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Shortly after moving to Geneva, Switzerand, I was fortunate to join a book club that’s been going strong for a number of years. The club is diverse in  nationality and life experience, and nearly everyone reads the book each month. This makes for 1-2 hours of rich discussion.

To create our reading list, members pitch books they want to read and then the group votes. Votes are weighted, with first choice getting four points, second choice getting three points, and so on. For each book there is a discussion leader, which helps in keeping the conversation going.

Below were the books in our recent pitch pile. Follow me on Goodreads for my reviews of our three selected books, as well as all the other books on the list. (Because I have no control when it comes to buying books couldn’t resist downloading them all onto my new Kindle).

A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James, 2015, 688 pages

Winner of the Man Booker Prize 2015.  On 3 December 1976, just weeks before the general election and two days before Bob Marley was to play the Smile Jamaica concert to ease political tensions, seven men from West Kingston stormed Marley’s house with machine guns. Marley survived and went on to perform at the free concert. The next day he left the country and didn’t return for two years.  Inspired by this near-mythic event, A Brief History of Seven Killings takes the form of an imagined oral biography, told by ghosts, witnesses, killers, members of parliament, drug dealers, conmen, beauty queens, FBI and CIA agents, reporters, journalists, and even Keith Richards’ drug dealer.

Purity by Jonathan Franzen, 2015, 563 pages

Young Pip Tyler doesn’t know who she is. She knows that her real name is Purity, that she’s saddled with $130,000 in student debt, that she’s squatting with anarchists in Oakland, and that her relationship with her mother–her only family–is hazardous. But she doesn’t have a clue who her father is; why her mother has always concealed her own real name, or how she can ever have a normal life.

My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk, 2002, 417 pages

My Name Is Red is a transporting tale set amid the splendor and religious intrigue of sixteenth-century Istanbul, from one of the most prominent contemporary Turkish writers.The Sultan has commissioned a cadre of the most acclaimed artists in the land to create a great book celebrating the glories of his realm. Their task: to illuminate the work in the European style. But because figurative art can be deemed an affront to Islam, this commission is a dangerous proposition indeed. The ruling elite therefore mustn’t know the full scope or nature of the project, and panic erupts when one of the chosen miniaturists disappears. The only clue to the mystery –- or crime? –- lies in the half-finished illuminations themselves. Part fantasy and part philosophical puzzle, My Name is Red is a kaleidoscopic journey to the intersection of art, religion, love, sex and power.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, 2014, 530 pages

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction 2015.  From the highly acclaimed, multiple award-winning Anthony Doerr, the beautiful, stunningly ambitious instant New York Times bestseller about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II.

In a Dark, Dark, Wood by Ruth Ware, July 2015, 352 pages

Nora hasn’t seen Clare for ten years. Not since Nora walked out of school one day and never went back.  In a dark, dark wood there was a dark, dark house until, out of the blue, an invitation to Clare’s hen arrives. Is this a chance for Nora to finally put her past behind her?  And in the dark, dark house there was a dark, dark room.  But something goes wrong. Very wrong.  And in the dark, dark room… Some things can’t stay secret forever.

New Irish Short Stories, Edited by Joseph O’Connor, 2011, 432 pages

A collection of Irish short stories, featuring, among many others, William Trevor and Roddy Doyle, Rebecca Miller and Richard Ford, Christine Dwyer Hickey and Colm Toibin.

In the Country by Mia Alvar, June 2015, 368 pages

These nine globetrotting, unforgettable stories from Mia Alvar, a remarkable new literary talent, vividly give voice to the women and men of the Filipino diaspora. Here are exiles, emigrants, and wanderers uprooting their families from the Philippines to begin new lives in the Middle East, the United States, and elsewhere—and, sometimes, turning back again. A pharmacist living in New York smuggles drugs to his ailing father in Manila, only to discover alarming truths about his family and his past. In Bahrain, a Filipina teacher drawn to a special pupil finds, to her surprise, that she is questioning her own marriage. A college student leans on her brother, a laborer in Saudi Arabia, to support her writing ambitions, without realizing that his is the life truly made for fiction. And in the title story, a journalist and a nurse face an unspeakable trauma amidst the political turmoil of the Philippines in the 1970s and ’80s.

Euphoria by Lily King, 2014, 256 pages

From New England Book Award winner Lily King comes a breathtaking novel about three young anthropologists of the ’30s caught in a passionate love triangle that threatens their bonds, their careers, and, ultimately, their lives. English anthropologist Andrew Bankson has been alone in the field for several years, studying the Kiona river tribe in the Territory of New Guinea. Haunted by the memory of his brothers’ deaths and increasingly frustrated and isolated by his research, Bankson is on the verge of suicide when a chance encounter with colleagues, the controversial Nell Stone and her wry and mercurial Australian husband Fen, pulls him back from the brink. Nell and Fen have just fled the bloodthirsty Mumbanyo and, in spite of Nell’s poor health, are hungry for a new discovery. When Bankson finds them a new tribe nearby, the artistic, female-dominated Tam, he ignites an intellectual and romantic firestorm between the three of them that burns out of anyone’s control.

