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All World Fiction Coverage

Launching a first novel is an uncertain thing. Which signal the beginnings of a successful career? Which are flashes in the pan? It’s often hard to tell.

With these 25 debuts, however, there was no doubt. These authors astonished right out of the gate with strong storytelling prowess and memorable voices. Read on for our list of the best debuts from the century’s first decade: 2000-2009.


whiteteethWhite Teeth by Zadie Smith (2000)

Perhaps the defining debut of the 2000s, Smith’s multicultural portrait of London life perfectly captured The Way We Live Now. While totally specific in its jump-off-the-page characters and true-to-life setting, it manages to have a universal feel as well—this could be your family. This is the sort of ambitious, accomplished debut that it’s impossible to ignore, and Smith has gone on to prove her talent with three more very different but equally accomplished novels.


 

everythingisillumEverything Is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer (2000)

“This best-selling novel is the work of a whiz-kid,” says our review—which about sums things up. Imaginative, quirky and humorous, the novel also tackles the Jewish diaspora and the effect of the past on the present, ideas that Foer continued to explore in his second bestseller, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.

 


yearofwondersYear of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks (2001)

Though she’s now one of the leading voices in historical fiction, back in 2001 Brooks was best known for her prize-winning work as a correspondent for the Wall Street Journal. She broke through the fiction barrier with a bang to tell this story of a small English village that goes into quarantine when the black plague is discovered within its boundaries.

 


enemywomenEnemy Women by Paulette Jiles (2002)

Prize-winning poet Jiles takes on a little-known slice of American history: the imprisonment of women during the Civil War. After being unjustly accused of spying, 18-year-old Adair is taken from her family home in the Ozarks to the St. Louis jail. With the help of a sympathetic Union soldier—who promises to find her once his duty is over—she manages to escape and embarks on a harrowing trek home. Jiles excels at depicting the horrors of a land and people ravaged by war, and her strong and spirited heroine is one readers will root for.

 


threejunesThree Junes by Julia Glass (2002)

An old-fashioned family drama, Glass’ fiction debut is told in three parts, a triptych that gives a full picture of the complicated bonds within the McLeod family—parents Paul and Maureen, their oldest son Fenno and their twin sons David and Dennis. Brilliantly rendered, full of characters who feel like people you know, this is a polished, perfect first book.

 


lovelybonesThe Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold (2002)

The brutal, violent death suffered by Sebold’s narrator in the opening chapter sets the tone for this bold and visceral first novel. Susie Salmon is just 14 when she goes missing on the way home from school. Though her own life is over, she continues to watch the struggles of her family from heaven as they attempt to discover what happened to their beloved little girl.

 


leavingatlantaLeaving Atlanta by Tayari Jones (2002)

Jones’ debut is a sensitively written coming-of-age story, set against the backdrop of Atlanta’s African-American neighborhoods in 1979, where black children were being murdered by an infamous serial killer. This historical drama serves to deepen Jones’ careful exploration of the dangers of growing up—and especially, the dangers of growing up black.

 


 

namesakeThe Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri (2003)

In her first novel, Lahiri continued to showcase the elegant, deceptively simple writing that marked her Pulitzer Prize-winning story collection, expanding her scope to tell the story of Gogol Ganguli, the American-born son of Ashoke Ganguli, who arrives in Massachusetts from India in the late 1960s as an engineering student, and Ashima, Ashoke’s wife through an arranged marriage.

 


kiterunnerThe Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini (2003)

Hosseini was a practicing physician in California when he wrote The Kite Runner, a surprise hit that illuminated Afghanistan’s tortured history through the powerful story of two boys. The novel sold more than 10 million copies in the U.S., and Hosseini has since published two other bestsellers.

