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Maisy Card’s enthralling first novel, Top of the List winner These Ghosts are Family, is a multigenerational family saga anchored in the traumas of racism and violence in colonial Jamaica and propelled by a deep, disorienting secret. As the story extends a branch to Harlem, characters are haunted by the pain and suffering of their ancestors. The novels below delve into similarly profound, mysterious, and essential territory.
Augustown. By Kei Miller. 2017. Vintage, $16 (9781101974094).
Miller’s convincing and urgent novel begins in a Jamaican town in 1982 when teary Kaia comes home to Ma Taffy after his teacher has hacked off his dreadlocks, a symbol of his Rastafarian faith, an act that summons memories of past brutality and grips Augustown.
A Brief History of Seven Killings. By Marlon James. 2014. Riverhead, $18 (9781594633942).
James’ extraordinarily imaginative, complex, violent, mythic, and acidly provocative novel is catalyzed by the 1976 assassination attempt on reggae superstar Bob Marley, rife with entangled politics and gangs, and populated by a large cast of vivid characters.
Claire of the Sea Light. By Edwidge Danticat. 2013. Vintage, $16 (9780307472274).
In Danticat’s radiant tale of loss and longing, motherless Claire’s father tries to find someone to care for her, but others face their own tragic losses, then Claire disappears, galvanizing their small Haitian fishing village.
Evening Is the Whole Day. By Preeta Samarasan. 2008.Mariner, $19.99 ( 9780547237893).
Young Aasha sees ghosts, but her unhappy mother seems to look right through her as shocking secrets exert a malevolent force in Samarasan’s psychologically astute novel of descendants of immigrants from India navigating life in ethnically complex Malaysia.
Hades, Argentina. By Daniel Loedel. 2021. Riverhead, $27 (9780593188644).
Living in New York under an assumed name, Tomás Orilla has been trying to escape his past, but a phone call brings him back to Buenos Aires, where he is visited by ghosts emanating from his involvement in Argentina’s Dirty Wars in Loedel’s drama of repression, the vulnerability of youth, and guilt.
A Million Aunties. By Alecia McKenzie.2020. Akashic, $15.95 (9781617758928).
As McKenzie’s novel meanders from Alabama to New York City, the Caribbean, and Paris, diverse characters form a global family for American-born artist Chris, who travels to Jamaica, his mother’s island, to mourn for his wife, leading to a sensitive exploration of racial identity, relationships, loss, and the restorative nature of art.
NW. By Zadie Smith. 2012. Penguin, $17 (9780143123934).
In this quintessential multicultural urban novel, Smith portrays a quartet of friends leading disparate lives in North West London as she takes measure of the complexities of family relationships, friendship, marriage, class and racial divides, brutality, and succor.
Patsy. By Nicole Dennis-Benn. 2019. Norton/Liveright, $26.95 (9781631495632).
Patsy leaves her young daughter, Tru, behind in Jamaica when she goes to the U.S., hoping to reunited with her lover, Cicely, but is, instead, trapped in the terror of undocumented life, while Tru struggles with depression and her own queerness in this empathic intergenerational epic of womanhood and inheritance.
Sing, Unburied, Sing. By Jesmyn Ward. 2017. Scribner, $17 (9781501126079).
In this Mississippi odyssey of a biracial family, 13-year-old Jojo, his baby sister, and their troubled and spiritually gifted (or cursed) mother, Leonie, set out to retrieve the children’s white father from an infamous prison and are assailed by ghosts reflecting deep racial tensions.
The Water Dancer. By Ta-Nehisi Coates. 2019. Ballantine/One World, $28 (9780399590597).
Hiram Walker, the son of an enslaved woman and a slave master, survives a near-death accident that imbues him with a strange and liberating power in Coates’ profoundly imagined and psychologically and socially perceptive first novel about the atrocities of slavery and the light of human aspirations.
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