142 Exit West

exitwestby Mohsin Hamid, 2017

“…for when we migrate, we murder from our lives those we leave behind.”

So writes Mohsin Hamid, as his characters prepare to embark on a journey from their war ravaged home to an unknown land, leaving behind those whom they love. It is a fitting, and sometimes literal, description of the emigration experience that is at the heart of Exit West. When their unnamed country – though we can guess that they hail from somewhere in the Middle East – falls into the chaos of war, young lovers Saeed and Nadia cling to each other in their effort for survival. All across their city, mysterious doors are opening up, allowing citizens to step through, Narnia-like, to another land. Walking through one of those doors will be the hardest, but most necessary, decision they will make.

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140 Caramelo

carameloby Sandra Cisneros, 2002

I know I’ve said it before, that sweeping, multi-generational narratives is an odd literary niche to love, but it’s one I can’t get enough of. From Roots to The House of the Spirits to Middlesex and now Caramelo, I’m a huge fan of novels that delve into the past to reveal both cultural and personal identities. Told by Celaya “Lala” Reyes, the youngest of the Reyes clan, Caramelo explores the meanings of family, motherhood, fatherhood, pride, and love, as well as what it means to be a Mexican, an American, and something in between. It is a beautifully written story that I loved reading.

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139 Tar Baby

tar babyby Toni Morrison, 1981

I think this is my favorite Toni Morrison yet. While I’ve found every book of hers completely engaging, there’s something about the lyrical quality of her prose in Tar Baby that I find particularly appealing. I also continue to be impressed by how effortlessly Morrison weaves not just the conflict between white and black into her stories, but also that between varying shades of black. Each book has spoken volumes about intraracial conflict that only someone who has personally experienced that tension can fully appreciate.

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138 Uncle Tom’s Cabin

uncletomby Harriet Beecher Stowe, 1852

And so continues my education of reading books that I should have read, but haven’t. I was particularly interested in reading Uncle Tom’s Cabin to learn exactly where the term “Uncle Tom” originated. For the unaware, an Uncle Tom is a black person who is exceedingly deferential to whites. That’s the polite way of putting it; for a more piquant definition, watch Django Unchained. Samuel L. Jackson’s character? He’s an Uncle Tom through and through. But where does the term come from? Surprisingly, not directly from this book.

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136 La sombra del viento

 sombradelvientode Carlos Ruiz Zafón, 2001

[Scroll down for English.]

He oído mucho de este libro, un libro sobre un misterio de libros. Intenté leerlo el año pasado, pero cuando la elección pasó, ya no tenía ganas de descifrar un misterio en español. Pero estaba determinada leerlo y por fin he terminado con ello. ¿Valía la pena? Desafortunadamente, no estoy segura. Sí, disfruté algunas partes del libro y a veces lo encontré encantador, pero aunque la trama me interesaba, el cuento no tomó forma al fin.

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134 Big Little Lies

biglittleliesby Liane Moriarty, 2014

You know, as much as I complain about having read popular books because they tend to end up being not so great, every once in awhile I read an immensely popular book, simply for the fact that it’s popular, and I’m rewarded. Well, in this case it’s more that I wanted to watch the HBO adaptation with Alexander Skarsgard, but hey, the motive isn’t important. What’s important is that I expected to read a trashy, poorly written book with a predictable plot and instead found a captivating mystery with sharp commentary on parenthood and suburban life. I guess you can be popular and smart after all.

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132 The Vile Village

vilevillageby Lemony Snicket, 2001

Things are starting to heat up for the Baudelaires! We’re still using the same formula as ever: the siblings are placed in the care of some well-meaning but less than apt adult, Count Olaf shows up in a new disguise, and the orphans end up having to save themselves. In this case, however, an entire village fails the three, as the moniker “It takes a village to raise a child” is put to the test in their new home, the Village of Fowl Devotees. Or, if you will, VFD.

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