 

 


knownworldbhc

The Known World by Edward P. Jones (2003)

This “staggeringly accomplished” first novel takes as its premise a surprising piece of history: Some free blacks did, in fact, own slaves themselves. Jones takes a clear-eyed look at this morally complicated time through his complex characters, including Henry Townsend, whose own parents worked for years to buy his freedom only to see him enslave others, and Jim Skiffington, a local sheriff who is personally against slavery but must uphold the laws of 1850s Virginia.

 


curiousincidentThe Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon (2003)

Christopher Boone is 15, and something of an autistic savant. Yet his ability to name every prime number doesn’t help him parse the emotional turmoil of his home life. When he embarks on a mission to find out who stabbed his neighbor’s dog with a gardening fork, Christopher—who narrates the story in an inimitable voice—ends up stumbling on a much greater mystery.

 


jonathanstrangeJonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke (2004)

Who would have thought that an 800-page book starring two magicians could become a major bestseller? Though Clarke’s epic, Dickensian tale set in an alternate 1806 England might have come in on Harry Potter’s coattails, it had a style all its own. As magicians Strange and Norrell—the first in possession of abundant natural, effortless but undirected talent, and the second something of a scholarly pedant—attempt to bring magic back to England, Clarke brings magic back to the world of literary fiction. Fans of The Night Circus and The Golem and the Jinni—you’re welcome.

 


shadowofthewindThe Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon (2004)

We readers love our books about books, and Ruiz Zafon’s first adult novel—also a bestseller in his native Spain—is one of the best ever written. A twisty, Gothic tale that contains a story-within-a-story, it features a mythical “Cemetery of Forgotten Books,” a reclusive author and a Barcelona that is still reeling from the Spanish Civil War. Part noir, part coming-of-age story and part mystery, this is 100% page-turner.

 


 

godsinalabamagods in Alabama by Joshilyn Jackson (2005)

The somewhat staid world of Southern fiction got a jump-start when Jackson appeared on the scene. Though it targets themes of redemption, family bonds and the weight of the past, Jackson’s writing deals honestly with the South’s complicated past, possesses nary a jot of nostalgia and is anything but treacly. Her debut showcases all of the above and adds a saucy, strong heroine to boot.

 


preppbPrep by Curtis Sittenfeld (2005)

Novels set in prep school are a dime a dozen, which makes the fact that Prep stood out from the crowd an even more impressive feat. As middle-class, Midwestern girl Lee learns to swim among the sharks at her upscale boarding school, Sittenfeld perfectly captures all the pain and drama of growing up, making for a solid, perceptive debut.

 


The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield coverThe Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield (2006)

Starring a bookish young heroine who gets drawn into a Gothic mystery involving a reclusive female writer, this dark horse debut took bestseller lists by storm upon publication and has been a perennial hit with book clubs ever since. Setterfield, who taught French before becoming a published writer, took her time coming out with a follow up, releasing her second novel nearly 8 years later.

 


specialtopicsSpecial Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl (2006)

Voice is a big part of what marks a debut as special, and the hyper-literate, exuberant, creative voice of Marisha Pessl was one that readers could love or love to hate—but not ignore. This ambitious coming-of-age novel is also a suspenseful mystery, a story of adolescence and a touching portrayal of the father/daughter relationship. Pessl’s long-awaited second novel, Night Film, was released in 2013.

 


thenwecameThen We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris (2007)

Narrating a novel in the second-person plural is a risky choice—especially when it’s also your first book. But Ferris pulls it off with aplomb in Then We Came to the End, a high-wire act of a novel that takes a collection of office archetypes—the go-getters, the slackers, the petty tyrants—and brings them vividly to life. Written in just 14 weeks, this vibrant and lively story marked Ferris as a true writer to watch.

 


lostcityradioLost City Radio by Daniel Alarcón (2007)

The turbulent political history of South America is not often plumbed for fiction, but Alarcón does this complicated subject justice—and tells a moving tale besides—in his lyrical debut, set in an unnamed South American country. “This book is about telling the stories that people didn’t want to hear before, that were inconvenient to hear,” he told us in an interview. Alarcón’s second novel, At Night, was published in 2013.

