Old and new, fiction and real, funny and sad, these are my favourite 8 books that took me through the difficult year of 2021. My list below is not in any particular order of preference, since I loved all of these books the same. So grab a glass of wine and choose which ones you would like to read in 2022.
• Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
A book that most of us expats can find parts and emotions that remind us of our path to the fun and difficult choice of living abroad. The story is about Ifemelu and Obinze, who are young and in love when they depart military-ruled Nigeria for the West. Beautiful, self-assured Ifemelu heads for America, where despite her academic success, she is forced to grapple with what it means to be black for the first time. Quiet, thoughtful Obinze had hoped to join her, but with post-9/11 America closed to him, he instead plunges into a dangerous, undocumented life in London. Fifteen years later, they reunite in a newly democratic Nigeria, and reignite their passion—for each other and for their homeland.
• Darkness for Sale by Joel Azulay
Darkness for Sale is a book originally written in English, but also available in Dutch. Joel lives in Haarlem and he wrote this book to give us an insight into a mind, clouded over by darkness. It was written during dark times in order to create a better understanding about darkness and how you, me, or someone you know can get out of it or (at the very least) cope with it. It is sprinkled with a few fun yet ridiculous stories that make it entertaining as well. And what does Joel get out of it? He said that by writing the first part of his life story he might make some sense of it all. His darkness brought him a lot of problems and stress and a healthy amount of debt. So he decided to make his problem the solution. His darkness is for sale because he is ready to part with it.
You can read a chapter of Darkness for Sale and order it by clicking here. And trust me, you will not regret it. Joel’s writing is so soothing and relatable, that when you finish with his darkness, you might actually finish with yours as well.
• The Anomaly by Hervé Le Tellier
In June 2021, a senseless event upends the lives of hundreds of men and women, all passengers on a flight from Paris to New York. Among them: Blake, a respectable family man, though he works as a contract killer; Slimboy, a Nigerian pop star tired of living a lie; Joanna, a formidable lawyer whose flaws have caught up with her; and Victor Miesel, a critically acclaimed yet commercially unsuccessful writer who suddenly becomes a cult hit. All of them believed they had double lives. None imagined just how true that was.
A virtuoso novel where logic confronts magic, The Anomaly explores the part of ourselves that eludes us. This witty variation on the doppelgänger theme, which takes us on a journey from Lagos and Mumbai to the White House, proves to be Hervé Le Tellier’s most ambitious work yet.
• The Strange Journey of Alice Pendelbury by Marc Levy
Since I haven’t traveled much this year for obvious reasons, I followed Alice in her unexpected journey to follow her destiny. And I loved it! The book was written by the international bestselling author Marc Levy – who also wrote the famous P.S. From Paris, but I strongly believe that The Strange Journey of Alice Pendelbury is much better.
The story: Alice Pendelbury believes everything in her life is pretty much in order—from her good friends to her burgeoning career. But even Alice has to admit it’s been an odd week. Not only has her belligerent neighbor, Mr. Daldry, suddenly become a surprisingly agreeable confidant, but he’s encouraging her to take seriously the fortune-teller who told her that only by traveling to Turkey can Alice meet the most important person in her life.
What’s more, the peculiarly insistent Mr. Daldry has even agreed to finance Alice’s trip—one that against all reason seems to be predestined. It’s on this journey, crazy from the outset and strangely irresistible, that Alice will find out that nothing in her life is real, that her past is not true, and that the six people she’s about to encounter will shape her future in ways she could never have dreamed.
• Normal People by Sally Rooney
I read this book so fast and I wanted more. And then I found out that they made a limited TV series for it and I watched it and I still wanted more. So then I got Sally Rooney’s other book which you will see below. The story: At school Connell and Marianne pretend not to know each other. He’s popular and well-adjusted, star of the school soccer team while she is lonely, proud, and intensely private. But when Connell comes to pick his mother up from her housekeeping job at Marianne’s house, a strange and indelible connection grows between the two teenagers – one they are determined to conceal.
Sally Rooney brings her brilliant psychological acuity and perfectly spare prose to a story that explores the subtleties of class, the electricity of first love, and the complex entanglements of family and friendship.
• Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney
A sharply intelligent novel about two college students and the strange, unexpected connection they forge with a married couple.
Frances is twenty-one years old, cool-headed, and darkly observant. A college student and aspiring writer, she devotes herself to a life of the mind–and to the beautiful and endlessly self-possessed Bobbi, her best friend and comrade-in-arms. Lovers at school, the two young women now perform spoken-word poetry together in Dublin, where a journalist named Melissa spots their potential. Drawn into Melissa’s orbit, Frances is reluctantly impressed by the older woman’s sophisticated home and tall, handsome husband. As Frances tries to keep her life in check, her relationships increasingly resist her control: with Nick, with her difficult and unhappy father, and finally even with Bobbi. Desperate to reconcile herself to the desires and vulnerabilities of her body, Frances’s intellectual certainties begin to yield to something new: a painful and disorienting way of living from moment to moment.
• Memories of My Melancholy Whores by Gabriel García Márquez
Oh what a book! A gem by the master storyteller! Memories of My Melancholy Whores was written at the height of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ powers, and was described as “Masterful. Erotic. As hypnotizing as it is disturbing” (Los Angeles Times). The story: On the eve of his ninetieth birthday, our unnamed protagonist–an undistinguished journalist and lifelong bachelor–decides to give himself “the gift of a night of wild love with an adolescent virgin.”
The girl, whom an old madam procures for him, is splendidly young, with the silent power of a sleeping beauty. The night of love blossoms into a transforming year. It is a year in which he relives, in a rush of memories, his lifetime of (paid-for) sexual adventures and experiences a revelation that brings him to the edge of dying–not of old age, but, at long last, of uncorrupted love.
• The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris
A true story that nobody should ever forget! A vivid, harrowing, and ultimately hopeful re-creation of Lale Sokolov’s experiences as the man who tattooed the arms of thousands of prisoners with what would become one of the most potent symbols of the Holocaust, The Tattooist of Auschwitz is also a testament to the endurance of love and humanity under the darkest possible conditions. In April 1942, Lale Sokolov, a Slovakian Jew, is forcibly transported to the concentration camps at Auschwitz-Birkenau. When his captors discover that he speaks several languages, he is put to work as a Tätowierer (the German word for tattooist), tasked with permanently marking his fellow prisoners.
Imprisoned for more than two and a half years, Lale witnesses horrific atrocities and barbarism—but also incredible acts of bravery and compassion. Risking his own life, he uses his privileged position to exchange jewels and money from murdered Jews for food to keep his fellow prisoners alive.
One day in July 1942, Lale, prisoner 32407, comforts a trembling young woman waiting in line to have the number 34902 tattooed onto her arm. Her name is Gita, and in that first encounter, Lale vows to somehow survive the camp and marry her.
So these were my favourite books in 2021 that were not written of course in 2021. Please let me know in the comments which books you enjoyed reading this last year, so we can all make a new “to read” list for 2022.