Three-time Hugo Award-winning and New York Times bestselling author N.K. Jemisin crafts her most incredible novel yet, a story of culture, identity, magic, and myths in contemporary New York City. Every great city has a soul. Some are ancient as myths, and others are as new and destructive as children. New York? She’s got six. “It’s a glorious fantasy, set in that most imaginary of cities, New York. It’s inclusive in all the best ways, and manages to contain both Borges and Lovecraft in its fabric, but the unique voice and viewpoint are Jemisin’s alone.” — Neil Gaiman
Welcome to Read This Book, a weekly newsletter where I recommend one book that I think you absolutely must read. The books will vary across genre and age category to include new releases, backlist titles, and classics. If you’re ready to explode your TBR, buckle up!
This week’s pick is You Bring the Distant Near by Mitali Perkins.
This is an excellent multigenerational novel spanning decades and continents, and it made the National Book Award longlist. I read it a few years back and it has really stuck with me. It begins in the 1970s, when a Bengali family moves from London to New York City because of the father’s job. Ranee is used to moving her family around, but she’s not thrilled about this latest move and leaving behind a place she’d just gotten used to. For her teenage daughters Tara and Sonia, New York is both exciting and terrifying. It’s in New York that they come into their own identities and passions, and make choices their traditional mother disapproves of. And years later, their own daughters Chantel and Anna reckon with the choices their mothers and grandmother made as a new millennium dawns.
“Where am I from? Can the answer be stories and words, some of theirs, some of mine?”
This is a beautiful and moving story composed of chapters that move back and forth between Tara and Sonia, and then Chantel and Anna. The chapters feel like beautiful vignettes at first, and then slowly build to a story arc that tells of the excitement and pain of being an immigrant, and all of the tragedies and triumphs that come with assimilating. When Sonia marries a Black man, she passes on to her daughter the particular challenge of being multiracial, and honoring her two families and their traditions.
What I loved best about this book is that although the women of this family face difficulties and find themselves estranged from one another at times, it’s not a tragic story and their lives aren’t marred by darkness. There is struggle, but there is also love and sisterhood and hope, as well as pride and acceptance in where they come from and all that they’ve been through. I found it difficult to decide which sister and which time period I liked the most, but there is something very satisfying about seeing a character through years of struggle to a triumphant moment. Technically, this is a YA novel, but I think because of its unconventional structure that adult readers will really enjoy it, too.
That’s it from me–but be sure to check out our coverage of how COVID-19 is affecting the book world. We’re updating it as news unfolds.
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