5 inspiring readings to travel from home in 2022.
Is “reading more” one of your new year’s resolutions? If you are looking for inspiration, then you are in the right place. Here you will find my 5 favourite books in 2021.
2021 was a complicated year for me. I moved to a new country in the middle of a sanitary and political crisis.
The culture and language were unknown to me, and I had to learn quickly. I also experienced some personal and professional turmoil – and in between, I travelled a lot.
However, I also read. Continuously and intensely.
In 2021, my favourite books nurtured my mind with smells and colours, made me feel inspired and enriched my knowledge on different countries, cultures and traditions .
Here are my 5 favourite books in 2021.
None of them was actually published in 2021. However, for one reason or another they all ended up on my night table this year.
And maybe some will accompany your 2022.
1. News of a Kidnapping (Noticia de un secuestro) – Gabriel García Márquez.
Colombia, early 1990s. Maruja Pachon and Beatriz Villamizar de Guerrero are coming home by taxi after a public event. They are wife and sister, respectively, to Alberto Villamizar, a well-known Colombian politician at the time.
Suddenly the taxi driver is shot dead, the taxi hijacked and the two women abducted.
It was November 7, 1990. It is a real event.
In the 1990s, a series of systematic kidnappings of high-profile Colombians were carried out, orchestrated by Pablo Escobar. These stories had to be told. So, when approached by Alberto Villamizar to write a book about Maruja’s abduction, Gabriel García Márquez accepted with no hesitation.
It was when he was working on the first draft that it hit him. It was impossible to separate Maruja’s kidnapping from nine other abductions that occurred at the same time in Colombia.
“News of a Kidnapping” includes the stories of all these captives. The author depicts the families’ reactions to these events as well as their efforts to free the victims. It also traces the context of Colombia’s long-standing war on drugs and terrorism of the 1990s with an extraordinary precision.
“Perhaps the most “Colombian thing” about the whole situation was the amazing capacity of the people of Medellín of getting used to everything. The good and the bad, with a power of recovery that is perhaps the cruellest formula of recklessness.”
I found this book especially useful to understand Colombia’s recent history. The political side of the story goes hand in hand with the description of a more intimate sphere – that of 10 imprisoned people living in solitude, often with other hostages, and with their guards.
2. Japanese Notebooks (Quaderni Giapponesi: Il Vagabondo del Manga)- Igort
The smell of paper, the sound of footsteps on fallen leaves, the scent of tea. You can feel it all in your skin while reading the second book of the“Japanese Notebooks” saga, by Igort.
The author has worked and travelled around Japan his whole life. In his notebooks, he sketches stories and legends of contemporary Japan. This graphic novel is absolutely one of my favourite books in 2021.
In “Japanese Notebooks”, we continually enter and leave the visual and experiential memory of the author. Pushed by the fascination towards the other, Igort becomes a character of his spiritual and emotional quest in Japan.
The work of Igort does not have a linear structure. Instead, it follows a stream of consciousness that combines text, photos, drawings, reflections and legends in a sublime visual mixture.
Here, the warm colours of the imagination alternate with the more modest ones of everyday life, making the work a sort of documentary-narrative graphic novel. The “slow” rhythm of the great draught of space lets us immerse ourselves in a suspended atmosphere.
One of my favourite parts of the book is the reminiscence about Hiroshima e Nagasaki:
“If you love Japan, sooner or later you have to deal with Hiroshima and Nagasaki, ”Ryuichi told me one day. And I thought he was right. I hesitated for years and finally the time has come, in a few hours a ferry and then a tram will take me to see for myself. To feel with my skin what cannot be understood.
I read these pages in the basement of the Memorial Center. I took notes. This trip was important. I tried to tell its story with drawings, perhaps more than I did other times. But I soon understood: horror cannot be drawn. Because you risk to aestheticise it. The pen stops, the colours fade. What about me? I was petrified looking at photos and videos, immersing myself in the enormous silence that followed the glow.”
“Japanese Notebooks” surely is one of my favourite books in 2021, if not the favourite.
3. Hotel Silence – Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir
Jonas is 49 and lives in Reykjavik. His wife has left him, his mother is slipping deeper into dementia, and his daughter is no longer who he thought. To win the pain, he comes up with a plan: to buy a one-way ticket to a chaotic, war-ravaged country. And put an end to it all.
