Various/Emily Bogle for NPR
After two years stuck at home during the pandemic, people are ready to go out into the world. You can grin and bear the high price of boarding a plane these days – or be transported through the pages of a good book.
And for that, we have plenty of suggestions in the inaugural summer edition of NPR’s Books We Love project.
From 167 book recommendations, we’ve selected 10 that transcend time and place: from the red-light district of Lahore, Pakistan, and the streets of Mexico to the royal court of 18th-century Korea and a dystopian future where Japan doesn’t exist. exists anymore.
The return of Faraz Ali by Amina Ahmad
It begins as a crime novel. A murder. A policeman. An investigation. Then it evolves into much more. This confident debut novel evokes an older Pakistan, with all the many complications of class, society, law, tangled history. Anyone looking for a good ending should leave this one alone. Instead, come for the evocative writing, the subtle characters, and the plot—some of which veered into completely unexpected territory.
— Nishant Dahiya, senior deputy supervising editor, NPR International Desk
I’m From Here: Stories and Recipes from a Southern Cook by Vishwesh Bhatt
Born in Gujarat, India, Mississippi chef Vishwesh Bhatt greeted me with his mildly defiant title, I’m from here. West India and the southern US share more culinary parallels than you might think, from varieties of rice and sesame to okra, shrimp and fresh tomatoes. Here, these ingredients explode into joyous fusion, the fiery affair of a spice cabinet and a well-stocked pantry. Juicy shrimp pulse under a crust of black pepper and coriander; pork shoulder melts into a sweet arból-guajillo chile paste. What about the source of the ingredients? After two years of blocking, don’t tell me you don’t know how to mail order!
– T. Susan Chang, food writer
Yinka, where is your husband? by Lizzie Damilola Blackburn
Yinka has done everything her Nigerian-born mother expected – except find a husband, something her mother prays for out loud at their family gatherings. But Yinka must understand what it wants: from her career, in love and for herself on her terms. Set in London, the novel depicts the challenge of navigating two cultures, with Yinka both a part of and apart from them. In her dedication to being her whole self and true to her faith and ideals, Yinka writes a prayer for her herselfa rallying cry to which we can all shout, “Amen!”
— Tayla Burney, director, NPR Network Programming & Production
A home cooked meal for these trying times by Meron Hadero
Debut books don’t get much stronger than this. Meron Hadero’s extraordinary stories explore a diverse group of people doing their best to find acceptance or at least stability—a 10-year-old Ethiopian immigrant who befriends a German in Iowa; a pair of refugees in New York determined to learn how to cook classic American food. Hadero is deeply perceptive; her dialogue always rings true; and the respect she has for her characters is palpable. This isn’t just a great first book, it’s a great book, period.
– Michael Schaub, book critic
The Red Palace until June Hur
A palatial nurse becomes embroiled in a murder investigation when four women are found dead and her beloved mentor is framed as the murderer. It soon becomes clear that the intrigue runs much deeper than she could have anticipated and, in unraveling it, she may destroy the fragile balance that keeps a royal dynasty in power. The Red Palace is a professionally choreographed mystery with a romantic touch and an emotionally satisfying conclusion that beautifully bridges fiction with historical fact.
– Caitlyn Paxson, book critic
One for all by Lillie Lainoff
In this retelling with a gender bias of The Three Musketeers, 16-year-old Tania de Batz has a chronic illness that could incapacitate her – disappointing for someone who wants to follow in the footsteps of her former Musketeer father. After her father’s death, Tania is sent to Madame de Treville, who trains young women to be Musketeers. With Portia, Théa and Aria, Tania searches for evidence to uncover a plot to assassinate King Louis XIV – and to discover the identity of her father’s killer. But the handsome Étienne Verdon becomes an obstacle, because a Mousquetaire is not supposed to fall on her target.
— Alethea Kontis, author and book critic
Gullah Geechee Home Cooking: Recipes from the Matriarch of Edisto Island by Emily Meggett
If you’ve never heard of Edisto Island, Emily Meggett’s cookbook is a great place to start learning. Meggett is the matriarch of the island, which is home to many Gullah Geechee people and the food they have made for generations. The recipes are fantastic: One of my absolute favorites is Meggett’s Roe and Parsley Stuffed Fish, which takes a lot of time but so it’s worth the effort. You’ll want to make these dishes again and again—especially Meggett’s Deviled Crab, Fried Okra, Crab Soup, and Red Rice. And in doing so, you’ll understand the impact the Gullah Geechee community has had on American food history.
– Wynne Davis, editorial assistant, All things considered
Paradise by Fernanda Melchor, translated by Sophie Hughes
Fernanda Melchor’s Paradisethe Booker Prize-nominated sequel Hurricane season, is another stark and powerful indictment of the depravity encouraged by Mexico’s racist, sexist, and classist social structures. Translated by Sophie Hughes, Paradise stars a gated luxury apartment complex gardener who is pushed by one of his residents to follow his worst impulses. Melchor’s prose is singular, with its fair share of page-long sentences that travel from the deepest psychic recesses of her characters to the larger panorama of Mexican life.
– Leland Cheuk, author and editor
The girl who fell under the sea by Axie Oh
In this absolutely gorgeous retelling of the Korean folk tale, 16-year-old Mina jumps into the sea and surrenders herself to the Sea God instead of the beautiful Shim Cheong. In a magical underwater land filled with spirits, demons, gods, and creatures of legend (including the giant serpent Imugi), the Red String of Fate that connects Mina to the Sea God is severed by the handsome but cold-hearted God. But the Red String of Fate reappears, only this time connecting him to Lord Shin. Mina has one month to investigate the Sea Lord’s curse and break away from Lord Shin before she loses her mortality forever.
— Alethea Kontis, author and book critic
Scattered all over the Earth by Yoko Tawada
This dystopian novel is gripping, weird as can be, and like nothing else I’ve ever read. I’m afraid not enough people will read it. A refugee from a Japan that no longer exists, Hiruko is a teacher who travels around Europe speaking in her invented language that somehow makes sense to everyone. The book is told in quirky little episodes and spells of romance and precise world-building, which is incredibly entertaining in itself. But the real draw is Hiruko, one of the most charming and memorable characters I’ve ever come across. Forget Wordle: Hiroko makes us make puns in a dystopian world! What more could you ask for?
— Kamil Ahsan, biologist, historian and writer