The best books on horrible years

The Books I Picked & Why

A Journal of the Plague Year

By Daniel Defoe

A Journal of the Plague Year

Why this book?

Paranoia, hatred of the Other, animosity toward all intellectuals, minorities, and dissidents — these sentiments spread like a disease in Turkey over 2017. In Daniel Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year the plague spreads with similar ruthlessness while the eyewitness account provides an anchor for readers. It’s an intense, focused, and yet detached chronicle. Defoe’s book was my template while writing The Lion and the Nightingale.


When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

The Year of Magical Thinking

By Joan Didion

The Year of Magical Thinking

Why this book?

An episode in this magisterial book returned to me while writing The Lion and the Nightingale in late 2017. John Gregory Dunne, her husband of thirty-nine years, has died from a heart attack on December 30, 2003, and Joan Didion recalls refusing to give away his shoes, in the sad hope that he might return. The precision of Didion’s language, her analysis of grief, and navigation of uncharted territories after a great loss, inspired me. Sensible people in Turkey also fantasised about a return of their liberties in a year of ceaseless oppression. They had lost things dear to them: human rights, dignity, joy. By remaining muted they hoped to retrieve them. It didn’t work.


When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

My Year of Rest and Relaxation

By Ottessa Moshfegh

My Year of Rest and Relaxation

Why this book?

The year is 2000. Our narrator has lost her parents in her senior year to cancer and suicide. All she wants is to sleep. Her apathetic state is familiar to Turkey’s citizens. Throughout 2017, similar sentiments—resentment, cynicism, inaction—defined our psyche. Moshfegh‘s year ends with a terror attack. Ours started with one.


When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Darkness at Noon

By Arthur Koestler

Darkness at Noon

Why this book?

Set during Moscow Show Trials in 1938, this chilling novel by Arthur Koestler chronicles the purging of intellectuals and politicians in the Communist Party. Stalin used these trials to strengthen his one-man role, setting a pattern for future autocrats. 


When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

One of Us: The Story of a Massacre in Norway -- And Its Aftermath

By Åsne Seierstad, Sarah Death

One of Us: The Story of a Massacre in Norway -- And Its Aftermath

Why this book?

2011 was the most violent year in Norway’s history. A bomb, detonated in central Oslo, killed eight people; a massacre on the island of Utøya a few hours later killed sixty-nine more. This book tells that day’s horrors by interweaving sociology, history, and psychology, looking at the weeks and months that surrounded the tragedy. One of Us was an inspiration behind the opening chapter of The Lion and the Nightingale where I tried to recreate the movements of the mass murderer during the Reina nightclub attack on January 1, 2017.


When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Closely Related Book Lists

Distantly Related Book Lists

Random Book Lists