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ELB(A): The English Language Book Club

Book list Ninth season Sept 2021 – May 2022


21 Sep 2021

by Muriel Spark (1958)

January Marlow, a heroine with a Catholic outlook of the most unsentimental stripe, is one of three survivors out of twenty-nine souls when their plane crashes, blazing, on a remote island owned by Mr Robinson. Presumed dead for months, the three survivors must wait for the annual pomegranate boat to arrive and take them back to England. Robinson, a determined loner, proves a fair if misanthropic host to his uninvited guests. He nurses the three back to health and provides for them as they wait for the boat to come in. Under the tropical glare and strange fogs of the tiny island, we find a volcano, a ping-pong playing cat, a dealer in occult as well as lucky charms, sexual tension, a disappearance, blackmail, and perhaps murder. It’s part mystery, part philosophical and religious treatise, and part character study. Everything astounds, confounds, and convinces, frighteningly. Robinson is Muriel Spark’s quirky second novel. Her writing is bright, descriptive and clever. She wraps and unwraps the people and personalities who are thrust together. This is another display of the powers of “the most gifted and innovative British novelist” (The New York Times).

The Sympathizer

19 Oct 2021

by Viet Thanh Nguyen (2015)

It is April 1975, and Saigon is in chaos. At his villa, a general of the South Vietnamese army is drinking whisky and, with the help of his trusted captain, drawing up a list of those who will be given passage aboard the last flights out of the country. They start a new life in Los Angeles, unaware that the captain is secretly observing and reporting on the group to a higher-up in the Viet Cong. The Sympathizer is the story of this captain: a man brought up by an absent French father and a poor Vietnamese mother, a man who went to university in America, but returned to Vietnam to fight for the Communist cause. A gripping spy novel, an astute exploration of extreme politics, and a moving love story, The Sympathizer explores a life between two worlds and examines the legacy of the Vietnam War in literature, film, and the wars we fight today. In films like “Apocalypse Now”, the Vietnamese are never more than walk-ons whose principal roles seem to be to die or wail in the ashes of incinerated villages. Viet Thanh Nguyen’s remarkable debut novel fills a void in the literature, bringing a distinct perspective to the war and its aftermath. It compels the rest of us to look at the events of almost 50 years ago in a new light. New York Times review

The Color Purple

16 Nov 2021

by Alice Walker (1982)

A powerful cultural touchstone of modern American literature, The Color Purple depicts the lives of African American women in early twentieth-century rural Georgia. Separated as girls, sisters Celie and Nettie sustain their loyalty to each other across time, distance and silence. Through a series of letters spanning twenty years, the novel draws readers into its rich and memorable portrayals of the characters and their experience. Long before women began speaking up about their different experiences in the #metoo movement, The Color Purple broke the silence around domestic and sexual abuse, narrating the lives of women through their pain and struggle, companionship and growth, resilience and bravery in the face of the violence and power of the men around them. “Who you think you is? You can’t curse nobody. Look at you. You black, you pore, you ugly, you a woman. Goddam, he say, you nothing at all.” Deeply compassionate and beautifully imagined, Alice Walker’s epic carries readers on a spirit-affirming journey towards redemption and love.

The Invention of Morel

18 Jan 2022

/ La Invención de Morel by Adolfo Bioy Casares (1940)

A fugitive hides on a deserted island somewhere in Polynesia. In his diary he describes himself as a writer from Venezuela sentenced to life in prison. He is not sure which island he is on; all he knows is that it is the focus of a strange disease whose symptoms are similar to radiation poisoning. Tourists arrive, and, although he considers their presence a miracle, he is afraid they will turn him in to the authorities. He retreats to the swamps, but his fear of being discovered becomes a mixed emotion when he falls in love with one of them. He decides to approach her, but she does not react to him, and his encounters with the other tourists have the same result. Nobody on the island notices him. He points out that their conversations repeat every week, and he fears he is going crazy. Inspired by Bioy Casares’s fascination with the movie star Louise Brooks, The Invention of Morel has gone on to live a secret life of its own. Greatly admired by Julio Cortázar, Gabriel García Márquez, and Octavio Paz, the novella helped to usher in Latin American fiction’s now famous post-war boom.

