10 Short Books You Can Read in One Day

These are some of my favourite books under 200 pages including Patrick Modiano, Zofia Nalkowska, Adrienne Yabouza, Mohsin Hamid, Tahar Djaout, Yevgenia Belorusets, Octavio Paz, Jhumpa Lahiri, Alifa Rifat. I hope you will find these recommendations of interest.

The Last Summer of Reason by Tahar Djaout (ALGERIA)

The book is an Orwellian story portraying the slow progression of intolerance through the eyes of a bookseller in an unnamed and how it is for an ordinary citizen to live under the oppressive religious and political dictatorship run by the extremists. Tahar Djaout was one of the most accomplished Algerian writers who strongly opposed the religious fundamentalism for which he paid the ultimate price – he was murdered by the Islamic extremists in 1993 which constituted the beginning of war against intellectuals and secularists in Algeria. The book includes an introduction written by the great Nigerian writer, Wole Soyinka which is worth reading. FULL REVIEW

AVAILABILITY: The Last Summer of Reason

Lucky Breaks by Yevgenia Belorusets (UKRAINE)

About Lucky Breaks Belorusets said that its objective was “to re-establish the right of suppressed, unseen, and unheard stories to be told.” This series of short stories, originally written in Russian and published in 2018 and first translated into English in 2022, explores the lives of Ukrainian women, displaced, forced to seek refuge in other parts of Ukraine as a result of the war in Eastern Ukraine which started in 2014. Some stories take place in Kyiv, some in a warzone, and others in the territories occupied by the Russia-backed separatists. All these snapshots of a singular life presented in those stories focus on how traumatic historical events transform one’s everyday life, how military and political turmoil upends the lives of the ‘ordinary’ women who endured so many senseless losses. We get a glimpse into what’s now and what’s been. FULL REVIEW

AVAILABILITY: Lucky Breaks

The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid (PAKISTAN)

The book offers a very sharp approach to the question of the identity, ‘cultural power’, clash between the East and West in a context of the dominance of one powerful country such as US pre- and post – 9/11 but it can also apply to other countries such as UK. The main character, Changez is a young Pakistani man who won a scholarship to attend Princeton and then it is hired by the valuation company, Underwood Sampson (US), which is a personification of USA. The company’s motto is ‘Focus on the Fundamentals’ and Changez becomes ‘An expert business Fundamentalist’… The reluctance comes later. What is interesting there is no reference to religion, faith or spirituality anywhere in the book. It is fair to say that the term: Fundamentalist often carries the meaning associated with religion but not here. I once heard Hamid saying that he wanted this book to be like a mirror for the reader, confuse the reader to show the characters in the book are complex, nuanced and can be many things, have many identities as the people in our world. FULL REVIEW

AVAILABILITY: The Reluctant Fundamentalist

In Light Of India by Octavio Paz (MEXICO)

In Light of India by the Mexican poet and the 1990 Nobel Prize laureate, Octavio Paz is a rich collection of essays on India, packed with ideas, informative, well- researched and lived-through insights, deep ruminations on culture, history, religion, philosophy, society, architecture, languages, Sanskrit poetry and the notion of nationhood and statehood shown through the lenses of the Mexican sensibility. FULL REVIEW

AVAILABILITY: In Light of India

The Sundays of Jean Dezert by Jean de La Ville de Mirmont (FRANCE)

In The Sundays of Jean Dezert, Mirmont outlines a map of his times and shows the nuances of one singular life of an alienated, lost soul in the urban crowd who comes to terms with the banality of own existence. The Sundays of Jean Dezert is a tale of urban solitude, alienation, and mundanity of prosaic life. Jean Dézert is a civil servant, an office worker employed by the Ministry of Welfare. We follow his life on the eve of the Great War (World War I) as he strolls through the city of Paris in quest for the meaning of life, something deeper and larger than his own existence. Even though The Sundays of Jean Dezert was written over 100 years ago, many contemporary readers will be able to recognise themselves in the life of Everyman, Jean Dezert. The feelings of no purpose, resignation, total alienation are well known to many of us. FULL REVIEW

AVAILABILITY: Sundays of Jean Dezert

Co-wives, co-widows by Adrienne Yabouza (the CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC)

Co-wives, Co-widows tells a story of two women Ndongo Passy and Grekpoubou who live in a rather fulfilling polygamous marriage with the man called Lidou. When their husband dies, the bond between these women becomes stronger, they deeply care for each other and their children in the face of injustice resulting from the misogynistic social and cultural norms. This book explores the issue of love, family bonds, female friendship within the context of polygamous relationship. Two main female characters in the book, the title co-wives, co-widows support each other, they want the best for one another and their shared children. When both women become widows, they both fight against external social and political factors to ensure their financial stability, safe home life, and their shared family future. They become like ‘sisters’ for each other. FULL REVIEW

AVAILABILITY: CO-WIVES, CO-WIDOWS

Whereabouts by Jhumpa Lahiri (ITALY and USA)

Written in forty-six short vignettes, Whereabouts portrays daily wanderings and inner workings of the narrator’s mind who is a solitary unnamed woman in her mid-40s working as a teacher and living in the unnamed city in Italy. Whereabouts is an exploration of urban solitude, alienation, loneliness, growing old, with the narrator’s beautiful ruminations and perceptive thoughts infused with a profound sense of nostalgia veiled in gentle melancholy, on the meaning of living a solitary life, inspired by the locations of daily errands. FULL REVIEW

AVAILABILITY: Whereabouts

Distant View of A Minaret by Alifa Rifaat (EGYPT)

Distant View of A Minaret is a collection of short stories depicting life of women living within a traditional Muslim society. Rifaat shows Muslim women who wish to adhere to strict religious teachings and they see men as the ones who do not follow their religious obligations towards women. She challenges this behaviour but it is far from the feminism as perceived in the West. The main subjects in these stories are marriage, death, sexual fulfilment and relationship between husband and wife from woman’s perspective and portrayed within the norms and moral values of Islam. Those themes were dealt with such frankness that I have not seen in many books. It shows women who have views, opinions but still within a religious conservative framework. FULL REVIEW

AVAILABILITY: Distant View of A Minaret

Honeymoon by Patrick Modiano (FRANCE)

Honeymoon is an evocative, melancholic tale, and, at times, it resembles a frame from ‘film noir’ of the 1950s. Modiano presents the lives of the protagonists from the point of an observer, never depicting the reality in a straight manner, but rather showing different angles, playing with the memory, the passage of time and changeability of place one used to know. Modiano’s novel is a mediation about life.  It is the exploration of its meaning and its ordinariness, often marked by the circumstances that the individual has not chosen to be a part of – they were imposed on the individual life and one is forced to live with them. This is also a tale about the overwhelming feeling of emptiness related to the places we used to know, and which are no longer as we remember them. FULL REVIEW

AVAILABILITY: Honeymoon

Medallions by Zofia Nalkowska (POLAND)

Medallions is considered the masterpiece in the world Holocaust literature, deeply influences by Nalkowska’s experience as a member of the Commission for the Investigation of Nazi War Crimes which was established in 1945. During that time, she visited Auschwitz-Birkenau, Majdanek, Treblinka and many other sites of mass killing and extermination. She conducted many interviews, listened to survivors’ and eyewitnesses’ testimonies recorded just a few months after the end of the war in 1945. Nalkowska was profoundly affected by her work as a member of the Commission. Medallions consists of eight short reportages in which survivors, eyewitnesses speak for themselves. There is no mythologisation of the victims: they are neither the heroes, nor the martyrs. FULL REVIEW

AVAILABILITY: Medallions

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