that I would explain it all somehow; but I can't explain it, because I don't understand anything.’ These disturbing words, almost a distillation of the entire text, close the novel The Happy City by Elvira Navarro, who featured in Granta’s The Best of Young Spanish-language Novelists issue in 2010.

The stories of Chi-Huei—a Chinese boy whose family has come to Spain in search of a better life—and his friend Sara—a girl strangely fascinated by a homeless man—comprise two separate yet complementary sections, presenting the reader with a detailed account of their life circumstances and the nuances of their perspectives: the genuine, as-yet untamed voices through which the book’s pre-adolescent protagonists negotiate the world around them, their initial astonishment finally turning to frustration as they gaze upon their dehumanized society.

A pre-teen’s first faltering steps towards sexuality, social pressures, the way polarized outlooks on life coexist at the core of the same family, those first experiences of disillusionment as we awaken into the adult world: these are some of the themes that Navarro lays out for her readers in order to reveal, with razor-sharp control, the constant duality that exists between the outward appearance of things and their inner reality.”

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A Heart So White

Winner of the IMPAC Dublin Award, and widely considered Javier Marías's masterpiece, A Heart So White is a breathtaking novel about family secrets that chronicles the relentless power of the past using stream of consciousness writing.

Juan knows little of the interior life of his father Ranz; but when Juan marries, he begins to consider the past anew, and begins to ponder what he doesn't really want to know. Secrecy--its possible convenience, its price, and even its civility--hovers throughout the novel. A Heart So White becomes a sort of anti-detective story of human nature. Intrigue; the sins of the father; the fraudulent and the genuine; marriage and strange repetitions of violence: Marías elegantly sends shafts of inquisitory light into shadows and onto the costs of ambivalence.”

(A special thank you to book club member, Kimberley Palsat for the suggestion.)

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Depeche Mode

“The Ukrainian version of Trainspotting, bluntly nihilistic and unexpectedly hilarious.

In 1993, tragic turbulence takes over Ukraine in the post-communist spin-off. As if in somnambulism, Soviet war veterans and upstart businessmen listen to an American preacher of whose type there were plenty at the time in the post-Soviet territory. In Kharkiv, the young communist head quarters are now an advertising agency, and a youth radio station creates a feature on the Irish folk band Depeche Mode and the role of the harmonica in the struggle against capitalist oppression. And so the Western songs make their way into ordinary Ukrainian homes of ordinary people.

In the middle of this craze, three friends—an anti-Semitic Jew Dog Pavlov, an unfortunate entrepreneur Vasia the Communist and the narrator Zhadan, nineteen years of age and unemployed—seek to find their old pal Sasha Carburator to tell him that his step-father shot himself dead. Characters confront elements of their reality, and, tainted with traumatic survival fever, embark on a sad, dramatic and a bit grotesque adventure.”

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Fieldwork in Ukrainian Sex

Through stream-of-consciousness writing, this literary work is an “inspired exposition of one woman’s fight to catch her bearings and land on her feet, after life has thrown her a particularly nasty curve ball. At the heart of the story is a failed relationship, and here the author’s unflinching courage in dissecting the how-and-why is gripping. The larger story that envelops the love affair is, of course, the story of Ukraine itself, so unexpectedly liberated with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, coming to grips with its suppressed history and martyrology searching for its identity together with the heroine.

Called ‘the most influential Ukrainian book for the 15 years of independence,’ Field Work in Ukrainian Sex by Oksana Zabuzhko is the tale of one woman’s personal revolt provoked by a top literary scandal of the decade. The author, a noted Ukrainian poet and novelist, explains: ‘When you turn 30, you inevitably start reconsidering what you have been taught in your formative years—that is, if you really seek for your own voice as a writer. In my case, my personal identity crisis had coincided with the one experienced by my country after the advent of independence. The result turned explosive: Field Work in Ukrainian Sex.”

(A special thank you to book club member, Shivalaxmi Arumugham for the suggestion.)

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Hardly Ever Otherwise

“Everything eventually reaches its appointed place in time and space. Maria Matios’s dramatic family saga, Hardly Ever Otherwise, narrates the story of several western Ukrainian families during the last decades of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and expands upon the idea that ‘it isn’t time that is important, but the human condition in time.’