He books a room at the sparsely occupied Hotel Silence. The hotel is located in a small town riddled with landmines and the aftershocks of violence.
“We don’t understand why we didn’t have a thaw this year, – she said. The taxi driver had told the same thing: “we are waiting for the rain”, he said taking his hand off the wheel to change gear with the car spinning out in the opposite lane”. “And when it rains – he continued – the level of the river will rise about 6 metres and flood the fields that hide the corpses, and the skeletons in uniform will emerge from the bottomless lakes. Then we can finally bury the dead.”
There, he comes to understand the depths of other people’s scars. Slowly, he starts seeing his wounds under a new light. And so it happens: the tools he brought along to manufacture his perfectly designed death machine will serve another purpose. He will employ them to build and repair the scars of a forgotten hotel, in an invisible country.
“Hotel Silence” is a celebration of life’s infinite possibilities of transformations and second chances. It is a rousing story of a man, a community, and a path toward regeneration from the depths of despair.
4. The moon and the bonfires (La Luna e i Falò) – Cesare Pavese
“The moon and the bonfires” (La Luna e i Falò) tells the story of Anguilla who, after having lived for many years in America, returns to his native town in the Piedmont hills (Italy) in search of his childhood.
Upon his return, he finds many of the same smells that filled his youth. However, he also finds a town with concrete and asphalt, and its inhabitants deeply changed by war. It is a return that is immediately tinged with bitterness:
“I’m stupid, I said, I’ve been away for twenty years and these villages are waiting for me. I remembered the disappointment I felt while I was walking through the streets of Genoa for the first time. I walked through them and looked for some grass. Yes, there was the harbour, there were the gazes of the girls, there were shops and banks, but a cane field, a smell of fascina, a piece of vineyard, where were they? I also knew the story of the moon and the bonfires. Only, I realized, that I no longer knew that I knew it “
The writer alternates recalling of past events and narration of a present. The present, though, is depicted as an eternal cycle. This is attributable to a past that evolves in the future by repeating itself eternally.
To me “The moon and the bonfires” was not only one of my favourite books in 2021. It was also the right book in the right moment.
I lost myself in the often sad memories that Anguilla relives with his friend Nuto. I thought about how important it is for everyone to have roots, a country, a family, a point of reference that binds to life. Important, but also a huge privilege.
What to do when you return home after a long time, and your home is so different, almost alien?
I’m still looking for an answer to this question.
5. Abysses (Los abismos) – Pilar Quintana
“Los abismos” is a story of mother-daughter relationships, powerfully narrated from the point of view of 8 year old Claudia. It also looks at the contemporary social milieu of Colombia – where middle-class women are confined to the home, stifled and tamed.
Claudia lives with her parents in an apartment invaded by plants. Her childhood is quiet and happy, until something happens. Life changes drastically when the straight line of normality is shattered in favour of nameless monsters. Claudia finds herself standing in front of abysses of loneliness.
That’s when Claudia embraces the revelations of her mother and the silences of her father to begin to build her own world:
“I was talking. I was telling my daddy things that were happening at school. He was listening and laughed at the right times. I was asking him important questions, and superficial ones too, about life, the universe and nature. He would think, give me his answer—always on time—or he would say he didn’t know and would go quiet. I started to think that the death of my father lived in his silence. As if drowned by a calm sea.”
“Los Abismos” is one of my favourite books of 2021, a fascinating and compelling reading. The perspective of the child narrator, so naive, simple and yet acute, is what makes it especially interesting.
Claudia’s voice made me feel as if I would be watching the whole scene from the keyhole. Just like she used to do. I believe that sometimes you need to take a step back and to look at things from a different perspective. That’s how you manage to see the invisible – and to own it. The keyhole offered me the opportunity of looking at things from a point of venture. To look without being seen.
News of a Kidnapping, Japanese notebooks, Hotel Silence, the Moon and the bonfires, and Abysses.
My 5 favourite books of 2021, will bring you literally around the world, from quiet publishing houses in Japan to stables with cows and horses in Santo Stefano di Belbo.
Five inspiring readings for 2022.
To sense, feel, smell, and to travel from home.