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A Quest to Save the Swans

Set in Ankara, Turkey, Ece Temelkuran’s The Time of Mute Swans follows the lives of two children, Ali and Ayse, as they try to comprehend the changing world around them. Though separated by social standing, one poor and one well-to-do, both Ali and Ayse’s family embrace leftist political beliefs, which leaves both families vulnerable to threats from those who stand in opposition.

By alternating the perspective between Ali and Ayse, the story embodies a fable-like quality. Both children see the world in colorful idyllic imagery – a stark contrast to the brash reality both family’s live in. Temelkuran shows how personal lives were affected in the days leading up to the 1980 coup—neighbor turning against neighbor; people taking their own lives to avoid being tortured.

The Time of Mute Swans provides a compelling narrative with two captivating protagonists on a mission to save the swans. Ece Temelkuran’s first fiction novel is very much worth reading.

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Illustrating the Consequences of War Through Family Saga

To truly understand ourselves, we must deeply look into our own history. In Thi Bui’s graphic memoir, The Best We Could Do, she traces her family’s journey from a war-torn Vietnam to the United States. She illuminates the human experience through breathtaking art and narrative.

Thi Bui examines what it means to be a parent, to be human, to be alive, and to be free. Her story reveals that the consequences of war is far more than the casualties and the torn-down buildings. For those who lived through the war, their history becomes the essence of who they are. The Best We Could Do is a beautiful and a compelling story that makes for an unforgettable and a timely read. Bui’s story carries such magnitude that it will resonate with everyone.

If you’ve read Fun Home, Persepolis, and Maus, Bui’s memoir is up to par with these classics.


READ-ALIKES

Escape From Syria by Samya Kullab

A fictionalized account that calls on real-life circumstances and true tales of refugee families to serve as a microcosm of the Syrian uprising and the war and refugee crisis that followed (Publisher’s description.

Maus by Art Spiegelman

A haunting tale within a tale. Vladek’s harrowing story of survival is woven into the author’s account of his tortured relationship with his aging father. Against the backdrop of guilt brought by survival, they stage a normal life of small arguments and unhappy visits. This astonishing retelling of our century’s grisliest news is a story of survival, not only of Vladek but of the children who survive even the survivors. Maus studies the bloody pawprints of history and tracks its meaning for all of us (Publisher’s description).

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

In powerful black-and-white comic strip images, Satrapi tells the story of her life in Tehran from ages six to fourteen, years that saw the overthrow of the Shah’s regime, the triumph of the Islamic Revolution, and the devastating effects of war with Iraq. The intelligent and outspoken only child of committed Marxists and the great-granddaughter of one of Iran’s last emperors, Marjane bears witness to a childhood uniquely entwined with the history of her country (Publisher’s desciption).

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Book Review: Stay With Me

BOOK REVIEW: STAY WITH ME

Ayobami Adebayo’s debut novel Stay With Me tells the story of a couple who attempt to rise beyond the traditional attitudes of the Nigerian culture.

The story is set during the political turmoil of 1980s Nigeria. Adebayo explores the fears, uncertainties, and struggles of Yejide and Akin, the couple at the heart of Stay With Me. Adebayo’s writing is vibrant and rich, bringing the characters and their stories to life.

In an interview with NPR, Adebayo said, “They live in a society where having children validates not just the individual but the marriage itself.” In Stay With Me, Yejide is not considered a “complete woman” if she doesn’t have a child. As the first born son, Akin brings shame to his family if his wife never becomes pregnant. The solution to this family dilemma, Yejide’s conception, comes at a great cost.

Stay With Me is beautiful and heartbreaking. It gives new meaning to the word motherhood and love. A stunning debut novel – Ayobami Adebayo is one of the new authors one should want to watch out for.

 

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Book Review: The Sympathizer

BOOK REVIEW: THE SYMPATHIZER

Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Sympathizer offers an interesting critique of the Vietnam War’s aftermath, holding both the United States and the Vietnamese people responsible.

The narrator is a communist spy who has been imprisoned by the Viet Cong. He has been forced to confess to sins committed against the revolution. Through this confession, the narrator reveals that he is a man who embodies a certain duality. Being half-French and half-Vietnamese, he is considered an outcast. Despite looking Vietnamese, he is not considered one. Having studied in America, he is familiar with the ways of the Western world. He is a communist who understands individualism. He is someone who lives on the fringes of society not knowing where he belongs. The Sympathizer illustrates how war and conflict divides both people and countries. It reveals how people are capable of showing compassion and yet are also capable of acting with absolute savagery.

Nguyen wrote in the book, “They cannot represent themselves; they must be represented.” And as an author, he has successfully represented the misrepresented.

The Sympathizer won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2016.


PULITZER PRIZE BOOKS THAT YOU MAY HAVE MISSED

All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Marie-Laure lives with her father in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where he works as the master of its thousands of locks. When she is six, Marie-Laure goes blind and her father builds a perfect miniature of their neighborhood so she can memorize it by touch and navigate her way home. When she is twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great-uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel.

In a mining town in Germany, the orphan Werner grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments, a talent that wins him a place at a brutal academy for Hitler Youth, then a special assignment to track the resistance. More and more aware of the human cost of his intelligence, Werner travels through the heart of the war and, finally, into Saint-Malo, where his story and Marie-Laure’s converge. (Publisher’s description)

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

Things have never been easy for Oscar, a sweet but disastrously overweight, lovesick Dominican ghetto nerd. From his home in New Jersey, where he lives with his old-world mother and rebellious sister, Oscar dreams of becoming the Dominican J. R. R. Tolkien and, most of all, of finding love. But he may never get what he wants, thanks to the Fukœ-the curse that has haunted the Oscar’s family for generations, dooming them to prison, torture, tragic accidents, and, above all, ill-starred love. Oscar, still waiting for his first kiss, is just its most recent victim.

Diaz immerses us in the tumultuous life of Oscar and the history of the family at large, rendering with genuine warmth and dazzling energy, humor, and insight the Dominican-American experience, and, ultimately, the endless human capacity to persevere in the face of heartbreak and loss. A true literary triumph, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao confirms Junot Diaz as one of the best and most exciting voices of our time. (Publisher’s description)

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. Life is hell for all the slaves, but especially bad for Cora; an outcast even among her fellow Africans, she is coming into womanhood—where even greater pain awaits. When Caesar, a recent arrival from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, they decide to take a terrifying risk and escape. Matters do not go as planned—Cora kills a young white boy who tries to capture her. Though they manage to find a station and head north, they are being hunted. (Publisher’s description)

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Book Review: American War

Book Review: American War

Omar El Akkad’s debut novel, American War, is a frightening look at the real world consequences brought about by a divisive political and social climate.  Set in the not-too-distant future, American society has been torn asunder by a second Civil War.  Instead of slavery being the root cause of the conflict, this time it is the President’s actions to limit the destructive effects of climate change.