The best international fiction of 2018
2018 was a great year for books! Here are CBC Books's top 18 works of fiction by writers outside of Canada.
Children of the Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
Children of Blood and Bone tells the story of Zélie, a young girl from a fantasy kingdom known as Orïsha where magic has been banned. Zélie's white hair is a sign that she possesses latent magical powers, but they can only be activated by a scroll that disappeared long ago. With the help of Princess Amari, Zélie embarks on an epic quest to bring magic back to her home and defy the genocidal monarchy that rules Orïsha. Children of Blood and Bone is a smart and riveting adventure novel, targeted to readers 14 and up, that deftly explores themes of power, race and colourism.
The Only Story by Julian Barnes
The Only Story follows a British man named Paul as he looks back on a young, hopeless love affair. Paul was a 19-year-old college student when he met Susan, a 48-year-old mother trapped in an abusive marriage. As their affair unfurls, Paul cuts ties with his disapproving parents and commits himself to Susan just as her inner demons come bubbling to the surface. With the sensitive, careful writing that won Julian Barnes the Man Booker Prize in 2011, The Only Story is a wry, melancholic and engrossing novel.
My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite
Oyinkan Braithwaite's debut novel My Sister, The Serial Killer is about a woman named Korede and her younger sister Ayoola, who has an unfortunate habit of murdering her boyfriends. Every time Ayoola takes another life, Korede is there to clean things up. As dark as it is funny, Braithwaite's novel has already been optioned for a film by the producers of Baby Driver.
Housegirl by Michael Donkor
Two cultures clash as the lives of three young women come together in Michael Donkor's debut novel. Housegirl follows Belinda, a 17-year-old servant to an elderly couple, as she is sent from Ghana to London to work for a family who hopes she will be a positive influence on their own teenage daughter, Amma. Belinda must leave behind Mary, an 11-year-old who was training to be a servant alongside Belinda in Ghana. With great care, Donkor tells three coming-of-age stories filled with love, loss and hope.
Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi
Born "with one foot on the other side," Ada grows up in Nigeria with a group of chaotic godly parasites in her head. When Ada moves to the U.S. for college, a traumatic assault causes her to retreat mentally and leaves her alternate selves in control. The gods, called ogbanje, have dark plans for Ada. Freshwater is an impressive debut with a challenging and ever-twisting plot.
Florida by Lauren Groff
Lauren Groff's collection of 11 short stories exposes the complexities of human nature as it comes into contact with the natural world. Set entirely in Florida, where Groff lives with her husband and two children, many of the book's stories are narrated by unconventional mothers, prone to zany happenings. These dynamic characters, combined with Groff's electric prose, make Florida a compelling read.
Sea Prayer by Khaled Hosseini
A father holds his sleeping son on a moonlit beach, preparing to embark on a dangerous journey by sea in search of a safe, new home. While waiting for the sun to rise, the father describes the beauty of his childhood summers at his grandparents's home in Syria and the bustling city of Homs that was overtaken by bombs. Khaled Hosseini, author of bestselling novels like The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns, was inspired to write this short 40-page book by the Syrian refugee crisis.
An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
As young newlyweds with promising careers ahead of them, Celestial and Roy represent the American Dream of happiness and material success. Things, however, take a terrible turn when Roy, a black man, is sent to prison for a crime he did not commit. Believing in his innocence, Celestial struggles to cope with Roy's incarceration and finds comfort in her childhood best friend Andre. An American Marriage is a compelling and beautifully written love story that explores race, class and relationships in the American South.
Immigrant, Montana by Amitava Kumar
Blending fiction and autobiography, Amitava Kumar's new novel, Immigrant, Montana, is a coming-of-age story about a young Indian man who goes to the United States for graduate school and engages in a series of failed romantic relationships. It's an exploration of home, memory and desire, the thirst for knowledge, and the pursuit of love.
The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner
The Mars Room centres on Romy, a former stripper and single mother serving two life sentences in a California prison. Inspired by Kushner's extensive research speaking to prisoners in a women's facility, the story focuses on poverty, powerlessness, deprivation and abuse, painting a picture of a system that is cruel and brutal. The book was shortlisted for the 2018 Man Booker Prize.
The Incendiaries by R.O. Kwon
Phoebe, a young Korean-American woman, secretly blames herself for her mother's death. With this weight on her shoulders, she enrolls at an elite American university and finds herself drawn in by the leader of a secret extremist cult with ties to North Korea. When Phoebe disappears after a terrible bombing, her friend Will becomes obsessed with tracking her down. R.O. Kwon's novel is a look at love and loss in the face of fundamentalism.
Sleep of Memory by Patrick Modiano
Nobel Prize winner Patrick Modiano blends autobiography with fiction in Sleep of Memory, following a celebrated writer in his later years as he looks back on an important period of his life. Four women play key roles in the novel — Geneviève, Martine, Madeleine and Madame Huberson — each of whom expose a piece of the narrator's unresolved issues with his parents and childhood.
My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh
Ottessa Moshfegh's novel is about a young, pretty, Columbia graduate who, while appearing to live a pretty idyllic life in Manhattan, is racked with an all-consuming sense of emptiness. The narrator spends the year 2000 using crazy combinations of drugs to fix what ails her — an ache she cannot seem to identify or get rid of. My Year of Rest and Relaxation is a darkly comic, madcap novel about a young woman's existential crisis and highly questionable decision-making.
Killing Commendatore by Haruki Murakami
Killing Commendatore is the story of a painter who, having been recently left by his wife, becomes the caretaker for a famed artist. But when the painter discovers an unknown work in the artist's home, he begins to unravel an unknown history — and develop a strange obsession with a neighbour. The 674-page surreal epic is actually an homage to F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, which Haruki Murakami previously translated into Japanese.
There There by Tommy Orange
Tommy Orange's multi-perspective novel skillfully balances a cast of compelling characters, as they all head to Oakland's first Powwow with a range of intentions in mind. Jacquie Red Feather hopes to reconnect with her family after achieving sobriety. Young Orvil has been learning Indigenous dances from YouTube and is ready to perform them publicly. Edwin Frank hopes to find his father. Rotating between a dozen characters, Orange's acclaimed debut novel offers an unflinching look at life on a reservation.
Lake Success by Gary Shteyngart
When the three-year-old son of hedge fund manager Barry (who is involved in an SEC investigation) and his wife Seema is diagnosed with autism, Barry decides to climb a Greyhound and seek out a simpler life with his college girlfriend. The departure sends both Barry and Seema's life into chaos as they grapple with what it means to be among the richest people in the world. Lake Success is a pointed and funny examination of contemporary America.
Sweet & Low by Nick White
Themes of sex, class and betrayal slink through Nick White's first short story collection. Set in Mississippi, White tells stories of podcasters, musicians, gardening enthusiasts and others as they cope with life's absurd twists of fate. All together, the stories in Sweet & Low make for a provocative and sharply written book.
The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer
Meg Wolitzer's latest novel follows a shy college freshman named Greer Kadetsky as she meets her idol, Faith Frank, a charismatic feminist in her 60s. When Faith invites Greer to spend time with her, the young woman is immediately taken with her new mentor and begins walking away from the future she once saw with her boyfriend Cory. The Female Persuasion is a layered work that plays with themes of ambition, power, friendship and loyalty as characters figure out the type of people they want to be.