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Favourite Books of 2018

Another year has come to an end. 2018 has been a crazy busy year and I barely managed to squeeze in 50 books, quite a few being under 100 pages. Although I read significantly less compared to past years, the books that kept me company in 2018 were primarily books I thoroughly enjoyed, which is a big win for me.

Since the ‘bad’ books were so few and since I’d like to focus on the more positive aspects of 2018, I decided to compile a list of 10 of my most favourite reads of 2018. They were not all 5 star reads, but all of them managed to amaze me in one way or another and stayed engraved in my heart and memory. With no further ado, my favourite books of 2018 were the following:

Pachinko by Min Jin Leepachinko

Whatever I say about this book will be too little, any words I choose will be too insuficient to fully express my love for this book. I read Pachinko early on in the year, in January, and it quickly became one of the best books I’ve read in the past few years. It’s a family saga, a chronicle of the life and tribulations of a Korean family as they set foot on Japan after the war in hopes of a brighter future and the harsh reality that they have to face every single day. Through this novel, I learned a lot about the zainichi, the Korean expats that reside in Japan. One wonderful thing about this book is that, although it focuses on the zainichi and their experiences, the everyday struggles and hardships they go through can extend to an international scale and resonate with refugees and expats from any and every country. This book is much more than a story, a tale of loss and family, of race and nationality, of love. It is a life lesson and I really feel a much more enriched person after reading it.

Lullaby by Leila Slimani

lullabyLullaby (Chanson Douce in the original French and The Perfect Nanny in the US edition) is a brilliantly crafted thriller and suspense novel that keeps you glued to every page until you reach the very last one. After hearing so much about it, I finally purchased it at the Glasgow airport during my visit in May. Its premise is rather terrifying, as it starts with a young couple finding both their children dead. Even though the novel begins with the outcome and then goes back and recounts the events leading up to this horrible event, the suspense is ever-present and Slimani’s writing is utterly captivating.

 

The Eye by Vladimir Nabokovtomati

I had wanted to read Nabokov’s works for the longest time, and even though I owned Lolita, the timing was never right for me to dive into its conflicting world. Instead, I came across this short novella in its Greek translation (where the cover is from, as I much prefered it to the English language covers I found) and it truly enchanted me. Nabokov’s writing is smart and witty and he manages to create a very interesting story through which he can critically comment on the society of his time (which, sadly, isn’t radically different from that of today), while also making the reader wonder what really happened and what was a figment of the protagonist’s imagination.

Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata

conveniencestoreReading Convenience Store Woman was such an experience for me. I always enjoy reading about people who are considered ‘outsiders’ and who don’t want to conform to the society’s rules, especially when said rules go against who one is as a person. The matter of having a ‘respectable’ job and panning out your life according to certain standards is a very important one, especially since things have started changing in recent years, and people resort to non-traditional professions more and more. Murata’s protagonist is a Japanese woman who started working at a convenience store part-time but still finds herself in the same job years later. Despite her family and acquaintances urging her to find a ‘real job’, she feels conflicted, since she should abide by society’s rules, yet she feels oddly comfortable exactly where she is. It’s a novel that will certainly resonate with many young people today, myself included.

Old Magic by Marianne Curley oldmagic

To be quite honest, Old Magic is a book I would never think of picking up (at least as an adult), and yet here I am putting it in my list of favourites for 2018. My boyfriend, who never reads, had once told me that he had one favourite book he had read as a teen, and he gifted it to me so I would see what he liked back then. I was infinitely skeptical, but started reading it immediately, as I was in need of some very light reading at the time, and I just couldn’t put it down. Written by an Australian author, the book is about a young witch, her struggle to be accepted at her school since she comes from a ‘weird’ family, a journey back in time and, of course, romance. I can’t quite pinpoint why I liked this book so much – it reminded me of the fantasy books I used to read as a kid/teenager and it made me so nostalgic. I truly enjoyed reading Old Magic and I think I will try being more open to books, even if they initially seem like something I would never pick up for myself.