 


briefwondrous4The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz (2007)

Díaz’s first novel, which had been anticipated for nearly a decade, stars an overweight nerd who couldn’t be more different from Yunior, the womanizing antihero introduced in Díaz’s celebrated story collection, Drown. Yet the two share a talent for falling in love, and as Díaz recounts Oscar’s journey in that inimitable voice, readers fall in love as well.

 


intthewoodsIn the Woods by Tana French (2007)

Occupying the narrow territory between suspense and literary fiction, French’s debut is a psychologically acute, harrowing police procedural. As Dublin detective Rob Ryan and his partner and best friend Cassie Maddox investigate a 12-year-old girl’s murder, Rob finds that the case stirs up a childhood trauma he can no longer ignore.

 


monsterstempletonThe Monsters of Templeton by Lauren Groff (2008)

Quirky and bold, Lauren Groff’s debut is both the story of an individual—Willie Upton, who has been told that her father isn’t the person she thought he was—and a town: Templeton, in upstate New York. As Willie pores over Templeton history in order to discover who her father is, readers are treated to the colorful histories of its varied residents. Told in several voices, including that of the area lake monster, this is a lively and compelling first novel.

 


girlwiththedragonThe Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson (2008)

One of the signs of a successful novel is its ability to spawn imitators—and we’re still feeling the impact of Stieg Larsson’s hard-boiled Swedish thriller starring a heroine who, to put it mildly, doesn’t take crap from anyone. Sadly, Larsson died before seeing his novels published, but his legacy lives on in the flood of Scandinavian thrillers and kick-ass heroines that swamp bookshelves worldwide.

 


cuttingforstonehcCutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese (2009)

Like Khaled Hosseini, Verghese trained as a doctor before turning to fiction, and his first novel stars twin siblings who both practice medicine. Marion becomes an excellent if unheralded surgeon, but Shiva, with no formal medical training, becomes a pioneer in fistula repair, a skill desperately needed in Ethiopia. As this epic tale unwinds across continents, the conflicts between the two very different brothers are juxtaposed with the larger crises in the outside world.

 


americanrustAmerican Rust by Philipp Meyer (2009)

Set in Pennsylvania, in the heart of the Rust Belt, this literary debut portrays a disappearing small-town, blue-collar America with clear-eyed perception. Best friends Isaac and Poe had planned to escape their dying hometown of Buell for college. But when these dreams are crushed, both must try to salvage their futures. Meyer, whose second novel, The Son, was published in 2013, writes with authority, and his work has been compared to American greats like McCarthy and Faulkner.

Launching a first novel is an uncertain thing. Which signal the beginnings of a successful career? Which are flashes in the pan? It’s often hard to tell. With these 25 debuts, however, there was no doubt. These authors astonished right out of the gate with strong storytelling prowess and memorable voices. Read on for our […]

In recent years, we’ve seen an uptick in stellar novels of the immigrant experience—from Behold the Dreamers to Americanah, from The Book of Unknown Americans to The Buddha in the Attic—and 2017 continues that trend, with an even greater emphasis on refugees’ tales. It seems every month so far this year has offered a handful of stories that give a voice to the displaced, the fishes out of water, the strangers in strange lands. These are 12 of our favorites.


Lucky BoyLucky Boy by Shanthi Sekaran

Fans of The Light Between Oceans will enjoy the moral dilemmas and tremendous heart of Sekaran’s second novel, the story of one boy tangled up in two families. When Soli, an illegal Mexican immigrant, is put in immigration detention, her 1-year-old son, Ignacio, enters the foster care system. He is placed with Kavya and Rishi Reddy, successful Indian-American immigrants. But as much as they may love him, Ignacio is not their son. Read our review.


Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

Already one of the best books of the year, this multigenerational epic from Lee (Free Food for Millionaires) is a powerful account of one of the world’s most persecuted immigrant communities—Koreans living in Japan. This heartbreaking historical novel spans the entire 20th century through four generations and three wars, as a Korean family struggles to find a sense of belonging in a culture that regards them as aliens. Read our interview with Lee.


American StreetAmerican Street by Ibi Zoboi

Don’t mind the YA label: Adult readers should read Zoboi’s debut as well as teens. Fabiola Toussaint, an American citizen by birth, is separated from her Haitian mother while going through Customs, and so she must travel by herself to Detroit, where her American cousins introduce her to a very new world. It’s an unforgettable story of what happens when cultures, nationalities, races and religions collide. Read our interview with Zoboi.


Waking LionsWaking Lions by Ayelet Gundar-Goshen

The chilling and provocative debut from Israeli author Gundar-Goshen opens with a hit-and-run, when Israeli neurosurgeon Eitan Green accidentally kills an illegal Eritrean immigrant. The victim’s wife, the enigmatic Sirkit, blackmails Eitan into treating sick Eritreans in the desert. With ruminations on pain and medicine woven throughout, this is a superb exploration of how we see—or fail to see—each other. Read our review.


Exit WestExit West by Mohsin Hamid

Hamid adds a dash of gentle magic to his tale of refugees and matters of the heart. In a Middle Eastern country on the brink of civil war, Nadia and Saeed fall in love. But soon they must flee their ruined homeland, passing through a doorway that acts as a portal to another city. As they journey around the world, the bonds of love are both forged and tested by displacement and survival. A must-read for 2017. Read our review.


The LeaversThe Leavers by Lisa Ko

Ko’s timely, assured debut received major critical acclaim before it was even published, as Barbara Kingsolver awarded it the 2016 PEN/Bellwether Prize for Fiction (given to a novel that addresses issues of social justice). It’s the coming-of-age tale of 11-year-old Deming, who is adopted by a pair of white professors after his mother, an undocumented Chinese immigrant, doesn’t return from work one day. Read our review.


No One Can Pronounce My NameNo One Can Pronounce My Name by Rakesh Satyal

That wry title is only a glimmer of the wonderful sense of humor that permeates the second novel from Satyal. The lives of three Indian Americans living in Ohio unfold with compassionate comedy and a nuanced look at sexuality and gender identity. It’s hard to categorize a book that tackles so many things so well, and the result can only be described as the new American novel. Read our review, and don’t miss our Q&A with Satyal.


Salt HousesSalt Houses by Hala Alyan

Alyan’s debut is a sweeping family tale told through multiple perspectives, and it all begins with the Six-Day War in 1967, when the Yacoub family is uprooted and forced to scatter across the globe. Alyan’s own parents met in Kuwait City and, after Saddam Hussein’s invasion, were forced to seek refuge in the United States. This spectacular novel, touching on questions of home and heritage, was our May Top Pick in Fiction. Read our review.


Live from CairoLive from Cairo by Ian Bassingthwaighte

Bassingthwaighte tapped his own experiences as a legal aid worker to craft his debut, set in 2011 Cairo. Four characters are at the heart of this remarkable novel: an Iraqi refugee who is denied her request to join her husband in the U.S.; the Iraqi volunteer assigned to her case; a lawyer for the Refugee Relief Project; and his translator. There is so much to like about this book, from brilliant characterization to exceptional writing. Coming July 11.


RefugeRefuge by Dina Nayeri

Nayeri moved to America when she was 10 years old, and the protagonist of her second novel makes a similar move, except she leaves her father behind. Over the course of 20 years, the daughter and father build a relationship through four visits, each in a different city. The more their lives diverge, the more they come to rely on each other—especially when the daughter becomes involved in the present-day refugee crisis. Coming July 11.


