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The Times Book Review 10 Best Books of 2021

Editors at The Times Book Review choose the best fiction and nonfiction titles this year. Taken from The 10 Best Books of 2021 from The New York Times.

How beautiful we were : a novel

Mbue, Imbolo

FICTION Mbue Imbolo

"'We should have known the end was near.' So begins Imbolo Mbue's exquisite and devastating novel How Beautiful We Were. Set in the fictional African village of Kosawa, it tells the story of a people living in fear amidst environmental degradation wrought by a large and powerful American oil company. Pipeline spills have rendered farmlands infertile. Children are dying from drinking toxic water. Promises of clean up and financial reparations to the villagers are made--and ignored. The country's government, led by a corrupt, brazen dictator, exists to serve its own interest. Left with few choices, the people of Kosawa decide to fight the American corporation. Doing so will come at a steep price. Told through multiple perspectives and centered around a fierce young girl named Thula who grows up to become a revolutionary, Joy of the Oppressed is a masterful exploration of what happens when the reckless drive for profit, coupled with the ghosts of colonialism, comes up against one village's quest for justice--and a young woman's willingness to sacrifice everything for the sake of her people's freedom"

Intimacies

Kitamura, Katie M.

FICTION Kitamura Katie

"A novel from the author of A Separation, a taut and electrifying story about a woman caught between many truths. An interpreter has come to The Hague to escape New York and work at the International Court. A woman of many languages and identities, she is looking for a place to finally call home. She's drawn into simmering personal dramas: her lover, Adriaan, is separated from his wife but still entangled in his marriage. Her friend Jana witnesses a seemingly random act of violence, a crime the interpreter becomes increasingly obsessed with as she befriends the victim's sister. And she's pulled into explosive political fires: her work interpreting for a former president accused of war crimes becomes precarious as their relationship is unbound by shifting language and meaning. This woman is the voice in the ear of many, but what command does that give her, and how vulnerable does that leave her? Her coolly impassioned views on power, love, and violence, are tested, both in her personal intimacies and in her role at the Court. She is soon pushed to the precipice, where betrayal and heartbreak threaten to overwhelm her; it is her drive towards truth, and love, that throws into stark relief what she wants from her life"--

The love songs of W.E.B. Du Bois : a novel

Jeffers, Honorée Fanonne

FICTION Jeffers Honoree

The great scholar, W.E.B. Du Bois, once wrote about what he called "Double Consciousness," a sensitivity that every African American possesses in order to survive. From an early age, Ailey fights a battle for belonging that's made all the more difficult by a hovering trauma. To come to terms with her own identity, Ailey embarks on a journey through her family's past. In doing so Ailey must learn to embrace her full heritage, a legacy of oppression and resistance, bondage and independence, cruelty and resilience that is the story - and the song - of America itself

No one is talking about this

Lockwood, Patricia

FICTION Lockwood Patricia

"From "a formidably gifted writer" (The New York Times Book Review), a book that asks: Is there life after the internet? As this urgent, genre-defying book opens, a woman who has recently been elevated to prominence for her social media posts travels around the world to meet her adoring fans. She is overwhelmed by navigating the new language and etiquette of what she terms "the portal," where she grapples with an unshakable conviction that a vast chorus of voices is now dictating her thoughts. When existential threats--from climate change and economic precariousness to the rise of an unnamed dictator and an epidemic of loneliness--begin to loom, she posts her way deeper into the portal's void. An avalanche of images, details, and references accumulate to form a landscape that is post-sense, post-irony, post-everything. "Are we in hell?" the people of the portal ask themselves. "Are we all just going to keep doing this until we die?" Suddenly, two texts from her mother pierce the fray: "Something has gone wrong," and "How soon can you get here?" As real life and its stakes collide with the increasingly absurd antics of the portal, the woman confronts a world that seems to contain both an abundance of proof that there is goodness, empathy, and justice in the universe, and a deluge of evidence to the contrary"