From the first page, Matios engages her reader with an impeccable style, which she employs to create a rich tapestry of cause and effect, at times depicting a logic that is both bitter and enigmatic. But nothing is ever fully revealed—it is only in the final pages of the novel that the events in the beginning are understood as a necessary part of a larger whole, and the section entitled ‘Seasickness’ presents a compelling argument for why events almost always have to follow a particular course.

In Matios’s multi-tiered plot, the grand passions of ordinary people are illuminated under the caliginous light of an ethereal mysticism, and digressions on love, envy, transgression, and atonement are woven into the story. The reader is submerged into a rich world populated by a grand cast of characters and ideas, which Matios animates with her prolific imagination and subtle wisdom.

Each character in this outstanding drama has an irrefutable alibi, a unique truth, and a private conflict with honor and duty. Her characters do not always act in accordance with logic and written-law, as the laws of honor clash with the laws of the heart. And this is why it is hardly ever otherwise.”

(A special thank you to book club member, Leslie Tchaikovsky for the suggestion.)

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Mesopotamia

“A unique work of fiction from the troubled streets of Ukraine, giving invaluable testimony to the new history unfolding in the nation’s post-independence years

This captivating book is Serhiy Zhadan’s ode to Kharkiv, the traditionally Russian-speaking city in Eastern Ukraine where he makes his home. A leader among Ukrainian post-independence authors, Zhadan employs both prose and poetry to address the disillusionment, complications, and complexities that have marked Ukrainian life in the decades following the Soviet Union’s collapse. His novel provides an extraordinary depiction of the lives of working-class Ukrainians struggling against an implacable fate: the road forward seems blocked at every turn by demagogic forces and remnants of the Russian past. Zhadan’s nine interconnected stories and accompanying poems are set in a city both representative and unusual, and his characters are simultaneously familiar and strange. Following a kind of magical-realist logic, his stories expose the grit and burden of stalled lives, the universal desire for intimacy, and a wistful realization of the off-kilter and even perverse nature of love.”

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Ways of Going Home

“Alejandro Zambra's Ways of Going Home begins with an earthquake, seen through the eyes of an unnamed nine-year-old boy who lives in an undistinguished middleclass housing development in a suburb of Santiago, Chile. When the neighbors camp out overnight, the protagonist gets his first glimpse of Claudia, an older girl who asks him to spy on her uncle Raúl.

In the second section, the protagonist is the writer of the story begun in the first section. His father is a man of few words who claims to be apolitical but who quietly sympathized—to what degree, the author isn't sure—with the Pinochet regime. His reflections on the progress of the novel and on his own life—which is strikingly similar to the life of his novel's protagonist—expose the raw suture of fiction and reality.

Ways of Going Home switches between author and character, past and present, reflecting with melancholy and rage on the history of a nation and on a generation born too late—the generation which, as the author-narrator puts it, learned to read and write while their parents became accomplices or victims. It is the most personal novel to date from Zambra, the most important Chilean author since Roberto Bolaño.”

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The White Castle

With elements of myth/historical fiction, literature, & fantasy, this very first novel of famed author Orhan Pamuk will remind you of the stories by Italo Calvino.

“From a Turkish writer who has been compared with Borges, Nabokov, and DeLillo comes a dazzling novel that is at once a captivating work of historical fiction and a sinuous treatise on the enigma of identity and the relations between East and West. In the 17th century, a young Italian scholar sailing from Venice to Naples is taken prisoner and delivered to Constantinople. There he falls into the custody of a scholar known as Hoja—’master’—a man who is his exact double. In the years that follow, the slave instructs his master in Western science and technology, from medicine to pyrotechnics. But Hoja wants to know more: why he and his captive are the persons they are and whether, given knowledge of each other's most intimate secrets, they could actually exchange identities. Set in a world of magnificent scholarship and terrifying savagery, The White Castle is a colorful and intricately patterned triumph of the imagination.”

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

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The Great Passage

“An award-winning story of love, friendship, and the power of human connection. Kohei Araki believes that a dictionary is a boat to carry us across the sea of words. But after thirty-seven years of creating dictionaries, it’s time for him to retire and find his replacement.

He discovers a kindred spirit in Mitsuya Majime—a young, disheveled square peg with a penchant for collecting antiquarian books and a background in linguistics—whom he swipes from his company’s sales department.

