Book Stack: 10 reads to wrap up January

Violeta by Isabel Allende (left) and The City Of Mist by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. PHOTOS: BLOOMSBURY, WEIDENFELD & NICOLSON

In this monthly feature, The Sunday Times picks out 10 books from around the world that have just hit shelves.

1. Accidental Gods

Accidental Gods by Anna Della Subin. PHOTOS: GRANTA, NINA SUBIN

By Anna Della Subin
Non-fiction/Granta/Hardcover/480 pages/$44.95/Available here
4 out of 5

In Jamaica in the 1930s, a newly crowned Ethiopian king began to be hailed as a god. In spite of Haile Selassie I's protestations, the African diaspora started seeing signs wherever he went and in whatever he did.

Tens of thousands gathered at the airport when he finally set foot in Jamaica in 1966, tugging at his robe, falling at his feet.

The ensuing chaos scared the so-called god-king, who retreated to his plane and was trapped there for hours, fearing for his own safety.

This unlikely exaltation of the head of the Rastafari movement begins Anna Della Subin's meaty debut, Accidental Gods: On Men Unwittingly Turned Divine, which blurs the lines between the sacred and profane.


2. Call Us What We Carry

Call Us What We Carry byAmanda Gorman. PHOTO: HARPERVOYAGER

By Amanda Gorman
Poetry/Chatto & Windus/Hardcover/240 pages/$32.95/Available here

Over a year ago, Gorman, the youngest presidential inaugural poet in United States history, made waves with her powerful recital of her poem, The Hill We Climb.

In her debut poetry collection, she writes about the turbulence of the present and the long trauma of the past.

She makes use of archival material in poems such as The Surveyed, which draws on responses from a 1922 sociological study conducted in the wake of the 1919 Chicago race riot, and The Soldiers (Or Plummer), based on the diary of Roy Underwood Plummer, an African-American corporal who served in France during World War I.

There are also a number of concrete poems - crafted in shapes such as a whale, a slave ship and the US Capitol, which was stormed by rioters on Jan 6 last year.

Gorman's poetry puts its finger on the pulse of the moment, sometimes pressing hard enough to bruise.

Yet her words are also filled with light. "Language is a life raft," she writes in the poem What We Carry. "We walk into tomorrow,/ Carrying nothing/ But the world."

3. Daughter Of The Moon Goddess

Daughter Of The Moon Goddess by Sue Lynn Tan. PHOTO: SUE LYNN TAN

By Sue Lynn Tan
Fantasy/HarperVoyager/Paperback/499 pages/$29.96/Available here

In her debut novel, Malaysian author Tan takes on the Chinese myth of the moon goddess and imagines her with a daughter.

Growing up on the moon, Xingyin is accustomed to solitude. Little does she know, however, that her existence is being hidden from the Celestial Emperor, who exiled her mother Chang'E for stealing his elixir of immortality.

When Xingyin's magic flares, she is forced to flee, leaving her mother behind. She makes her way to the Celestial Kingdom and begins in disguise to train in archery and magic alongside the emperor's son.

4. Violeta

Violeta by Isabel Allende. PHOTO: BLOOMSBURY

By Isabel Allende, translated by Frances Riddle
Fiction/Bloomsbury/Paperback/336 pages/$30.94/Available here

Chile's most famous female novelist returns with the tale of centenarian Violeta Del Valle, who recounts her remarkable life in a letter to her grandson in 2020.

Born in 1920 in one pandemic and on her deathbed in another, Violeta lives through the Great Depression, the second World War, the rise and fall of tyrants and her own affairs and heartbreaks.

5. The City Of Mist

The City Of Mist by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. PHOTO: WEIDENFELD & NICOLSON

By Carlos Ruiz Zafon, translated by Lucia Graves
Fiction/Weidenfeld & Nicolson/Paperback/173 pages/$29.43/Available here

This is the last book from the celebrated Spanish writer, who was best known for his 2001 novel The Shadow Of The Wind and who died in June 2020 of colon cancer.

These 11 short stories - two of which were translated by Ruiz Zafon himself and one written originally in English - take one back to the atmospheric streets of his hometown Barcelona. They feature labyrinths, libraries, mysterious women and even Antoni Gaudi, architect of the landmark basilica Sagrada Familia.

6. These Precious Days

These Precious Days by Ann Patchett. PHOTO: HARPER

By Ann Patchett
Non-fiction/Harper/Paperback/320 pages/$33.12/Available here

Pulitzer Prize finalist Patchett reflects on family and friendship in this collection of personal essays, ranging from Three Fathers - about her relationship with her mother's three husbands - to a piece about the impact that learning knitting has had on her life.

7. Beasts Of A Little Land

Beasts Of A Little Land by Juhea Kim. PHOTO: ECCO

By Juhea Kim
Fiction/Ecco/Paperback/403 pages/$29.96/Available here

In the winter of 1917, in the mountains of Japanese-occupied Korea, an impoverished Korean hunter saves a young Japanese officer from an attacking tiger.

From this incident unfolds an epic saga that spans half a century of Korean history, from a Pyongyang courtesan school to the glamorous cafes of 1930s Seoul.

8. The School For Good Mothers

The School For Good Mothers by Jessamine Chan. PHOTO: HUTCHINSON HEINEMANN

By Jessamine Chan
Fiction/Hutchinson Heinemann/Paperback/336 pages/$29.95/Available here

When Frida Liu, an overwhelmed single mother, leaves her toddler Harriet home alone to pick up something she forgot at the office, it sets off a terrible chain reaction.

Harriet is removed into the custody of Frida's ex-husband, while the state sentences Frida to a rehabilitation programme in which she must prove she is a good mother or never see her child again.

9. The Wedding Party

The Wedding Party by Liu Xinwu. PHOTO: AMAZON CROSSING

By Liu Xinwu, translated by Jeremy Tiang
Fiction/Amazon Crossing/Paperback/384 pages/$23.01/Available here

Singaporean writer Tiang translates acclaimed Chinese author Liu's 1985 novel, which won the prestigious Mao Dun Literature Prize. On a December day in 1982, the courtyard of a Beijing siheyuan (a historic residential compound) becomes the bustling site of a working-class wedding party.

Across 12 hours, the narrative moves through the private dramas of a colourful cast of characters, from the superstitious, increasingly harassed mother of the groom to the chef tasked to cook the banquet.

10. Lemon

Lemon by Kwon Yeo-sun. PHOTO: HEAD OF ZEUS

By Kwon Yeo-sun, translated by Janet Hong
Crime fiction/Head Of Zeus/Hardcover/192 pages/$27.95/Available here

In the summer of 2002, as South Korea hosts the Fifa World Cup, 19-year-old Kim Hae-on, last seen in a lemon yellow dress, becomes the victim of what is dubbed the High School Beauty Murder.

Two boys are picked as the prime suspects, but the case goes cold due to a lack of evidence.

Seventeen years later, Hae-on's sister Da-on, still struggling to come to grips with the murder, is determined to get closure, whatever the cost.

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