The greatest literature released this year took us on a wide range of trips — there were long, physical journeys across countries and continents, as well as one on foot through the wild forests.
There were also long, agonising journeys to find answers regarding love and grief. The destination was frequently less significant in these works than the lessons learned along the route. From a bored Berlin copywriter who follows a K-pop singer to Seoul to a teenager escaping a colonial settlement, these characters were all looking for something, whether it was a chance at safety, a feeling of purpose, or a chance to finally return home.
Their journeys were inspiring, courageous, and at times painful. Here are the top ten fiction books of 2023 as per Time.
Teju Cole's first novel in over a decade has a protagonist who shares many parallels with the author. The astute, like Cole, Tunde is a Nigerian-American photographer and artist who teaches at a top institution in New England.
Tremor begins in Maine, when Tunde goes antique hunting with his wife Sadako, musing about colonialism in relation to the artifacts he observes. Tunde is always tying together the loose ends of the history that surrounds him, pondering how the past has affected the world.
Tremor foregoes a standard narrative framework in order to study anything from how Americans see art to how a marriage can slowly crumble.
Esther Yi's provocative debut couldn't be more timely in an age when parasocial connections are on the rise. Y/N opens with an unknown narrator who lives in Berlin and works as a copywriter for an artichoke business.
She spends a lot of her time in her brain and online, where she creates fan fiction about a prominent K-pop diva named Moon. When the real-life Moon unexpectedly announces her retirement, the young woman feels forced to leave everything behind and travel to Seoul in quest of the guy she considers her soulmate. What follows is a caustic and insightful critique of online culture.
Paul Yoon's third short-story collection covers decades of the Korean diaspora, with each story focusing on ordinary individuals navigating what it means to belong and questioning how much of their identities are tangled up in communal history. There's an ex-con trying to make sense of the world, a Cold War-era maid yearning for the kid she left behind in North Korea, and a couple living in the United Kingdom whose calm lives are disrupted by the entrance of a youngster at their corner shop. Yoon examines the stories of persons who have odds ties with their families, and she investigates how trauma may persist in the most unexpected ways.
Don't be fooled by Ann Patchett's latest novel's locale. Yes, it's the spring of 2020, and her characters are under COVID-19 quarantine, but this isn't a pandemic tale.
Tom Lake is set in Michigan, where Lara and her husband are relishing the rare opportunity to live with their three adult kids once more.
There, while the family spends their days caring for their cherry trees, Lara finally tells her daughters the story they've been waiting to hear: how, as a young adult, she fell in love with a guy who went on to become a movie star.
Aaliyah Bilal's collection of ten stories looks at the lives of Black Muslims in America. In one, a daughter is visited by the spirit of her father while she prepares his eulogy, and the ghost causes her to doubt her father's dedication to Islam. In another, an undercover FBI agent discovers surprising sympathy for the Nation of Islam.
Parents and their children learn about the limitations and potential of faith throughout. The end product is a compilation of diverse stories about freedom and belonging.
Lauren Groff's tale begins with a young, unidentified girl fleeing her 17th-century colonial village. She's starving and freezing, has no idea where she's going, and is continually on the edge of collapsing. But, somehow, she finds the strength to keep going. In Groff's classic adventure story, the girl faces physical and emotional dangers while exploring the woods, all while believing that there is a life worth living on the other side.
The four members of the struggling Barnes family are followed in Paul Murray's home drama when an economic crisis throws patriarch Dickie's automobile business into bankruptcy. The once-functional team is coming apart as they feel the press of approaching disaster encircle them. Dickie's wife Imelda has grown preoccupied with selling her possessions on eBay, their teenage daughter Cass is drinking instead of preparing for final exams, and their preadolescent son PJ is talking to a stranger he met online. Murray investigates what it means to love and be loved on a planet that appears to be on the verge of extinction.
A little kid and his father embark on a scary road trip in Mariana Enriquez's engrossing story, translated from the original Spanish by Megan McDowell. The boy's mother has recently died under unexplained circumstances, and the couple is travelling across Argentina to confront members of the Order, the cult into which she was born. The Order is comprised of affluent families willing to go to any length to acquire immortality. And the youngster could have the abilities they're seeking, which leaves him susceptible.
It's 1972, and a skeleton has just been discovered in Pottstown, Pennsylvania. The mystery of who the bones belong to—and how they ended there at the bottom of a well—draws James McBride's story back decades to a period when the neighborhood's Black and Jewish residents banded together to keep a kid from being institutionalised. McBride weaves a stunning drama about prejudice, family, and religion as he connects the two tales.
The fictitious writer and artist X, one of the twentieth century's most recognised talents, is at the heart of Catherine Lacey's novel. Despite her enormous popularity, most of her past is unknown; not even X's wife CM knows her true identity. When X passes away, CM is enraged by an incorrect biography of her late wife.
As a result, she resolves to compose her own. The mystery of X's identity is only the beginning of this bold novel that mixes fiction and nonfiction to call into question the purpose of art itself.
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