The best memoirs which help us understand the world

Why am I passionate about this?

For The Oxford Times, I wrote the lives of 120 inspirational people from five continents. My 3 novels are inspired by real lives including the charity founder Nancy Mudenyo Hunt and the artist Qu Leilei, the hero of Andy Cohen’s film Beijing Spring. Stories of 30 not-famous choir members in I Love you All show that we are each unique. My memoir has a particular purpose. I dug deep into my life and my husband Atam’s to reveal the intersection of gender class and race—the barriers that shaped my life and how Atam and I tried to transcend them.


I wrote...

Food of Love: Cooking Up a Life Across Gender, Class and Race

By Sylvia Vetta,

Book cover of Food of Love: Cooking Up a Life Across Gender, Class and Race

What is my book about?

Food of Love serves up a story simmered in a cauldron of class, race, gender, and culture spiced with a diversity of recipes supplied with hope. This memoir is also about Sylvia’s Indian-born refugee husband, the mathematical geneticist, Atam Vetta. A working-class girl becomes middle class but her experience of women in business in Oxford, 1983-1998, is one of exclusion and casual misogyny. Sylvia describes her life lived at the intersection of gender, class, and race, with verve and humour. It has glowing endorsements from historian Rana Mitter, journalist Yasmin Alibhai Brown, Professor of Education Jane Spiro, and Flair Donglai Shi, Ass. Professor of World Literature, Shanghai.  

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China

Sylvia Vetta Why did I love this book?

In 1966, I bought a copy of Mao’s Little Red Book which sold all over the world but, like almost everyone in the West, I had no idea of the brutal reality of the Cultural Revolution. In 1991, Jung Chang’s memoir took the world by storm and we could feel that reality. It is not just her story but also that of her grandmother and mother. That is the joy of memoir in all its variety. I later got to know an artist friend of Chang’s called Qu Leilei. Unlike her, Leilei and his family were at the heart of events in Beijing. Similarly, it was Leilei’s untold story that made me want to write a novel inspired by him.

By Jung Chang,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked Wild Swans as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Few books have had such an impact as Wild Swans: a popular bestseller which has sold more than 13 million copies and a critically acclaimed history of China; a tragic tale of nightmarish cruelty and an uplifting story of bravery and survival.

Through the story of three generations of women in her own family - the grandmother given to the warlord as a concubine, the Communist mother and the daughter herself - Jung Chang reveals the epic history of China's twentieth century.

Breathtaking in its scope, unforgettable in its descriptions, this is a masterpiece which is extraordinary in every way.


Book cover of Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood

Sylvia Vetta Why did I love this book?

Trevor is famous for hosting the influential The Daily Show in the USA and has also hosted the Grammies and the White House Correspondents dinner. How could that be possible after being ‘born a crime’? In the eighties, at a PTA dinner, a South African visitor suddenly realised that my husband is not white and she explained that our marriage would be illegal under Apartheid. That is why Trevor was ‘born a crime’ because he is the son of a Black African lady and a white man. I’m biased but I see diverse heritage as a positive despite the prejudice and obstacles that can make lives difficult. Trevor is the epitome of that. 

By Trevor Noah,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked Born a Crime as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

WINNER OF THE THURBER PRIZE

The compelling, inspiring, (often comic) coming-of-age story of Trevor Noah, set during the twilight of apartheid and the tumultuous days of freedom that followed.

One of the comedy world's brightest new voices, Trevor Noah is a light-footed but sharp-minded observer of the absurdities of politics, race and identity, sharing jokes and insights drawn from the wealth of experience acquired in his relatively young life. As host of the US hit show The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, he provides viewers around the globe with their nightly dose of biting satire, but here Noah turns his…


Book cover of Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance

Sylvia Vetta Why did I love this book?

Even more famous a son of a mixed relationship, this time a Black Kenyan man and a white American woman, is Barack Obama. His father met her while on a scholarship to the USA but abandoned her and his son when he returned to Kenya in 1964 and became a senior economist in the Kenyan Ministry of Finance. I researched his life when writing Not so Black and White with co-author, Nancy Mudenyo Hunt, who is also of Luo ancestry. Her father attended Obama’s funeral. This memoir is testimony to the struggle of children of mixed heritage to decide on their identity. I find it sad that the young Obama is usually identified by the father who left him and not by his mother who cherished him. 

