Among my favorite books of 2016 are two novels, a work of history, and the collected works of a great American poet.
A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles is a beautifully rendered period piece set primarily in the Metropol Hotel across from the Kremlin in post revolutionary Russia where a Count is under house arrest. The transformative descriptions place the reader in the hotel alongside the Count as history is being made and lives are changing dramatically in the new political climate.
The Association of Small Bombs by Karan Marajan is a powerful book set in New Delhi, about the survivors and casualties of a bombing in a public square. Marajan deftly examines all the paths leading to insurgency--even in a way, the bomb’s own trajectory. This is a remarkable debut unlike any other novel written about our time.
Taken from a melancholic and painful song by Billie Holliday, the title of Blood at the Root: A Racial Cleansing in America by National Book Award shortlisted poet Patrick Phillips is more than apt. Phillips tells the story of the 20th century racial cleansing of a small town in Alabama. Both personal--Philips’ family lived in the town--and well researched, this is a book that explores how fear and xenophobia often bring out the dark side of human nature.
And finally, Collected Poems: 1974-2004 by Rita Dove. Since hearing this Pulitzer Prize winner and former Poet Laureate of the U.S. give a reading, I’ve got this book on my currently reading stack and dip in every day. I’m thankful for this body of work by a master of the form. Dove begins her process with an arresting moment like a visit to the library and discovery of a new idea that lead to vivid detail. Her combination of the syncopated rhythm of jazz and complex internal rhyme makes it a joy to read the poems aloud.