When the temperatures dip into single digits, it’s time to bring out those wooly socks and curl up under the covers — with a good book or two.
If you need a little inspiration on where to start your winter lit journey, here’s a round-up of the most talked-about titles in recent years.
Be warned: You may find yourself strolling along 1950s Italian streets, sitting at tense Korean family dinners, or chilling at a hair salon in Lagos.
The Vegetarian by Han Kang
The Vegetarian is the third novel by Han Kang, an exciting writer who rose to prominence on the South Korean literary scene. Her latest work is arguably one of the most raved about titles to come out of Korean peninsula in recent times.
The story begins when a young woman called Yeong-hye chooses to stop eating meat after a terrifying nightmare about animal slaughter. This seemingly innocuous decision is met with disapproving reaction from her family members and subsequent deterioration of Yeong-hye’s mental health.
The book is told in three parts, from three perspectives: the first one told by Mr. Cheong, Yeong-hye’s husband; the second one focuses on Yeong-hye’s brother-in-law, while the third section explores the character of In-hye, Yeong-hye’s older sister.
Themes dealt in the novel range from violence to bodily autonomy to the position of women in Korean markedly patriarchal society.
Ever since its publishing in 2007, The Vegetarian has received many accolades. Its English translation, completed by British translator Deborah Smith, was published in 2015 in the UK; the US saw its release in the following year. The book soon became a bona fide literary hit in the Western world, as well.
The translated text earned the author and the translator a shared Man Booker International Prize in 2016. Up to this date, the novel has been translated into 16 languages, including Spanish, French and Arabic.
My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante
My Brilliant Friend is the first part of a four-part series known as The Neapolitan Novels.
The beginning of the four-volume work follows the early years of two girls, Elena and Lila. Throughout the book, the readers follow their simultaneously colorful and troubled childhood which unravels in the violence-ridden outskirts of Naples.
This detail-packed coming-of-age story brilliantly portrays everyday life in gritty Italian neighborhoods, where jealousy, peer pressure and class struggles all converge in one boisterous space.
One of the main reasons behind the series’ global popularity is the tender and relatable way in which Ferrante meditates on girls’ friendship and their precarious battle to find their place in the hostile world that surrounds them.
The work has been praised for its fresh and unique approach in describing female relationships and the troubles of reconciling multiple layers of a woman’s identity.
Moreover, the lives of two women are cleverly juxtaposed against the historical trajectory of Italy that takes place in the second half of the twentieth century, making the novel a simultaneous contemplation on the personal and the political.
And yet, despite the universal praise My Brilliant Friend has received around the globe, the identity of the author remains shrouded in mystery. Despite several attempts to expose Elena Ferrante’s real persona, the author remains adamantly secluded, believing that there is no room for writers to speak once their work gets published.
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Thanks to masterpieces like Half of a Yellow Sun and Purple Hibiscus (and a much talked about mention on Beyoncé’s 2013 self-titled album), the Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie already earned her status as one of the most lauded fiction writers of this generation.
Her much-anticipated third novel, Americanah, was published in 2013 by Alfred A. Knopf.
The story follows a young Nigerian woman called Ifemelu, a middle school student in Lagos, who falls in love with her classmate, Obinze.
Due to the political situation in Nigeria at the time, Ifemelu seeks a way out of the country by applying to study at a university in the United States. Once out of Nigeria, she discovers a whole new set of obstacles she has to face as a young black woman in America.
Meanwhile, her high school sweetheart’s attempts to follow her to the US foil due to harsh post-9/11 immigration rules. After his failure to move to the States, he settles to building his future in the United Kingdom, where he enters an arranged marriage in order to obtain a British residence.
The book follows both Ifemelu and Obinze as they navigate their new identities as immigrants, non-Westerners, and young black people outside of Nigeria.
Finally, years later, they reunite in a newly democratic Nigeria, where the societal dynamics have completely changed since the time Ifemelu and Obinze left. Once again, the two protagonists are forced to adapt to the new conditions, this time in their home country and among their own friends and family.
Adichie has been praised for the perceptive way of dissecting the multi-layered struggles that arise as part of the immigrant experience.
Americanah has been placed on several top lists, including the New York Times Book Review 10 Best Books of 2013.
Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
After the hugely popular novels Secret History and The Little Friend, American author Donna Tartt has returned to the literature scene after 11 years with Goldfinch, a page-turning Bildungsroman.
The story is presented to the reader through first-person narration by Theodore “Theo” Decker, the main character of the novel.
The retrospective of his life begins in New York City, where Theo, at the time a mischievous 13-year-old, lives in a Manhattan apartment with his beloved mother.
