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Take-your-mind-off-coronavirus books

We thought a list of utterly addictive, read-while-you’re-brushing-teeth, stay-up-all-night books might be called for at this point. Here are our top ten:


Fingersmith by Sarah Waters

North Water by Ian McGuire

Rebecca by Daphne de Maurier

The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar

The Porpoise by Mark Haddon

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton

And then There Were None by Agatha Christie

Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood

The Shardlake Series by CJ Samson

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

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Kim Jiyoung Born 1982 by Cho Nam-Joo

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Kim Jiyoung Born 1982

#MeToo South Korean style

Kim Jiyoung Born 1982 by Cho Nam-Joo shook South-Korea to the core when it was published there a few years ago, unleashing a fierce #MeToo debate. It chronicles the life of Kim Jiyoung from birth to motherhood to mental breakdown and is written in the form of a psychiatrist report. The cold clinical way her case is described is, of course, a reflection of the way she, as a girl and a woman, is treated. That South Korea lags behind in women’s lib possibly doesn’t come as news but this little book still had the power to surprise and move.

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Books about plagues

Personally, I’m a bit of an escapist, but for those of you who feel like reading about it here are some of the best books featuring plagues. From Daniel Defoe’s memoir from the 1665 bubonic plague to Stephen King’s The Stand where no less the 99% (!) of the population dies there should be something for every brave reader here.

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Quarantine in the time of the Spanish Flu

STOP PRESS! Apparently, this is not actually written by F. Scott Fitzgerald but FAKE NEWS. It’s quite good, though, and probably sums up how we feel these days so I’ll leave it up anyway.
Nothing much has changed in that last 100 years by the looks of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s letter while quarantined in the South of France during the 1920 Spanish influenza outbreak. And those dirty hands of Ernest Hemingway…

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The Hare With the Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal

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The Hare With the Amber Eyes

An unforgettable family memoir

Edmund de Waal’s moving exhibition The Library of Exile at the British Museum has reminded me of his magnificent book The Hare With the Amber Eyes which has stayed with me ever since I read it in 2011. If you haven’t read it yet, now would be a perfect time. It’s a memoir of de Waal’s family, the Ephrussis, Jewish bankers, grain traders and intellectuals. Pillars of early 20th century Viennese society and possessors of unimaginable wealth; grand palaces in Vienna, pink chateaus on the Cote d’Azure and priceless art collections. Then came Hitler. The Hare With the Amber Eyes is an absorbing book, not only in learning about the tragic destiny of the Ephrussis but also to understand central Europe in the run up to the Second World War. An absolute must-read.

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Edmund de Waal’s Library of Exile at the British Museum

Before museums start closing down due to the Coronavirus, don’t miss ceramic artist and author Edmund de Waal’s Library of Exile opening today at the British Museum. It’s a temporary library, located in one of the British Library’s gorgeous oak panelled reading rooms, which houses 2000 books written by authors in exile. The idea came about as de Waal, while scanning his own bookshelf, realised how many of the books there had been written by authors living in exile, far from home, surrounded by a foreign language and sometimes hostility, as we see in our own times. It’s also a celebration of libraries (amidst a wave of closures in the UK) and a monument to destroyed ones (many are named on the walls of The Library of Exile). After a six month stint at the British Museum, the books in the library will end up in Mosul, Iraq where the university library was burnt to the ground by ISIS in 2015. A poignant and moving piece of book art. Go see it.

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A novel for International Women’s Day

I’m reading South Korean bestseller and #MeToo novel Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 by Cho Nam-Joo at the moment and can’t think of a better novel to recommend on International Women’s Day. The novel tells the story of a South Korean woman’s life and how it’s shaped by systemic sexism from the moment (actually, even before) she is born. It sent shockwaves through South Korea’s patriarchal and traditional society and fired off a hefty debate which, judging by this book, can’t be a bad thing. Full review to follow.


Summer Light and Then Comes the Night by Jon Kalman Stefansson

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Summer Light and Then Comes the Night

Humanity distilled

Truly original novels are few and far between. All the more reason to hail the wonderfully quirky Summer Light and Then Comes the Night by Jon Kalman Stefansson. It’s the portrait of a remote Icelandic town set in the 1990s and if that fails to excite you, I promise that this unexpected, humorous, warm story is worth reading.  Stefansson describes dreams and aspirations, crushed or fulfilled; love and desire, unrequited or reciprocated. Life, basically. His tone in playful, conversational and above all, funny. A breath of literary fresh air.

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