AMMAN – Last year left many of us feeling heavy with despair and on the lookout for the slightest glimpse of hope amidst the chaos. This year has welcomed us with lesser, yet still quite tight restrictions that dictate our lives as we impatiently await to leave our four-walled bedrooms and revive our past “normal” lives. Although we question if we will ever go back to that state or discover new versions of “normal”. As Max Fisher of The New York Times stated in his article What Will Our New Normal Feel Like? “a year or more of fearing physical contact could alter something fundamental”.

In the meantime, artmejo has curated a list of the 14 most anticipated literary works coming out this year. The list includes a new collection of short stories by no other than the surrealist genius Haruki Murakami, a new novel by The Nobel Prize Winner Kazuo Ishiguro and the long-awaited translations for prize-winning Arabic novels.

Art Is Everything, January:

Yxta Maya Murray, American Latina

Art Is Everything by Yxta Maya Murray

The playwright, critic, law professor and novelist Yxta Maya Murray brings out her magic pen in her newest release, Art Is Everything. This work of fiction follows the life of an artist on the brink of a breakthrough, but just when she thinks life couldn’t get any better, everything around her crumbles to ashes. 

In a narrative written in the form of blogs, yelp reviews and Instagram posts, Art Is Everything tells the story of a Native-American artisan going through a mid-life/career crisis. From multiple heartbreaks to passionate encounters, this book portrays what it feels like to reach rock bottom and go through many trials and errors to survive the painful reality of life. And while this might not be considered a light read per se, it needs to be checked out by anyone looking for sweet humor to get them through readers’ block.

 The Prophets, January:

Robert Jones Jr., African/American

The Prophets by Robert Jones Jr.

Robert Jones, the new incarnation of Toni Morrison‘s literary genius, makes his debut with The Prophets, a love story set on a Mississippi plantation where life is harsh and unlivable. Many reviewers have already deemed this work of fiction to be the next essential addition to the genre of black queer literature.

Jones captures the black experience from pre-colonial Africa to American slavery through brief anecdotes that range from biblical allusions to human realities. The Prophets narrates a tale of love in a constant struggle for life, where each person provides the other with a taste of heaven.

Rabbit Island, February:

Elvira Navarro, Spanish

 Rabbit Island by Elvira Navarro

In another surrealist work that composes a collection of 12 disturbing stories, Elvira Navarro releases Rabbit Island , showcasing her stylistic ability to produce highly disturbing storylines that feature human earlobes, levitating grandmothers and long-extinct creatures. 

The reader will never be able to guess what will happen in the next line of Rabbit Island. Although the publication has a dreamlike feel, it retains a human aspect. “Her [Navarro’s] central characters are almost entirely women,” according to The Los Angeles Times, “all smart and powerful but profoundly flawed, and more human for it”. This work is for all the Kafka and surrealist literature lovers out there, as it will transport you to places your mind has never dreamed of.

The Committed, March:

Viet Thanh Nguyen, Vietnamese/American

The Committed by Viet Thanh Nguyen

A sequel to Nguyen’s Pulitzer prize-winning The Sympathizer, The Committed features the return of beloved characters, this time in the slums of Paris in the early-1980’s . This crime novel is narrated through the eyes of the same Vietnamese-French spy attempting to renew his life amidst the oppression of immigration and cruelty of Paris’ underworld. 

Nguyen succeeds in highlighting the impact of colonialism and capitalism on the lives of immigrants while jumping through gun fight scenes and friendship heartbreaks in this funny and fast-paced story. In a nutshell, this literary work is the ideal blend of real-life ideologies and dramatic plot twists that will hold readers on the edge of their seats.

Klara and The Sun, March:

Kazuo Ishiguro, Japanese/British 

Klara and The Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro

In yet another paradox-shaped book, Kazuo Ishiguro comes out with Klara and The Sun, his long-anticipated book after winning the Nobel Prize for his brilliant work in Never Let Me Go. This book is described by critics as “A haunting fable of a lonely, moribund world that is entirely too plausible”.

