India. Jasmine by Bharati Mukherjee –
When Jasmine is suddenly widowed at 17, she seems fated to a life of quiet isolation in the small Indian village where she was born. But the force of Jasmine’s desires propels her explosively into a larger, more dangerous, and ultimately more life-giving world. In just a few years, Jasmine becomes Jane Ripplemeyer, happily pregnant by a middle-aged Iowa banker and the adoptive mother of a Vietnamese refugee. Jasmine’s metamorphosis, with its shocking upheavals and its slow evolutionary steps, illuminates the making of an American mind; but even more powerfully, her story depicts the shifting contours of an America being transformed by her and others like her – our new neighbors, friends, and lovers. In Jasmine, Bharati Mukherjee has created a heroine as exotic and unexpected as the many worlds in which she lives. For me this was an incredible eye-opener into the immigrant experience and how identity is formed and changed, both by the British culture imposed on India, and the cultures Jasmine encounters on her travels.
Award-winning Indian-born American author Bharati Mukherjee was born in Calcutta (now called Kolkata) in 1940, the second of three daughters born to Bengali-speaking, Hindu Brahmin parents. She lived in a house crowded with 40 or 50 relatives until she was eight, when her father’s career brought the family to live in London for several years. Mukherjee is best known for her novels “The Tiger’s Daughter” (1971); “Wife” (1975); “Jasmine” (1989); “The Holder of the World” (1993); “Leave It to Me” (1997); “Desirable Daughters” (2002); “The Tree Bride” (2004); and “Miss New India” (2011). Her short story collections and memoirs include “Darkness” (1985); “The Middleman and Other Stories” (1988); and “A Father”. Non Fiction works include: “Days and Nights in Calcutta”; and “The Sorrow and the Terror.”
Nigeria. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe – One of the BBC’s ‘100 Novels That Shaped Our World’
A worldwide bestseller and the first part of Achebe’s African Trilogy, Things Fall Apart is the compelling story of one man’s battle to protect his community against the forces of change. Okonkwo is the greatest wrestler and warrior alive, and his fame spreads throughout West Africa like a bush-fire in the harmattan. But when he accidentally kills a clansman, things begin to fall apart. Then Okonkwo returns from exile to find missionaries and colonial governors have arrived in the village. With his world thrown radically off-balance he can only hurtle towards tragedy. First published in 1958, Chinua Achebe’s stark, coolly ironic novel reshaped both African and world literature, and has sold over ten million copies in forty-five languages. This arresting parable of a proud but powerless man witnessing the ruin of his people begins Achebe’s landmark trilogy of works chronicling the fate of one African community, continued in Arrow of God and No Longer at Ease. This is a deeply moving look at how empire changed people’s lives and took apart their communities.
Chinua Achebe was a Nigerian novelist, poet, professor, and critic. His first novel Things Fall Apart (1958) was considered his magnum opus, and is the most widely read book in modern African literature. Raised by his parents in the Igbo town of Ogidi in South-Eastern Nigeria A titled Igbo chieftain himself, Achebe’s novels focus on the traditions of Igbo society, the effect of Christian influences, and the clash of Western and traditional African values during and after the colonial era. His style relies heavily on the Igbo oral tradition, and combines straightforward narration with representations of folk stories, proverbs, and oratory. He also published a number of short stories, children’s books, and essay collections.
Also Chimimanda Ngozie Adichie
Australia: Moonlight and the Pearler’s Daughter by Lizzie Pook
It is 1886 and the Brightwell family has sailed from England to make their new home in Western Australia. Ten-year-old Eliza knows little of what awaits them in Bannin Bay beyond stories of shimmering pearls and shells the size of soup plates – the very things her father has promised will make their fortune. Ten years later, as the pearling ships return after months at sea, Eliza waits impatiently for her father to return with them. When his lugger finally arrives however, Charles Brightwell, master pearler, is declared missing. Whispers from the townsfolk point to mutiny or murder, but Eliza knows her father and, convinced there is more to the story, sets out to uncover the truth. She soon learns that in a town teeming with corruption, prejudice and blackmail, answers can cost more than pearls, and must decide just how much she is willing to pay, and how far she is willing to go, to find them.
This incredible debut is richly atmospheric from the get go, throwing us straight into the strangeness of 19th Century Western Australia as if it is an alien landscape. In fact that’s exactly what it is for the Brightwell family, particularly Eliza whose childhood eyes we see it through for the the first time
Lizzie is an award-winning writer and journalist. She is the author of Moonlight and the Pearler’s Daughter, a STYLIST and WOMAN & HOME ‘Best Books of 2022’ pick.
Lizzie began her career in women’s magazines, covering everything from feminist motorcycle gangs to conspiracy theorists, before moving into travel writing. Her assignments have taken her to some of the most remote parts of the world, from the uninhabited east coast of Greenland in search of polar bears, to the trans-Himalayas to track snow leopards. She was inspired to write Moonlight and the Pearler’s Daughter, her debut, after taking a road trip through Australia with her twin sister after the death of their father. A chance visit to the Maritime Museum in Fremantle led her to an exhibition about a family of British settlers involved in the early pearl diving industry. Thus began an obsession and a research journey that would take Lizzie from the corridors of the British Library to isolated pearl farms in the farthest reaches of northwest Australia.
