Summer is almost upon us, and my birthday is this month – two excellent reasons to finally pick up a rather large book I’ve been looking at but not reading for roughly a year. In all its almost-1000-page glory, The Eighth Life has become something of a legend: longlisted for last year’s International Booker Prize and winner of the Warwick Prize for Women in Translation. I’m unlikely to get it finished this month, but like to have a fat book on the go as summer begins for extra hours of reading in the sunshine.
My translation choice for June, Havana Year Zero, is another hotly anticipated title that was published earlier this year by my beloved Charco Press, while Cheluchi Onyemelukwe-Onuobia’s The Son of the House is my independent publisher pick, new from Europa Editions. In non-fiction, I’m following up on the tree obsession planted by Richard Powers’s The Overstory and reading the memoir of the woman whose work partly inspired his novel: scientist Suzanne Simard.
Beyond this, I have a few enticing review copies to read – including a one-sentence novel by a Portuguese literary superstar – and will be planning a few themed reading lists for the coming months. Any suggestions are always welcome!
And so my reading list for June looks like this:
The Eighth Life (For Brilka) by Nino Haratischvili, translated from the German by Ruth Martin and Charlotte Collins (Scribe Publications)
What the publisher says: ‘At the start of the twentieth century, on the edge of the Russian Empire, a family prospers. It owes its success to a delicious chocolate recipe, passed down the generations with great solemnity and caution. A caution which is justified: this is a recipe for ecstasy that carries a very bitter aftertaste . . . Tumbling down the years, and across vast expanses of longing and loss, generation after generation of this compelling family hears echoes and sees reflections. Great characters and greater relationships come and go and come again; the world shakes, and shakes some more, and the reader rejoices to have found at last one of those glorious old books in which you can live and learn, be lost and found, and make indelible new friends.’
Finding the Mother Tree: Uncovering the Wisdom and Intelligence of the Forest by Suzanne Simard (Allen Lane)
What the publisher says: ‘No one has done more to transform our understanding of trees than the world-renowned scientist Suzanne Simard. Now she shares the secrets of a lifetime spent uncovering startling truths about trees: their cooperation, healing capacity, memory, wisdom and sentience. [. . .] In Finding the Mother Tree, she reveals how the complex cycle of forest life – on which we rely for our existence – offers profound lessons about resilience and kinship, and must be preserved before it’s too late.’
Havana Year Zero by Karla Suárez, translated from the Spanish by Christina MacSweeney (Charco Press)
What the publisher says: ‘The year is 1993. Cuba is at the height of the Special Period, a widespread economic crisis following the collapse of the Soviet bloc. For Julia, a mathematics lecturer who hates teaching, Havana is at Year Zero: the lowest possible point, going nowhere. Desperate to seize control of her life, Julia teams up with her colleague and former lover, Euclid, to seek out a document that proves the telephone was invented by Antonio Meucci in Havana, convinced it is the answer to secure their reputations and give Cuba a purpose once more. From this point zero, Julia sets out on an investigation to befriend two men who could help lead to the document’s whereabouts, and must pick apart a tangled mystery of sex, family legacies and the intricacies of how people find ways to survive in a country at its lowest ebb.’
The Son of the House by Cheluchi Onyemelukwe-Onuobia (Europa Editions)
What the publisher says: ‘In the city of Enugu in the 1970s, young Nwabulu dreams of becoming a typist as she endures the endless chores she is tasked with by her employers. She’s been a housemaid since the age of ten, but she is tall and beautiful and in love with a rich man’s son. Educated and privileged, Julie is a modern woman. Living on her own, she is happy to collect the gold jewellery love-struck Eugene brings her, but has no intention of becoming his second wife. When, years later, dramatic events straight out of a movie force Nwabulu and Julie into a dank room, the two women relate the stories of their lives as they await their fate. Pulsing with vitality and intense human drama, Cheluchi Onyemelukwe-Onuobia’s debut is set against four decades of vibrant Nigerian history, and celebrates the resilience of women as they navigate and transform what remains a man’s world.’