What We’re Reading: August

Leela —
Fever by Jonathan Bazzi

I recently picked up Fever by Jonathan Bazzi, and was engaged from the first page. Translated from Italian, Fever is autofiction and Bazzi’s debut novel. It begins when Jonathan, a 31 year old university student and yoga teacher, becomes sick with a fever. The fatigue slowly prevents them from living a normal life, until they rely on their boyfriend and receive incessant calls from their concerned mother. Interspersed with their current experiences are memories of their working-class childhood with teenage parents, and an extended network of grandparents, aunts, uncles, and neighbours. Jonathan’s life is full of tensions around class and culture, and they increasingly face homophobia. Finally, in present day, Jonathan receives a diagnosis; they are HIV-positive. At first diagnosis is a relief, but Jonathan continues to obsess over the lines between illness and health, mind and body, and family and self.

Bazzi presents such a generous and honest account of a life that I felt I knew Jonathan. I will certainly keep thinking about this book. 

Annie —
Trespasses by Louise Kennedy

Recently I had the chance to catch up on my reading while on holiday in Tasmania, and I got through some wonderful books. The first was a complicated love story set during the Troubles in Ireland in the 1980s. Trespasses follows Cushla, a young Catholic school teacher, as she begins a secret relationship with Michael — older, married and Protestant.

The writing is delightfully spare and wryly funny, encapsulating the ways that life goes on even during times of immense upheaval. Cushla is a complex, strong-willed character who is reeling in the turmoil around her and trying to do the right thing by her young students and her family. Readers of Sally Rooney and Anna Burns will enjoy this well-crafted novel.

The Sorcerer of Pyongyang by Marcel Theroux 
The premise of this novel pulled me in immediately: in 1990s North Korea, a young boy happens upon the rulebook for a game of Dungeons & Dragons and carries it with him into adulthood. I fell in love with the character of Jun-su and his family as they navigated life under the rule of the Dear Leader during the Arduous March (a long drought).

The book is very well researched, so much so that at the end I was convinced this was based on the life of a real person. It is not necessarily one person’s story, but Theroux has conducted interviews with several North Korean expatriates to encompass all sides of their obscured history. 

Joan by Katherine J Chen
I’ve been excited to sell this book since I read it several months ago. Joan is a reimagining of the life of Joan d’Arc in a similar manner to Hilary Mantel’s historical fiction. Chen brings us right into the smells and sounds 15th Century France, and from the opening scene of a violent battle between the children of two neighbouring villages, I was gripped.

We follow Joan from her childhood up to her famous battles and come to understand her as a person rather than a figurehead. Her strength of character and refusal to obey the expectations of society continue to impress me long after reading.