With each month comes a fresh list of books that have to be read. Not all live up to the hype, and most recommendations are often saturated with names you’ve heard all too often. Fret not! In true “run-down” fashion, our team at Kunzum has taken stock of and reviewed the very best of January’s bestsellers in fiction. From apocalyptic dystopian fiction to books that must be decoded to be read, we have it all– the bizarre, the tender and the popular. A most explosive range of what is worth reading, go through our review and find your next best fiction read!
Anxious People by Fredrik Backman
From the author of “A Man Called Ove” comes another heartwarming tale of humanity in all its messy funny forms. A bungled robbery on an unassuming day escalates into a hostage situation that, while at first terrifying, soon becomes an irritating inconvenience for most. Backman’s novel, now a Netflix mini-series, is an insightful, light and profound narrative that slowly unpacks the private struggles of everyday people. Fleshing out the irony, humour and pathos made possible by the special intimacy unique to hostages and their captors, Backman’s novel employs a dramatic plot line that creates an unlikely community between a random group of now-anxious people.
What You Are Looking for is in the Library by Michiko Aoyama
First of Japanese author Michiko Aoyama’s novel, translated into English by Alison Watts, “What You Are Looking for is in the Library” revolves around Sayuri and the bond she has with the five benefactors of her book recommendations. Don’t let the kawaii title fool you. The levity of its prose and causal tone, while characteristic of contemporary Japanese fiction, proves to be an essential medium for the novel’s tender sensibilities. Sayuri Komachi works at a local library in Tokyo and is tasked with the additional informal privilege of recommending books to its many visitors. An expert at telling you what to read, Komachi is also an expert in reading people and their needs. A book about the value of discovery, incidentally formed connections and the warm community quietly created at communal libraries, Aoyama’s novel is an accredited must-read.
Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami
Set in late 1960s Tokyo, at the height of the student-led anti-establishment movements, Murakami’s tale of reminiscence and longing is also one that exposes the lily-livered reality of such protests as well as the short-lives of such enthusiasms. Narrated in first-person, “Norwegian Wood” follows college student Toru Wanatabe who is, like most of the era, marked by euro-fetishism, rebellious fervor and an enthusiasm destined to end. Protagonist Wanatabe, now a middle-aged man at Hamburg, Germany, nostalgically looks back to the tumultuous 60s of his youth, the two women he loved and the losses that define him today.
The 40 Rules of Love by Elif Shafak
A novel-in-a-novel, the text is interspersed with two alternating narratives: one following pen pals Aziz and Ella, and the other, perhaps most profound, following the companionship of Rumi and Shams (a love story of the ages). The primary plot follows 40-year-old homemaker Ella Rubenstein who finds herself at the end of a life– with grown children who no longer require her, a despondent marriage, and an increasingly empty home. Taking up an assignment with a literary agency, she is tasked to edit first-time novelist Aziz Zahara’s novel “Sweet Blasphemies”, written to capture the friendship of Sufi mystics Rumi and Shams of Tabriz. What follows is an exchange between editor/reader Ella and author Aziz as our protagonist attempts to decode the wonderful philosophy of Shams and realize its impact on her life. Turkish author Elif Shafak’s “The 40 Rules of Love” is a tale of mystical encounters, profound wisdom and the unlikely friendships that transform our lives.
Independence by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
Master of situating Indian women in pivotal historical contexts, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s “Independence” takes us to 1947 and the three sisters who live through the tumult. Described by The Hindu as “another echo of Little Women”, the novel contains the best of Alcott’s narrative structure and transposes it into the unique context of Partition-struck Bengal. When their father is killed on Direct Action Day, sisters Priya, Jamini and Deepa are forced into a terrifying world of mistrust and malice, as they navigate the violent re-creation of a country and learn of the many costs of independence. Detailing love and the many forms of loss in a transfixing tale, Divakaruni’s ‘partition novel’ truly belongs on your TBR list.
The Housemaid by Freida McFadden
McFadden’s psychological thriller follows ex-convict Millie and her experience as a housemaid for the opulent Winchester home. The novel is split into three dominant perspectives: Millie’s, her employer Nina’s, and a third omniscient conclusion– the shifts allowing for a balanced narrative that starts with our perception of an innocent housemaid in a malevolent home and grows into an increasingly twisted realization of the true scope of disturbance at the Winchester residence. Fans of the dark, twisted, and terrifyingly psychopathic are in for a treat.
Days at the Morisaki Bookshop by Satoshi Yagasawa
In a remarkable addition to a list of books featuring worthy protagonists ‘finding themselves’, Satoshi Yagasawa’s ‘Days at the Morisaki Bookshop’ glitters like the gem that it is. Twenty-four-year-old Takako faces a seeming “sudden death” event– with a long-time boyfriend leaving to marry another, a case of unexpected unemployment and a loss of all friends and acquaintances. Plummeting rapidly while slowly sinking into depression, she is left to start from scratch, and does so by hesitantly accepting an offer to help manage a small bookstore. To read this novel is to vicariously find joy in the days spent by Takako at the Morisaki Bookshop, and take succour in the everyday loveliness that can be found in such spaces. A lesson in the value of the unexpected and a reinstatement of the pleasure of creating a life of one’s own, the wisdom and delight of this novel shine through in Eric Ozawa’s wonderful translation of the Japanese novel.
