- Memoirs of a Geisha: A Novel by Arthur Golden
I first read this book in middle school, when my grandma took me to the annual town book sale and bought it for me. After reading the back cover, I wondered why an adult would suggest that I, at a mere tween age, read a book that involves sex and prostitution. However after finishing it, I was absolutely entranced that such a complicated topic could be written about so elegantly and effortlessly. It has stolen my heart ever since and is now one of my all-time favorite books. With years in between each of the few times I have read this book, it has still managed to pleasantly surprise me with its breath-taking storyline and mesmerizing characters.
“Speaking to us with the wisdom of age and in a voice at once haunting and startlingly immediate, Nitta Sayuri tells the story of her life as a geisha. It begins in a poor fishing village in 1929, when, as a nine-year-old girl with unusual blue-gray eyes, she is taken from her home and sold into slavery to a renowned geisha house. We witness her transformation as she learns the rigorous arts of the geisha: dance and music; wearing kimono, elaborate makeup, and hair; pouring sake to reveal just a touch of inner wrist; competing with a jealous rival for men’s solicitude and the money that goes with it.
In Memoirs of a Geisha, we enter a world where appearances are paramount; where a girl’s virginity is auctioned to the highest bidder; where women are trained to beguile the most powerful men; and where love is scorned as illusion. It is a unique and triumphant work of fiction—at once romantic, erotic, suspenseful—and completely unforgettable.”
2. Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
This book shows the stark differences in history between a family that started and remained in Ghana, and one that was taken to the US in the throes of slavery and grew up through decades of racism and discrimination. This candid expression of history confused me at first, but once I caught on to the style of writing and storyline, I simply could not put the book down.
“Ghana, eighteenth century: two half sisters are born into different villages, each unaware of the other. One will marry an Englishman and lead a life of comfort in the palatial rooms of the Cape Coast Castle. The other will be captured in a raid on her village, imprisoned in the very same castle, and sold into slavery.
Homegoing follows the parallel paths of these sisters and their descendants through eight generations: from the Gold Coast to the plantations of Mississippi, from the American Civil War to Jazz Age Harlem. Yaa Gyasi’s extraordinary novel illuminates slavery’s troubled legacy both for those who were taken and those who stayed—and shows how the memory of captivity has been inscribed on the soul of our nation.”
3. The Alice Network: A Novel by Kate Quinn
One of my co-workers at the library suggested I read this book, and boy was I happy I did. Women spies leading on-ground efforts to fight the Germans in WWI… that is not a story we often hear about. This is much more bold than the “typical” 20th century war novel, and sheds light on a lesser-known women’s perspective of both WWI and WWII.
“1947. In the chaotic aftermath of World War II, American college girl Charlie St. Clair is pregnant, unmarried, and on the verge of being thrown out of her very proper family. She’s also nursing a desperate hope that her beloved cousin Rose, who disappeared in Nazi-occupied France during the war, might still be alive. So when Charlie’s parents banish her to Europe to have her “little problem” taken care of, Charlie breaks free and heads to London, determined to find out what happened to the cousin she loves like a sister.
1915. A year into the Great War, Eve Gardiner burns to join the fight against the Germans and unexpectedly gets her chance when she’s recruited to work as a spy. Sent into enemy-occupied France, she’s trained by the mesmerizing Lili, the “Queen of Spies”, who manages a vast network of secret agents right under the enemy’s nose.
Thirty years later, haunted by the betrayal that ultimately tore apart the Alice Network, Eve spends her days drunk and secluded in her crumbling London house. Until a young American barges in uttering a name Eve hasn’t heard in decades, and launches them both on a mission to find the truth…no matter where it leads.”
4. What is the What by Dave Eggers
The summary below is not wrong when it claims this is an “epic novel.” The unrelenting twists and turns in this unbelievable tale kept me on my feet throughout, always wanting to know what happened next. In a time that refugees are such a political “hot-button” topic, this book gives voices to the actual people that policies all over the world are being debated about; certainly an important viewpoint to take into consideration.
“What Is the What is the epic novel based on the life of Valentino Achak Deng who, along with thousands of other children —the so-called Lost Boys—was forced to leave his village in Sudan at the age of seven and trek hundreds of miles by foot, pursued by militias, government bombers, and wild animals, crossing the deserts of three countries to find freedom. When he finally is resettled in the United States, he finds a life full of promise, but also heartache and myriad new challenges. Moving, suspenseful, and unexpectedly funny, What Is the What is an astonishing novel that illuminates the lives of millions through one extraordinary man.”