These worrying times are full of voices. I am all questions and no answers. But some books that I read have been helping me think and helping me breathe. I thought you might need them too.
Some of these I just read, and others I have found myself coming back to. I’m not going to tell you how to interpret them, only the questions they helped me consider. I’ve included abbreviated versions of their blurbs to help you decide if any of these might be for you.
Can gentleness survive in a world simmering with hate and rage? Can you find a way to live in the cruelty of this world?
Human Acts, Han Kang
“Gwangju, South Korea, 1980. In the wake of a viciously suppressed student uprising, a boy searches for his friend’s corpse, a consciousness searches for its abandoned body, and a brutalised country searches for a voice. In a sequence of interconnected chapters the victims and the bereaved encounter censorship, denial, forgiveness and the echoing agony of the original trauma.”
How do so many humans end up battering each other? What does it mean to care for someone with whom you can’t agree?
Your Heart Is A Muscle The Size of A Fist, Sunil Yapa
“Grief-stricken after his mother’s death and three years of wandering the world, Victor is longing for a family and a sense of purpose. He believes he’s found both when he returns home to Seattle only to be swept up in a massive protest. With young, biracial Victor o one side of the barricades and his estranged father—the white chief of police—on the opposite, the day descends into chaos, capturing in its confusion the activists, police, bystanders, and citizens from all around the world who’d arrived that day brimming with hope. By the day’s end, they have all committed acts they never thought possible.”
Who should I be listening to? Who has a story like mine? Who has one completely different? What do they feel?
The Good Immigrant, Edited by Nikesh Shukla
“Bringing together 21 exciting black, Asian and minority ethnic voices emerging in Britain today, The Good Immigrant explores why immigrants come to the UK, why they stay and what it means to be ‘other’ in a country that doesn’t seem to want you, doesn’t truly accept you – however many generations you’ve been here – but still needs you for its diversity monitoring forms.”
How does a government create an atmosphere of fear? What does that do to the people living within such a world?
The Sympathizer, Viet Thanh Nguyen
“It is April 1975, and Saigon is in chaos. At his villa, a general of the South Vietnamese army is drinking whiskey and, with the help of his trusted captain, drawing up a list of those who will be given passage aboard the last flights out of the country. The general and his compatriots start a new life in Los Angeles, unaware that one among their number, the captain, is secretly observing and reporting on the group to a higher-up in the Viet Cong.”
What does it mean to be strong? What does it mean to be strong as a woman? How much can the world throw at you?
Difficult Women, Roxane Gay
“The women in these stories live lives of privilege and of poverty, are in marriages both loving and haunted by past crimes or emotional blackmail. A pair of sisters, grown now, have been inseparable ever since they were abducted together as children, and must negotiate the elder sister’s marriage. A woman married to a twin pretends not to realize when her husband and his brother impersonate each other. A stripper putting herself through college fends off the advances of an overzealous customer. A black engineer moves to Upper Michigan for a job and faces the malign curiosity of her colleagues and the difficulty of leaving her past behind.”
Is home a place, a person, an ideal?
I Am China, Xialou Guo
“London translator Iona Kirkpatrick is at work on a new project: a collection of letters and diaries by a Chinese punk guitarist named Kublai Jian. As she translates the handwritten pages, a story of romance and revolution emerges between Jian, who believes there is no art without political commitment, and Mu, a poet whom he loves as fiercely as his ideals. Jian has come to Britain seeking political asylum and is mere miles away in Dover, awaiting news of his fate. Mu is in Beijing, writing letters to London, feverishly trying to track Jian down.”
This is not an authoritative list. I need to read more. I need to learn more. But it is my start.