The four shortlisted books for this year’s Summer Reading Group all had highly original writing styles and structures, making each one of them a treat to read despite some serious themes, such as racism, trauma, and death. After an in-depth discussion on each of them, “The Promise” was voted Best Summer Read by a majority of readers.
“The Promise” by Damon Galgut (South Africa) was chosen as Best Summer Read 2022.
Set on a farm outside Pretoria, this is a story about an Afrikaner family that spans four decades from the 1980s to the 2010s. The family consists of Manie, his wife Rachel, and their three children Anton, Astrid, and Amor. Readers described this as a beautifully written book, albeit depressing, that really flowed. They loved how, within each of the four parts, the story weaves and winds seamlessly between the different characters. Readers felt how historically heavy it was as it deals with deep and dark subjects, both on a family and societal level. They got a strong sense of the impact of trauma throughout the years. One reader pointed out the notable absence of black voices, which he felt reflected the reality of a Dutch/Boer perspective. Another reader said it reminded her of the situation in Australia and its indigenous people.
“Of Women and Salt” by Gabriela Garcia (Cuba) is a heavily packed first novel spanning four generations of Cuban and Mexican women, starting in a cigar factory in Camagüey in the mid 19th century, up to the present-day Cuban community in Miami and a detention centre in Texas. Readers found this an easy read despite its triggering elements. They loved the narrative of inherited trauma, finding it highly perceptive, and the resilience of the women. They also described it as a portrayal in normal tones of the barbarity of the immigration system in the US. Some readers didn’t like the timeline with its changing narratives jumping back and forward between past and present. One reader said it was the most emotionally perturbing book of the four.
“The Cabinet” by Un-Su Kim (South Korea), which won the Munhakdongne Novel Award, South Korea’s most prestigious literary prize, is a surreal story about a bored office worker whose life becomes less mundane when he discovers the contents of a filing cabinet. Most readers enjoyed this book and, although some found it boring and uneventful to start with, they all agreed that it grew on them as they got into it. They warmed to the protagonist describing him as kind and caring. Some readers loved all the unique stories about the human mutations, which they thought believable. Others felt it was too farfetched to be credible. Readers described it as funny, quirky and ambiguous.
“Mrs Death Misses Death” by Salena Godden (U.K.) was chosen as Nicola’sCoup de Cœur Summer 2022. Set in London and elsewhere, this highly original debut novel gives readers a truly original image of death. It combines different narrative forms keeping readers from slipping into complacency and inviting them to reflect on the trio of time, death and life. There were mixed feelings about this book with some readers finding it difficult to read, whereas others said it was their favourite. Some struggled with the changing writing styles; others loved the poetry, the prose and the songs. Readers felt it was an ambitious novel with profound and meaningful parts. They found it both heavy and light, filled with comedy and tragedy, and philosophical. Nicola loved the insights, the idea of talking about death without fear, and said that much of it resonated with her.