A Mercy

15 Feb 2022

by Toni Morrison (2008) It is the 1680s and the slave trade in the Americas is still in its infancy. Jacob Vaark is an AngloDutch trader and adventurer, with a smallholding in the harsh North. Despite his distaste for dealing in “flesh,” he takes a small slave girl in part payment for a bad debt from a plantation owner. This is Florens, who can read and write and might be useful on his farm. Rejected by her mother, Florens looks for love, first from Lina, an older servant woman at her new master’s house, and later from the handsome blacksmith, an African, never enslaved, who comes riding into their lives. This novel reveals what lies beneath the surface of slavery. But at its heart it is the ambivalent, disturbing story of a mother and a daughter a mother who casts off her daughter in order to save her, and a daughter who may never exorcise that abandonment. Florens’s mother does not want to part with her daughter, but feels that Florens will be better off with Jacob than with her own cruel master. Jacob’s wife knows that, even as a white woman, the only choices open to her are wife, servant, or prostitute. The servants know that if both their master and mistress die, their already circumscribed choices will disappear completely and they will be fair game for anyone. This is a world in which women—white, black, and Native American—are especially vulnerable, literally at the mercy of the men who hold power over them.

The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter

15 Mar 2022

by Carson McCullers (1940 Set in a small town in the middle of the deep South, it is the story of John Singer, a lonely deafmute, and a disparate group of people who are drawn towards his kind, sympathetic nature: the owner of the café where Singer eats every day, a young girl desperate to grow up, an angry drunkard, a frustrated black doctor. Each pours their heart out to Singer, their silent confidant, and he in turn changes their disenchanted lives in ways they could never imagine.

Carson McCullers’ prodigious first novel was published to instant acclaim when she was just twenty-three. How does someone so young write a book this rich and wise and honest? “I have found in her works such intensity and nobility of spirit as we have not had in our prose writing since Herman Melville.” — Tennessee Williams.


19 April 2022

by Maggie O’Farrell (2020) This is the story of Shakespeare’s family: his brutal father, his fiercely independent wife and his children, especially his son, Hamnet, lost to the plague at eleven years of age. Atmospheric and down to earth, the book provides a window into Elizabethan society, as well as a timeless portrait of parental love and grief – with surprisingly timely resonances for a new era of epidemic. Hamnet is a story of the bond between twins, and of a marriage pushed to the brink by grief. It is also the story of a kestrel and its mistress; a flea that boards a ship in Alexandria; and a glovemaker’s son who flouts convention in pursuit of the woman he loves. Above all, it is a tender and unforgettable reimagining of a boy whose life has been all but forgotten, but whose name was given to one of the most celebrated plays ever written.

The Guardian review

To the Lighthouse

17 May 2022

by Virginia Woolf (1927)

This is the most autobiographical of Virginia Woolf’s novels. It is based on her own early experiences, and while it touches on childhood and children’s perceptions and desires, it is at its most trenchant when exploring adult relationships, marriage and the changing class structure in the period spanning the Great War. Woolf puts her characters through life at its most intense and acute. Their lives are so rich in emotion that dipping into their world is like getting tweaked on all the unbelievable wonder that is conscious experience. The lighthouse is out there, its eye caressing our struggles with cold indifference. We can beat against the tides in pursuit, but will we ever reach it? If we only look to that spot on the horizon, we miss the love around us, miss those gasping for our love and friendship, miss the callouses born in dedicated strife rowing us towards the end. As in all things, it is the journey that matters, not the destination.

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ELB(A) Book list ninth season 2021-22  

These are the eight books to be read in the 2021-22 season of the ELB(A) book club. See our MeetUp page for more details: https://www.mee...

ELB(A) Book list ninth season 2021-22  

These are the eight books to be read in the 2021-22 season of the ELB(A) book club. See our MeetUp page for more details: https://www.mee...

Profile for veejay5

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