New year, new books—and these are some of the ones I’m looking forward to in 2021.
My Year Abroad, by Chang-Rae Lee. I’m a fan of Lee’s stylish sentences and restrained voice, and his latest novel is the sprawling tale of a bored American college student, Tiller, and the exuberant entrepreneur, Pong Lou, who makes him his protegé and a traveling companion on a journey across Asia, a trip that transforms Tiller’s life. Kirkus Reviews called it, “A sage study in how readily we’re undone by our appetites.”
Walking with Ghosts: A Memoir, by Gabriel Byrne. The Dublin-born actor of romantic and moody roles looks back on his life in Ireland, and route to Hollywood, his early pursuit of the priesthood and working class roots.
A Swim in a Pond in the Rain, by George Saunders. Saunders is of America’s most lauded story-writers, and a longtime faculty in the MFA program at Syracuse University, and the subtitle here, “In Which Four Russians Give a Master Class on Writing, Reading and Life,” tracks the importance of the great Russian writers to his own work—and his love of teaching them to his own students.
Whereabouts: A Novel, by Jhumpa Lahiri. I’ve been a fan of Lahiri’s work since her debut collection of stories, Interpreter of Maladies, won the Pulitzer Prize. Her latest novel, the first in ten years, centers on the author’s familiar themes of distance and separation, the need for ties and also of distance. First written in Italian, the English translation of Whereabouts is by Lahiri, who has published her recent books in Italian.
The Five Wounds: A Novel, by Kirstin Valdez Quade. This debut novel (Quade is the author of the prize-winning 2015 story collection, Night at the Fiesta) centers on five generations of family of the Padilla family, in Las Penas, New Mexico. Yiyun Li called the novel, “an intimate, humorous, and heart-aching portrayal of a New Mexican family.”
Love is An Ex-Country: A Memoir, by Randa Jarrar. I’m a diehard fan of Jarrar—of her fearlessness in life and art. The memoir centers on a cross-country road trip Jarrar makes, one inspired by a celebrated Egyptian belly dancer’s journey across the United States in the 1940s, and is a backdrop for the process of her reclaiming joy and her own power. Carmen Maria Machado calls it “a perfect, unforgettable howl of a book.”
And finally, The Liar’s Dictionary, by Eley Williams, is a gem of a find—a novel that’s not only high concept, but also a comedy and a thriller about a lovelorn Victorian lexicographer, Peter Winceworth, and Mallory, a young intern at a present-day publishing company tasked with rooting out the errata he inserted into a multi-volume dictionary. Andrew Sean Greer, whose Pulitzer-prize winning novel, Less, was one of my favorite reads of 2020, called The Liar’s Dictionary “the book I was longing for. So eudaemonical, so felicific and habile! A harlequinade of cachinnation!”