 How to Be Both by Ali Smith, 2014, 376 pages

On the Man Booker prize short list in 2014, How to be Both is a novel all about art’s versatility.  Borrowing from painting’s fresco technique to make an original literary double take, it’s a fast-moving genre-bending conversation between forms, times, truths, and fictions.  There’s a renaissance artist of the 1460’s. There’s the child of a child of the 1960’s. Two tales of love and injustice twist into a singular yarn where time gets timeless, structural gets playful, knowing gets mysterious, fictional gets real – and all life’s givens get given a second chance.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, 2014, 336 pages

An audacious, darkly glittering novel set in the eerie days of civilization’s collapse, Station Eleven tells the spellbinding story of a Hollywood star, his would-be savior, and a nomadic group of actors roaming the scattered outposts of the Great Lakes region, risking everything for art and humanity. Spanning decades, moving back and forth in time, and vividly depicting life before and after the pandemic, this suspenseful, elegiac novel is rife with beauty. As Arthur falls in and out of love, as Jeevan watches the newscasters say their final good-byes, and as Kirsten finds herself caught in the crosshairs of the prophet, we see the strange twists of fate that connect them all. A novel of art, memory, and ambition, Station Eleven tells a story about the relationships that sustain us, the ephemeral nature of fame, and the beauty of the world as we know it.

Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill, 2014, 179 pages

Jenny Offill’s heroine, referred to in these pages as simply “the wife,” once exchanged love letters with her husband postmarked Dept. of Speculation, their code name for all the uncertainty that inheres in life and in the strangely fluid confines of a long relationship. As they confront an array of common catastrophes—a colicky baby, a faltering marriage, stalled ambitions—the wife analyzes her predicament, invoking everything from Keats and Kafka to the thought experiments of the Stoics to the lessons of doomed Russian cosmonauts. She muses on the consuming, capacious experience of maternal love, and the near total destruction of the self that ensues from it as she confronts the friction between domestic life and the seductions and demands of art. Selected as one of The New York Times Book Review’s 10 Best Books of 2014.

Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee, 2015, 278 pages

From Harper Lee comes a landmark new novel set two decades after her beloved Pulitzer Prize–winning masterpiece, To Kill a Mockingbird.  Maycomb, Alabama. Twenty-six-year-old Jean Louise Finch—”Scout”—returns home from New York City to visit her aging father, Atticus. Set against the backdrop of the civil rights tensions and political turmoil that were transforming the South, Jean Louise’s homecoming turns bittersweet when she learns disturbing truths about her close-knit family, the town, and the people dearest to her. Memories from her childhood flood back, and her values and assumptions are thrown into doubt. Featuring many of the iconic characters from To Kill a Mockingbird, Go Set a Watchman perfectly captures a young woman, and a world, in painful yet necessary transition out of the illusions of the past—a journey that can only be guided by one’s own conscience.

Written in the mid-1950s, Go Set a Watchman imparts a fuller, richer understanding and appreciation of Harper Lee. Here is an unforgettable novel of wisdom, humanity, passion, humor, and effortless precision—a profoundly affecting work of art that is both wonderfully evocative of another era and relevant to our own times. It not only confirms the enduring brilliance of To Kill a Mockingbird, but also serves as its essential companion, adding depth, context, and new meaning to an American classic.

Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick, 2009, 294 pages

A National Book Award finalist and National Book Critics Circle finalist, Barbara Demick’s Nothing to Envy is a remarkable view into North Korea, as seen through the lives of six ordinary citizens.  Nothing to Envy follows the lives of six North Koreans over fifteen years—a chaotic period that saw the death of Kim Il-sung, the unchallenged rise to power of his son Kim Jong-il, and the devastation of a far-ranging famine that killed one-fifth of the population.

 

The Year of the Runaways by Sunjeev Sahota, 2015, 480 pages

Shortlisted for the Man Booker prize 2015.  Thirteen young men live in a house in Sheffield, each in flight from India and in desperate search of a new life.  Tarlochan, a former rickshaw driver, will say nothing about his past in Bihar, and Avtar has a secret that binds him to protect the chaotic Randeep.  Randeep, in turn, has a visa-wife in a flat on the other side of town: a clever, devout woman whose cupboards are full of her husband’s clothes, in case the immigration men surprise her with a call.  Sweeping between India and England, and between childhood and the present day, The Year of the Runaways is a story of an unlikely family thrown together by circumstance.

The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley, 2010, 527 pages

In the spring of 1708, an invading Jacobite fleet of French and Scottish soldiers nearly succeeded in landing the exiled James Stewart in Scotland to reclaim his crown.  Now, Carrie McClelland hopes to turn that story into her next bestselling novel. Settling herself in the shadow of Slains Castle, she creates a heroine named for one of her own ancestors and starts to write. But when she discovers her novel is more fact than fiction, Carrie wonders if she might be dealing with ancestral memory, making her the only living person who knows the truth-the ultimate betrayal-that happened all those years ago, and that knowledge comes very close to destroying her…

The Gift of Asher Lev by Chaim Potok, 1997, 384 pages

This is the story of Asher Lev, a boy born with a prodigious artistic ability into a Hasidic Jewish family, set in the 1950s in the time of Joseph Stalin and the persecution of Jews in the Soviet Union. During Asher’s childhood, his artistic inclination brings him into conflict with the members of his Jewish community, which values things primarily as they relate to faith and considers art unrelated to religious expression to be at best a waste of time and possibly a sacrilege. It brings him into particularly strong conflict with his father, a man who has devoted his life to serving their leader, the Rebbe, by traveling around the world bringing the teachings and practice of their sect to other Jews, and who is by nature incapable of understanding or appreciating art.  Twenty years have passed for Asher Lev. He is a world-renowned artist living in France, still uncertain of his artistic direction. When his beloved uncle dies suddenly, Asher and his family rush back to Brooklyn–and into a world that Asher thought he had left behind forever…

 

 

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