NOTE: Every six months or so, I like to check to see what are the most popular reviews on this site, and I’m always surprised by how many of the most-read reviews are for classics, rather than for more recent books. This year is different, however. Numbers 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 10 are new to this list.
- Jo Nesbo, The Redeemer, originally posted Feb. 8, 2011, has been #1 on this list for five years, with approximately double the number of hits as any other review. Nesbo is a Norwegian author and musician. The persistence of this review as #1 comes always as a surprise, as it is not my favorite Nesbo novel, and I don’t understand why it is so popular. (My favorite novel in the Harry Hole series is The Redbreast.
- Anthony Doerr, All the Light We Cannot See, review originally posted on Dec. 11, 2014. This was also #2 last year. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2014, it is set in the final days of World War II in St. Malo, France.
- J. M. G. LeClezio, The Prospector, review originally posted on Jan. 19, 2012. This book was #7 last year. It is an adventure story and coming-of-age story, a treasure hunt, and an exploration of culture, set in Mauritius. LeClezio, a French author, was winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2008.
- Kim Thuy, author of Ru, is a Vietnamese-born Canadian author, and a NEW author on this list. Originally posted on Nov. 19, 2012, the review of this novel reveals the story of a family of Vietnamese “boat people,” much like herself, telling of their travels from Saigon to a refugee camp, and eventually Canada, alternating moments of great poignancy and sadness with lovely and loving stories that reveal character and a sense of adventure.
- Alan Bennett, The Lady in the Van, NEW to the list this year. Review posted on July 21, 2015. The novel reflects the kindness of British author/playwright Bennett toward a homeless woman who lives in a dilapidated van without water or plumbing. She quickly takes over the author’s driveway “temporarily,” and stays for fifteen years.
- Jo Nesbo, Midnight Sun. Review posted originally on Feb. 28, 2016. NEW to the list. The second of a new style for Nesbo, this novel is more compressed (fewer than three hundred pages), and far more introspective than his longer thrillers. With a more limited scope, the reader comes to know the main character more fully than in his longer, more action-driven novels. I like this new style better than the older, more violent style.
- Anthony Marra, The Tsar of Love and Techno. Review posted originally on November 3, 2015. NEW to the list. A collection of interrelated short stories and repeating characters, the book is set in Russia during the period that begins after the death of Lenin and progresses through the regimes of Stalin, Krushchev, Brezhnev, and Gorbachev, up to the fall of Communism in 1990.
- Helon Habila, Waiting for an Angel. This book was published in 2003 and reviewed here on July 12, 2011. NEW to the list. Set in Nigeria in the 1990s, when the country was a police state with sadistic violence and human rights abuses. The main character, Lomba, is a journalist who has been in jail for two years without a trial. Gradually, the reader comes to know him and his hopes and dreams. Habila’s novel is a powerful defense of the freedom of the press and a celebration of the lives of those courageous writers who have refused to be silenced.
- Edmund De Waal, The Hare With Amber Eyes. Originally posted on July 30, 2012. #5 on the list last year. Non-fiction story of the author’s family heritage for the past three generations, from the end of the 19th century in Russia to the present, as they go from unimaginable wealth, with which they helped support the greatest of the French impressionists, to the loss of all their paintings and possessions in Austria during World War II. All that has remained is a collection of small Japanese ivory netsukes, saved by the author’s great uncle. Inspiring story.
- Magda Szabo, The Door. Review posted on January 19, 2016. NEW to the list. Originally written in 1995, this book has recently been translated into English and published by New York Review Books. Written by one of Hungary’s most celebrated authors, the novel lays bare Szabo’s values and her soul in this rich and intensely intimate examination of the relationship between a character named Magdushka, a writer whose point of view controls this novel, and Emerence, her housekeeper-servant.
Two of these ten reviews were posted five years ago – in 2011 – Jo Nesbo’s The Redeemer and Helon Habila’s Waiting for an Angel. Nesbo’s book has been on my list of Most Popular Reviews each year since 2011. Habila’s book has taken a longer route and is new to the list this year, despite the time that has elapsed since the book was first published in 2003 and its review here in 2011.
Books that were on this list last year but which have now been replaced by NEW books this year are:
The Lost Books of the Odyssey by Zachary Taylor, #3 on the list last year. A modern retelling of the Odyssey, the review contains a link to a map of Odysseus’s journey, popular, perhaps with students.
The Hero of Currie Road by Alan Paton, #4 last year. This book is a complete collection of Paton’s short stories, published by Random House South Africa, and is not readily available in the US. Still, it has been on the “Most Popular” list for several years, until now.
The Artificial Silk Girl by Irmgard Keun, #6 last year. Originally published in Germany in 1932 and then banned, this book was newly discovered in the 1970s and translated into English last year.
Piaf: A Passionate Life by David Bret, #8 last year. Outstanding biography of the Little Sparrow.
Kartography by Kamila Shamsie, set in Pakistan, #9 last year.
The Art of Hearing Heartbeats by Jan Philipp Sendker, #10 last year. Set in Burma/Myanmar.