At the end of my monthly reading recap video on my YouTube channel, I usually do a feature I call Book-links where I trace a pattern from one book to another – what each book has in common with the book I read before it and the book I read after it. Book-links is one of my favorite things to do each month so this time, I thought I would extend the fun and link each book to other books I’ve read recently and give an “if you like this, you’ll like this” recommendation.
In order to link this post to the Top Ten Tuesday line-up, I decided to link covers that all had shades of purple and black on them because those are my favorite colors and that’s the topic this week. Links go to Amazon where if you click and make a purchase, I make a small commission to buy more books to discuss here. Thanks!
- The Outcasts of Time by Ian Mortimer is about two adult brothers who become infected with the deadly black plague in the 1300s and are given a gift of time where they get to spread out their last few days on earth visiting the subsequent centuries and seeing the impact that they can make on the world. As the brothers contemplate the changes accompanying the passage of time (historical shifts, women’s liberation, etc), the story provoked religious commentary, illustrating as it did, the evolving ideas of right and wrong over which many jihads have been fought and for which many so-called heretics have been killed. This book reminded me of the novel Harvest by Jim Crace which was about this group of sharecroppers, also in a long ago period in England, who felt morally justified in killing a group of strangers defending what they considered to be their God-given rights. The main characters of The Outcasts are two siblings who start off with different interests and yet work together as stone masons, fight for their country together and travel extensively together through space and time. They are the epitome of phileos – they sacrifice for each other to the point of risking their lives in a demonstration of brotherhood that reminded me of Stay with Me: A novel by Ayobami Adebayo. In this Nigerian novel, the relationship between Akin and his brother is not at the forefront of the family story but the innate bond between these two men, the secrets they keep for each other, the lengths they go to in order to support each other is enviable, even if it has disastrous effects on their other relationships.
2. The Cellar by Natasha Preston is about a 16-year-old girl being kidnapped and held captive in a basement, along with several other women who their abductor is grooming to become his wives. Meanwhile, her boyfriend Lewis blames himself for allowing her to have been in a position of vulnerability in the first place, and so, won’t rest until he finds out where she is. Through the multiple perspectives in which the novel is written, readers experience some of the guilt that Lewis feels at what happened and the means he uses to find her, bringing to mind Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl in which the husband is suspected of having killed his missing wife so his entire future depends on finding out her whereabouts. The kidnapper’s deranged plans to start a family with his victims is a plot line that continues in The Roanoke Girls: A Novel by Amy Engel, a novel about the incestuous relationships that result when a patriarch considers himself the perfect mate for all the women in his household.
3. The Buried Giant Ishiguro by Kazoo Ishiguro is another allegorical novel that explores religion and history by casting an older couple in a pastoral community in medieval England. When they become unwilling to live with the loss of vision and memory, they decide to leave to reunite with their son. In its discussion of religion and history, it illustrates the bond shared by long-term partners and the desire to exit life they lived it and explores the right to end one’s life when it is no longer the life you want. In Me Before You by JoJo Moyes, we met a character named Will, a former extreme sportsman and life-enthusiast-turned-quadriplegic with failing health, who wants to end his life, while the people who love him, even in his diminished state, try to prevent him from doing so. Ishiguro also tackles a relevant subject of immigration and the resulting melting pot or lack thereof in countries and cities where conflicting cultures try to mix. He mentions the attempted coexistence of the Britons and Saxons, the two groups that eventually merged to become Anglo-Saxons, but not before a prolonged era of wars and raids, and the whispers of xenophobia that lingered even when some level of peace had been achieved. This lukewarm coexistence resulting from decades of infighting, also happened in post-apartheid South Africa, a topic discussed in Disgrace: A Novel by J. M. Coetzee. Lucy, a millennial woman of European white ancestry who grew up seeing the injustice suffered by the oppressed blacks, probably felt guilty enough afterwards to let militant blacks do whatever they wanted to her after apartheid had been abolished, feeling justified to suffer at their hands as penance for what had been done to their forefathers by hers.
4. In The Narrow Road to the Deep North, Richard Flanagan detailed the horrors endured by Australian soldiers captured during WWII and forced into slave labor by the Japanese. He paints a graphic picture of death through starvation or sickness or the whims of a guard or soldier who would behead a prisoner for sport. This horrific representation of the realities of war is also described in Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl who portrayed the gas chambers of Nazi detention camps during the holocaust. While Flanagan’s novel fictionalizes the real-life near-death encounters that Frankl recount, both stories feature imprisoned doctors who tried to save their friends and family members and almost failed in saving themselves. Flanagan highlighted the two constants of life – love and war – to contrast and emphasize each other, or perhaps to distract from the carnage of human suffering, a theme that is also seen in Blindness by Jose Saramago, where an epidemic robs the entire population of their vision, leaving people desperate to survive by whatever means necessary. In the middle of this horrifying description of everyone’s worst fears, are two greatly-mismatched individuals falling in love, suggesting that here is true love borne in the heart and not based on physical appeal. However, the ending of both novels suggests that like many other epic love stories in fiction, these romances would not last and were mere distractions in otherwise gritty but great stories.
5. CIRCE by Madeline Miller is a retelling of Greek mythology about the daughter of sun god, Helios, and a nymph named Perse. The title character is a social recluse, even in her own family, who gets her revenge when her transformational powers are revealed and she performs sorcery to help others, but only when it also helps her too. Another retelling, this time, a fairytale adaptation of Snow White was Boy, Snow, Bird in which Helen Oyeyemi described a young girl who is isolated in what should be a place of refuge, and victimized by those who should protect her. Both books feature girls who are rejected by their mothers and women who take out their own self hatred on their daughters, perpetuating the cycle of female exploitation that starts with the damaged psyche. Circe also explores the idea of body image from the perspective of girlhood, specifically girls who could grow up to be powerful women but are made to feel like their physical appearance is a handicap. This theme is explored pretty powerfully in Toni Morrison’s Bluest Eye in which the young Pecola wishes for blue eyes because she wants the easy life that the people with blue eyes seem to have.
And those are the first five books I read in April and the two books that each one reminded me of. Leave me a comment below if other books came to your mind when you were reading through this list and watch out for the next in the series. Better yet, subscribe to my YouTube channel and my blog so you’ll know when I post new content. And share this list with another bookworm. Happy reading.