Many thanks to writer Mamta Chaudhry for curating this week’s Can’t Wait To Read. Chaudhry’s debut novel Haunting Paris was published in June, and follows a grieving pianist in 1989 Paris, searching for a child who vanished during WWII. If you’re a writer interested in curating an upcoming list, email Spine Authors Editor Susanna Baird, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Books and travel are twin passions for me, and I prepare for literary journeys the way I prepare for literal ones: by making a list of things not to miss. Sometimes, though, it’s the unexpected discoveries along the way—a jewel-like fresco in an obscure crypt, a museum of quirky objects, a neighborhood café—that are equally memorable in retrospect. Same with books: some loom large across the literary landscape, while others await a serendipitous discovery. So while hoping to chance upon some hidden gems, these are the books I am most eager to read right now.
The Testaments by Margaret Atwood
Nan A. Talese, September 2019. The dystopian future no longer seems like a foreign country and the Republic of Gilead from The Handmaid’s Tale is starting to feel unsettlingly familiar; as Aunt Lydia says, “This may not seem ordinary to you now, but after a time it will.” I have always been fascinated by the complicity it takes to make the unthinkable ordinary, and the acts of resistance against ‘the banality of evil.’ In The Testaments, Aunt Lydia occupies the border territory between good and evil, between complicity and resistance. In an authoritarian society, “writing can be dangerous,” Lydia says in the sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale; no one knows better than Atwood the subversive power of books.
Everything Inside by Edwidge Danticat
Knopf, August 2019. It was through the short stories in her debut collection Krik? Krak! that I was first drawn into Edwidge Danticat’s world. Since then she has written many acclaimed novels, memoirs, essays, and her voice has grown even deeper and richer over the years. I recently heard her read one of the stories from her new collection, Everything Inside. One line that has echoed in my mind since then: “There are loves that outlive lovers.” And the same is true of places—we never really leave the places we love, we carry everything inside wherever we go.
The Last Train to London by Meg Waite Clayton
Harper, September 2019. Growing up in India, I’ve always been fascinated by train travel. For some people, though, a terminus is not just reaching one’s destination, but a more ominous end of the line. It’s also a race against time, as countries close their borders, cutting off all avenues of escape. As the Nazi regime spread its way across Europe, with the Final Solution only a few years away, the Kindertransport helped thousands of Jewish children to safety. Based on a true story about one woman’s heroic determination to save innocent lives, Meg Waite Clayton’s new novel is both historical in its setting and urgent in its implications for the present.
Quichotte by Salman Rushdie
Random House, September 2019. When I first read Midnight’s Children, about an event that cleaved one country into two at the birth of independence, I was stunned both by the story and by the language; not just magical realism but really magical. In Quichotte, his latest novel, Rushdie takes on different fissures––both political and personal––in a different country. There are certainly plenty of windmills to tilt at in this modern world, and however quixotic the attempt, Rushdie’s language is sure to crackle with energy.
The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel
Henry Holt, March 10, 2020. I loved Beyond Black, Hilary Mantel’s underrated novel about a psychic who cannot shake off the troublesome spirits of the past. In her more famous historical novels, the writer herself seems like a medium, channeling the voices of historical figures with such startling vividness that they come to life before our eyes. In Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, Thomas Cromwell keeps his head while all about him are losing theirs (with a little help from him). In this last book of the Tudor trilogy, we again enter the palace intrigues of Henry VIII, who sooner or later will turn on Cromwell as he does on everyone.
The Fourth Gilead novel (Untitled, Cover Not Available) by Marilynne Robinson.
Farrar Straus Giroux, 2020. I started my list with a grimly theocratic Gilead; I’ll end with a Gilead filled with grace. While waiting for Marilynne Robinson’s new Gilead novel coming out next year, which features two of the characters from her beloved and award-winning novels, I’m planning to revisit Gilead, Home, and Lila. Sometimes the best part of traveling is coming home again.
Mamta Chaudhry is the author of the novel Haunting Paris (Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, June 2019), a love letter to the City of Light and an exploration of the dark shadows that haunt it. She lives with her husband—who goes by Ofmamta—in Coral Gables, Florida, and they spend part of each year in India and in France. Her early fiction, poetry, and feature articles have been published in newspapers and magazines including the Miami Review, The Illustrated Weekly of India, The Telegraph, The Statesman, Writer’s Digest, and The Rotarian, and more recently in Literary Hub and Electric Lit. She is currently working on a second novel. Online, you can find her at mamtachaudhry.com and on Twitter @mamtachaudhry1.