I put both fiction and memoir in one category because both genres offer a chance for escaping into another world, another life, and another place. And all offer me a chance to put myself in someone else’s shoes, and all of them kept me reading until I was done. I’ll try not to give away the endings in these recommendations!
I read In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez in one shot on a train ride from New York to Washington, DC without looking up from the book. It is a gripping historical fiction story of the Mariposa sisters who were opponents of Trujillo’s dictatorship in the Dominican Republic. I admit that I cried when I finished it.
The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards is a book that I thought about and talked about long after I finished reading it. It tells of a doctor whose wife has twins, a boy and a girl. The girl has Downs Syndrome. The doctor delivers the twins while his wife is sedated and gives the baby with Downs to a nurse with instructions to put her in an institution. He tells his wife that her daughter died, and keeps this secret for … well, I won’t betray the ending. Instead of taking the daughter to the institution, the nurse raises the girl as her own.
Mother to Mother by Sindiwe Magona is another book that brought me to tears. I was introduced to this author in my African Women Writer’s class in college, and even had the opportunity to meet her in class. This is a story told from the point of view of the mother of the man who murdered a young anti-apartheid activist in South Africa and written to the mother of that young woman. It is based on the true story of Amy Beihl, whose family still runs the Amy Beihl Foundation.
The Map of Love by Ahdaf Souief is a gripping love story that spans generations of Egypt in the 20th century, and still manages to be just as relevant to Egypt in the 21st century. You don’t need to know anything about Egypt to enjoy this Booker Prize finalist, but if you are interested, the author remains active in Egyptian life and politics.