1. The Poet X, Elizabeth Acevedo
Elizabeth Acevedo is a New York Times bestselling author, with a BA in Performing Arts from The George Washington University and an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Maryland. Her lyrical novel, The Poet X, is a series of poems, almost diary-entries, really. Beautifully poignant, and in intentional verse, The Poet X tells the story of Xiomara Batista, a young girl in Harlem who discovers the comfort and power of slam poetry. She uses the form as a way of grappling with her mother's religion, their culture, her twin, crushes and love. The denouement is skillful, and feels complete. The rhythm, pace and structure of the narrative and each individual poem unfolds with poise.
2. Spaceman of Bohemia, Jaroslav Kalfař
The sci-fi novel Spaceman of Bohemia is a compelling read, and takes it shape in atmospheric, transitory waves; from the vast blankness of outer space to inner monologue of the brain, Spaceman of Bohemia follows the movements and memories of Czech Republic's first independent astronaut Jakub Procházka, who is sent on a solo mission to collect composites of "intergalactic dust" from Cloud Chopra, near the planet Venus. Because no other country is willing to risk a mission, Czechia believes this is her moment to re-establish her identitty in the aftermath of World War II and the Velvet Revolution. The novel begins:
'With JanHus1 lie our hopes of new sovereignty and prosperity, for we are now among the explorers of the universe. We look away from our past, in which we were claimed by others, in which our language was nearly eradicated, in which Europe covered its eyes and ears as its very heart was stolen and brutalised. It is not only our science and technology traveling through this vacuum; it is our humanity, in the form of Jakub Procházka, the first spaceman of Boehmia, who will carry the soul of the republic to the stars. Today, we finally and absolutely claim ourselves as our own,' p. 7.
During the journey, Jakub befriends arachnid Hanuš (the chaotic membrane of his thoughts), who questions his motivates for becoming an astronaut. Both human and creature wonder whether it has ever been possible to exist truly and completely for and as one's own. Themes of redemption and inheritance reoccur throughout the novel, specifically in relation to identity and loss.
This was one of my favourite books from 2021, highly recommend! The prose is defined. The language, bodily and inventive. The characters articulate complex, often impalpable feelings, with a great amount of self-awareness.
3. To The Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf
To The Lighthouse is one of those luminescent novels that I've always wondered about. In University, I read commentary about the theme: the lighthouse representing each character's deepest desire. Published in 1927, the novel centres on the Ramsay family and two subsequent visits to the Isle of Skye in Scotland between 1910 and 1920, with an interlude for the passing of a decade. To The Lighthouse includes little dialogue, but considered, philosophical introspection. Memory, reflection and momentary emotions drive the narrative. To The Lighthouse is a significant work, named No. 15 on the list of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th Century in 1998. I was initially uncertain with Woolf's writing; the language felt tedious and burdened, but over time, her rhythmic style shone through innovative and clean. Highly recommend!