The reader meets Klara, an artificial being who watches humans walking down the streets before her, eagerly anticipating a person to pick her up, but something shifts when that moment appears closer than she expects. This sci-fi novel combines thrills with existentialism, making it difficult to know the answers to many of our natural curious inquiries.

Peaces, April:

Helen Oyeyemi, Nigerian/British

Peaces by Helen Oyeyemi

In a splendid journey of magical realism, Helen Ogyeyemi introduces her newest novel, Peaces, the story of two love birds, Otto and Xavier Shi, embarking on a train voyage as a gift from Xavier’s aunt. The catch is when they both realize that the destination of the train is unknown and they seem to be the only people on board, that is until they start discovering the train’s chambers.

Peaces allows the reader to watch magical universes unfold before their eyes, as what appears to be a simple honeymoon trip turns into a thrilling journey into the unknown. Otto and Xavier Shi seem to never stop exploring the mysteries of their journey until the last page, from mongooses to mysterious women to saunas and art galleries.

Whereabouts, April:

Jhumpa Lahiri, American

Whereabouts by Jhumpa Lahiri

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize and Hemingway Award for her work in Interpreter of Maladies, Jhumpa Lahiri returns with a new powerful novel that studies feelings like dread and attachment in a profound way that pushes her creative boundaries. 

Whereabouts is Lahiri‘s first novel, written in Italian and then translated into English by herself. This work of fiction is for anyone who wants to escape the mundane realities of life while learning about the many ways fate can turn your life upside down.

My First and Only Love, April:

Sahar Khalifeh, Palestinian

My First and Only Love by Sahar Khalifeh

Winner of the Naguib Mahfouz Prize for Literature for her work The Image, the Icon, and the Covenant, Sahar Khalifeh is considered one of the most prominent contemporary authors from Palestine. With more than 10 books published and translated into numerous languages, My First and Only Love will be the newest addition to her collection of translations into English.

Set shortly after the British Mandate on Palestine ends, Khalifeh follows Nidal, a Palestinian woman living in exile, as she returns to her hometown and recounts her long-lost love for a freedom fighter. The reader is taken on a journey through Nidal’s life in Nablus before and after the 1948 Nakba, which is rife with political upheaval. This story draws on a variety of ancestor anecdotes to illustrate the irony of the characters’ current situation, revealing Khalifeh’s distinct style. My First and Only Passion is for those interested in learning about what it’s like to survive and love in the midst of never-ending wars.

The Critical Case Of A Man Called K, April:

Aziz Muhammad, Saudi

The Critical Case of A Man Called K by Aziz Muhammad

Debuted in 2017 and shortlisted for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction in 2018, Aziz Muhammad chooses 2021 to release his highly acclaimed novel “الحالة الحرجة للمدعو ك” in English with the assistance of the award-winning literary translator Humphery Davies. With The Critical Case Of A Man Called K, Muhammad is considered the first and youngest author to achieve this milestone.

In this new take on Kafka‘s work, Muhammad tells the story of a man who has just received a fatal illness diagnosis; what follows is an exploration of the eerie feeling one gets when receiving such news, particularly when life is already utterly dreadful. This contemporary satirical work is unquestionably special in its connection between twentieth-century European literature and twenty-first-century Arab culture, providing a fresh viewpoint that anyone interested in those two contrasting cultures needs to check out.

An Apprenticeship, or The Book of Pleasures, April:

Clarice Lispector, Brazilian 

An Apprenticeship, or the Book of Pleasures by Clarice Lispector

While Clarice Lispector is known for mysterious literary work that is hard to decipher, An Apprenticeship, or the Book of Pleasures has already been considered by reviewers as her first light romantic novel that features relatable characters and an “accessible” storyline.

In this work, Clarice narrates the story of a woman in rock bottom attempting to remerge and find hope through love and sex. The reader follows the protagonist as she goes from one loophole to the other in her journey to reach fulfillment. This work needs to be checked out by those on the looks for original storylines that will haunt you for months later.