Along with an energetic, if reluctant, new recruit and an elder linguistics scholar, Majime is tasked with a career-defining accomplishment: completing The Great Passage, a comprehensive 2,900-page tome of the Japanese language. On his journey, Majime discovers friendship, romance, and an incredible dedication to his work, inspired by the words that connect us all.”

(A special thank you to Dr. Carol McCrea, the mother of one of our book club admins for the suggestion.)

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The Unbearable Lightness of Being

"Kundera has raised the novel of ideas to a new level of dreamlike lyricism and emotional intensity." -Newsweek

“A young woman in love with a man torn between his love for her and his incorrigible womanizing; one of his mistresses and her humbly faithful lover—these are the two couples whose story is told in this masterful novel. In a world in which lives are shaped by irrevocable choices and by fortuitous events, a world in which everything occurs but once, existence seems to lose its substance, its weight. Hence, we feel ‘the unbearable lightness of being’ not only as the consequence of our pristine actions but also in the public sphere, and the two inevitably intertwine.”

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The Duppy

“‘Every country (if she’s lucky) gets the Mark Twain she deserves, and Winkler is ours, bristling with savage Jamaican wit’ -Marlon James
 
Being dead is most definitely an impediment to writing a book, under ordinary circumstances. But the narrator of this novel, Taddeus Augustus Baps, has turned into a duppy—a ghost renowned in Caribbean folklore—and he has a story to tell.
 
At first, he thinks that his new status as a spirit will provide some mischievous fun, but he’s in for disappointment. He gets whisked off to heaven—via minibus—where he meets not only God but some other interesting characters, and finds that the afterlife can be more irritating than one might expect . . .
 
This smart, rollicking, and ultimately uplifting tale is a delight from the prize-winning author of The Lunatic and other comic novels. As The Independent said of Anthony Winkler’s work, “It’s almost as if P. G. Wodehouse had strolled into the world of Bob Marley.’”

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Here Comes the Sun

“At an opulent resort in Montego Bay, Margot hustles to send her younger sister, Thandi, to school. Taught as a girl to trade her sexuality for survival, Margot is ruthlessly determined to shield Thandi from the same fate. When plans for a new hotel threaten their village, Margot sees not only an opportunity for her own financial independence but also perhaps a chance to admit a shocking secret: her forbidden love for another woman. As they face the impending destruction of their community, each woman – fighting to balance the burdens she shoulders with the freedom she craves – must confront long-hidden scars.

From a much-heralded new writer, Here Comes the Sun offers a dramatic glimpse into a vibrant, passionate world most outsiders see simply as paradise.”

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

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The Man Who Spoke Snakish

Winner of the Eduard Vilde Literary Award.

The Man Who Spoke Snakish is one of those important books that speaks to your soul in its own language and which marks a milestone in your personal reading history.” - des Bouquins

“A bestseller in the author’s native country of Estonia, where the book is so well known that a popular board game has been created based on it, The Man Who Spoke Snakish is the imaginative and moving story of a boy who is tasked with preserving ancient traditions in the face of modernity.

Set in a fantastical version of medieval Estonia, The Man Who Spoke Snakish follows a young boy, Leemet, who lives with his hunter-gatherer family in the forest and is the last speaker of the ancient tongue of snakish, a language that allows its speakers to command all animals. But the forest is gradually emptying as more and more people leave to settle in villages, where they break their backs tilling the land to grow wheat for their ‘bread’ (which Leemet has been told tastes horrible) and where they pray to a god very different from the spirits worshipped in the forest’s sacred grove. With lothario bears who wordlessly seduce women, a giant louse with a penchant for swimming, a legendary flying frog, and a young charismatic viper named Ints, The Man Who Spoke Snakish is a totally inventive novel for readers of David Mitchell, Sjón, and Terry Pratchett.”

(A special thank you to book club member, Linda Varick-Cooper for the suggestion.)

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The Petty God

“Events unfold, as in a detective story, or as voices in a fugue. No, I won’t deprive you from the pleasure of unfolding yourselves in hot pursuit of these events and then becoming whole again (as voices become whole in an exhilarating counterpoint). - The Estonian Daily

Set in an Estonian advertising agency after the end of communism, Petty God is a modern retelling of the biblical creation story. Consisting of monologues from four characters, this abstract work showcases the absurdities of modern urban life through the use of extended metaphors derived from the Bible.

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