I always enjoy the air of anticipation this time of year, less than a month away from the announcement of the 2013 Man Booker Prize Longlist in London on July 23. Obtaining the over one hundred eligible books is a challenge for the American reader, as many books are not as yet distributed in the States. However, because of several wonderful bookstores that I frequent and a great local public library, I have managed to find and read five of the eligible books so far. All five are excellent novels, and I recommend all of them to you.
English writer Jim Crace’s Harvest is set in an unnamed English village in the unspecified distant past. It’s a spellbinding mood piece, layered with plot twists and a fascinating array of characters that reflect the class and caste structure of the time. Crace’s pacing of the narrative is first rate, as is his lyrical writing style.
Colm Toibin, the outstanding Irish writer, has produced a short literary gem in The Testament of Mary. He chronicles the thoughts of Mary of Nazareth in her last years residing in Ephesus. Mary is depicted as a mournful mother, confused about the meaning and purpose of her son’s life and the turbulent aftermath of his death. Her ambiguity about the deity of Jesus is contrasted with the unquestioning faith of some of the Apostles who care for her.
The Pakistani author, Mohsin Hamid, dazzles us with his satiric novel, How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia. The setting is an unspecified South Asian nation, but it is crystal clear that Hamid is dissecting the social and commercial fabric of his homeland, especially life in the big cities of Lahore and Karachi. The novel is fraught with ironies and contradictions, much like Pakistan itself. Although I found some superfluous bathos in the storyline and characters, in its entirety the book manages to be an entertaining and satisfying read.
Ghana Must Go is the debut novel of Taiye Selasi, a woman born in London, raised in the States, to parents born in Nigeria and Ghana. It’s a splendid depiction of both the psychological and emotional struggles of an immigrant family in the United States, as well as life in post-colonial West Africa. Selasi’s characters are nuanced, and she unrelentingly probes their minds until suppressed emotions and feelings are revealed.
Finally, Irish author Colum McCann covers 165 years of Irish and American history in his amazing novel TransAtlantic. The construct of the book is brilliant. He weaves actual historic events such as Frederick Douglass’ fundraising trip to Ireland at the onset of the Great Famine and former Senator George Mitchell brokering the Good Friday Accords into the fabric of his incredible fictionalized narrative. It is historical fiction at its best, allowing us to see how troubled pasts can eventually lead to hopeful futures.