The best books I’ve read in 2021: surprises

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The list of the best books read this year, second chapter dedicated to surprises

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 Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho (Brazil)

Learn to listen to your heart: it is the teaching that comes from this spiritual and magical tale. On the borders between the tale of a thousand and one nights and the sapiential apologue, “The alchemist” is the story of an initiation. Santiago is the protagonist, a young Andalusian shepherd boy who, in search of a dreamed treasure, embarks on that adventurous journey, both real and symbolic, which beyond the Strait of Gibraltar and across the entire North African desert will take him to the Egypt of pyramids. And it will be precisely during the journey that the young man, thanks to the meeting with the old alchemist, will climb all the steps of the sapiential ladder: in his progression on the desert sand and, together, in self-knowledge, he will discover the soul of the world, love and universal language, he will learn to speak to the sun and the wind and finally fulfill his personal legend. Here, the mirage is no longer just the mythical philosopher’s stone of alchemy, but the achievement of total concordance with the world, thanks to the understanding of those “signs”, of those secrets that can only be grasped by rediscovering a universal language made of courage, trust and wisdom that men have long forgotten.


The Alchemist is a particular book that absolutely deserves a mention in the surprises because of the story it tells and the way in which it does it; the latter is very reminiscent of that of Ibn ‘Arabi, one of the greatest mystics of Islam and also a native of Andalusia like the protagonist Santiago. Furthermore, the concept of “predestination” and of “we are all part of a story greater than us” typical and authentic of Islam is here masterfully symbolized and codified by the continuous and eloquent “maktoub”. Finally, I really appreciated the choice of the setting and the protagonists. A book really suitable for bringing young and old to the Islamic world even when the latter do not look favorably upon it. The only limitation of the text, in my humble opinion, is that it is, at the text level, quite thin and light which, if on the one hand it speeds up the reading and increases the fantasy creation, on the other hand it risks being a little too “light”.

“A Memento for Istanbul” by Ahmet Ümit (Turkey)

Istanbul. A mysterious crime puts commissioner Nevzat Akman and his young collaborators to the test. The victim is found in the old part of the city, in front of the statue of Ataturk, holds an ancient coin in his hand and seems to indicate a precise direction. It is only the first in a series of ritual murders in historic places, each monument tied to an important figure from the past: seven monarchs, seven magnificent ancient places and one shocking truth. Thus begins a race against time, in search of skilled and elusive criminals. The key to the enigma lies in the past of one of the most mysterious cities in the world, and leads to an exciting historical journey from Byzantium to Istanbul, in which the fate of the victims will depend on the ability of the investigators to decipher that story, to retrace it through painful memories. , and to cross the soul of a multitude of characters: homeless drunks, unscrupulous powerful businessmen, corrupt lawyers and journalists, greedy archaeologists and idealistic citizens struggling to preserve Istanbul’s historic sites. Ümit delves into the psychology of characters, into the sacredness of love and friendship, and skilfully blends genre narrative with historical interludes. Between his lines we find his political vocation, the reference to the dark times of the recent past and the present, on every page the boundless love for his city. Until the final imperative: “A Memento for Istanbul”.

A Memento for Istanbul

“A Memento for Istanbul” is one of the biggest and most pleasant surprises of the year for how it manages to transport the reader to Istanbul and tell him the history of the city, combining this with a truly intriguing and compelling thriller. Reading it, not only was I able to give a name to the many places I saw in Istanbul, but I also got a lot of ideas for the article I wrote about the Fatih district, ancient Constantinople and the real protagonist of the book. In addition to the plot, which as a thriller does not intend to deepen, a note of honor must be made to the characters, real representatives of the authentic Istanbul lifestyle. In short, if you love Istanbul this is one of the readings that you absolutely must recover and that will make you experience all the charm of the most beautiful city in the world even from a distance. Text recommended by Angela Gurgo Di Castelmenardo, a true lover of this place, so much so that she founded the facebook group “Istanbul: innamorarsi di una città”, the most beautiful, largest and richest in theme.

“The Storyteller” by Pierre Jarawan (Lebanon and Germany)

1980s, Lebanon. The country is devastated by civil war and Samir’s parents decide to flee and seek asylum in Germany. The young protagonist thus grows up in Europe and builds a solid relationship with his father, from whom he learns extraordinary tales and stories about his homeland abandoned against their will. One night, Samir’s peaceful life changes forever: his father disappears, no one knows where he is. The family is shattered. Twenty years later, haunted by the obsession with that loss, the young man decides to return to the land of the cedars in search of his father. The only clues he has are an old photo and the memory of bedtime stories. In Beirut he learns long-buried secrets and is overwhelmed by the political history of his homeland and the complex issues surrounding national identity. Samir thus realizes that perhaps his father’s tales have always hidden another truth …

The Storyteller

I must admit that perhaps this was the biggest surprise for me too, a book that in my case happened at just the right time and that also has the advantage of combining many historical components with a beautiful narrative, in order to provide a double experience to the reader. Above all, he made a breach on me for the theme of depression, told here in a very simple and clear way, so much so as to lead me to think about many episodes of my life, but also the geopolitical and social arguments that appear are of the highest level and will easily lead to reflections of the highest level linked to Lebanon but which can easily be extended to the rest of the world. Finally, the text is very well written and the reading is very fast and pleasant. If you are interested in finding out more about the author, I invite you to read or listen to the interview that I had the pleasure of doing with him some time ago at the headquarters of SEM, the publisher of the book.

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