Normal People by Sally Rooney
A complex meditation on loneliness, desire and a longing for safe comfort in those we love, Rooney’s deceptively simple voice captures ephemeral emotions, raw earnestness and the quiet profundities that marr our everyday stream of conscious experiences. Set in County Sligo, and later Trinity University Dublin, Ireland, the novel explores the secret intimacy between intimidating outcast Marianne, and a quiet and equally-brilliant jock Connell– both high-school students whose relationship exists strictly beyond the confines of school, and yet can’t help but be blemished by its social realities. As they enter university, their social roles switch, with Connell struggling to fit in while Marianne finally seems to thrive. Playing against vital contexts of class and alienation, Rooney’s novel truly widens the scope of how modern relationships can be narrativized, and the depth with which they can be portrayed.
Prophet Song by Paul Lynch
Winner of 2023’s Booker Prize, Paul Lynch’s dystopian fiction tells the story of Eilish Stack, mother of four, as she attempts to save her family from the ravages of totalitarianism. A work of triumphant storytelling, Lynch’s breathless tale about a Dublin descending into dystopic derangement, positions protagonist Eilish in a scape of impossible decisions that have to be made to survive and protect. The novel reflects, in many ways, the lived experiences of those in war-torn Ukraine or even a devastated Palestine, constructing its original apocalyptic vision with the real rubble of our world. Urgent literature urgently told, a mastery in powerful prose and emotional lyric, the “Prophet Song” reminds us of the democratic privileges we so casually hold and the consequences of their sudden revocation.
The Door-to-Door Bookstore by Carsten Sebastian Henn
Another addition to the list of poignant books that threaten to warm your heart with joy and make your cheeks wet with fat tears, Carsten Sebastian Henn’s “The Door-to-Door Bookstore” is a soft fiction that will reaffirm your love for books, your faith in people and magnify your affection for the balmy humanity that soothes. 72-year-old Carl has been making the rounds for years, going door-to-door to deliver books to their new loving owners. Elderly Carl is a spry bookseller who embodies the entire business of literature and community building. The novel begins when one of his routine book-delivery trips leads him to a noisy and bright 9-year-old Schasha. Refusing to let him leave unaccompanied, the girl forces an unlikely friendship to the benefit of both. An endearing novel, a victory in sincere and loving compassion, Henn’s work is for those who seek light and warmth in the literature that they consume.
The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
Hemingway’s classic novella is an age-old oft-prescribed canon member, one that will always deserve to be read and talked about. A deceptively simple plot involving old man Santiago and his desire to catch a great marlin, becomes, at the hands of Hemmingway, a dramatic tale of epic proportions. After an unlucky 84 long days without catching a break, a weary and fishless Santiago pushes far into the Gulf Stream, intent on taking a real prize-winner home. His misfortune ironically multiplies when he unexpectedly bags a fish that exceeds his greatest expectations. Too big to take home, an unprepared Santiago must now plan for their safe return to the shore. Awarded the 1953 Pulitzer for Fiction, “The Old Man and the Sea” is a heroic novel composed of the metaphysical ethereal and grotesque physical, being an easy-in for all those who hope to get a taste of classic literature but are often too daunted to attempt.
Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin
Prolific author and screenwriter Gabrielle Zevin’s tenth novel, winner of the 2022 Goodreads Choice Award for Best Fiction, follows childhood friends and video game developers Sadie and Sam as they reunite at university and go on to co-manage their game design studio. With the title hinting at the infinite generative possibilities in the world of gameplay, the novel takes on the concept of ‘game’ and the world of consumerism as it expertly delves into complex themes of identity, disability, relationships and creative freedom. Zevin’s postmodern novel chronicles the entrepreneurial couple as they are launched into success and are forced to confront the harsh reality of being at the top. More than just a unique love story or an elaborate novel on video games, Zevin’s work presents itself as one that staunchly is of its time.
Welcome to Paradise by Twinkle Khanna
Twinkle Khanna’s fourth book, a collection of short stories that find women grappling with essential crossroads, is as humorously narrated as its title suggests. Amongst heartbreak, deception, death, decay and loneliness, lie pigs and penises and a rip-roaring laughter that balances the profundity of its themes. True to her Mrs Funnybones persona, of quick-wit and unapologetic humour, the collection is a credit to Khanna and her understanding of female characters. Lucid, wicked and varied, this bestseller is a good segue into Khanna’s oeuvre, introducing all to her talent for finding the comically absurd in the mundane. The collection, her second, of some short-some-long stories, is a tenderly cooked mix of stories that are just as poignant individually as they are when considered together. For readers interested in good Indian literature that can be easily read, deeply felt and widely enjoyed, this collection is one worth picking up.
Cain’s Jawbone by Edward Powys Mathers (Torquemada)
Translator, author, and crossword-setter extraordinaire (‘cruciverbalist’ being the official term for individuals such as him), Edward Powys Mathers is responsible for one of the most wonderfully frustrating books to be committed to print. A murder mystery with an additional meta-fictional twist, a book unlike any other, Mathers’ “Cain’s Jawbone” is a puzzle that must be solved before it can be read. It is no surprise, then, that The Guardian would describe it as “ a little as if Agatha Christie had been rewritten by T.S. Eliot and then all the pages thrown off a tower block and randomly collected below.” First published in 1934, the novel has a new-found audience in 2024, going viral after TikToker Sarah Scannelle famously ripped its pages out of their seams, pasted them on her bedroom walls detective-style, and attempted to finally decode it. Not an easy task, this book is for any who loves a good crossword and refuses to shy away from a challenge, especially one that would be this rewarding.
Pick up one of January’s bestselling fiction from any Kunzum store or WhatsApp +91.8800200280 to order. Buy the book(s) and the coffee’s on us.