One day, she and Theo decide to visit an exhibition on Dutch painters at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. A terrorist bomb is detonated and Theo’s mother dies in the blast.
What follows are 14 turbulent years of Theo’s life, over which he will be taken from New York to Las Vegas to Amsterdam, but also introduced to all sorts of colorful characters.
Due to her rich prose and graceful language, the adjective “Dickensian” has often been used to describe Tartt’s latest work of fiction.
The resounding success of Tartt’s third novel culminated in a Pulitzer Prize for fiction, which Goldfinch was awarded in April 2014.
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
Despite Lincoln in the Bardo being George Saunder’s first novel, the American author has already been established as a literary powerhouse thanks to his rich body of work in form of short fiction.
Lincoln in the Bardo is a work of historical fiction that, as the title suggests, takes place in a bardo, a Tibetan word used to describe the period of existence between death and reincarnation.
In the novel, it is the Oak Hill Cemetery in Georgetown that comes to life, where the US President Abraham Lincoln allegedly visited his son Willie after his tragic passing.
The novel’s supernatural setting is populated by numerous ghosts, who weave a story about the American society as a whole.
Saunders also paints a compelling portrayal of the American president – the Lincoln penned in the novel is a troubled, yet deeply sensitive figure who is mourning both his personal loss, but also the tragedy and destruction caused by the Civil War.
Saunders’ masterful storytelling was successfully transferred onto long form, and Lincoln in the Bardo earned him numerous accolades, most notably the 2017 Man Booker Prize.
The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy
One of the most anticipated novels of 2017, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness is a follow-up to Indian author Arundhati Roy’s masterpiece God of Small Things, a book that was published 20 years ago.
Roy’s second novel comes in form of a fragmented, sprawling tale which is loosely focused around two characters: Anjum, a hijra (Hindu word denoting a transgender or intersex person) who tries to build a life in the fast-paced city of Delhi and Tilo, a young architect who becomes an activist fighting for Kashmiri independence.
The novel’s themes, markedly political, reflect the past twenty years of Roy’s personal life. During the time between the publishing of the two novels, Roy has dedicated herself to numerous causes, from denouncing India’s nuclear policies to being a vocal critic of 2001 war in Afghanistan.
Even though certain parallels can be drawn between God of Small Things and its successor, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness is a much broader and ambitious work of fiction, through which Roy lends her voice to those left on the margins of India’s ever-evolving society.
And thanks to her hauntingly beautiful language and deep understanding of the disenfranchised, it seems like the twenty-year wait was more than worth it.
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
The debut novel written by American author Angie Thomas was, without a doubt, one of the most buzzed about young adult novels of the past year.
The story that takes place in the novel focuses on Starr Carter, a black teenager who tragically loses her best friend in a police shooting.
This event shakes her to the core and prompts her to deeply analyze her identity as a young black person from a poor neighborhood who simultaneously attends a prep school in which students are predominantly white and wealthy.
The Hate U Give has been lauded among critics for its cutting social commentary on how racial injustice affects the lives of black youth in America.
Despite the gravity of the themes discussed in the novel, Thomas’ language makes them easily digestible for teenagers who, by reading this book, can either recognize their own struggles or gain deeper understating about an experience of growing up that is unlike their own.
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
It seems like it was impossible to talk to any bibliophile in recent times who wasn’t completely obsessed with this 2015 fiction masterpiece.
A Little Life, US author Hanya Yanagihara’s sophomore novel, shook the literary world when it was first published a couple of years ago, and for good reason, too.
The story follows four young men in New York City, where they have decided to seek their future after graduating from college.
The initial part of the novel describes the typical world inhabited by twenty-somethings who are struggling to make it in the big city, riddled with descriptions of career building and musing on intra-personal relationships.
However, as the novel progresses, the story gradually shifts to the character of Jude, a young litigator who is marked by his hazy past and unknown ethnicity.
Through flashbacks that disperse the book’s chronological timeline, fragments of Jude’s early life are beginning to reveal themselves, and with them, all the trauma and suffering the troubled lawyer had to endure before the readers were first introduced to his character.
Yanagihara was praised by major US publications, such as The Atlantic, Wall Street Journal and The New Yorker, for her ability to masterfully depict trauma, abuse, chronic pain and recovery without ever succumbing to sensationalism.
Due to it exceptional literary value, A Little Life was shortlisted for the 2015 Man Booker Prize and ended up being the finalist for National Book Award the same year.
We hope this round-up will inspire you to pick up a new novel that will suck you in and reveal new worlds that have potential to be much more exciting than the bleak weather outside. Whichever covers from this list you decide to open next, we are positive the stories inside them will entice, entertain or completely consume you and, ultimately, stave off the winter blues.