The Book Report: Abeer Hoque
The PEN Book Report is a weekly series that challenges the notion of “best of,” “top,” and “seasonal must read” lists and the default books and authors that regularly appear on them. We simply asked contributors to share with us a list of books they turn to over and over again, ones that both inspire and challenge how they engage with the world.
Founded by Hafizah Geter and Antonio Aiello, participants include Gabrielle Calvocoressi, Melissa Febos, Kelly Forsythe, Nathalie Handal, Abeer Hoque, Gene Luen Yang, Loma, Lisa Lucas, Joseph Mains, Colum McCann, Rick Moody, Darnell Moore, Celeste Ng, Gregory Pardlo, Khadijah Queen, Camille Rankine, Jeff Shotts, and many more.
I’ve been trying to diversify my reading list for years now by picking books by women, authors of color, translated works, works from countries not usually represented in the majority world’s publishing industry, and so on. I was especially inspired by Kamila Shamsie’s 2015 essay, a provocation as she calls it, that puts forth 2018 (the centennial mark for voting rights for women in the UK) as a year to publish only women. So now I’m trying to make sure every other book I read is by a woman (after all we’re half the world and there’s no shortage of female authors). It’s also been great fun, and I’m happily overshooting: of the last 10 books I’ve read, 9 have been by women. Here are six highlights, all powerful, sensitive books, and five by first-time authors (yay!) —Abeer Hoque
Island of a Thousand Mirrors, by Nayomi Munaweera (St. Martin’s Press)
A fantastic first novel that’s also a fast ferocious education in Sri Lankan history, with an assured plot, omniscient and precise characterization, beautiful language, and the telling of tragic war-torn history through the eyes of children and ordinary people.
On Black Sisters Street, by Chika Unigwe (Random House)
A novel about four African sex workers who by distinct and tragic means travel from their home countries to work in the red light district of Antwerp, Belgium. Each character is fully and distinctly drawn and the writing, like their lives, is sometimes plain, sometimes glorious.
Headscarves and Hymens: Why the Middle East Needs a Sexual Revolution, by Mona Eltahawy (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Provocative, insistent, and chockfull of statistics, journalist and feminist Mona Eltahawy intertwines her own personal story with the long history of violence against women in Muslim countries in North Africa and the Middle East—well worth a read.
Ghana Must Go, by Taiye Selasi (Penguin Press)
Tour de force first novel about a Nigerian-Ghanaian family falling apart between Ghana and the US (and some London and Lagos)—totally absorbing with a racing plot, gorgeous rhythmic language, and intense and devastating secrets.
Don’t Let Him Know, by Sandip Roy (Bloomsbury)
Marvelous debut novel in stories, telling the story of three generations, reaching from old Calcutta to chilly Carbondale to sunny California, every character nuanced and real, and their stories, secret or spoken, told with a light and poignant touch.
Killing the Water, by Mahmud Rahman (Penguin Books India)
A quiet, powerful debut collection of stories that ranges from 1930s Bengal through Bangladesh’s liberation war to contemporary America—understated, thoughtful, and precise.
Abeer Hoque is a Nigerian born Bangladeshi American writer and photographer. She likes sodium light, spreadsheets, and the smell of gasoline. Her coffee table book of travel photographs and poems, The Long Way Home, was published by Ogro Bangladesh in 2013. The Lovers and the Leavers is a collection of linked stories, photographs, and poems (Bengal Lights Books 2014, HarperCollins India 2015). Her memoir, Olive Witch, was published by HarperCollins India in 2016. See more at olivewitch.com.