The editors of poco.lit. share their favorite books of 2021 – four novels and one book of non-fiction by five incredibly talented writers.
Mithu Sanyal’s Identitti:
This book is funny, smart, critical and doesn’t shy away from tackling difficult and highly controversial issues. Identitti explores questions of identity in the context of the University of Düsseldorf and focuses on the relationship of an Indian-Polish-German student and her professor who is white, but pretends to be Indian. The novel is a plea to have difficult conversations, not to judge hastily, and to embrace the unspeakable messiness of identities a little more. Read more about Identitti here.
Louise Erdrich’s The Night Watchman
The Night Watchman tells an absolutely moving story that is based on actual events of the 1950s to draw attention to the precarious situation of the Turtle Mountain Chippewa living in a reservation in North Dakota. You’ll meet numerous likable characters and get to know their daily routines, their relationships and their struggles. The book centers the strength and the spirit of resistance of an oppressed group. It addresses systemic inequality, but it also gives hope. Read more about The Night Watchman here.
Sharon Dodua Otoo’s Ada’s Realm
Sharon Dodua Otoo’s first full-length novel is a tour de force: a rich arrangement of stories set in different eras and places, from colonial West Africa to current-day Berlin. It is a book that doesn’t shy away from complexity and difficult histories, and one that expects its reader to keep up – while giving that reader good reason to want to. It gives ample cause for reflection not just about past injustices, but also about their reverberations today. And it does all this with a sense of humour and cameo appearances from God. Ada’s Realm delivers on the ambitious scale it sets itself, and is a must-read from 2021. Read more about Ada’s Realm here.
Yaa Gyasi’s Transcendent Kingdom
This one was actually published in 2020, but we read it at the beginning of this year. Yaa Gyasi followed up her breathtaking debut novel Homegoing with this careful consideration of how addiction almost destroys a family. Told from the perspective of Gifty, born in Ghana and growing up in Alabama, this story tackles the seemingly incommensurable worlds of science and religion, and is also a delicate portrait of the remains of a mother-daughter relationship after devastating loss. Transcendent Kingdom shows a talented young writer doing something altogether different from her first book, and will leave you with a lot to think about. Read more about it here.
Emilia Roig’s Why We Matter
Our favorite book of non-fiction has to be Emilia Roig’s Why We Matter. Moving at a rapid pace, the book takes a look at the multiple facets of oppression in nearly all areas of life, such as at home, school and university, in the media, in the courtroom, etc. In all the chapters, Roig combines the personal with theory, which makes it accessible and substantiated. Despite necessary criticism, the book takes a hopeful stance: it suggests that an end to oppression is possible. Read more about Why We Matter here.