The Night Masquerade by Nnedi Okorafor. The final novella in the Okorafor’s Binti series (mentioned previously here and here). I was very excited to find out what happened to Binti and her jellyfishlike classmate Okwu, and I would have been thrilled even if the novella didn’t take some very unexpected and extraordinary turns. This series is so wonderfully imaginative and moving! I’ve seen some tweets suggesting that readers who loved the new Black Panther movie will love the Binti series: both depict a diverse, colorful, technologically advanced Africa that at the same time celebrates traditional garb and customs. (In the film, one of the Wakandan leaders appears to have her locs coated in the red pigment used by the Himba people of Namibia; this otjize paste is of vital importance to the plot of Binti.) But sci fi and fantasy readers should enjoy Okorafor’s prolific writing anyway: like Octavia Butler, her prose is accessible and vividly descriptive; like your favorite fantasy series, the characters appear to be sought out by strange forces that they master by seeking out communities of teachers and allies.
The Odyssey, translated by Emily Wilson. This much-celebrated new translation was on sale for $3 on New Year’s Day, so I snapped it up. I cannot lie to you; I just reread The Odyssey last year when I was gearing up to read Ulysses by James Joyce, and in neither case did I find this epic poem an absorbing or unputdownable read. However, what I do find endlessly fascinating is Wilson’s lengthy introduction explaining some of her choices in translation. On Twitter, she’ll go into a bit more detail comparing her translation to past translations; in this thread, for example, she is critical of the way past translators have characterized the Cyclops Polyphemos as a beast or savage, when the original word used for him is ander or man, same as the word used for Odysseus in the opening line (Wilson’s translation: “Tell me about a complicated man”). Reading about the translation process did help me appreciate, if not enjoy, the casual violence throughout this tale and the absolutely gruesome bloodbath when Odysseus returns to Ithaca.
I’d recommend a physical copy over an ebook; there are copious footnotes which I did not discover until the end.
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng. Ng’s earlier book Everything I Never Told You is one of my favorite reads of the last few years, but it took me a little longer to warm up to this one. While Everything unfolds from the perspective of a family who feels visibly and culturally Other in a small town, Fires takes you into two intertwined homes: one of outsiders as well as one of the well-to-do and aggressively normal families in one neighborhood, and the latter seems a little too broadly characterized at first. But at some point, the switch flipped for me: I was reading on a train, and then I arrived at my destination, and then I couldn’t wait to go to bed so I could finish the book under the covers in the wee hours of the morning.
The Likeness by Tana French. As is always the case with French’s murder mysteries, I devoured the book in two days and had related nightmares the following night. My recent haiku still applies:
Give me a murder,
a troubled cop, a bent rule–
that’s a good story.
Moby-Dick by Herman Melville. The last meeting of my Herman Melville class was mid-February, and one of my classmates brought brownies with little white powdered-sugar whales on them. I’m sorry the class is over, because I really enjoyed the journey: loved the humor, loved the descriptions of sailing and whaling, actually really enjoyed the cetology chapters. This is a book I will certainly re-read someday, and if it weren’t for the daunting pile of unread books on my table, I’d start again immediately.
The Story of a New Name by Elena Ferrante. I read the first of the famous Neapolitan novels a year or two ago and, as I said then, they do live up to the hype. I knew I’d want to read on, but the opportunity didn’t seem to present itself until I was browsing my favorite used bookstore in Pittsburgh and found the next two novels in the series (plus The Likeness, noted above). I briefly considered revisiting the first novel to catch up to the cliffhanger ending, but decided to trust that the novel would get me up to speed as needed. (It did.) I started reading this 400+ page book over President’s Day weekend and finished it by Thursday; with Elena and Lila a little older and the stakes of their nonconformity much higher, I didn’t want to put the book down. Fortunately, I had the third close by.
Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay by Elena Ferrante. I’m actually not finished with this novel yet, but I’m so close and it’s so much a continuation of the previous book that I can’t wait until the next post to talk about it. In addition to the very fine translation of what must be incredibly dense prose, this series offers a complex portrait of a friendship between two women, and it also feels urgently contemporary and relevant despite its setting in Naples in the mid-twentieth century. In this volume, the narrator’s roller coaster of feelings about her education, her writing, and her relationships is complicated by student protests and violent clashes with Fascists, and I’m turning the pages with fear and hunger to find out what happens to Elena and her unpredictable friend Lila in these tumultuous times.