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The list of the 7 best books read this year
My best books
As every year, with December comes the time to sum up the readings made during the year, in order to give you readers tools and useful advice for purchasing; like every year, however, it is necessary to make some premises in order to better understand these lists. First of all it must be specified that these lists (poetry, surprises and “The magnificent 7”) mainly follow my personal taste, but this does not mean that a book here is necessarily “more beautiful than one that is not there,” but it is something extremely subjective and personal. The second very important thing to say is that among these titles I am not able to prefer, the order is due exclusively to the moment in which the given book was read.
If you are curious to discover the many honorable mentions and / or other texts that, however beautiful, did not manage to make it into this list, I invite you to watch the video or listen to the podcast that will be released on November 29 at 07.30. Under each “awarded” text you will find, as always, a (often brief) motivation at the basis of my judgment which is however based above all on my taste. Happy reading and good stimuli, if you have a book that has particularly enchanted you this year, do not hesitate to recommend it, if I can I will bring your suggestion to the next live.
The first book of the trilogy The Wind from the Plain, which appeared in 1960 and translated in over fifteen countries, introduces the reader to the real and mythical world of the semi-nomadic people of the Taurus at one time. The daily struggle for survival and the powerful popular imagination come together in the minimal yet heroic events of the “black mouths” and “red heads”. War and poverty, work in the fields and love, faith and fear of death, the poetry of wandering singers and the desire to escape from the reality of a people for centuries accustomed to fighting against a wild and inhospitable nature assume the relief of a legendary epic. With a lean, effective and extraordinarily beautiful writing style, Yaşar Kemal narrates the adventurous journey to the plantations of Ali and his family between courage and despair.
To be picky, I read this at the end of 2020, but the 2020 list had already been compiled and this book absolutely had to be included in such a list. Yaşar Kemal is one of the masters of modern Turkish literature and here you can see him in all his power and passion thanks to an almost banal story made unique by his style. In “Beyond the Mountain” we come into contact with the real rural Turkey, a different and incredible world that contrasts with the modern and developed lifestyle of megacities like Istanbul. Here you can breathe a nature as wild and true as it is dangerous, fatigue and pain mixed with pride and the iron and unshakeable peasant principles, all in a country that only then began to discover airplanes, cars and even politics. A wonderful novel incredibly suitable for anyone who wants to start discovering the great Turkish literature of the ‘900.
With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the five republics of Central Asia hitherto controlled by Moscow gained independence. Over the course of seventy years of Soviet rule, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, the countries that, from the world’s highest mountain ranges to the desert, once marked the Silk Road route, have somehow passed directly from the Middle Ages to the twentieth century. And after twenty-five years of autonomy, all five nations are still in search of their identity, sandwiched between east and west and between old and new, in the center of Asia, surrounded by great powers such as Russia and China, or by restless neighbors like Iran and Afghanistan. The contrasts unite them: decades of Soviet rule coexist with local administrations, the exorbitant wealth given by gas and oil with the most extreme poverty, the cult of personality with archaic customs still vital. And as the steppes fill with ultramodern buildings and opulent villas inhabited by the new despots, the passion for carpets and bazaars, the love for horses and camels, and countless traditions continue to survive, this make a visit to the region and its inhabitants unforgettable.
Masterpiece. “Sovietistan” is the book you need to get if you don’t know anything about Central Asia and want to get as complete a picture as possible in the shortest possible time. The book is a mine of extraordinary ideas and will allow you to get in touch with these 5 realities in a light and at times carefree way without giving up uncomfortable and honest information about what happens there. Its only limitation is the fact that it is still linked to a historical moment, but if you really cannot read an essay or do not know how to identify an effective one that deals with all 5 countries ( Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan ed Uzbekistan) this is without a shadow of a doubt the best solution for posting.
One of the greatest expressions of Arab-Hispanic culture in its happiest moment (the author was, among other things, a friend of Averroè), this famous philosophical novel – the story of a child who grows up alone on a desert island and comes raising by its own strength to the contemplation of the highest metaphysical principles – appears for the first time in the Italian version. However, it is not new for the Christian West: already dear, not surprisingly, to Pico della Mirandola who edited the first Latin translation, it was translated again in the seventeenth century with the title Philosophus autodidactus, probably in time to influence the ideation of Robinson Crusoe and to become a point of reference for the Enlightenment culture up to perhaps Rousseau’s Emile.
If there is a book “not for everyone” on this list it is surely this, its extraordinary beauty, depth and subtlety, however, push me to include it on this list anyway, since its absence would be truly criminal. The book is a simple story but with a soul as philosophical as it is mystical which, through a series of refined and never banal reasonings, will allow us to discover how the concept of the divine is elaborated in the mind of a man born and raised in absolute solitude; extraordinary.