New Zealand: The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton
It is 1866, and Walter Moody has come to make his fortune upon the New Zealand goldfields. On arrival, he stumbles across a tense gathering of twelve local men, who have met in secret to discuss a series of unsolved crimes. A wealthy man has vanished, a whore has tried to end her life, and an enormous fortune has been discovered in the home of a luckless drunk. Moody is soon drawn into the mystery: a network of fates and fortunes that is as complex and exquisitely patterned as the night sky. The Luminaries is an extraordinary piece of fiction. It is full of narrative, linguistic and psychological pleasures, and has a fiendishly clever and original structuring device. Written in pitch-perfect historical register, richly evoking a mid-19th century world of shipping and banking and goldrush boom and bust, it is also a ghost story, and a gripping mystery. I loved this epic tale of mystery and adventure, with a spooky edge. This has recently been adapted for television and is worth a watch.
Eleanor Catton MNZM (born 24 September 1985) is a Canadian-born New Zealand author. Her second novel, The Luminaries, won the 2013 Man Booker Prize. In January 2015, she created a short-lived media storm in New Zealand when she made comments in an interview in India in which she was critical of “neo-liberal, profit-obsessed, very shallow, very money-hungry politicians who do not care about culture.”
Also Janet Frame
Jamaica and Dominica. Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys
I first read this novel while at uni, as a post-colonial response to Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë. Rhys was fascinated by Bertha Mason, Mr Rochester’s wife and the original ‘Madwoman in the Attic’. Born into the oppressive, colonialist society of 1930s Jamaica, white Creole heiress Antoinette Cosway meets a young Englishman who is drawn to her innocent beauty and sensuality. After their marriage, however, disturbing rumours begin to circulate which poison her husband against her. Caught between his demands and her own precarious sense of belonging, Antoinette is inexorably driven towards madness, and her husband into the arms of another novel’s heroine. This classic study of betrayal, a seminal work of postcolonial literature, is Jean Rhys’s brief, beautiful masterpiece. I loved how Rhys breathed life and a complex identity into a character seen as a Gothic monster, trying to burn her husband in his bed and stabbing her own brother. It raises questions about identity and colonialism, women’s identity and sexual desire. It also shows a great modernist contrast to the original novel.
Jean Rhys was born in Dominica in 1894. After arriving in England aged sixteen, she became a chorus girl and drifted between different jobs before moving to Paris, where she started to write in the late 1920s. She published a story collection and four novels, after which she disappeared from view and lived reclusively for many years. In 1966 she made a sensational comeback with her masterpiece, Wide Sargasso Sea, written in difficult circumstances over a long period. Rhys died in 1979.
Recent and Favourite Reads from Black British Writers
Louise Hare – This Lovely City. The experiences of the Windrush generation in 1950’s London, combining crime fiction and a love story.
Lizzie Damilola Blackburn – Yinka, Where Is Your Huzband? Nigerian-British young women negotiating courtship, identity, marriage and motherhood. Yinka is single and is constantly reminded of this by her mum and aunties. Funny, but touching too. You’ll fall in love with Yinka!
Bernadine Evaristo – Girl, Woman, Other. Stories exploring black womanhood from Newcastle to Cornwall. A series of stories looking at identity, race and motherhood in modern Britain. Winner of the Booker Prize.
Okechukwu Nzelu -The Private Joys of Nnenna Maloney. Set in Manchester, this is the story of Nnenna Maloney through her journey of trying to connect with Igbo-Nigerian culture as she reaches adulthood.
Paul Mendez – Rainbow Milk. This queer literary debut follows Norman, a Jamaican immigrant in 1950s Black Country battling racism, disability and personal conflict, as he rebels against his religious upbringing.
Leanne Dillsworth – Theatre of Marvels. Black British actress Zillah performs as a tribeswoman in a variety show. Looking at spectacle, identity and exploitation in Victorian London.
Andrea Levy – Small Island. WWII and the Windrush in London. Exploring expectations against reality for Jamaican settlers in the U.K. Looking at loss and the aftermath of war, but also mixed race relationships and identity.
BBC Arts and The Reading Agency have announced the titles for the Big Jubilee Read, a reading for pleasure campaign celebrating great reads from celebrated authors from across the Commonwealth to coincide with Her Majesty The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee. The full list can be found by following the link below. The seventy titles consist of ten books from each decade of Her Majesty The Queen’s reign, offering a brilliant selection of beautiful and thrilling writing produced by authors from a wide range of Commonwealth countries.
The campaign enables readers to engage in the discovery and celebration of great books and shines a spotlight on lesser-known books and authors that deserve recognition.The books were chosen by an expert panel of librarians, booksellers and literature specialists from a “readers’ choice” longlist. Delivered with public libraries, reading groups, publishers, bookshops, and authors, the Big Jubilee Read campaign will use the proven power of reading to unite the public around the shared stories that define our social and cultural heritage.
Follow the latest developments on social media:
@ReadingAgency @BBCArts @ACE_National
You can find the list of 70 books and resources for your own reading group or book club via the link below