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Wednesday, May 9, 2018


As the year comes to a close, here's a list of the best books I read in 2017

Yes, it's that time of year again. When newspapers and magazines begin doing their year-end round-ups. The political highlights of the year. The top ten people of the year. The twenty best places to eat at. The highest-rated holiday destinations. And so on and so forth.

So, in that same spirit of year-end nostalgia, I present to you my own list: the top five books I have read through the year. Needless to say, this is an entirely subjective list, far from comprehensive, and does not include many superb books that came out in 2017. But it is stuff that I read and loved -- and I hope you will read and love too. 

* Little Fires Everywhere: This is Celeste Ng's second novel and it is even more assured than her first, Everything I Never Told You. Set in American suburbia, the story starts with a fire that burns down the home of Richardson family. But the fire is not at the heart of the book, family is. Or rather, families. There are the Richardsons with their picture-perfect house, home to four teenagers. There is peripatetic single mother Mia Warren and her 15-year-old daughter Mia who have a mystery at the centre of their lives. And then, there is a third plot line that involves a custody battle for a baby whose birth mother returns to claim her. It's takes a rare talent to sew all these multiple strands together without losing control of the plot. But Ng is that rare talent, so you are in safe hands.

* Ties: I have to confess that I downloaded this book by Domenico Starnone for ulterior motives. No, not because it has been translated from the Italian by Jhumpa Lahiri (who has also written a foreword). But because Starnone is married to Anita Raja who was recently 'outed' as Elena Ferrante, one of my favorite writers and there had been some speculation that the Neapolitan Novels I so loved were actually the work of Starnone. Well, having read Ties, I have my doubts about that theory. But that said, this book stands up on its own merits, sketching out the life of an ageing couple, with all the indignities of growing old, juxtaposed brilliantly with flashbacks of their young selves. 

* A Legacy of Spies: All the pre-release publicity revolved around how John Le Carre was bringing back George Smiley in this book. But frankly, that was a bit of a red herring. Smiley is referenced constantly through the book but remains offstage, emerging for a cameo at the very end. But that doesn't make this spy thriller (in the loosest sense of the term) any less enjoyable. You have to be a Le Carre aficionado to truly appreciate how the back story is woven in. But even if you are coming to Le Carre for the first time ever, you will be caught up in the sheer skill with which he swings from past to present. Speaking for myself, I was a bit disappointed with the end, but you can read and make up your own mind.

* What Happened: The title doesn't have a question mark at the end but I always hear one as I imagine Hillary Clinton saying in plaintive tones, What the (expletive deleted) Happened? Maybe that's because the author's voice comes through so strongly and clearly as she dissects all that went wrong in her 2016 presidential bid. Many critics have scoffed at the fact that Clinton blames everyone but herself for her electoral loss in this book. But that wasn't how I read it. To me, the book portrayed a woman, who had nothing more to lose, coming clean on how the mistakes she and her campaign made changed the course of American history even as she acknowledged the damage misogyny and sexism had done to her cause. In another decade or so, this will be essential reading for all students of politics. 

* House Of Spies: If you haven't read The Black Widow by Daniel Silva, then drop everything you are doing and read it now. Because Silva's latest, House of Spies, takes off from where The Black Widow left off. The central character is, as always, the legendary Israeli spy, Gabriel Allon, now ensconced at the head of his country's secret service. But even the demands of that job can't keep the intrepid Allon off the field, as he tries to track down and destroy the lynchpin of ISIS, a shadowy character who goes by the name of Saladin. After a momentary dip, when his novels became a tad formulaic, Silva is on top form again, weaving suspenseful stories that will have you up till the early hours of the morning, telling yourself, "Okay, just one more chapter!" Remember, you have been warned. 

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