Forgetting 2020 with a reading list for 2021
After 2020, which somehow could be considered as a dark year, a good dose of literature can save the most desolate of days. For readers who are programming the 2021 readings, we’ve made a selection of books that present profound reflections on life, the passage of time, and human behavior. Among them is the classic “The Death of Ivan Ilitch” (1886) by Lev Tolstói; the dystopia “The Process” (1925) by Franz Kafka and the recent family drama “Fierce Affections” (2019) by the journalist Vivian Gornick.
- Rescue Distance (2014), by Samanta Schweblin
Consisting entirely of a dialogue, the book focuses on Amanda, mother of a girl named Nina. She talks to David, Carla’s son, a friend who lives in the neighbourhood. The two are in a rural area of Italy where the countryside has changed significantly due to the use of agro-toxins. Now, a gloomy climate prevails in the region. Animals and people are beginning to die in dark circumstances. Through the dialogue between Amanda and David, the reader should put the pieces together to discover what is happening. “Distance of Rescue” is Samanta Schweblin’s first novel, pointed out by critics as the heir to Julius Cortázar’s magical realism.
- The Process (1925), by Franz Kafka
“The Process” tells the story of Josef K., a banker who is captured and questioned on his 30th birthday. He is being prosecuted for something serious, but is not told what the crime was. The circumstances are absurd, nobody knows the law and the court remains anonymous. Obstinately, but without success, he tries to fight against barbarism. He is astonished, he resorts to bureaucracies, performs all the inexplicable rites required, goes to court and submits himself to foolish orders, so that he finds himself in ever more difficulty. A novel about the anguish, impotence and frustration of the individual in an oppressive and bureaucratic society, recurrent themes in all of Franz Kafka’s work.
- Life in Front (1975), by Romain Gary
Winner of the Goncourt Prize, one of the most important in France, “Life Forward” was one of the best-selling novels of the 20th century. It tells the story of Momo, a Muslim boy who lives under the care of Rosa, a Jewish lady. A survivor of Auschwitz, Rosa shelters several children who are the daughters of prostitutes, with the intention of giving them some perspective on life. In the suburb of Paris, among immigrants of the most different nationalities, Momo commits small crimes to take care of Rosa, who is increasingly prostrate due to a still unknown disease. The friction between innocence and the brutality of the world is one of the most captivating stories in recent French literature.
- Family Lexicon (1963), by Natalia Ginzburg
“In this book, places, facts and people are real. I have not invented anything”, writes Natalia Ginzburg about her most famous work, “Léxico Familiar”. The novel tells of the writer’s childhood and youth, the memories of her living together in a bourgeois, literate and Jewish family in the midst of fascism and World War II. A hunter of five, the girl recreates the past by remembering the sentences repeated in the family. In the course of the narrative, prominent figures from the Italian scene appear, such as the editor Giulio Einaudi, the poet Cesare Pavese, the historian Luigi Salvatorelli, the writer and painter Carlo Levi and the industrialist Adriano Olivetti (of the typewriters), treated with the intimacy of those who lived with them.
- The Sound and the Fury (1929), William Faulkner
“Sound and Fury” takes place in the fictional Yoknapatawpha County, and has as its central theme the story of an ancient aristocratic family from the south of the United States, a descendant of General Compson, a hero of the United States Civil War. Divided into four parts, narrated by different characters, the book presents the confrontation of the decline and dissolution of the Compson family’s reputation. This is considered the most important work of the American writer who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1949. The story began in a period of isolation and financial hardship after the author had his third novel rejected by several publishing houses.
- The Death of Ivan Ilitch (1886), by Lev Tolstói
In this novel, Tolstoy tells the story of Ivan Ilitch, an examining magistrate who, after achieving a comfortable life, discovers that he has a serious illness. From then on, he begins to reflect on the meaning of his existence and realizes that few moments that he lived really had meaning and that his performance during his life was superficial, both in work and in social relations. Trapped in bed, in the face of imminent death, the judge has the opportunity to meditate on his life, something that everyday concerns have prevented him from doing before. Ivan Ilitch wants to die to put an end to the pain, but his survival instinct insists on him fighting for his life.
- Fierce Attachments: A Memoir (2019), Vivian Gornick
In this non-fiction novel, journalist and essayist Vivian Gornick wanders the streets of Manhattan with her elderly mother. Along these walks full of stories, memories, reprimands and complicity, we learn the story of a daughter’s struggle to find her place and voice in the world. From an early age, little Vivian suffers the influence of two very different female models: that of the neurotic, stubborn and intelligent mother; and that of Nettie, her passionate neighbour, widow, mother of a baby, perfectly aware of her own sensuality. These two figures represent patterns that young Gornick hates and yearns for at the same time, and which will determine her future relationship with men, work, and other women for the rest of her life.