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The best books of the year so far serve as a great reminder to always question the stories we hear. Where do they come from? And who gets to tell them? When we deconstruct history and look at its pieces in a new light, as many of these books do, we see things differently. In his page-turning new biography of Martin Luther King Jr., Jonathan Eig provides an illuminating window into the activist’s emotional core. In Dyscalculia, Camonghne Felix reconsiders her romantic past to better understand her relationship with love. And in Biography of X, Catherine Lacey reveals how easily the ideas we hold as truths can fall apart through her protagonist’s quest to learn about her wife’s mysterious past. Here, the best books of the year so far.
A Living Remedy, Nicole Chung
In her first memoir, TIME contributor Nicole Chung described her experience growing up as a Korean American adoptee in a predominantly white town. Her follow-up, A Living Remedy, continues her exploration into identity, this time focusing on her grief after losing both of her parents. Chung’s father died of diabetes and kidney disease in 2018. Then, less than a year later, her mother is diagnosed with cancer and later dies during the COVID-19 pandemic. As Chung wrestles with these overwhelming losses in A Living Remedy, she dissects the inequities inherent to American society by recounting the challenges her parents faced in accessing medical care. The result is a moving portrait of a daughter reckoning with her place in a broken world—and making sense of life without her parents in it.
King: A Life, Jonathan Eig
Jonathan Eig’s book on Martin Luther King Jr. is the first biography of the civil rights icon in decades. It’s a refreshing portrait of King, offering an intimate look inside the life of a man whose massive contributions to American history are known but whose emotional complexities are less so. Eig digs into everything—King’s family origins, his relationship with his wife, the pressures he faced from being so influential so early in his career—to create a portrait of the late activist that captures the dynamic and flawed human that he was. It’s a deftly researched and highly accessible account of a leader, and a new view into the many overlooked parts of King’s story.
Our Share of Night, Mariana Enriquez
Spanning multiple decades, Argentine author Mariana Enriquez’s weird and wonderful novel, newly translated into English by Megan McDowell, doesn’t fit into just one genre. Oscillating seamlessly between historical fiction and supernatural horror, Our Share of Night centers on Juan and Gaspar, a father and son who are grieving Rosario, the wife and mother they just lost in a car accident. Complicating things is the fact that they are also on the run from the ruthless cult from which Rosario descends. Better known as the Order, the cult will do just about anything to achieve immortality, and Gaspar has developed powers that would make him a valuable asset. Set against a comprehensive backdrop of Argentine history, Our Share of Night offers an absorbing window into a terrifying, fantastical world.
Dyscalculia, Camonghne Felix
In her debut memoir, poet Camonghne Felix details how a devastating breakup propels her into deep despair, forcing her to confront lingering childhood trauma and struggles with her mental health. Throughout, she returns to the learning disorder she faced as a child, “dyscalculia,” which made it difficult for her to understand math. In holding her dissolved relationship to the light, Felix wonders about the miscalculations she’s made when it comes to love. Her memoir is a striking meditation on pain, heartbreak, and what it takes to truly heal.
The Wager, David Grann
In 1740, a British vessel called His Majesty’s Ship the Wager departed England on a mission to capture a Spanish galleon. But the Wager wrecked near the coast of Patagonia, and those who survived endured months of starvation and hardship. At least, that’s what the 30 sailors who made it out alive explained when they eventually arrived in Brazil. But months later, when a trio of castaways from another ship land in the same spot, they share a very different version of the events that took place in Patagonia. David Grann, author of Killers of the Flower Moon and The Lost City of Z, peels back the layers of a complex maritime drama in a masterfully drawn work of narrative nonfiction.
This Other Eden, Paul Harding
Inspired by real-life events that took place on Maine’s Malaga Island, one of the first racially integrated communities in the Northeast, Pulitzer Prize winner Paul Harding tells a grueling tale of isolation and injustice. In 1792, a formerly enslaved man and his Irish wife first arrived on the fictional Apple Island. More than a century later, the couple’s descendants are still there, and while their lives aren’t easy, they are at least far from the dangers happening inland. But any measure of peace they’ve secured is upturned by the presence of a missionary. The residents face eviction—and the threat of being institutionalized on the mainland. Harding follows a cast of characters through this horrifying upheaval as they grapple with what it means to belong.
