Five underrated classic books

I’m not proud of it, but unfortunately there are some writers whose work I do not discuss until after they die. So although I vaguely heard of the late great Paule Marshall, contemporary of Toni Morrison and James Baldwin and recipient of the MacArthur Fellowship, I finally decided to open her first novel. Brunette girl, brown stones, after reading Edwidge Danticat’s book moving memory of Marshall and Morrison and after seeing Brunette girl, brown stones on this list of 100 most important books by black women.

And now I’m furious with myself that it took me so long to read this masterful novel. The book is a beautifully written, nuanced, and heartbreaking story of an immigrant family living in Brooklyn just before World War II. Selina, the protagonist of the novel, is a dreamy and curious little girl who enjoys writing poetry and chatting with the other two tenants of their brownstone, an old white lady who remembers the Scottish-Irish family who lived in the apartment building before running away. in the suburbs, and Suggie, a cleaning lady who drinks rum and sleeps with random men to escape the monotony of her job. Selina is close to her father, a handsome idealist who inherited land in his native Barbados and dreams of building a big house on the island. Standing in the path of this dream is his practical and formidable wife Silla, called “the mother”. She wants to buy the land and use the money to buy the brown stone that they currently only rent. Ida, Selina’s older sister, is her mother’s docile ally.

Writing in elegant and graceful prose, Marshall walks us through this heart-wrenching story about the elusiveness and futility of the so-called American Dream, the strait-jacket of racism and the claustrophobia of living in a tight-knit immigrant, highly critical and s ‘striving community. I finished the book with a deep sense of gratitude that it entered my life even though it was a bit late. Get your copy. – Tomi Obaro

I bought this book when I was in London a few years ago to visit Persephone books, a British publisher and bookseller who publishes lost or out of print books written by (mostly) women in the 20th century. Dorothy Whipple’s work was the most popular during the interwar period – so much so that two of her novels (including they were sisters) were made into movies in the 1940s – but her brief heyday did not continue into the second half of the century, and personally I had never heard of her when I visited the bookstore . The books published by Perséphone all have the same light gray cover, chic and uniform. Honestly, I don’t know why I picked up they were sisters specifically among this sea of ​​gray jackets, but this novel was such a nice surprise to read.

The three Field sisters grow up close and protect each other but as they grow older their lives deteriorate and diverge considerably due to the very different marriages the sisters enter into. Whipple’s writing is intelligent and character-driven, and his unwavering examination of the impact of domestic violence on the psyche and family unit is particularly radical considering that the book was originally published in 1943. . they were sisters reads like a darker take on the Austenian trope that a marriage to the seemingly ‘good’ person is a good thing in and of itself. As the heroines of Austen’s sunny wedding plot wrap their stories with wedding bells, Whipple complicates the tale that marriage is an unambiguous means of a happy ending. Get your copy. —Jillian Karande

In some corners of the internet (I suspect this one, for example), to say that you love Philip Roth takes the tone of a confession – that’s kind of a weakness. And I understand, he’s an easy target – an undeniably talented writer whose lack of interest in the interiority of his female characters could be maddening.

And yet there I admit that I love his writing, since I read American pastoral back to college. When HBO announced it was adapting its 2004 novel The plot against America, I decided that now was a good time to read the book.

Located in the 1940s, The plot against America imagine what would happen if the pioneer aviator and renowned Nazi sympathizer Charles Lindeberg won the presidential election against Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1940. The narrator is a boy named Philip Roth, who, like the real Roth, grew up in Newark, New Jersey, to a working class Jewish family.

Roth is particularly adept at capturing the nation’s slow descent into true chaos and terror. At first Lindbergh and his cronies strive to insist that life will continue as normal for Jewish families across the country. People like Roth’s dad who think Lindbergh is bad news are being told they are paranoid. But then things get out of hand. The Lindbergh administration’s double talk and calls for isolationism (“America First” is its slogan) seem woefully appropriate for our present time.

The plot against America It doesn’t have to be heartwarming read, but it is immersive read that will take you to another America, at least for a few hours. Get your copy now. – AT

I knew Donna Tartt – her alleged recluse, she Iperfectly tailored men’s suits and sleek bob, but I have to admit I had never read any of his novels before I finally decided to rectify this mistake while in lockdown. A former colleague recently tweeted that the years 1992 The secret story (published when Tartt was only 28) was the “perfect” novel by Donna Tartt and from the New York Public Library has a strong digital collection, I was able to read the book in minutes and read it avidly on my Kindle in a matter of days.

I hung from the front line: “The snow in the mountains was melting and Bunny had been dead for several weeks before we realized the gravity of our situation.

The following is an elegant and immersive slow-boil thriller set in the fictional Hampden College, based on the famous Bennington College of the early 1980s, which Tartt attended alongside writers Bret Easton Ellis (the book is dedicated to him) and Jonathan Lethem. (I highly recommend read this oral history about their time there when you’re done with the book).

The book’s narrator, Richard Papen, is a lower-middle-class transplanted Californian from Hampden who finds himself in love with an enigmatic group of five students who take advanced Greek lessons with a mysterious and charismatic teacher named Julian Morrow. The group is made up of two gorgeous blonde twins: Charles and Camilla, Francis, a closed heir with an alcoholic mother, the aforementioned Bunny, and the very intelligent and obtuse Henry.

How Bunny Ends Dying – and why – is the thriller that drives the novel, but the fun of this book really lies in Tartt’s beautiful and evocative handwriting. Her prose is impeccable and the world she portrays – from rural New England and a secluded and privileged campus, to those very intelligent but deeply cruel students who drink alcohol like water, smoke incessantly. and spend money with wild abandon is quite fascinating.

Richard is the figure of Nick Carraway in the novel, first in love then repelled by this rarefied setting. (The book also contains a bit of the irresistible melancholy of Evelyn Waugh Brideshead revisited). When I’m done The secret story, I immediately wanted to read it again to see how she was doing. But this time I will buy it. Get your copy now. -AT

A few years ago, while living in Nigeria for a summer, I ran into Wole Soyinka at a cultural center in Lagos. He was there with his characteristic cloud of white hair, no entourage around him. Knowing only that he was the first African to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, I felt compelled to ask him for a photograph which he gruffly refused.

There was no grudge; I took the encounter as a sign that I was supposed to keep writing and blogged about it like a nerd. But even after this chance encounter, I never seriously tried to read his work, intimidated both by his prolific output and the inaccessibility of his most famous medium, the plays, which I generally hate to read, preferring to from afar see them mounted on stage. .

However, I tried to take a bucket list approach to my reading under lockdown, and so after reading a series of white American authors back to back, I decided it was time to return to Soyinka. his due. I chose to read his childhood memoir, published in 1981, five years before he won the Nobel Prize.

I had a vague idea that Soyinka could be a comic writer (I had read what Soyinka called his “overanthologized” poemPhone call“), but his sense of humor really shines through in this delightful tale of his early years, growing up in an exuberant family as the son of a manager and headstrong saleswoman in the southern town of Abeokuta. from Nigeria.

From getting lost following a host of masquerades to her parents’ conflicting disciplinary methods, Soyinka paints a convincing picture of pre-independence Nigeria, with neighborhood elements like Paa Aditan, the self-proclaimed warrior ready to defend the city ​​against Hitler and an ingenious family guest who always knows how to fight his way to get more food.

And then there is Soyinka’s enthralling tale of the Revolt of the women of Abeokuta, led by the brilliant activist Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, Wole’s aunt and mother of Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti. I ended the book with a renewed appreciation for the considerable talents of Wole Soyinka. Get your copy now. – To ●

About Marcia G. Hussain

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