When we cease to understand the world

Labatut, Benjamín

FICTION Labatut Benjamin

"A fictional examination of the lives of real-life scientists and thinkers whose discoveries resulted in moral consequences beyond their imagining. When We Cease to Understand the World is a book about the complicated links between scientific and mathematical discovery, madness, and destruction. Fritz Haber, Alexander Grothendieck, Werner Heisenberg, Erwin Schrodinger: these are some of luminaries into whose troubled lives Labatut's book thrusts the reader, showing us how they grappled with the most profound questions of existence. They have strokes of unparalleled genius, alienate friends and lovers, descend into isolation and insanity. Some of their discoveries reshape human life to the better; others pave the way to chaos and unimaginable suffering. The lines are never clear. At a breakneck pace and with a wealth of disturbing detail, Benjamin Labatut uses the imaginative resources of fiction to tell the stories of scientists and mathematicians who expanded our notions of the possible"

The Copenhagen trilogy : Childhood, Youth, Dependency

Ditlevsen, Tove Irma Margit

BIOGRAPHY Ditlevsen, Tove Irma Margit

"Tove Ditlevsen's autobiographical trilogy about her troubled life in Copenhagen"

How the word is passed : a reckoning with the history of slavery across America

Smith, Clint

973.00496 /Smith

"'How the Word is Passed' is Clint Smith's revealing, contemporary portrait of America as a slave owning nation. Beginning in his own hometown of New Orleans, Smith leads the reader through an unforgettable tour of monuments and landmarks - those that are honest about the past and those that are not - that offer an intergenerational story of how slavery has been central in shaping our nations collective history, and ourselves."

Invisible child : poverty, survival, and hope in an American city

Elliott, Andrea

362.5 /Elliott

"Invisible Child follows eight dramatic years in the life of Dasani Coates, a child with an imagination as soaring as the skyscrapers near her Brooklyn homeless shelter. Born at the turn of a new century, Dasani is named for the bottled water that comes to symbolize Brooklyn's gentrification and the shared aspirations of a divided city. As Dasani grows up, moving with her tightknit family from shelter to shelter, her story reaches back to trace the passage of Dasani's ancestors from slavery to the Great Migration north. By the time Dasani comes of age in the twenty-first century, New York City's homeless crisis is exploding amid the growing chasm between rich and poor. In the shadows of this new Gilded Age, Dasani must lead her seven siblings through a thicket of problems: hunger, parental addiction, violence, housing instability, pollution, segregated schools, and the constant monitoring of the child-protection system. When, at age thirteen, Dasani enrolls at a boarding school in Pennsylvania, her loyalties are tested like never before. As she learns to "code-switch" between the culture she left behind and the norms of her new town, Dasani starts to feel like a stranger in both places. Ultimately, she faces an impossible question: What if leaving poverty means abandoning the family you love?"

On Juneteenth

Gordon-Reed, Annette

394.263 /Gordon-Reed

""It is staggering that there is no date commemorating the end of slavery in the United States." -Annette Gordon-Reed. The essential, sweeping story of Juneteenth's integral importance to American history, as told by a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian and Texas native. Interweaving American history, dramatic family chronicle, and searing episodes of memoir, Annette Gordon-Reed, the descendant of enslaved people brought to Texas in the 1850s, recounts the origins of Juneteenth and explores the legacies of the holiday that remain with us. From the earliest presence of black people in Texas-in the 1500s, well before enslaved Africans arrived in Jamestown-to the day in Galveston on June 19, 1865, when General Gordon Granger announced the end of slavery, Gordon-Reed's insightful and inspiring essays present the saga of a "frontier" peopled by Native Americans, Anglos, Tejanos, and Blacks that became a slaveholder's republic. Reworking the "Alamo" framework, Gordon-Reed shows that the slave-and race-based economy not only defined this fractious era of Texas independence, but precipitated the Mexican-American War and the resulting Civil War. A commemoration of Juneteenth and the fraught legacies of slavery that still persist, On Juneteenth is stark reminder that the fight for equality is ongoing"

Red comet : the short life and blazing art of Sylvia Plath

Clark, Heather L.

BIOGRAPHY Plath, Sylvia

With a wealth of never-before-accessed materials--including unpublished letters and manuscripts; court, police, and psychiatric records; and new interviews--Heather Clark brings to life the brilliant daughter of Wellesley, Massachusetts who had poetic ambition from a very young age and was an accomplished, published writer of poems and stories even before she became a star English student at Smith College in the early 1950s.