By Barack Obama,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Dreams from My Father as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • ONE OF ESSENCE’S 50 MOST IMPACTFUL BLACK BOOKS OF THE PAST 50 YEARS

In this iconic memoir of his early days, Barack Obama “guides us straight to the intersection of the most serious questions of identity, class, and race” (The Washington Post Book World).
 
“Quite extraordinary.”—Toni Morrison 
 
In this lyrical, unsentimental, and compelling memoir, the son of a black African father and a white American mother searches for a workable meaning to his life as a black American. It begins in New York, where Barack Obama learns that his father—a figure he knows more…


Book cover of Call the Midwife

Sylvia Vetta Why did I love this book?

I was born in my parent’s house which, like all in our area, had no central heating. That was the reality of giving birth in the forties and fifties in England. Jennifer’s memoir of midwifery in working-class Poplar, in the docklands of London, gave rise to one of the most popular TV series. The BBC has taken the story beyond Jennifer’s memoir but the tone is the same. The TV series, like the book, tackles difficult social, cultural, and economic issues, with insight, compassion, and humour. I aimed to tackle issues of class, gender, and race in my memoir in a similar tone.

By Jennifer Worth,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Call the Midwife as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The highest-rated drama in BBC history, Call the Midwife will delight fans of Downton Abbey

Viewers everywhere have fallen in love with this candid look at post-war London. In the 1950s, twenty-two-year-old Jenny Lee leaves her comfortable home to move into a convent and become a midwife in London's East End slums. While delivering babies all over the city, Jenny encounters a colorful cast of women—from the plucky, warm-hearted nuns with whom she lives, to the woman with twenty-four children who can't speak English, to the prostitutes of the city's seedier side.

An unfortgettable story of motherhood, the bravery of…


Book cover of Greetings from Bury Park: Race. Religion. Rock 'n' Roll

Sylvia Vetta Why did I love this book?

When I grew up in Luton, to cross the path of anyone who wasn’t white was rare. When Pakistan-born Safraz moved there, in 1974, the population of the industrial town was changing rapidly. Safraz’s memoir recounts with poignant humour, the effects of racism but also the friendships and the MUSIC! It’s been turned into a moving film Blinded by the Light by Gurinder Chadha. Prejudice is not white – it is human. Safraz married Bridget, a union initially disapproved of by his mother and siblings because she was a non-Muslim white woman.

By Sarfraz Manzoor,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Greetings from Bury Park as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Sarfraz Manzoor was two years old when his family emigrated from Pakistan to join his father in Bury Park, Luton. His teenage years were a constant battle to reconcile being both British and Muslim. But when his best friend introduced him to Bruce Springsteen, his life changed for ever. In this affectionate and timely memoir, Manzoor retraces his journey from the frustrations of his childhood to his reaction to the tragedies of 9/11 and 7/7. Original, darkly tender and wryly amusing, this is an inspiring tribute to the power of music to transcend race and religion and a moving account…


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Api's Berlin Diaries: My Quest to Understand My Grandfather's Nazi Past

By Gabrielle Robinson,

Book cover of Api's Berlin Diaries: My Quest to Understand My Grandfather's Nazi Past

Gabrielle Robinson Author Of Api's Berlin Diaries: My Quest to Understand My Grandfather's Nazi Past

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Retired english professor

Gabrielle's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

Gabrielle found her grandfather’s diaries after her mother’s death, only to discover that he had been a Nazi. Born in Berlin in 1942, she and her mother fled the city in 1945, but Api, the one surviving male member of her family, stayed behind to work as a doctor in a city 90% destroyed.

Gabrielle retraces Api’s steps in the Berlin of the 21st century, torn between her love for the man who gave her the happiest years of her childhood and trying to come to terms with his Nazi membership, German guilt, and political responsibility.

Api's Berlin Diaries: My Quest to Understand My Grandfather's Nazi Past

By Gabrielle Robinson,

What is this book about?

"This is not a book I will forget any time soon."
Story Circle Book Reviews

Moving and provocative, Api's Berlin Diaries offers a personal perspective on the fall of Berlin 1945 and the far-reaching aftershocks of the Third Reich.

After her mother's death, Robinson was thrilled to find her beloved grandfather's war diaries-only to discover that he had been a Nazi.

The award-winning memoir shows Api, a doctor in Berlin, desperately trying to help the wounded in cellars without water or light. He himself was reduced to anxiety and despair, the daily diary his main refuge. As Robinson retraces Api's…


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