First Person Singular: Stories, April:

Haruki Murakami, Japanese 

First Person Singular: Stories by Haruki Murakami

In a new addition to his masterwork of short-story collections First Person Singular: Stories, Haruki Murakami releases his 6th collection of short stories. As the title explains, Murakami strictly writes in the first-person point of view throughout the entire book, employing his signature magical twists in all his anecdotes.

This collection showcases Murakami’s talent in encompassing mundane themes and transforming them into eerie storylines that leave the readers in awe. From dreamlike scenes to love stories and monkeys in saunas, these eight stories are an essential read for those who hunt for a book to detach them from their surroundings.

Hot Maroc, May:

Yassin Adnan, Moroccan

Hot Maroc by Yassin Adnan

Translated by renowned scholar of the Arabic language Dr. Alexander E. Elinson, Yassin Adnan’s Hot Maroc  “هوت ماروك“ is deemed as one of the most anticipated translation works of 2021. 

Hot Maroc is set in Morocco and satirizes the country’s cultural politics and internet life. It has been nominated for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction. The book provides a look into the corrupt system of a nation destroyed by its powerful people while also illuminating a future where everyone can be whatever they want to be.

Roundabout of Death, May:

Faysal Khartash, Syrian

Roundabout of Death by Faysal Khartash

In another portrayal of the Syrian civil war, Faysal Khartash comes out with The Roundabout of Death, a story captured through the eyes of a man witnessing the destruction of his homeland. While the book is not disclosed as an autobiography per se, the protagonist happens to mirror the life of the author, a Syrian schoolteacher residing in Aleppo.

Unlike several other books that try to depict the horrors of war through the hardships of their protagonists, Khartash takes a different approach to the situation. In Roundabout of Death, Khartash draws a protagonist who seeks only peace amid the bombs and explosions around him. Roundabout of Death is a book for those searching for new perspectives on an ongoing tragedy that continues to impact the lives of many people today.

Dead Souls, May:

Sam Riviere, British

Dead Souls by Sam Riviere

In respect to many of those interested in the art scene and question the legitimacy of concepts like plagiarism, Sam Riviere writes Dead Souls, a book that delves into the question of what of our contemporary art is original, and what is considered a neat rip-off.

Riviere introduces an anonymous narrator who lives in England in this novel. The protagonist encounters a poet accused of plagiarism during a cultural festival one day, and what happens later appears to be more than a coincidence when the protagonist runs into the same poet in a bar and chooses to listen to his story. The remainder of the book is a long dialogue between the two, through which the reader is taken through the poet’s past life and strange anecdotes, which eventually intertwine to provide the reader with a broader perspective on the authenticity of all artwork around us.

The Maidens, June:

Alex Michaelides, British-Cypriot

The Maidens by Alex Michaelides

Following up on his mega-best-selling debut, The Silent Patient, Michaelides returns with another psychological thriller for fans of Donna Tartt‘s The Secret History, merging Greek mythology with dark academia.

The Maidens is a secret society fan-club for a Greek mythology professor at Cambridge University. Mariana, the main character in the book, attempts to uncover the secrets behind the professor’s suspicions that he is a killer. Mariana’s obsession escalates when one of The Maidens’ members dies in a mysterious accident, and her life is turned upside down as she is determined to find the end of the thread, even if it means risking her own life, even if it costs her own life. This book is for everyone looking for the book to grab until the very last page. 

Filthy Animals, June:

Brandon Taylor, American

Filthy Animals by Brandon Taylor

Filthy Animals is a new disturbing and intimate collection of short stories by Brandon Taylor, a Pulitzer Prize finalist for Real Life. In a modern story that examines the relationships of family, friends and partners, the stories intertwine intimacy with the pain of human loneliness.

The novel examines the human race, sexuality, and lust through strange tales involving people from all over the world. Through Dirty Creatures, Taylor investigates humanity’s dark side while simultaneously constructing new worlds where the human heart and psyche coexist. This collection necessitates a deep dive with little or no previous awareness of the premise, as it captivates you with a strange tale never before seen in the literary sphere.

Stay tuned for Ahmad Ameireh’s recommendations for the second half of 2021!
Happy reading!

Read more from Ahmad Amaireh.
Image courtesy indicated in captions.