What We LoseWhat We Lose by Zinzi Clemmons

Perfect for fans of Americanah, the much-anticipated debut from Clemmons unfolds through poignant vignettes and centers on the daughter of an immigrant. Raised in Philadelphia, Thandi is the daughter of a South African mother and an American father. Her identity is split, and when her mother dies, Thandi begins a moving, multidimensional exploration of grief and loss. Coming July 11.


Home FireHome Fire by Kamila Shamsie

From acclaimed novelist Shamsie comes the story of two Muslim sisters: Isma, who has just left London to attend grad school in America; and the headstrong, politically inclined Aneeka, who stayed behind. Their brother, Parvaiz, is seeking his own dream in the shadow of his jihadist father. And then the son of a powerful political figure enters the girls’ lives, setting in motion a tale of complicated loyalty. Coming August 15.


Plus one more: It’s not a novel, but we have to mention Viet Thanh Nguyen’s exceptional collection of short stories, The Refugees. The nine stories, set within California’s Vietnamese community or in Vietnam, are dedicated to “all refugees, everywhere.”

In recent years, we’ve seen an uptick in stellar novels of the immigrant experience—from Behold the Dreamers to Americanah, from The Book of Unknown Americans to The Buddha in the Attic—and 2017 continues that trend, with an even greater emphasis on refugees’ tales. It seems every month so far this year has offered a handful of stories that give a voice […]

Since most live sports are on hold this year, it’s book lovers’ time to shine. Whether you need something to fill the gaping hole left by cheering stadiums or just a fun read to go with your Sunday afternoon buffalo dip, these books are all winners.


We Ride Upon Sticks

Campy and surreal, Quan Barry’s second novel follows a high school field hockey team that’s desperate for a winning season—desperate enough to make a deal with the devil. All 11 Lady Falcons solemnly pledge their oath to the forces of darkness, signing a notebook emblazoned with an image of Emilio Estevez (did I mention this book takes place in 1989?). Of course, it’s not the first time such a deal has been struck in Danvers, Massachusetts, which is just a stone’s throw away from Salem, of witch trial fame. But as the devil’s demands increase along with the powers of the team, things begin to get complicated. Barry uses the first-­person plural “we” to narrate the book, a choice that emphasizes the unity and collective force of the team. Full of dark humor and pitch-perfect 1980s details, We Ride Upon Sticks will appeal to anyone who’s ever put it all on the line to win.

—Trisha, Publisher


The Bromance Book Club

If you’d prefer your books to be light on the sports and heavy on the romance, then Lyssa Kay Adams’ hilarious debut, The Bromance Book Club, is the book for you. When Major League Baseball player Gavin Scott’s marriage to Thea seems on the verge of collapse, his friends introduce him to their secret book club—which reads romance novels and only romance novels. What follows is an absolute joy of a romantic comedy as the club’s members try to convert Gavin to their love of the genre, pointing out all the ways in which reading romance can not only help him save his marriage but also help men empathize more fully with women. The zany goings-on (just wait until you meet “The Russian”) never overshadow the poignancy of Gavin’s devotion to doing the hard work to save his relationship.

—Savanna, Associate Editor


Sudden Death

I’m not sure if a more bizarre sports novel exists, but I’ve always wanted a reason to recommend Álvaro Enrigue’s bawdy tennis novel, so here we go. What begins as a 16th-century tennis match between Spanish poet Francisco de Quevedo and Italian painter Caravaggio fractures into a far-flung historical stream of consciousness, bouncing from scenes with Hernán Cortés or Galileo to emails with the book’s editor and then back to the court, where Quevedo and Caravaggio, both hungover, are volleying a ball made of Anne Boleyn’s hair. In between points, Enrigue’s metafictive tale (brilliantly translated by Natasha Wimmer) lampoons the Spanish conquest of Mexico, treats not one historical figure with anything resembling preciousness and positively revels in violence, beheadings and the like. It’s a postmodern riot; advantage, Enrigue.