The Geek Feminist Revolution by Kameron Hurley

26114478A book of essays on a wide variety of topics, but mostly focusing on being a woman writer, a female geek in this (mostly) male-dominated field, something which Hurley proves is very difficult yet possible and rewarding. I haven’t read Hurley’s fiction, yet through reading her essays, some of them being quite personal ones, I felt a deep appreciation for her work and her craft. Some of the stories she told were funny, others empowering and others thoroughly moving, especially those regarding her initial financial difficulties and her health problems. Usually I’m a bit weary when it comes to feminist texts, but this one totally fascinated me and I will certainly seek out Hurley’s fiction in the future.

Το Τέλος της Πείνας (The End of Hunger) by Lina Rokou endof hunger

Once in a while I stumble upon contemporary Greek literary works that are true gems. The End of Hunger is one such example, and, sadly, not (yet) translated in English. The story revolves around a young woman who lives in Athens and, searching for ways to find some money, she starts selling parts of her body to a passing street seller. She sells him her teeth, her spleen, her old diaries and he still asks for more. Rokou’s writing is whimsical and poetic and absolutely beautiful. Her descriptions of the nonsensical and surrealistic events that occur to her protagonist are lyrical and imbued with the right dose of emotion. One could say that this entire selling process described is nothing but the process of falling in love, of giving away every last bit of your self to the other person and then ending up feeling completely empty by the end of it. This kind of blend of surrealism with reality is precisely my cup of tea and I truly hope this book gets translated soon so more people can discover the beauty of it.

A Biography of a Chance Miracle by Tanja Maljartschuk

40800042Another gem of a book which I didn’t expect to enjoy as much as I did. I read A Biography in September and have already posted a full review of it here in case you would like to read more about it (and you should!). Maljartschuk is a Ukrainian author who created a whimsical and thoroughly witty tale full of social satire, magical realism and the cruelty of life. Lena, the main character, always has a tendency to help others and when she gets into university she decides to open her own business selling miracles. The writing is superb, and the translation by Zenia Tompkins excellent.

 

La lettrice scomparsa (The Lost Reader) by Fabio Stassi40242756

Another fabulous read, not yet available to the English speaking world. I read its Greek translation (The Lost Reader is my literal translation of the title) and was utterly fascinated. Originally written in Italian, The Lost Reader is a mystery like no other. The protagonist is an unemployed teacher who opens a booktherapy business, in which he recommends the most fitting book to his patients according to the problems they have, as he’s a firm believer of literature’s healing powers. While trying to get used to this new job and everything that it entails, an old lady from his apartment complex suddenly vanishes and he embarks on a quest to find her and uncover the secrets hidden behind her disappearance. An ode to literature, an inventive mystery and witty quotes hidden in almost every page – what’s there not to love?

The Black Tides of Heaven by JY Yang

33846708Last but not least, I have a book I read during the last days of December, proving that it’s never too late in the year to discover a wonderful book. The Black Tides of Heaven belongs to the recently invented silkpunk subgenre, as it is set an Asian-inspired fantasy world. The first of JY Yang’s short novellas set in this world, this book focuses on one of the twins that we get introduced to in the beginning of the story (and its twin novella focuses on the other twin sibling’s story). I adored the world and all of its fantasy elements and I found Yang’s writing fabulous. I’d like this to be a full novel just so I could stay more in this world with these fascinating characters, and that’s why I read its twin novella, The Red Threads of Fortune, immediately after. The fantasy elements I loved were all there, and even enhanced, but I was very disappointed in other parts of the story, a topic which I might discuss in a different post.

It was kind of difficult to choose only 10 of the books I read in 2018 to feature in this post, but I think I chose the ones that left the biggest impression on me and the ones which I thoroughly enjoyed reading, regardless of their literary merit. I hope my reading in 2019 will focus more on quality over quantity again, and I can’t wait to share my reads with you in the new year, as well 🙂

Have you read any of those books, and if yes, what did you think of them? What were your favourite reads of 2018? Let me know in the comments below.

