‘Tis the season to drum up gift ideas, which will then be followed by the season to relax by the fire with a good book. Since I’ve read some good ones over the last year, I’d like to highlight these five, because they all offer readers something unique.
“Exit West” by Mohsin Hamid
Hamid came onto the world stage with “The Reluctant Fundamentalist,” but critics call this new novel his best book yet. In this timely story, he takes readers to an unnamed area filled with war and destruction—those lands most of us know only from the news—and follows a young couple as they deal with the growing threat to their lives. The writing is crisp and powerful, and it isn’t bogged down by the horrors of war. Rather, it focuses on the emotional impact of the refugee experience on two beautifully drawn characters.
“Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine” by Gail Honeyman
Honeyman’s quirky novel about a single, young Scottish woman was one of my favorite reads of the last few years. The story on the surface is a simple one: A dispirited woman develops her seemingly first friendship with a male co-worker, and she gradually loosens up. Yet it is rare to have a story so engaging, often funny, that also has an undercurrent that slowly deepens into a fascinating psychological story.
“The Bright Hour” by Nina Riggs
The popularity of memoirs such as “When Breath Becomes Air” and “Being Mortal” shows that readers hunger for well-written, sensitive and gripping books that deal with illness and death. Nina Riggs’ spare but beautiful account of her cancer diagnosis, treatment and terminal prognosis, while she and her husband raised two young boys, is unforgettable. Yes, the story is sad, but the book has a life-affirming strength.
“A Man Called Ove” by Fredrik Backman
This lovely book, set in a small Scandinavian town, follows a 59-year-old curmudgeon who is ready to give up on other people and even life until a lively young family moves into his neighborhood and eventually, into his heart. It is a much-needed reminder of how people who are undeniably different can find the humanity in each other.
“The Diplomat’s Daughter” by Karin Tanabe
Tanabe’s novel follows a privileged, young Japanese woman and the two men she loved during the years surrounding World War II. What sets this novel apart from other fiction set in the early 1940s is that Tanabe has her characters experience some little-known episodes of the war. For instance, the titular character Emi meets her German-American boyfriend in a Texas internment camp where she and her parents were sent following the bombing of Pearl Harbor. He and his family were wrongly imprisoned at the same camp as Nazi-sympathizers, along with other Americans of German heritage.