Gaining insight into other cultures and perspectives is one of the things I most enjoy about reading. And, of course, books can be therapeutic too. Susan Chira’s recent New York Times article, In Trying Times, the Balm of Jane Austen, rings true.
Returning to old favourites and the reassuring stability of the classics can be just what you need when times are tough, so it isn’t surprising that bibliotherapy is growing in popularity. After all, many of us need some sort of escapism when the world seems to be getting more turbulent by the day.
Photo credit: Kate Williams
As we begin a new year, reading more books in translation and finding authors from different cultural backgrounds are two of my ongoing literary intentions.
“If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking” – Haruki Murakami.
Ice by Ulla-Lena Lundberg and Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue are among my favourite books of 2016, and they gave me an insight into two diverse cultures.
Photo credit: Les Anderson
Translated from Swedish, Ice tells the story of a young Lutheran priest and his wife who move to a remote island off the coast of Finland in 1947. I enjoyed Lundberg’s quietly atmospheric descriptions of the community and its seasonal way of life. The novel’s slow pace drew me into the rhythm of island life before reaching a heartrending conclusion.
Lundberg’s Finnish island community is a world away from the setting of Behold the Dreamers, in which Jende Jonga and his wife Neni emigrate from Cameroon to New York City in search of a better life for themselves and their young son.
Photo credit: Chris Li
But it’s 2007 and Wall Street is on the verge of the financial crisis; the Jongas’ pursuit of the American Dream isn’t going to be easy. Mbue’s debut novel gives an insightful commentary on the immigrant experience in the US, while maintaining threads of warmth and humour that run throughout the book.
Which books were your favourites in 2016? Do you have literary goals or intentions (such as reading more of a certain genre or author, or reading books in translation)?