The Ultimate List of the Best Books of 2021
After nearly two years in isolation, we’ve figured out which activities make us feel comforted. Amongst them, reading has been a popular favourite. 2021 brought with it a host of discomforts- new variants of an already fatal virus, socio-political upheaval and an exacerbation of the climate crisis, to name a few. Yet, in such desperate times, authors have managed to write some brilliant novels, reminding us that even in our isolation, we are not alone. If you want to read the books that offered people the much-needed comfort in uncertain times, read on below for our list of powerful page-turners.
- The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers
“The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois,” Jeffers’ first novel, is a compelling coming-of-age epic, an investigation of race, and an excavation of American history all at the same time. It alternates between the narrative of Ailey Pearl Garfield, a Black girl growing up at the turn of the twentieth century, and the “songs” of her forefathers, Native Americans and enslaved African Americans who witnessed the founding of the United States. “Love Songs” paints an evocative vision of Black life as their stories collide, revealing how the past still reverberates today.
- The Earthspinner by Anuradha Roy
Memory, history, migration, home, and the character of the artist, in whom all of these preoccupations intersect to produce something rich and odd, are among the themes explored in Anuradha Roy’s fifth novel. Elango is a potter, and every time he works, he transforms dead clay into a living artwork. Ugly human emotions such as hatred and bigotry, which manifest themselves in outbursts of fanatic violence, stand in opposition to the beauty of the creative process. The Earthspinner is told in a sweet, peaceful tone that remains consistent even during scenes of disaster. It conjures up another way of being, which is symbolised in Chinna, the village dog who teaches the characters what it means to be human.
- When We Cease to Understand the World by Benjamín Labatut
Labatut deftly weaves together the lives of some of the greatest intellectuals of the twentieth century to illustrate both the ecstasy and agony of scientific breakthroughs: their enormous societal benefits as well as their high human costs. His journey to the far reaches of knowledge, guided by mathematician Alexander Grothendieck, physicist Werner Heisenberg, and chemist Fritz Haber, among others, reveals glimpses of a universe with limitless potential underlying the observable world, a “dark nucleus at the heart of things” that some of its witnesses decide should be left alone. This astonishing blend of fiction and nonfiction also creates the tension of a long true-or-false test: as we read, the boundary between reality and fabulism becomes increasingly blurred.
- Names of the Women by Jeet Thayil
Several women are mentioned in the Bible, but they are always lifeless figures who are worshipped, despised or simply ignored. Jeet Thayil reclaims the stories of Mary Magdalene and 14 other women who gave birth to, cooked for, bathed the prophet’s feet, served to him, and witnessed him, but were easily forgotten by the men who penned the gospels. They are drawn to Jesus because he pledges to bring the outcasts into the mainstream: they detect his radicalism, which ruffles the feathers of the privileged.
- The Odd Book of Baby Names by Anees Salim
A former king is on his deathbed. He leaves behind a legacy of loss, including his empire, unachievable goals, love, and even hope. He was only successful in one area: the bed, and he has a slew of progeny, all except two of them are legitimate. Most of the king’s children, like the king, live in a state of boredom until they are shocked awake by the news of his impending death. If this seems bleak, be assured that the novel is anything but. The monarch, with his decadent fancies, is a hilarious figure in his own right. Melancholy can be found around every corner, yet life is too short to allow tragedies. The Odd Book of Baby Names is a wonderful celebration of absurdity in which the writer vanishes and life takes control.
Although 2021 did not bring us much good news, it sure did bring some incredible titles. These stories helped countless readers endure by highlighting life’s silver linings during a disenchanting year. We hope you take as much pleasure in reading them as we did in compiling this list.
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