This installment: banding together in war-torn Beirut (f) transgender in Nigeria (f); Palestinian-Muslim in the Midwest (f); ghosts and medicine (f); and family dysfunction–ahh! (f).
Editor’s Note: The titles and links below will direct you to print when available, with occasional notes made of digital eBook and eAudiobook availability.
Game of Swallows by Zeina Abirached
I came upon this teen graphic novel, subtitled To Die, To Leave, To Return, in an article about books like Persepolis from an amazing site called Book Riot. (They post weekly, but I never had time to spend with it until COVID, and now I’m wallowing in the big backlog and getting lots of great recommendations.) In a Beirut apartment building, one foyer is the safest place to shelter and that’s where neighbors pack themselves in when the bombing starts. They bring food and games, look out for each other, grieve and celebrate—people banding together in dark times. The illustrations are charming, powerful, sophisticated, and very expressive.
The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi
Vivek was born into grief, overlapping his father’s mother’s death. Eerily, he bore an identical starfish-shaped scar as the one on her foot. His father Chika had lusted after his brother’s wife Mary but ended up marrying Kavita, of Indian descent. She tried to assimilate along with other Nigerwives, but it was always a struggle. Military school to toughen up this sensitive boy was a disaster, and when he came home, he was a mess. His few friends from childhood tried to look out for him and were privy to his secrets—odd spells, dressing up as a girl—but this couldn’t save him from what we know is coming. Atmospheric, sprinkled with Igbo words, very sad.
The Beauty of Your Face by Sahar Mustafa
The worst happens: an alt-right gunman invades Afat’s Midwest Muslim school. She’s the principal and had become devout when her older sister disappeared at 16 and her mother declined into mental illness and just wanted to go home to Palestine. We learn what burdens lay upon this family through the decades, especially the prejudice Afat faced growing up near Chicago. Afat heals and even forgives but it’s a long hard road back. Very moving.
Night Theater by Vikram Paralkar
Sahad, a weary and bitter doctor in a remote village, is faced with an impossible task. Three ghosts appear, very mangled. If he can operate successfully, they will be returned to life. It’s a deal with many conditions but what can he do? With funky equipment, he performs complex surgery on each—first the 8-year-old boy, then the almost full-term mother, and finally the father. Does it work? I won’t reveal the denouement but along the way there are fascinating explorations of philosophical, theological, and sociological questions that boil down to who’s really in charge (if anyone). The author is also a physician which gives great verisimilitude to details about the operations. A strange and haunting little book.
Fleishman Is In Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner
We first meet Toby beset by horny women; he’s newly separated from his ambitious wife Rachel. Initially these first few pages turned me off—so gross—but I’m glad I stuck with it. Because his trouble—and that of the family’s—turns out to be much more nuanced. Yes he seems like such a good guy, a doctor who really loves his offspring and she’s such a chilly bitch. But when we hear from Rachel directly and also from Elizabeth, Toby’s college friend, the picture develops and the sources of resentments are revealed. Gender roles certainly play a part. Sometimes snarky but thoughtful and good-hearted as well.
See you next week.