—Cat, Deputy Editor


The Throwback Special

Chris Bachelder’s The Throwback Special is the only football novel I could ever love. Though it’s technically about a group of men who convene once a year to reenact the November 1985 “Monday Night Football” game in which Joe Theismann’s leg was brutally snapped in two, it’s not really about that at all. (Believe me—if it were, I wouldn’t read it.) Bachelder takes readers into the minds of 22 adult men and dissects their fears, failures, grievances and qualms with exacting humor. Fatherhood, marriage, middle age and masculinity—things with which I have no firsthand experience—are explored with such bizarre compassion that I absolutely could not look away. Don’t let a lack of football fanaticism keep you away from this gem of a book. Dare to peek into the male psyche, and have a good-natured laugh at what you find.

—Christy, Associate Editor


Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer

I’m going to make what feels like a bold claim: Warren St. John’s Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer is a book you’ll love whether you relish screaming at your television for three hours each weekend or you can’t explain the difference between a third down and a third inning. Football knowledge isn’t a prerequisite to enjoying this story of how St. John embedded himself in an RV-­driving stampede of Alabama Crimson Tide fans for a season, because he didn’t write a book about football. What he wrote is a love story about a group of people, brought together by a common purpose and shared devotion to one of the winningest teams in college football history. It’s an affectionate and often erudite glimpse into the ways love can drive us all to madness. Speaking of: Roll Tide. 

—Stephanie, Associate Editor

Since most live sports are on hold this year, it’s book lovers’ time to shine. Whether you need something to fill the gaping hole left by cheering stadiums or just a fun read to go with your Sunday afternoon buffalo dip, these books are all winners. We Ride Upon Sticks Campy and surreal, Quan Barry’s […]

The battle of cats versus dogs has raged among BookPagers for more than 30 years. This month, we’re picking sides and sharing some of our favorite literary cats and dogs.

The Duchess Deal by Tessa Dare

Taken aback by a duke’s proposal of marriage (he wants an heir to spite his annoying cousin, just go with it), Emma Gladstone insists on bringing her cat to their new home. Emma doesn’t actually have a cat, but she wants something she can love while entering into a marriage that promises to be little more than a business arrangement. But a harried Emma only has time to find Breeches, the angriest and ugliest alley cat in all the land. Breeches proceeds to stalk through the chapters of Dare’s hilarious historical romance like the xenomorph from Alien, interrupting love scenes, stealing fish from the dining table and generally being a total nuisance. The reveal of why Emma named him Breeches in the first place is both giddily funny and oddly touching, which is basically The Duchess Deal in a nutshell.

—Savanna, Associate Editor


A Small Thing . . . but Big by Tony Johnston, illustrated by Hadley Hooper

A Small Thing . . . but Big is a deceptively simple charmer. A little girl goes to the park and, gradually, overcomes her fear of dogs, thanks to a fuzzy muppet named Cecile and the dog’s owner, who is only ever referred to as “the old man.” Illustrator Hadley Hooper’s spreads are a masterclass in expression and framing, and Tony Johnston’s language is delicate and playful, as Lizzie “carefully, oh carefully” pats Cecile, then works her way up to “springingly, oh springingly” walking her around the park. “All dogs are good if you give them a chance,” Cecile’s owner tells Lizzie, and by the end of the book, it’s clear that Lizzie agrees. It’s a practically perfect picture book: a small thing . . . but big.

—Stephanie, Associate Editor


Dewey by Vicki Myron

When you are a notorious cat lady, people send you cat stuff—cat memes, cat socks, cat salt and pepper shakers and, occasionally, cat books. My grandma sent me a copy of Dewey when I was in college, and initially I thought, “Thanks, Grandma, but I’ve got a lot of Sartre to get through before I have time for a heartwarming cat memoir.” Reluctantly, I started skimming. A helpless kitten is abandoned through the book-return slot of an Iowa library. A librarian fallen on hard times discovers and raises him. A community is transformed through the affections of a bushy, orange cat. Before I knew it, I was reading this book every night before bed, and by the end, I was openly weeping. Fellow cat ladies and laddies, put your pretensions aside and give this one a chance.