The Half Known Life, Pico Iyer
Does paradise really exist? The question is at the center of Pico Iyer’s dazzling new work of nonfiction, which examines the many ways different cultures search for purposeful existence, and the paradoxical struggle for peace in a violent and fractured world. From Japan’s mountain temples to the streets of Belfast, Iyer wonders where utopia begins and how we can access it. In doing so, he suggests that paradise may not be a destination, but instead a journey.
Greek Lessons, Han Kang
After losing her mother and custody of her son, the unnamed narrator of Han Kang’s stirring novel, newly translated into English by Deborah Smith and Emily Yae Won, decides to learn a new language. Then, one day while in her Greek class, she attempts to say something, but no words come out. Her voice is gone. In the same moment, across the room, her teacher is facing a battle against his depreciating vision. As the two bond over their puzzling sensory losses, they form an intense connection. Kang captures their relationship—and the relationships they both have with language and love—in quietly beautiful detail.
Biography of X, Catherine Lacey
X is one of the most iconic and prolific artists and writers of the 20th century. The world is familiar with her work as a creative visionary—though no one, not even her wife, knows her real name or where she was born. After X suddenly dies, her wife, CM, decides she’s overdue to learn that information, and attempts to find answers to the questions that have been haunting her. X is a fictional character, but Catherine Lacey’s propulsive and kaleidoscopic novel makes her story feel plausible, piecing together the character’s life with an engrossing alternate history of the United States that’s full of references to real-life artists and writers. As CM uncovers more of X’s delectably illustrated past, Lacey unfurls a wholly original celebration of art, identity, and grief.
Lone Women, Victor LaValle
It’s 1915 and mystery is swirling around Adelaide Henry, the daughter of Black farmers in California. When Victor LaValle introduces the character in his bruising fifth novel, she’s just set her family’s home ablaze. She’s on her way to Montana as a homesteader to collect on the promise of free land being offered by the government to “lone women” who are able to make it habitable. As Adelaide makes the trek, she brings with her a large trunk containing a secret that threatens to upend her life. Blending magical realism, history, and suspense, LaValle unravels a startling narrative about a woman running away from her troubled past and the horrors she faces as she tries to forge a better future.
After Sappho, Selby Wynn Schwartz
Longlisted for the 2022 Booker Prize and published in the U.S. this January, After Sappho is a tale of creativity, desire, and sexuality. Though it’s technically a novel, to categorize it as such would undermine Selby Wynn Schwartz’s thrilling reimagination of history and literary criticism, which culminates in a work of fiction that is deeply rooted in reality. In the book, Schwartz revisits the lives of groundbreaking early 20th-century feminists, from writers to actors to dancers, to explore the challenges they faced as queer artists with great contributions to make to the world. Schwartz weaves a tapestry of their voices to create a timeless yet timely narrative.
The Covenant of Water, Abraham Verghese
Abraham Verghese, the best-selling author of the 2009 novel Cutting for Stone, returns with another epic tale, this time focusing on the fate of a cursed family in southern India. The Covenant of Water begins in 1900 as a 12-year-old girl marries a 40-year-old widower with a young son. Some years after their wedding, the girl discovers her husband’s son drowned in a ditch. It’s a cruel suffering that the family can’t seem to shake—they keep losing more of their own to the same fate—and they become determined to figure out the source of this strange affliction. Verghese follows the family over the course of nearly 80 years in this powerful and sweeping story about love, loss, and the strength of the human spirit.
Y/N, Esther Yi
The unnamed narrator of Esther Yi’s electric debut novel is obsessed with a K-pop idol named Moon. Bored with her life in Berlin, the narrator writes fan fiction about Moon, describing an imagined relationship with one of the most famous musicians in the world. Then the lines of reality start to blur: as the protagonist of her stories travels to Seoul to be with Moon, the narrator decides to make the journey, too. Yi weaves these threads together in sharp prose, offering an inventive novel about the strange and surprising stakes of worshiping a pop idol.
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Write to Annabel Gutterman at email@example.com