best books 2021

Bookclub Series: Best Books of 2021, Part II

The Bookclub Series returns just in time to gather together an eclectic collection of the best books from the second half of 2021. Curated by my bibliophilic husband R.R.M., this latest edition is a follow-up to his previous round-up, posted midway through this year. Expect an engrossing selection which shines a light on topical subjects from world commodities to demographics and our quest for utopia.

Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney

My fascination with Rooney continues with her third novel.  She is as prolific as she is perceptive to the themes of millennial angst.  Barely thirty, Rooney is definitely the voice of our generation and this novel further establishes her reputation as an exciting young novelist to follow for works which are very accessible, readable and relatable to our times. Interestingly, much of the novel is an email exchange between two friends.  Although set in Ireland, as is the case for all of Rooney’s works, the themes are universal.   

China Room by Sunjeev Sahota

Put Sahota up there with other Indian-origin novelists living in Britain, including Rushdie or Naipaul!  With this marvellous and cleverly-structured novel, Sahota goes back and forth from pre-Partition India to the England of the 1990s.  Covering the immigrant experience and an incestuous love affair in Punjab, this is a thinly-veiled family drama constellating around the romance of the main character Maher with her husband’s brother. The story is stitched across three different timelines and brought to life by the narrator visiting Punjab in 1999, retracting his family’s history while recovering as a teenage addict.  

After the Fall: Being American in the World We’ve Made by Ben Rhodes

Written by Obama’s primary speechwriter and eventual Deputy National Security Advisor, this is a bleak yet captivating read about America and the world; and America’s place in the world.  The book is well divided between Rhodes’ commentary on Hungary, China and Russia – countries where authoritarianism has become the norm.  Whilst it is neither a travelogue nor academic study, it is a good reflection on the America Rhodes grew up in, and the world order it has created.  

The World For Sale: Money, Power, and the Traders Who Barter the Earth’s Resources by Javier Blas & Jack Farchy

While several writers have extensively covered the world of finance and tech – from Wall Street to Silicon Valley – it has often crossed me that nothing much of note has been written on the commodity world, delving into the tangible resource that come from the ground. After all, it is oil, minerals, metals and ores which drive the fundamentals of economic activity.

This book is a great piece of reportage – often investigative in nature – about the commodity world and the larger-than-life characters who run the lesser-known organisation dictating the world economy.  Written by two Bloomberg journalists, it is well researched and unusually for a non-fiction book on the metals and oil market, reads like a fast-paced thriller novel. Bookmark it as a superb introduction into the world of commodities and how it defines our daily lives without our knowledge. The geographic scope of the book is as vast and as far-flung as the interesting and sometimes entertaining cast of characters whom the writers encounter on their way.  

Better To Have Gone: Love, Death and the Quest for Utopia in Auroville by Akash Kapur

A book that defies categorization and is very different from Kapur’s earlier India Becoming.  Part family memoir, part an investigation into the author’s wife’s parents’ deaths – this book raises several pertinent questions about utopia and the elusive, but eternal, quest for it. 

Set in Auroville, Kapur returns with his wife to retrace the death of her parents.  The utopian experiment in Auroville has not worked out. The looming question concerns how the American John Walker (not the Whiskey!), from the East Coast establishment arrived in Auroville and ended up with Diane Maes, a woman from Belgium who gave birth to Kapur’s wife. Yet this is just part of the story.  How they died together is the larger mystery, that keeps one sad and in suspense till the end.   

Move: How Mass Migration Will Reshape The World – And What It Means For You by Parag Khanna

I was unmoved by Khanna’s previous book The Future is Asian.  And so I’m all the more impressed by this brilliant work on a very sensitive and topical subject – migration, with a nuanced dive into the demographics of the world, and to a smaller extent the history of humanity too.

It is clear that Khanna is not just an ivory-tower academic, but a millennial well-plugged into several current world themes. The book is enjoyable to read, giving readers a crash course in world demographics across several generations – Baby Boomers, Millennials, Gen-Zs. Of particular interest is Khanna’s take on how those demographic trends – along with other themes of climate change and violence – will lead to migration and immigration.   

Places of Mind: A Life of Edward Said by Timothy Brennan

This biography of one of the world’s leading public intellectuals, literary critics and master of the field of postcolonialism, is a deeply researched book that paints Said as a very humane character.  The scope of the book is vast – from Said’s childhood in Egypt to his education in the America to his long career as a professor at Columbia to his struggle with cancer.  Through this biography, it was fascinating to revisit some of my favorite books written by him, from Orientalism to Culture and Imperialism, and put them in the context of his life.  Although published eighteen years after Said’s death, this book can serve as a primer for Said’s vast oeuvre.  

About The Bookclub Series:

Books have always commanded pride of place (and storage!) in our home, with R.R.M.’s passion for reading manifesting in some of our greatest treasures. This series is an extension of his bibliophilic sensibilities, with curated bucket lists to inspire you the next time you’re looking for a good book to get stuck into.

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