—Christy, Associate Editor


Good Boy by Jennifer Finney Boylan

Jennifer Finney Boylan knows that to write about dogs is to write about the very nature of love. “Nothing is harder than loving human beings,” she writes, but loving a very good dog has the power to remind us of our best selves—and to reveal who we are in our human relationships. Boylan offers an ode to all the dogs she’s loved before in Good Boy, a memoir-via-dogs coming April 21. Dog books are sometimes just a vehicle for crying, so for me, the inevitable bittersweetness can never be maudlin. And if memoir can help us better understand our own stories, then breaking up our memories into dog treat-size bites is a special exercise for anyone who puts unreasonable expectations on their best friend. (For the record, my dog is very good. Perfect, even.)

—Cat, Deputy Editor


Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami

Cats are intelligent, if not outright magical creatures. Their attitudes, their curiosity, the uncannily human pathos in their meows all let us know there is something going on beneath the surface. Japanese author Haruki Murakami is aware of this, and so he took advantage of cats’ magic in Kafka on the Shore. In the story, Mr. Nakata, one of two central characters, has the ability to speak to cats and makes a living searching for lost felines. We see Mr. Nakata use his abilities in a few hilarious scenes before he loses his ability to speak to cats, but as the story unfolds, cats become a central part in unlocking the mysteries that send Mr. Nakata on a journey across Japan. Murakami uses the whimsical magic of cats to unfold grand metaphysical mysteries.

—Eric, Editorial Intern

The battle of cats versus dogs has raged among BookPagers for more than 30 years. This month, we’re picking sides and sharing some of our favorite literary cats and dogs.

Like the beehives he tends, Nuri Ibrahim exists at the mercy of forces larger than he. When war encroaches on him and his wife, Afra, they are forced to leave their lives in Syria behind and become refugees. 

Entrusting themselves to strangers, they journey toward England, where Nuri’s cousin Mustafa waits with his family, but it takes a long time to reunite with Mustafa. Bridging the distance between husband and wife, a rift forged by profound loss, will take just as long. The war has blinded them both: Afra has lost her sight, and Nuri often sees only what he wants to see.

In The Beekeeper of Aleppo, author Christy Lefteri draws from her experiences volunteering with refugees in Athens, Greece, to build a moving examination of how people make sense of who they were and who they have become. Through Syria, Turkey and Greece, Afra and Nuri move and wait while the pull of the past, both its dark tragedy and its former sunlit joy, travels with them. 

Hope is a thread Nuri loses, picks up and loses again. But no matter how bleak the present in which they find themselves, hope surfaces when it is most needed—in dreams, in visions, in emails, in an injured bee, in the blue sky, in memory. Not all memories are shadows; some are full of light.

Lefteri’s writing is observant and fluid, capturing the contours of life and relationships. The degradation Nuri and Afra must bear made me want to look away, but Lefteri’s thoughtful voice always brought me back. In defiance of all they have witnessed and endured, Nuri, Afra and Mustafa struggle mightily to be “people who bring life rather than death.” 

Like the beehives he tends, Nuri Ibrahim exists at the mercy of forces larger than he. When war encroaches on him and his wife, Afra, they are forced to leave their lives in Syria behind and become refugees.  Entrusting themselves to strangers, they journey toward England, where Nuri’s cousin Mustafa waits with his family, but […]

Each month, the editors of BookPage share special reading lists—our personal favorites, old and new. Do you have a book you can recommend to anyone, anytime, anywhere? To avid readers, to reluctant readers, to strangers whose tastes are unfamiliar to you? This month, we’re sharing our go-to recs—the books we pass out like free candy.


