Reading has meant a lot this year. I’ve heard many people say that recent events have totally destroyed their concentration, but whatever else has been happening – and however hard I may have found it to concentrate on other things – reading has been a constant and calming presence over the last twelve months. I’m fortunate to have read a lot of mostly excellent books and, with one month left to go until the new year, am determined to make that hold true right up until the end.
After concentrating on short stories and essays last month, my book choices for December look a little heftier and will give me the chance to catch up on a couple of titles I’ve been meaning to read for a while. I’ve spent most of the year watching Hurricane Season being talked about and am keen to see how I find a book that readers seem to have quite violent reactions to (festive fare, it isn’t), while Preti Taneja’s We that are young has been on my to-read list for what feels like for ever. In Kapka Kassabova’s To the Lake I’ll be indulging in some possibly hard-hitting armchair travel to the Balkans. And finally, I feel I couldn’t end 2020 without reading all six books published by Charco Press this year: Ramifications is the one title I’m missing.
In case you missed them, last month I compiled lists of brilliant indie publisher subscriptions and small presses to buy from direct – as Christmas draws ever nearer, please do remember to support independent publishers and bookshops if you’re buying reading-related gifts.
And so, to close the year, the monthly booking for December is:
Hurricane Season by Fernanda Melchor, translated from the Spanish by Sophie Hughes (Fitzcarraldo Editions)
What the publisher says: ‘The Witch is dead. After a group of children playing near the irrigation canals discover her decomposing corpse, the village of La Matosa is rife with rumours about how and why this murder occurred. As the novel unfolds in a dazzling linguistic torrent, Fernanda Melchor paints a moving portrait of lives governed by poverty and violence, machismo and misogyny, superstition and prejudice. Written with an infernal lyricism that is as affecting as it is enthralling, Hurricane Season, Melchor’s first novel to appear in English, is a formidable portrait of Mexico and its demons, brilliantly translated by Sophie Hughes.’
To the Lake by Kapka Kassabova (Graywolf Press)
What the publisher says: ‘Lake Ohrid and Lake Prespa. Two ancient lakes joined by underground rivers. Two lakes that seem to hold both the turbulent memories of the region’s past and the secret of its enduring allure. Two lakes that have played a central role in Kapka Kassabova’s maternal family. [. . .] By exploring on water and land the stories of poets, fishermen, and caretakers, misfits, rulers, and inheritors of war and exile, Kassabova uncovers the human destinies shaped by the lakes. Setting out to resolve her own ancestral legacy, Kassabova locates a deeper inquiry into how geography and politics imprint themselves upon families and nations, one that confronts her with universal questions about human suffering and the capacity for change.’
Ramifications by Daniel Saldaña París, translated from the Spanish by Christina MacSweeney (Charco Press)
What the publisher says: ‘A thirty-two-year old man can’t get out of bed or leave his apartment. All he can do is recall his life so far, dissect it, write it, gathering all the memories around what would mark his existence forever: his mother’s departure in the summer of 1994, when he was only ten, so that she could join the Zapatista uprising that was shaking up the whole country. [. . .] In his second novel, Daniel Saldaña París has created a bone chilling, exact portrait of a hypersensitive childhood that must torture and repeat itself in the mind of the protagonist.’
We that are young by Preti Taneja (Galley Beggar Press)
What the publisher says: ‘Told in astonishing prose – a great torrent of words and imagery – We that are young is a modern-day King Lear that bursts with energy and fierce, beautifully measured rage. Set against the backdrop of the anti-corruption riots in 2011–2012, it provides startling insights into modern India, the clash of youth and age, the hectic pace of life in one of the world’s fastest growing economies – and the ever-present spectre of death. More than that, this is a novel about the human heart. And its breaking point.’