Autobiography that goes from 1913 to 1940, the book traces the family and social life of an upper class family that with the Great War and the fall of the Ottoman Empire lost the economic and social privileges of its position until it was reduced to a state of extreme poverty, and up to its tiring ascent towards an acceptable standard of living. The protagonists of this story, in addition to the writer’s family, are Istanbul itself and all the varied society of notables, petty bourgeois and commoners who live there, so that the book presents various levels of reading ranging from the private story of the protagonist – with pages on childhood that are among the most beautiful in twentieth-century literature – to the culture and customs of a country that has always been a bridge between East and West in a crucial period of its history: from the fall of the Sultan and the Ottoman Empire to Kemal Atatürk’s revolution.
The Turkish family epic par excellence, Irfan Orga shows us his diary here and in doing so opens up a universe and the sufferings passed by the Istanbuliot and Turkish civilians during the First World War, all in a setting of unique beauty and that brings with it itself the last fragments of the extraordinary Ottoman past. A book so refined and beautiful that it appears at times like prose poetry, without ever forgetting the firmness and stubbornness of one of the most extraordinary peoples that history has ever seen. If you are interested in reading more of Irfan Orga, I suggest you also read “The Caravan Moves On” which, however, with all the love in the world for that text, is certainly a step below this authentic pearl.
At the confluence of the Christian and Muslim worlds, Višegrad rises in Bosnia, which has always been a meeting place between different races, religions and cultures. And it is here that in the sixteenth century the vizier Mehmed-pasha had a bridge built, which became a symbol of oppression because it was built thanks to the effort and sacrifices of many Christians, but also a testimony to the fusion of two different worlds. The bridge is the center of Andrić’s novel: a large fresco that goes from the sixteenth century to the First World War and which has as its background a romantic Bosnia, with its complex historical events but also with the daily dramas of the men who live there. Andrić confirms himself as the interpreter and moved singer of this tormented land.
Earlier I was talking about a family epic, in this case one could easily say “citizen” or even “national”. In his masterpiece, the Nobel laureate Ivo Andrić will tell us the story of his city (and de facto of most of the territories of the former Yugoslavia) through the life of the bridge over the Drina located in Višegrad, an element that, since this novel came out, it even became something mythical and legendary. All his characters and his stories are interesting and well written and all together they tell us the events of Bosnia, a territory that has always made heterogeneity one of his strengths despite the thousands of disasters suffered. I have already said masterpiece for Sovietistan, but how can you not shout at the masterpiece in front of this book?
Children of Gebelawi it is a metaphor singularly permeated with realism, in which the often crude representation of environments and situations becomes a symbol of the world, of humanity. The “boys”, the sons of Ghabàlawi, are the protagonists of an existential itinerary that reflects the stages of the Quranic revelation from Adam to Moses, from Jesus to Muhammad, up to the current crisis of values, represented by the figure of the modern scientist, son of theory of the “death of God”. Mahfuz’s style, “… rich in nuances, now realistic for clarity of view, now evocatively ambiguous” (from the motivation of the Nobel Prize), is clearly proposed in this fundamental novel in the vast production of a writer who loves to refer to tradition oral by popular narrators of Cairo, but which also includes the most up-to-date results of world fiction.
One of the most important and celebrated works of all the artistic production of Naguib Mahfuz, to date the only Arab Nobel Prize winner in the history of literature. In this novel, the great Egyptian writer will make us relive the history of monotheism through some of his most important figures, setting everything, however, in an Egypt that at times even seems contemporary. A text that is, has been and will be a very precious model for all those who, starting from a well-known and well-known story, wish to create “their version”. The humanity of different characters even shivers from how alive, concrete and real it is.
In truth, America, Jorge Amado suggests in this smiling short novel, was not discovered by Christopher Columbus. Nor by the Vikings. In reality, in daily experience, the New World has been discovered by the millions of emigrants who landed in those distant shores: very often in search of happiness, to give substance to their hopes, to escape an old world that has become too narrow. So here they are, Jamil Bichara and Raduan Murad, two Turks who are not Turks at all, arrive at the Bahia of All Saints at the dawn of this century.
In a year characterized by the discovery of the relations between South America and the Arab world, this book could not be missing. Although in terms of plot and richness it is perhaps a thread behind the other texts cited here, “The Turks discovering America” by Jorge Amado is without a shadow of a doubt the text that best tells the beginning of theArab epopee in Brazil, an extremely significant and decisive historical moment for many aspects of the economy and politics of all of South America; all rendered magnificently by the extraordinary pen of Amado, able to make us fully immerse ourselves in the “new continent” without however failing to pay an incredible attention to the “Arabism” of the protagonists.
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