Travel for the mind
We can’t go overseas and experience other cultures but our brains can! Here’s a quick tour around the world in fiction.
Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi (translated by Mattias Ripa)
A graphic novel in stark black and white, Persepolis tells the story of Satrapi growing up in Iran during the years of the Islamic Revolution. Her family’s story and the story of Iran are woven together to create a powerful sense of the place and time while not forgetting the people who lived through it. A really powerful and immersive read for teenagers and adults.
In Our Mad and Furious City by Guy Gunuratne
This is one of those novels that grabs you by the back of the neck and plunges you into its world from page 1. It’s the story of three days in one housing estate in the UK – told primarily through the eyes of four teenage boys who live on it. We do get to hear other voices as well and each narrator is speaking in their own dialect. Sixty years of racism, displacement, religious hostility and, most importantly, love, are told through the eyes of the community that lived it. By far and away my favourite book of 2018.
John Crow’s Devil by Marlon James
Speaking of dialect, buckle up! John Crow’s Devil is a morality tale set in the Jamiacan town of Gibbeah in the 1950s. It’s protagonists are two preachers battling for the soul of the village, one hardcore evangelist and one drunk proselytiser who has lost his way. The book is narrated by a series of unreliable first person narrators who all speak in their own form of dialect. The first page is a shock but by page three you’re deep in the world of mid 20th century Jamaica and you won’t be able to put it down. Not for the faint of heart.
Signs preceding the End Of The World by Yuri Herrera (translated by Lisa Dillman)
Originally published in Spanish this novel is dedicated to the world of the Mexican/American border and the people who live around it. The protagonist Makina is on a desperate search for her brother and it takes her into places anyone would be terrified. A story of love, fear and daring which will immediately transport you.
빛의 제국 Your Republic is Calling You by Kim Young-ha
After two decades in South Korea as a northern sleeper agent Kim Gi-yeong is activated, much to his distress. He is given a day to erase all traces of himself and return to North Korea. But it’s not as easy as that, and he isn’t the only one keeping secrets. If you haven’t dived into Korean thrillers yet this is a great place to start!
About the selector
Rob Kelly is an RNZ producer, former bookseller and opinion haver.