City of Thieves by David Benioff
Now that David Benioff has tasted screenwriting success, my guess is he won’t return to writing novels. I may be the only person disappointed by this, given the many fans of his TV work (you might have heard of “Game of Thrones”?). Nevertheless, I’ve done my part to recruit more mourners of Benioff’s brief literary career by doling out copies of City of Thieves. Set during the Siege of Leningrad in World War II, this slim little page-turner balances the dark historical backdrop with humor and brio that never veers into flippancy. It’s been a hit with everyone I’ve recommended it to, including my brother, who hadn’t read a book in years before I loaned him my copy. (For the record, he’s now a member of a book club.) —Trisha, Publisher


Pulphead by John Jeremiah Sullivan
Of all the essay collections I’ve read and cherished, this is the one I recommend the most—for its humor, catharsis, revelation, style and sanded-to-a-point precision. John Jeremiah Sullivan is one of the deepest probing, widest ranging, sharpest shooting essayists of our time, and Pulphead is a smorgasbord of his interests—from Axl Rose to “One Tree Hill” to Christian rock festivals to weed. He even has an essay about American cave art, which I usually skip because its contemplative rhythms lull me right to sleep—but I met someone just last week who said it was their favorite of the whole lot. It just goes to show you: There’s truly something for everyone in this collection. —Christy, Associate Editor


Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
Little Fires Everywhere tells the story of the residents of suburban Shaker Heights, Ohio, and the intersections among them, but such a brief synopsis can hardly do justice to the intricacies of the novel. I became captivated by the wide array of characters I encountered, from cruel perfectionist Mrs. Richardson to her hell-raising, fire-starting daughter. With every complication, twist and heartbreak, I became just a bit more rabid, and by the time I was done with the book, I found myself questioning the very meaning of family, identity, love, art and morality. Those questions are universal, so I have no doubt that any reader will find something to love in Little Fires Everywhere, just as I did. —Olivia, Editorial Intern


Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters
Amelia Peabody is a forthright British spinster who recently inherited a sizable fortune. Desperate to escape her grasping relatives, she runs off to Egypt to fulfill her dream of seeing the pyramids. Never one for senseless propriety, she marches right onto a dig site—and directly into a fascinating mystery involving a mummy. Radcliffe Emerson, the archaeologist in charge of the excavation, is none too pleased to have his workplace invaded by an inexperienced woman, and his and Amelia’s barbed banter lends the proceedings a hilarious screwball energy and more than a little sex appeal. Elizabeth Peters’ first mystery in this long-running series is a total romp, with an old Hollywood breeziness and a spiky feminist energy. —Savanna, Assistant Editor


Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
I almost didn’t choose Exit West as my pick for this month, because I’m starting to feel like a broken record. But I can’t help it. There isn’t a single reader to whom I wouldn’t recommend this book. An unnamed Arabic country teeters on the brink of civil war, and new lovers Saeed and Nadia decide to flee. But in the novel’s version of a global refugee crisis, people flee their countries via magical doorways that deposit them elsewhere. From their home, Saeed and Nadia are transported to Greece, London and eventually California. It’s a slim read with a rich imagination, and at its heart is a love story, as through the lovers’ journey we witness the way a relationship could be shaped by a mad dash for survival. The audiobook is phenomenal, too. The author reads, and his voice is gorgeous. —Cat, Deputy Editor

Each month, the editors of BookPage share special reading lists—our personal favorites, old and new. Do you have a book you can recommend to anyone, anytime, anywhere? To avid readers, to reluctant readers, to strangers whose tastes are unfamiliar to you? This month, we’re sharing our go-to recs—the books we pass out like free candy. City […]

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In Rivals, Tommy Greenwald’s second novel set in the fictional town of Walthorne (after 2018’s Game Changer), having fun is immaterial when it comes to a high-pressure middle school basketball season between the Walthorne North Cougars and the Walthorne South Panthers. Everyone wants to win, and they’ll do whatever it takes to make it happen.

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