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Literary Fiction

  • Accidental

    The Accidentalby Ali Smith.  This is one of many suggestions from a contributor who shared a book list compiled by her fellow Barnard College alums. "The Accidentalis the dizzyingly entertaining, wickedly humorous story of a mysterious stranger whose sudden appearance during a family’s summer holiday transforms four variously unhappy people. Each of the Smarts–parents Eve and Michael, son Magnus, and the youngest, daughter Astrid–encounter Amber in his or her own solipsistic way, but somehow her presence allows them to se their lives (and their life together) in a new light. Smith’s exhilarating facility with language, her narrative freedom, and her chromatic wordplay propel the novel to its startling, wonderfully enigmatic conclusion. Ali Smith’s acclaimed novel won the prestigious Whitbread Award and was a finalist for the Man Booker Prize, the Orange Prize, and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize."

  • Alchemist

    The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. "A sweet, allegorical novel. Quick read." And: “The type of book I'll read and reread, it inspires one to waste no time in pursuing their dreams.”

  • Ancient Light

    Ancient Lightby John Banville.  "Gripping and wistful account of a long ago love affair in rural Ireland.  Gorgeous writing, if a tad pompous in places."

  • Beautiful Ruins

    Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter. "A lovely novel set alternately in the Italian coast in the 1960s and Hollywood today... transitions between a beautiful young cast member of the Cleopatra movie who was involved with Richard Burton, a young hotelier in Italy, an American writer who summers in Italy and an American film producer and his assistant."

  • Beneath the Marble Sky

    Beneath the Marble Sky by John Shors. "a love story of the building of the Taj Mahal.....most excellent read."

  • Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

    The Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz. From Amazon: "Oscar is a sweet but disastrously overweight ghetto nerd who—from the New Jersey home he shares with his old world mother and rebellious sister—dreams of becoming the Dominican J.R.R. Tolkien and, most of all, finding love. But Oscar may never get what he wants. Blame the fukú—a curse that has haunted Oscar’s family for generations, following them on their epic journey from Santo Domingo to the USA. Encapsulating Dominican-American history, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao opens our eyes to an astonishing vision of the contemporary American experience and explores the endless human capacity to persevere—and risk it all—in the name of love."

  • Brooklyn

    Brooklyn Coim Toibin.  This was on the 2012 New Fiction list. It was bumped up this year on the strength of additional enthusiastic reviews.  Eilis Lacey grew up in a small town in Ireland after World War II.  When an Irish priest from Brooklyn offers to sponsor her in America, she decides she must go, leaving behind her fragile mother and vivacious sister.  “I loved the tone and the voice of the narrator, the way the story was sparsely told and yet so full of life.  Toibin shows us so much about the time and experience of Irish immigrants in the years after World War II without telling us explicitly."  (Great interview with author here: BBC)

  • Burgess Boys

    The Burgess Boysby Elizabeth Strout. By the author of Olive Kittredge, a top pick a couple of years ago. “Haunted by the freak accident that killed their father when they were children, Jim and Bob Burgess escaped from their Maine hometown of Shirley Falls for New York City as soon as they possibly could. Jim, a sleek, successful corporate lawyer, has belittled his bighearted brother their whole lives, and Bob, a Legal Aid attorney who idolizes Jim, has always taken it in stride. But their long-standing dynamic is upended when their sister, Susan—the Burgess sibling who stayed behind—urgently calls them home. Her lonely teenage son, Zach, has gotten himself into trouble, and Susan desperately needs their help. And so the Burgess brothers return to the landscape of their childhood, where the long-buried tensions that have shaped and shadowed their relationship begin to surface in unexpected ways that will change them forever. I have read and loved every novel by Elizabeth Strout and this newest one does not disappoint. As always, the author delivers rich character development and nuanced insight into complicated family dynamics. Also, a must-read for anyone from Maine.”

  • Crossing to Safety

    Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner. "A charming, stroll through friendship, marriage and family. This book is like taking a bite off of a bitter sweet apple." From Amazon:  "Tracing the lives, loves, and aspirations of two couples who move between Vermont and Wisconsin, it is a work of quiet majesty, deep compassion, and powerful insight into the alchemy of friendship and marriage."  Cozy settings - academia and a summer place in Vermont.

  • Cry, the Beloved Country

    Cry, The Beloved Country (Paperback) by Alan Paton. "I read and loved this before my South Africa trip. It is beautifully written and incredibly heartbreaking." It was first published in 1948 apartheid South Africa.

  • Cutting for Stone

    Cutting for Stone (Vintage) by Abraham Verghese. I am not sure I know anyone who didn’t love this book. It’s about identical twins born to a beautiful Indian nun in Ethiopia. (Yes, really.) She dies in childbirth, leaving them to be raised by one of the most wonderful couples I’ve ever encountered in literature. I'm not going to say how long it is … read it on the Kindle, as I did, and find out AFTER you’ve finished it. Comments: "Gorgeous writing style and story." "The book opened so many windows -- allowing a rare glimpse into Ethiopia, into surgery (NEVER thought I'd want to read all of that!), then crossing the pond with our protagonist to his life at a hospital in the Bronx."  "My goodness, I loved this book. Sweeping, yet intimate family saga of twin brothers born to a doctor and a nun-nurse and how their lives unfold. Stranger in a strange land, what is home, what is family -- all themes in this beautifully written book."

  • Dark Sacred Night

    And the Dark Sacred Night by Julia Glass.  “Julia Glass tells a detailed story of an unemployed art historian and his quest to locate his unknown father. His journey forces him to reconnect with his former step-father who leads him to others who will know the answer.  Reader's of Glass's first novel, Three Junes, will recognize Lucinda, the mother of music critic who died of AIDS.  The story is a memorable tale about the youthful choices that steer destinies, the necessity of forgiveness, and the risks that we take to face the past.”

