Welcome back to another instalment of our monthly recommended reading feature. This month is debut heavy, with four of the five featured titles debut releases for their respective authors. It’s also a bit of a global affair this month too, with two of the titles set in Australia, two in Africa and one in the UK.
As always all of these titles should be available from all the usual retailers online and brick and mortar. Please do support your local independent retailers if you can, these stores help keep the Australian literary community going, and they’re often staffed by hugely knowledgable and enthusiastic staff who are more than happy to find you your next favourite book.
Here are this month’s five books you need to be reading…
Kintu – Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi
Kintu is the debut novel from award winning short story writer Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi. Ten years in the making the novel is complex and ambitious, taking in multiple generations, offering readers snapshots in the history of Uganda. The novel begins in 2004 with a man’s murder by a mob, he’s mistaken for a thief, but there’s talk of a “curse”. From there we are transported back to 18th Century Buganda Kingdom and introduced to the eponymous Kintu to discover just how this curse gets unleashed.
This is historical fiction with a twist, drawing upon the Ganda oral tradition, folklore and history to look back at the history of the Buganda Kingdom and trace the birth of modern Uganda. Kintu has been heralded in some corners as a the “great Ugandan novel” and has been credited with attempting to subvert and question popularly held conceptions about gender, religion and mental illness. Makumbi’s prose is lyrical and wry, whilst her characters are beautifully realised. Kintu is already being heralded as a modern classic, and as having done for Ugandan literature what Chinua Achebe did for Nigerian writing – not bad praise for a debut, right? It’s shocking then that it took so long to find a English publisher.
Kintu is available now through Bloomsbury Publishing / OneWorld
The Lebs – Michael Mohammed Ahmad
The Lebs is the new novel from the award winning Arab-Australian author Michael Mohammed Ahmad. Narrated by the romantic dreamer Bani Adam, The Lebs, takes readers into the Punchbowl Boys High School, a volatile space swimming in testosterone, hostility and apathy. Bani is an outsider, both in school where he considers himself better than, and different to, his fellow students. Outside of the confines of the school he finds himself lumped alongside all of his other classmates into an amorphous ethnic group – the Lebs – alienated from the rest of the population, there to be feared and blamed.
The Lebs is at times a confronting read, but always a vivid and compelling one. The world these students inhabit is often violent, I’m only about 80-90 pages in and we’ve already had a couple of beatings and stabbings. And it’s a novel that challenges you to re-examine your preconceived ideas and conceptions, not just about Arab-Australians, but also the state and nature of multicultural Australia. Safe to say it’s going to ruffle some feathers, and a brief foray into the Twittersphere reveals it already has upset a few nationalistic trolls. The Lebs is vividly told, with a strong and distinct voice, and in Bani Adam, we have a wonderfully complex and compelling character to lead us on this journey through his world.
The Lebs is available now through Hachette Australia
The Children of Blood and Bone – Tomi Adeyemi
I don’t normally tend to recommend too much YA fiction in these features, but The Children of Blood and Bone seemed too interesting and buzz worthy to pass over. The novel is the 23 year-old Tomi Adeyemi’s first foray into Young Adult fiction and has already landed her a six or seven figure publishing deal with Macmillan and Fox 2000 have already started development on a movie adaptation, all before the novel had even hit the shelves. So what’s The Children of Blood and Bone all about? The novel is set in Orïsha, a fictional/mythical West African inspired kingdom ruled by different clans, each with a mastery of a distinct type of magic. But a ruthless king ordered the eradication of all those with powers. Families were split apart. There are only a few survivors like Zéile who can wield magic – the fightback starts now.
The Children of Blood and Bone has been getting some solid early reviews, and is well placed to capitalise on the current popularity of Black Panther. Whilst there are obvious differences between the two, there is plenty on show in this novel for those seeking out stories about strong Black and/or African characters. Whilst there are some that are dismissive of YA fiction, the genre does have a strong history of pumping out interesting and thought provoking work that appeals equally to adults. The Children of Blood and Bone will likely appeal to fantasy readers, especially those that enjoy the work of Nnedi Okorafor.
The Children of Blood and Bone is available now through Pan Macmillan
You Belong Here – Laurie Steed
You Belong Here is the debut novel from West Australian writer and editor Laurie Steed, who is perhaps better known for his short fiction which has appeared in Best Australian Stories, The Age and on BBC Radio 4. You Belong Here follows the Slater family across the span of thirty years from 1972 to 2002 offering up a thoughtful meditation on what it means to be a family in modern Australia. As with many families, the Slaters have their ups and downs, Jen and Steven meet at seventeen and are married a year later. Too early to really know each other. Soon they are the parents of three children, and it’s them that are the only thing keeping the couple and the family together.
The novel has been getting some wonderful reviews from West Australian and national writing communities, with many praising the quality and subtlety of Steed’s prose. The novel too also offers plenty of nostalgia for the places and music of the near past, with music an important touchstone for each member of the Slater family. Australian writing appears to be in fine form of late, and with You Belong Here that doesn’t seem set to change. It seems safe to assume that we’ll be hearing Steed’s name plenty more in the future.
You Belong Here is available now through Margaret River Press
The Everlasting Sunday – Robert Lukins
The Everlasting Sunday is the haunting debut novel from Robert Lukins, which follows the story of Radford, a seventeen year old sent to Goodwin Manor, a home for those who have been “found by trouble”. It also happens to be 1962, and the middle of the worst winter Britain has experienced (to that point). With a snowstorm coming in, isolating the manor from the outside world, you can imagine it can all get a bit Lord of the Flies up in there from time to time. Radford must navigate the politics, cliques and friendships of the manor, but as the novel progresses connections are formed, friendships made, and secrets revealed.
The novel has been receiving plenty of positive reviews, all of which praise Lukins for his use of language and his voice, and not to mention his finely drawn and memorable characters. In some ways the 1962 setting seems odd, but then it is almost as if these boys are removed not only from society at large, but also taken out of time, and placed in this gothic and somewhat antiquarian setting – it’s like a boarding school drama, but with extra angst and volatility and from what I’ve read, less rules and governance. I look forward to delving further into this one soon.
The Everlasting Sunday is available now through University of Queensland Press