With lockdown extended, we thought you might need some reading inspiration. Here are our latest contributor James Rayner’s suggestions for uplifting and downright inspiring reading matter…
Girl, Woman, Other – Bernadine Evaristo
Perhaps the most joyful and inspiring book you could possibly read during lockdown. Evaristo guides her reader through the interconnecting lives of twelve different women, through different times and in different places. Hattie, the daughter of an Ethiopian sailor, living in the Scottish Borders is a particularly engrossing character but Bummi is a close second with her tale of a difficult Nigerian childhood followed by entrepreneurial endeavours and a short-lived lesbian encounter in London.
Girl, Woman, Other is certainly a life-affirming book and presents an extraordinary diversity of characters, of different ethnic backgrounds, economic backgrounds and sexualities. It’s hard to imagine feeling equal amounts of empathy for such varied individuals but somehow Evaristo makes each one just as relatable and loveable as the next.
10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World – Elif Shafak
Finding herself dead in a bin, Leyla (a.k.a. Tequila Leila) spends the last 10 minutes 38 seconds of her dwindling consciousness recalling memories from her varied life. From the moment she’s born and refuses to cry you can sense that Leyla is a free spirit who’s meant to be different but her unorthodox upbringing and controlling parents conspire to make her life intolerable. She escapes to Istanbul but what awaits her there is a life of work in the city’s brothels – it might sound depressing, but this is a strangely uplifting and reflective story.
Elif Shafak has a wonderfully magical style of writing and the way the events from Leyla’s life are strung together creates a truly enchanting narrative. Full of life and diversity, like many Turkish novels – if you loved Pamuk’s The Red Haired Woman, you’re sure to love this one too.
Brit(ish) – Afua Hirsch
It seems that Brit(ish) has become one of those books any self-respecting reader should have read by now. Ground-breaking when it was first released, Hirsch introduces her readers to the complexities and struggles of being black and British in the 21st century – everything from how natural afro hair is sometimes deemed unacceptable to how shopping in Wimbledon as a mixed-race woman can be viewed with suspicion.
Brit(ish) is also a frank and personal memoir of Hirsch’s journey to discover her own identity. Feeling an outsider in Britain she moved to Senegal and then Ghana, hoping to achieve a greater sense of belonging but soon found those places weren’t home either – and then how she dealt with that revelation.
Interesting, eye-opening and insightful – it’s books like this that just might make Britain a better place in the future.
Also on the list:
Queenie – Candice Carty-Williams
A bit like Eleonor Oliphant is Completely Fine but better, more of a journey and much more relatable (for me at least). Queenie’s journey to discover her own self-worth is an emotional read for anyone else who’s been on the same path.
A Street Without A Name – Kapka Kassabova
As you can’t travel in real life (for now) why not take a tour of Bulgaria with Kapka Kassabova as she returns to her homeland after years trying to avoid it. Amusing and insightful with a wonderful cast of interesting characters.
Swallowing Mercury – Wioletta Greg
Bleak but incredibly poetic, vivid and emotional. It follows the life of Wiola, a young girl growing up in Communist Poland, navigating a world she often struggles to understand. It’s one of those books where you seem to discover something deeper about what it means to be human.
Reviews: James Rayner
Please try your local independent bookshop for buying your books rather than the large online ones – they’re all trying so hard to keep their businesses going in these testing times. On the Isle of Wight try www.medinabookshop.com or please add your local shop in the comments section! Thank you x