The books that help you most are those which make you think that most. The hardest way of learning is that of easy reading; but a great book that comes from a great thinker is a ship of thought, deep freighted with truth and beauty.
– Pablo Neruda
The Nickel Boys. Colson Whitehead
As the Civil Rights movement begins to reach the black enclave of Frenchtown in segregated Tallahassee, Elwood Curtis takes the words of Dr. Martin Luther King to heart: He is “as good as anyone.” Abandoned by his parents, but kept on the straight and narrow by his grandmother, Elwood is about to enroll in the local black college. But for a black boy in the Jim Crow South of the early 1960s, one innocent mistake is enough to destroy the future. Elwood is sentenced to a juvenile reformatory called the Nickel Academy, whose mission statement says it provides “physical, intellectual and moral training” so the delinquent boys in their charge can become “honorable and honest men.”
In reality, the Nickel Academy is a grotesque chamber of horrors where the sadistic staff beats and sexually abuses the students, corrupt officials and locals steal food and supplies, and any boy who resists is likely to disappear “out back.” Stunned to find himself in such a vicious environment, Elwood tries to hold onto Dr. King’s ringing assertion “Throw us in jail and we will still love you.” His friend Turner thinks Elwood is worse than naive, that the world is crooked, and that the only way to survive is to scheme and avoid trouble.
The tension between Elwood’s ideals and Turner’s skepticism leads to a decision whose repercussions will echo down the decades. Formed in the crucible of the evils Jim Crow wrought, the boys’ fates will be determined by what they endured at the Nickel Academy.
Based on the real story of a reform school in Florida that operated for one hundred and eleven years and warped the lives of thousands of children, The Nickel Boys is a devastating, driven narrative that showcases a great American novelist writing at the height of his powers.
Big Sky. Kate Atkinson
Iconoclastic detective Jackson Brodie returns in a triumphant new novel about secrets, sex, and lies
Jackson Brodie has relocated to a quiet seaside village, in the occasional company of his recalcitrant teenage son and an aging Labrador, both at the discretion of his ex-partner Julia. It’s picturesque, but there’s something darker lurking behind the scenes.
Jackson’s current job, gathering proof of an unfaithful husband for his suspicious wife, is fairly standard-issue, but a chance encounter with a desperate man on a crumbling cliff leads him into a sinister network-and back across the path of his old friend Reggie. Old secrets and new lies intersect in this breathtaking novel by one of the most dazzling and surprising writers at work today.
Empires of the World. A Language History of the World. Nicholas Ostler
Nicholas Ostler’s Empires of the Word is the first history of the world’s great tongues, gloriously celebrating the wonder of words that binds communities together and makes possible both the living of a common history and the telling of it. From the uncanny resilience of Chinese through twenty centuries of invasions to the engaging self-regard of Greek and to the struggles that gave birth to the languages of modern Europe, these epic achievements and more are brilliantly explored, as are the fascinating failures of once “universal” languages. A splendid, authoritative, and remarkable work, it demonstrates how the language history of the world eloquently reveals the real character of our planet’s diverse peoples and prepares us for a linguistic future full of surprises.
Black Widow Society. Angela Makholwa
In 1994 when South Africans were finally seeing the light of freedom and independence, three well-respected businesswomen – Talullah Ntuli, Edna Whithead and Nkosazana Dlamini – formed the Black Widow Society, a secret organisation aimed at liberating women trapped in emotionally and physically abusive relationships by assisting in ‘eliminating’ their errant husbands. For fifteen years the Black Widow Society operated undetected, impeccably run by The Triumvirate with the help of their suave and mysterious hired gun, Mzwakhe Khuzwayo, a slick ex-convict meticulous in his responsibilities. But as the secret organisation recruits more members, the wheels of this well-oiled machine threaten to fall off. Will Talullah’s controlling streak or Nkosazana’s unfettered material aspirations jeopardise the future of the Black Widow Society? Or perhaps one of the new recruits, unsettled by the reality of the elimination of her former husband, will lose her nerve and expose the workings of the group after all this time? As the tension mounts, Black Widow Society builds to a chilling and bloody climax that will keep you guessing and riveted until the very last page.