I’m about to prove the old adage is true that good things do come in small packages. In fact, GREAT things come in small packages because I’m going to review three extraordinary books by a couple of brilliant authors. Each of these books masterfully conveys an epic story, all in under 200 pages!
33. Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel García Márquez
I’ve become obsessed with Gabriel García Márquez after reading his Collected Stories and his phenomenal One Hundred Years of Solitude. Chronicle of a Death Foretold is another brilliantly written work. Shortly after their wedding, a bride is returned to her family in disgrace due to being impure. Forced to name her first lover, the bride’s twin brothers announce their intention to murder Santiago Nasar for dishonoring their sister. The narrator interviews several of the town’s residents in order to understand how the murder took place. Why didn’t anyone intervene and try to stop it from happening?
Rather than a traditional murder mystery, García Márquez has given us something that is quite different. We already know the identities of the murderers and when the act occurs. This is a story that portrays the shame of a society who let the murder happen. Through a series of interviews, the narrator puts the pieces of that fateful day together in a gripping work that does not fully come together until the final page.
34. When the Emperor was Divine by Julie Otsuka
In this lean and heartbreaking first novel, Julie Otsuka tells a story about one of the darkest times in American history. After seeing a sign at the post office, a woman returns home and methodically packs her family’s belongings. Like thousands of other Japanese Americans, the family has been uprooted from their home and sent to a camp in the Utah desert.
In order to make this story a personal one, the narrator from each chapter is a different member of this one specific family. Otsuka brilliantly never refers to any of the characters by name, illustrating their complete loss of identity. She conveys the exact emotional texture of their experience from the barbed-wire fences to the omnipresent fear and loneliness.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading When the Emperor was Divine for its unique writing style. I liked that Julie Otsuka came out and exposed all the “hidden truths” that happened to Japanese-Americans during this time. This work is a fresh take on one of the most shameful periods of American history.
35. The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka
The fact that I immediately read her second novel speaks to how much I love the writing of Julie Otsuka. The Buddha in the Attic tells the story of a group of young Japanese women brought to America as picture brides at the turn of the century. In eight unforgettable chapters, this books traces the extraordinary lives of these women, from the difficult journey by boat, to the frightening first nights as new wives, to their experiences raising children who would ultimately reject their culture and language. Otsuka crafts a unique novel that is at once beautiful yet emotionally devastating.
Once again, this book is written in such a unique writing style. Devoid of specific character names, Otsuka attempts to capture the feelings of an entire group through using “we” to tell the story rather than “I.” The language is simple but raw, packed with so much emotion. Despite being another slim book, it is definitely one that weighs on your soul. I believe these should be the types of books we should have been reading in our history classes in high school. Both works by Otsuka are relevant to this time where racism plays a part in society and how that reflects on our government and what they do about it.
Do yourself a favor and read at least one of these books. Better yet, read all three! They are all heartbreaking in their brilliance.
“We forgot about Buddha. We forgot about God. We developed a coldness inside us that still has not thawed. I fear my soul has died.We stopped writing home to our mothers. We lost weight and grew thin. We stopped bleeding. We stopped dreaming. We stopped wanting.”-The Buddha in the Attic
Have you read any of these books? I’d love to know your thoughts! Let me know with a comment below.