 

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‘A Biography of a Chance Miracle’ by Tanja Maljartschuk ****

40800042Some books come into your life unexpectedly, without any warning, and only after you have engaged with them for a little while you realise they were exactly what you have been looking for, even though you never even knew they existed in the first place. One of those books is A Biography of a Chance Miracle, written by the Ukrainian author Tanja Maljartschuk, translated into English by Zenia Tompkins and published by Cadmus Press.

After spending quite a long time away from the blog, what better way to return than with a review of a beautiful and thought-provoking book such as this. A Biography of a Chance Miracle is a book that came into my life by utter and complete chance and I am so thankful that it did.

The story of this novel follows Lena, a young girl who is born and grows up in a Western Ukrainian city which she calls San Francisco. We follow Lena from her childhood years to her adolescence and early adulthood as she tries to figure out the world around her, a world she never seems to be able to fit into. A rebellious but sensitive soul, Lena refuses to conform to any kind of rule set upon her even as a child, and she always speaks up when she sees injustice and maltreatment, although that rarely ends up in her favour.

Vividly depicting the political and cultural climate of Ukraine at the time, the author brings issues of cultural dispute with Russia, the inability of the government to take care of its people and the vast, chaotic mess that is bureaucracy to the forefront. Although everyone in her country is taught to hate Russia, Lena seems to feel a peculiar affinity and likeness towards this country and its language, for which she is repeatedly punished. She also seems to be drawn to the ‘forlorn creatures’ as she calls them, those people who also don’t seem to fit in and are different from the norm, like her classmate and childhood friend who she nicknames Dog or her university roommate Vasylyna, a burly athlete with an unexpectedly soft side.

Lena’s aspiration in life is to not lead a stupid and meaningless life like most of the people around her do. In order to achieve that, she takes on the role of the saviour and tries to help the people that need her the most through a series of small ‘miracles’. From an activist fighting for stray dogs’ rights to fighting against bureacracy just to earn a wheelchair for her crippled friend, Lena is an advocate of justice that no one really seems to appreciate, as most of her endeavours end up in failure. Her spirit and determination always shine through, though, something which culminates in the rather ambiguous ending. The presence of magical realism makes the ending rather unclear and leaves the reader wondering if what is described is really what happened or if it’s all just part of Lena’s machinations, but I guess, such an ending would be the only fitting one for a character as whimsical as Lena.

I loved Maljartschuk’s prose and writing style because it is poignant yet subtle and humorous at the same time. She manages to satirise the state of Ukraine at that time by balancing reality and serious topics with wit, surrealism and the right dose of humour. It is precisely the kind of sociopolitical critique that I utterly enjoy reading. The translation also needs to be commended, since the prose flowed effortlessly and all the cultural references were presented in a friendly way to those who may not be familiar with the Ukrainian culture.

One of the main reasons why this novel came so close to my heart is because reading about the state of post-war Ukraine and the way bureaucracy and the system keep on failing their people sadly reminded me so much of the current situation in Greece. And that’s a sad, sad truth to realise.

To finish off, I would like to say a few words about Cadmus Press, a fairly new publishing house committed to bringing the most outstanding literature from Europe, focusing on Eastern and Southeastern European countries, in English translation. I think their undertaking is really impressive and I’m always in for some of the most notable lesser-known literary voices of Europe, especially if they are as impressive as A Biography of a Chance Miracle.

I strongly, strongly recommend you pick up this book. No matter what your reading preferences may be, this book will definitely tug at your heartstrings and play the sweetest melody in your soul. I enjoyed every single second I spent reading this book and I really hope more of the author’s books become available in English in the very near future, as I see her quickly climbing up the list of my favourite authors.

A copy of this wonderful book was very kindly provided to me by the publisher, Cadmus Press.