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  • Ninay Desai

The Best Books I Read this Year

A couple of books stacked one on the other with the title of the book on top being The Best Books I Read this Year. Also visble is a gold pen and a pair of spectacles.

When I'm reading a book I like, I often pause to reread a line or phrase to admire the artistry of its construction or the beauty of the thought expressed. I feel excited about returning to the book while I go about my other activities because I can't wait to find out what happens next. And yet, something strange happens as the book approaches completion. I try to slow down because I don't want to let go of the characters yet and I don't want the story to end. But end it does. But over the years, my favourite books have always left me with ideas, fragments of dialogue or expressions that made them unique. In no particular order, these are five of my favourites from the best books I read this year. 


A copy of Everything I never told you by Celeste Ng lying on a wooden table and bar stools adjacent to a glass window. Photo by Ninay Desai.

Celeste Ng’s debut revolves around the lives of a mixed-race family of five, the Lees. The novel opens on the day of their older daughter, Lydia’s disappearance and death. This isn’t a whodunnit. Instead, it explores each character’s heart-breaking secrets which they kept to themselves in the hope of holding on to each other and the price they end up paying for their silence.

Ng paints a moving portrait of the immigrant experience as well as what it feels like to be considered different in a college town in Middle America. Read it for its emotion, style and pace. I was left with a pit in my stomach wishing things had turned out differently for the Lees.


A copy of Orienting - An Indian in Japan on a silver tray with a cup of tea. In the background is a hydrangea plant. Photo by Ninay Desai.

Orienting: An Indian in Japan is divided into ten chapters, each dealing with an element of the Japanese experience. For the average Nipponophile like myself, anecdotes about lost umbrellas and tiffin-boxes that are almost always located and returned, the intoxicating fervour of the sakura-viewing season and the technological marvel the Japanese call a toilet fit right into my idea of what Japan, with its sushi-dispensing vending machines and kintsugi philosophy, is all about.

Thankfully, the book doesn’t dissolve into an endless stream of praise. Some chapters deal with the foibles of Japanese culture, including their oppressive working hours, political apathy and xenophobia, to provide a balanced view of what it is like to live in Japan.

Pallavi Aiyar writes with the clarity and specificity of a journalist and the whimsy and humour of a novelist, making this part memoir, part travel literature and partly, a collection of essays immensely readable.


She Who Became the Sun is a reimagining of the rise to power of the Hongwu emperor, better known as the founding ruler of the famed Ming dynasty. The twist in this reimagined tale is that this is the story of a girl who is foretold a life that will amount to nothing while a glorious future is predicted for her brother.

A copy of She who became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan lying on a small round wooden table next to a game of chess and a chocolate brownie on a plate.  In the background are other tables and chairs in a coffee shop. Photo by Ninay Desai

A historical fantasy novel, She Who Became the Sun is about desire, destiny and the desire to alter one’s destiny. Shelley Parker-Chan’s style is lyrical yet pacy with characters that seem drawn from real life and have weaknesses, conflicting desires and ill-judgement, making them come alive. The characters of this novel have stayed with me long after I turned the last page of the novel. Their joy, ambition, pain and desire leave its mark thanks to Parker-Chan’s splendid writing. I look forward to reading the next book in the series. 


A copy of Talking to my Daughter about the Economy by Yanis Varoufakis lies on a stone seat in a garden. Next to it lies a cup of coffee, a leather pouch and a black pencil. Photo by Ninay Desai.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Yanis Varoufakis makes the story of the rise of capitalism such an entertaining story with lots of references to iconic movies, Greek mythology and classic literature that you may be forgiven for thinking of economics as interesting!

Get your hands on a copy if you would like to read about industrialisation and colonialism and the rise of debt as the backbone of our economy without falling asleep. I was delighted by his perspective and his lack of jargon.

Does it explain everything? No. But does it make you want to read on and learn a bit more than you know? Yes, and it’s a fun read. What’s not to like?


A copy of The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair by Joel Dicker on a round wrought iron coffee table. Photo by Ninay Desai.

The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair is a cold case whodunnit delivered with a literary flair. It’s a novel about two authors – Harry Quebert, a celebrated senior writer who is arrested for murder, 33 years after a fifteen-year-old girl that he loved goes missing; and Marcus Goldman his protégé who, struggling with writer’s block after his successful first novel, resolves to clear his mentor’s name.

With a host of suspects, fading recollections and looming deadlines, Marcus is up against plenty of challenges.

This is an absolute page-turner with lots of plot twists. Joel Dicker’s style and narrative technique make it even better by imbuing an investigative thriller plot with literary allusions, three-dimensional characterisation and social commentary without letting up on the pace. Read it if you’re looking for an riveting book to curl up with this weekend.

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