  • Death of the Heart and The House in Paris

    The Death of the Heart and The House in Paris. By Elizabeth Bowen. “Re-reviewed in the Post as must-reads & look delicious (in the Somerset Maugham-kind of tradition I think).”

  • Department of Speculation

    Department of Speculation by Jenny Offil   “Written like a poem, this book of minimal words tells a complex tale of a marriage over a long period of time.  I loved the format and the fact that she eliminates every extraneous bit, leaving a perfectly told, rich account of family life.  Brilliant writing and an edgy style.” …  “Jenny Offill’s second novel charts the course of a marriage through curious, often shimmering fragments of prose. A writer lives in Brooklyn. A writer lives in Brooklyn and falls in love. A writer in Brooklyn marries and has a child. A married writer in Brooklyn lives, and then there are bedbugs. The novel is, at times, reminiscent of Renata Adler’s Speedboat with a less bitter edge. Seemingly significant information is doled out in inscrutable doses. Each fragment is satisfying or not, and exists unto itself but also, clearly, as part of something bigger. 'Dept. of Speculation' moves quickly, but it is also joyously demanding because you will want to keep trying to understand the why of each fragment and how it fits with the others.”

  • Disgrace

    Disgraceby J.M. Coatzee. “Though not very long and quite an easy read, this book amazed me with all it accomplishes. Coatzee does gender and race in South Africa without ever mentioning the words, hardly hinting that he’s talking politics at all. In fact, the title could be ‘Desire,’ for all its focus on what the heart wants. I’ve wanted to read Coatzee since he won the Nobel in 2003, and I wasn’t disappointed. Yes, the book’s subjects involve the political, but what he’s really written is a suspenseful—This can’t be happening but it is!-- near-Biblical tale on the meaning of love—and parenting.”

  • Elegance of the Hedgehog

    The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbury.  "Reading it now and while it took me a while to get into it, I am completely caught in its spell now. Set in Paris, it is about a combination of intriguing and surprising people who all live in a well-to-do apartment building in Paris. It’s a major life themes kind of book with lots of humor and kindness to offset some of the heavy stuff. " Same contributor, about a day later: "Okay I confess that I just read then end of the Hedgehog and it was really wonderful. One of the best books ever. Practically sobbing, but not in a miserably sad way. It was just beautiful and is one of those books that gathers steam." "A wonderful story about a child living in a crazy French apartment building and considering killing herself. I did love this book. Apparently child psychiatrists make it mandatory reading for their patients."

  • End of the Land

    To the End of the Landby David Grossman. This title came from a book club of Barnard alums, one of whom shared their list in 2013.  "From one of Israel’s most acclaimed writers comes a novel of extraordinary power about family life—the greatest human drama—and the cost of war.  Ora, a middle-aged Israeli mother, is on the verge of celebrating her son Ofer’s release from army service when he returns to the front for a major offensive. In a fit of preemptive grief and magical thinking, she sets out for a hike in the Galilee, leaving no forwarding information for the ‘notifiers’ who might darken her door with the worst possible news. Recently estranged from her husband, Ilan, she drags along an unlikely companion: their former best friend and her former lover, Avram, once a brilliant artistic spirit."

  • Everything

    Everything by Kevin Canty.  Another title from our 2013 list that was sent in by a member of a Barnard alumnae book club.  "In taut, exquisite prose, Kevin Canty explores the largest themes of life—work, love, death, destruction, rebirth—in the middle of the everyday. On the fifth of July, RL and June go down to the river with a bottle of Johnnie Walker Red to commemorate Taylor’s fiftieth and last birthday. Taylor was RL’s boyhood friend and June’s husband, but after eleven years, June, a childless hospice worker, finally declares she’s 'nobody’s widow anymore.' Anxious for a new beginning, June considers selling her beloved house. RL, a divorced empty-nester, faces a major change, too, when he agrees to lodge his college girlfriend, Betsy, while she undergoes chemotherapy. Caught between Betsy’s anguish and June’s hope, the cynical RL is brought face-to-face with his own sense of futility, and the longing to experience the kind of love that 'knocks you down.' Set in Montana, reflecting the beauty of its landscape and the independence of its people, this is a shimmering novel about unexpected redemption by a writer of deep empathy and prodigious talents."

  • Garden of Evening Mists

    The Garden of Evening Mistsby Tan Twan Eng. "On a mountain above the clouds once lived a man who had been the gardener of the Emperor of Japan.... Eng's writing is poetic at times and full of beautiful imagery. The Malaysian settings of the Japanese garden and the tea estate are fully drawn and for the past few days my head has been filled with visions of lush jungle and a formal structured garden of rock and foreign plants - contrasting images that parallel life in a country controlled by outsiders, first by the British and then the invading Japanese during the war. Teoh Yun Ling is a retired judge who returns to the Cameron Highlands with aphasia - she will slowly forget how to speak and write and understand language. As a result, she starts to document her past and her story is told through her writing interspersed with episodes in the present day. The story unfolds slowly and while the book is character driven, the plot is generally compelling."

  • Ghana Must Go

    Ghana Must Go by Taiye Selasi. "Kweku Sai is dead. A renowned surgeon and failed husband, he succumbs suddenly at dawn outside his home in suburban Accra. The news of Kweku’s death sends a ripple around the world, bringing together the family he abandoned years before. Ghana Must Go is their story. Electric, exhilarating, beautifully crafted, Ghana Must Go is a testament to the transformative power of unconditional love, from a debut novelist of extraordinary talent."