It’s officially Spring, which means it should be warming up! Of course, Bookstr’s picks for the week are already pretty hot. Assuming you made it past that pun, why don’t you go ahead and keep reading… and then keep reading until you’re finished with each one of these recommendations. This week, each of our selections tells a story of transnational displacement—whether or not the cause is a vacation or something far more permanent. Two of these releases may be non-fiction, but they all have one thing in common: fiction or not, they’re rich with emotional truths and examination of cultural traditions.
And, speaking of tradition, here are Bookstr’s Three to Read, the three books we’ve picked for you to read this week!
Our Hot Pick
An unforgettable memoir about a young woman who tries to outrun loss, but eventually finds a way home.
Ayelet Tsabari was 21 years old the first time she left Tel Aviv with no plans to return. Restless after two turbulent mandatory years in the Israel Defense Forces, Tsabari longed to get away. It was not the never-ending conflict that drove her, but the grief that had shaken the foundations of her home. The loss of Tsabari’s beloved father in years past had left her alienated and exiled within her own large Yemeni family and at odds with her Mizrahi identity. By leaving, she would be free to reinvent herself and to rewrite her own story.
For nearly a decade, Tsabari travelled, through India, Europe, the US and Canada, as though her life might go stagnant without perpetual motion. She moved fast and often because—as in the Intifada—it was safer to keep going than to stand still. Soon the act of leaving—jobs, friends and relationships—came to feel most like home.
But a series of dramatic events forced Tsabari to examine her choices and her feelings of longing and displacement. By periodically returning to Israel, Tsabari began to examine her Jewish-Yemeni background and the Mizrahi identity she had once rejected, as well as unearthing a family history that had been untold for years. What she found resonated deeply with her own immigrant experience and struggles with new motherhood.
Beautifully written, frank and poignant, The Art of Leaving is a courageous coming-of-age story that reflects on identity and belonging and that explores themes of family and home—both inherited and chosen.
Canadian Writers Abroad put it best: “The Art of Leaving, Ayelet Tsabari’s much anticipated memoir, could easily have been called The Art of Living.” With raw, honest language, Tsabari takes readers through a life as enormous as the journey she has undergone. Tsabari’s search for home takes her across continents, into the arms of men and women, down into the depths of alcohol and drug abuse. Writing with inarguable power in her non-Native English, Tsabari analyzes the question of identity while delving deep into her own, closing in on how the idea of home becomes all the more complicated when your country of birth is in direct conflict with your ethnic identity. This is an intense portrait of a flawed self, not a self-help novel but a story that will inspire you with its scope and ultimate message: you are the home you search for. Named as one of LitHub’s Most Anticipated Books of 2019, The Art of Leaving is a life-changing read of a life forever altered.
OUR COFFEE SHOP READ
Nira Ghani has always dreamed of becoming a musician. Her Guyanese parents, however, have big plans for her to become a scientist or doctor. Nira’s grandmother and her best friend, Emily, are the only people who seem to truly understand her desire to establish an identity outside of the one imposed on Nira by her parents. When auditions for jazz band are announced, Nira realizes it’s now or never to convince her parents that she deserves a chance to pursue her passion.
As if fighting with her parents weren’t bad enough, Nira finds herself navigating a new friendship dynamic when her crush, Noah, and notorious mean-girl, McKenzie “Mac,” take a sudden interest in her and Emily, inserting themselves into the fold. So, too, does Nira’s much cooler (and very competitive) cousin Farah. Is she trying to wiggle her way into the new group to get closer to Noah? Is McKenzie trying to steal Emily’s attention away from her? As Farah and Noah grow closer and Emily begins to pull away, Nira’s trusted trumpet “George” remains her constant, offering her an escape from family and school drama.
But it isn’t until Nira takes a step back that she realizes she’s not the only one struggling to find her place in the world. As painful truths about her family are revealed, Nira learns to accept people for who they are and to open herself in ways she never thought possible.
A relatable and timely contemporary, coming-of age story, In the Key of Nira Ghani explores the social and cultural struggles of a teen in an immigrant household.
Natasha Deen‘s #OwnVoices novel depicts young adult life in an immigrant household, written by an author who is also from Guyana. But Deen’s knowledge extends far beyond her subject matter. With clever chapter titles like ‘Isolation Is an Organic Compound’ and ‘Baggage Comes With Reinforced Handles,’ it’s clear that she’s also a deeply insightful writer whose knack for language enchants readers from the first page. In the Key of Nira Ghani encapsulates the precarious balance between escaping the confines of tradition and honoring those traditions that make us who we are. The juxtaposition between the protagonist’s outsider feelings typical of adolescence with the more specific estrangement of being the only brown girl in her Canadian high school. Heartwarming, funny, and gorgeously written, In the Key of Nira Ghani is key to your March reading list.
oUR dARK hORSE
When Italian Renaissance professor Allison Levy takes up residency in the palazzo of her dreams—the Palazzo Rucellai in Florence—she finds herself consumed by the space and swept into the vortex of its history. She spends every waking moment in dusty Florentine libraries and exploring the palazzo’s myriad rooms seeking to uncover its secrets. As she unearths the stories of those who have lived behind its celebrated facade, she discovers that it has been witness to weddings, suicides, orgies and even a murder. Entwining Levy’s own experiences with the ghosts of the Palazzo Rucellai’s past, House of Secrets paints a scintillating portrait of a family, a palace, and one of the most iconic cities in the world.
Allison Levy is a fascinating researcher employed at Brown University, whose previous works investigate an impressive scope of Early Modern Italian and European culture: games, sexuality, masculinity, and widowhood. It’s a rare writer—and a rarer historian—capable of teaching the world something about Renaissance history no other has fully explored. Levy does so with intrigue and nuance, interweaving a captivating non-fiction with her own personal narrative. House of Secrets: The Many Lives of a Florentine Palazzo may be lively, but historian Leonard Barkan encourages us to ask the real questions: “dare one say sexy?” Given the common perception of historical, scholarly works, it seems hard to imagine the answer is yes. To that, we say: read it. Then, you won’t have to imagine.
All In-Text Images Via Amazon.