The best books set in invented places that haunt us into thinking about the world

Peter Gadol Author Of The Stranger Game
By Peter Gadol

The Books I Picked & Why

The Childhood of Jesus

By J.M. Coetzee

Book cover of The Childhood of Jesus

Why this book?

In conjuring a nation's refugees and writing in his typically austere style, the South African Nobelist JM Coetzee asks us to reflect on our current world with all of its harsh and maddening disparities. In three novels, Coetzee tells a fable-like story of one charismatic boy who can never be understood, never followed, never appreciated fully for his wisdom. Coetzee’s distillation of everyday suffering is haunting, yet ultimately cathartic.

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By José Saramago

Book cover of Blindness

Why this book?

One day an entire nation starts to go blind in Saramago’s unyielding narrative of human brutality amid anarchy. As in other novels by the Portuguese Nobelist, it would seem the author is writing about the Iberian peninsula—but the city descending into chaos could be Los Angeles, Lagos, or London. And like Coetzee, Saramago finds beauty in survival and unusual acts of kindness.

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Those Who Knew

By Idra Novey

Book cover of Those Who Knew

Why this book?

Doubling as both a political thriller and political satire, and set on an unnamed, maybe South American island, Idra Novey’s novel about a corrupt senator stars powerful women who are determined to uncover a past sexual assault and possible murder, ultimately speaking truth to power.

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How Beautiful We Were

By Imbolo Mbue

Book cover of How Beautiful We Were

Why this book?

The Cameroonian-American author Imbolo Mbue writes about an oil-rich African nation that avails itself to corruption and ecological disaster when it welcomes an American petrochemical company to conduct business freely. The novel focusses on one village and an often futile attempts to resist, with one young woman rising to international fame—but it also tells the too common story of how corporations succeed in bending an entire people to their will with wickedly false promises

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What Happens at Night

By Peter Cameron

Book cover of What Happens at Night

Why this book?

Anyone who reads one Peter Cameron book will read them all. In his latest novel, a married couple ends up at a grand hotel in a strange European country of fading glory, amid guests who are both eccentric and troubling. At times it’s hard to know whether what is happening is really happening; at times it’s all too acid and real. I hesitate to call this book a comedy, because it’s unsettling. But it’s also magical and memorable, and you won’t want to check out and depart its pages.

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