Jyoti Patel is the winner of the #Merky Books New Writers’ Prize 2021, a competition launched by Stormzy and Penguin Random House UK to discover unpublished, underrepresented authors. Her debut novel Six of One will be published by #Merky Books in January 2023. Six of One is a coming-of-age novel told from the perspectives of Avani and her 18-year-old son Nik in search of answers to the circumstances surrounding his father’s death. It oscillates between past and present and compares Nik’s experience as a multiracial man in Great Britain after the Brexit referendum with Avani, who grew up as a young British Indian in London in the 1980s. The novel explores identity, racialization and the reality of what it means to be a Person of Color in Britain today. Jyoti’s work has also been published as part of We Present’s Literally series. You can read her short story Break here. You can follow Jyoti on Instagram and Twitter.
The namesake of Jhumpa Lahiri
I was recommended The Namesake soon after I finished the first draft of my novel Six of One, and I wish I had come across this book sooner. It follows the Ganguli family who left Calcutta for a living in America, and it was the first time I have seen people with backgrounds similar to me depicted as completely in contemporary realism as they describe their daily lives in the pages of a book . The novel covers topics I always look for in literature – identity, belonging, tradition, uprooting, family expectation, assimilation, and how their nuances can shift depending on whether you are a first or second generation immigrant. Lahiri’s writing is also sharp, smooth, and phenomenal. She is a master at catching details. It’s a firm favorite that I love to come back to.
Buy The Namesake at Bookshop.org, Book Depository, Waterstones, Amazon or Amazon AU.
Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart
Set in Glasgow in the 1980s, this debut follows a broken working-class family, mostly from the perspective of Shuggie, the youngest child. With an absent father and siblings who have left home, Shuggie has to look after his alcoholic mother Agnes as a child. Shuggie also struggles with his sexuality; he has repeatedly said that it is something that should be “nipped in the bud”. It is a tender portrayal of unconditional love and the relentless power of addiction, told against the backdrop of the Thatcher era. It’s gritty, bleak, beautiful, raw, and moving. The prose is mind blowing, one that will make you stop and read the same sentence all over again to enjoy it over and over again.
Buy Shuggie Bain at Bookshop.org, Book Depository, Waterstones, Amazon, or Amazon AU.
Emergency Kit: Poems For Strange Times, edited by Jo Shapcott & Matthew Sweeney
In this anthology, I discovered some of my all-time favorite poems over the past ten years. It’s a lovely collection of modern and contemporary jewelery, from Sharon Olds to Imtiaz Dharker to Edwin Muir. Derek Walcott’s The Season of Phantasmal Peace is one that I first read in this anthology and has held a special place in my heart ever since. It’s a fantastic book to keep next to your bedside table to dive in and out.
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Atonement, by Ian McEwan
With a tightly controlled plot and sharp prose, Atonement follows Briony, Cecelia and Robbie when their lives are torn apart by a lie. It’s a master class on how to jump between perspectives and time periods while keeping the reader on their toes. The phrase in the last section turns everything the reader thought they knew upside down. It’s also great fun analyzing the meta-ness of it all and the fact that it’s so much about the writing itself. The film version is also fantastic.
Buy atonement from Bookshop.org, Book Depository, Waterstones, Amazon, or Amazon AU.
The Good Immigrant, edited by Nikesh Shukla
21 British writers, journalists, poets and artists have contributed essays to this award-winning anthology. It is crucial read that explores the reality of what it means to be a Person of Color in the UK. From feeling like your name is constantly being mispronounced to rare people who look like you in contemporary literature, each essay delves into a different aspect of what it means to be “different.” It meant a lot to me to read it for the first time and to put my lived experience on paper. It’s another book that I reach for a lot and that I would recommend to anyone.
Buy The Good Immigrant at Bookshop.org, Book Depository, Waterstones, Amazon, or Amazon AU.
Open Water by Caleb Azumah Nelson
Open Water is a beautiful story that follows a photographer and a dancer as they navigate the ups and downs of love. The prose is so elegant that it sometimes reads like poetry, and it’s an excellent example of how powerful the second-person narrative can be – it literally puts the reader in the shoes of a British black protagonist whose every move is politicized is. It explores masculinity, vulnerability, love, racism and police brutality with amazing intimacy against a backdrop of great art, music and literature.
Buy Open Water at Bookshop.org, Book Depository, Waterstones, Amazon or Amazon AU.
Why I don’t talk about races with whites anymore from Reni Eddo-Lodge
I’ve read this several times and I’m blown away again and again. Eddo-Lodge explores the reality of structural racism in Britain, from white feminism to history lessons in school and the class-race connection. It is delivered patiently, concisely, and carefully. Reading for the first time in 2017 was a turning point for me – just a few months later, I started writing my debut novel, which covers some of the same subjects. It is definitely one of my favorite reads. Your About Race podcast is excellent too, digging deeper into some of the points covered in the book.
Buy Why I Don’t Talk To Whites About Race anymore at Bookshop.org, Book Depository, Waterstones, Amazon, or Amazon AU.
The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy
This publication phenomenon is a celebration of resilience, empathy and self-care. Each page contains a beautiful illustration and typography with an excerpt from a conversation between the four friends of the same name who move through the ups and downs of life. It’s the kind of book that stays in your hand long after you pick it up. I read it once as a “calming balm” for the soul and that is exactly what it is. It’s a great read from cover to cover and is another great way to get on and off as you can take something with you from either side no matter where you land.
Buy The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse at Bookshop.org, Book Depository, Waterstones, Amazon or Amazon AU.
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