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Top 10 Engelse literatuur

Welke boeken zijn het meest gekozen in seizoen 2023-2024?

1. Lessons – Ian McEwan

Roland Baines, born in 1948 whose life is described over a period of 70 years, seems a promising boy, but doesn’t live up to this promise. Fate plays an important part in this. He doesn’t finish school. After various odd jobs, during which he appears to be a gifted piano player, he marries British-German Alissa. But she leaves him and their seven-month-old son to pursue a career in writing. Roland raises his son single-handedly. Later on he meets his wife again in East Berlin, just before the fall of the Berlin Wall. Over a period of half a century Roland builds his own walls and crashes into others he doesn’t want to crash into. Other historic events, such as the troubles in the Middle East in the 1950s, the Cuban missile crisis and the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, also figure in the background of this book. Lessons describes the life of a baby-boomer who, in despair, watches his life go by. McEwan states that his novel is partly autobiographical. Leeswijzer E23-11

2. Small Things Like These – Claire Keegan

It is December 1985 in a small town in Ireland. Bill Furlong, a coal merchant and family man, is facing the busiest season of the year. Married to Eileen and having five daughters, he often struggles to make ends meet. But he is hopeful about the future of his daughters, who go to the town’s only good school for girls, which is run by an order of nuns. One morning, when delivering an order at the convent, he discovers a girl in the coal shed who asks him for help. This prompts Bill to start thinking about his own life, the lives of his daughters and the life of the girl in the coal shed. Then he takes his final steps. A beautifully written book about one man’s thoughts, explained in a philosophical way and examining how we can take responsibility even if we have to go against the prevailing rules. Leeswijzer E23-09

3. April in Spain – John Banville

A young Irish woman, Phoebe Quirke, receives a phone call from her father. He is convinced that while on holiday in San Sebastian, he has caught a glimpse of Phoebe’s best friend, April, long after she was presumed to have been murdered by her brother. After talking to April’s Uncle Bill, who is a government minister, Phoebe decides to join her father in Spain, accompanied by Detective Inspector St John Strafford, to find out whether her friend is indeed still alive. At that same time, the hitman Terry Tice is urged to travel to San Sebastian to find April. An Irish intrigue that comes to a conclusion in Spain. A precisely written, thrilling novel concerning the arrogance of power in Ireland in the 1950s. Leeswijzer E23-03

4. Peach Blossom Spring – Melissa Fu

This well-written, gripping family saga tells the story of three generations, starting in China during the Second Sino-Japanese War. A mother and her son travel across China, fleeing from the atrocities of the war. On the way the mother tells him stories while showing a scroll on which fables are depicted. The journey ends in Taiwan. In the next part we follow the son to the United States, where he goes for graduate studies, marries and gets a daughter. The final part is about the daughter growing up in search of her identity: Chinese or American? She wants to know more about her father’s past, but he is not able to tell her because his memories are too painful. It was a great pleasure reading this book because the author manages to draw such a vivid picture that it feels as if you yourself are part of the story. Leeswijzer E23-08

5. Bewilderment – Richard Powers

Young Robin is brilliant, but cannot cope with day-to-day life. He is diagnosed with an anxiety disorder and is scared to go to school. Doctors demand that he should take medication. The loss of his mother is running deep and drives him to extremes. His father’s stories about his search for life on other planets as well as their joint trips into the wilderness calm him down. When he is offered a way into his mother’s mind, he changes dramatically and is able to explore his original creativity. However, he does not expect good things to last. His father, the astrobiologist Theo Byrne, cannot change that as he himself is dealing with the dramatic consequences of his wife’s death, which make him feel helpless and fill him with sorrow and guilt. Imagine a story with many layers: the love of a man for his deceased wife, and his difficult, original son. This book will leave a deep impression. Leeswijzer E23-13

6. The Night Watchman – Louise Erdrich

As there were only a few good pieces of farmland on the reservation, most people had to live off jobs at the jewel-bearing plant in Turtle Mountain. One of the employees is 19-year-old Patrice (Pixie) Paranteau, who is very good at Indian beadwork and earns just enough to help her family to survive. After her sister Vera disappears, Pixie travels to Minneapolis to look for her. Her uncle Thomas Wazhashk, the tribe’s leader, who works as a night watchman at the plant, is fighting against the government’s termination policy. His character is based on the author’s grandfather. Many colourful characters are woven into this beautiful story with their longing for a decent life and love. This book truly draws you into Native American life. Leeswijzer E23-07

7. Amerikanah – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

A white person calls a neighbourhood multi-cultural when 9% of the residents are black. A black person doesn’t call it multi-cultural unless 40% of the residents are black. Similarly, while white people think racism is no longer an issue, black people certainly think it still is. Ifemelu grows up in Nigeria but later goes to the United States to study. There, she discovers racism and starts to write a blog about this. Her friend Obinze, meanwhile, moves to London, where it is difficult for Nigerians to find well-paid work. Interwoven in this lively story with its well-described characters is a wonderful love story.

I really enjoyed reading this novel because it gave me a lot of insight in cultural differences and racism and also an impression of life in Lagos. I loved the colourful descriptions of the African sounds and smells and the contrast with the clean and over-organised life in the US. Leeswijzer E23-01

8. Should We Stay or Should We Go – Lionel Shriver

After 10 years of Alzheimer’s Kate Wilkonson’s father dies. The period prior to his death makes the Wilkinsons come to a decision. They know all about the cost of caring for “veggie patients”. Now in their early fifties they decide they don’t want their three children to have to live through possibly the same ordeal they experienced when caring for Kate’s father. Together they decide to fix a date to take their own lives on their eightieth birthday. The reader is taken through various scenarios, with lots of failed attempts by the couple to commit suicide. Although the subject of this novel is often sad, the author also presents the reader with hilarious situations, ruthlessly describing the circumstances of the residents (‘inmates’) in a nursing home. This story may remind readers of similar experiences in their own lives. Leeswijzer E23-15

9. Where the Crawdads Sing – Delia Owens

‘Where the Crawdads Sing’ follows the story of Kya, an abandoned girl living in the marshlands of North Carolina during the 1950s and 60s. Despite her isolated life and difficult upbringing, she is determined to make something of herself and finds solace in nature and her own creativity. When Chase Andrews, a local celebrity, is found dead in the marshes, Kya becomes the prime suspect. As the townspeople turn against her, Kya must find a way to fight for her innocence and prove her worth to society. Along the way, she discovers what it truly means to be alive and be loved. This book takes you from the beginning to the end of a life so different and sometimes so surreal that it is hard to put it down and not read it in one go. Leeswijzer E23-12

10. Trust Hernan – Diaz

‘Trust’ shows the reader four versions of a story. Firstly, Bonds, presented as a novel by Harold Vanner, describes how Wall Street businessman Benjamin Rask manages to amass a huge fortune in spite of the financial crises in New York in the early twentieth century, while his wife Helen struggles with mental health issues in an institution in Switzerland. In the second manuscript, Andrew Bevel, on whom the character Benjamin Rask is based, is furious about how he and his wife Mildred are portrayed. So he hires Ida Partenza, a young aspiring author and daughter of an Italian anarchist, to write his autobiography. By then, Mildred has died and so Ida only hears Andrew’s side of the story. Decades later, however, when Ida unexpectedly has access to Mildred’s diaries, a surprising picture emerges. We keep on reading because we want to learn ‘the truth’, but at the same time we are forced to think about how fiction works and to what extent a narrator can be trusted. Leeswijzer E23-05

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