Pack your imaginary bags– yay for no TSA hassle–because thanks to these wonderful authors and narrators, we’re visiting other countries with these audiobooks set around the world.
Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel, Carol Christensen (Translation), Thomas Christensen (Translation), Yareli Arizmendi (Narrator): Tita and Pedro have declared their eternal love for each other, but Tita is the youngest daughter and tradition states her place is only to care for her mother. Pedro’s brilliant idea around this is to marry Tita’s older sister as a way to at least always be near the love of his life. As you can imagine things go south in the most dramatic fashion–and often times hilarious ways–because as it turns out, unbeknownst to Tita, the emotions one feels while cooking can effect the food and ultimately those eating it. Over the years I’ve read the original Spanish edition, English translation, watched the film, and listened to the audiobook and I’ve loved them all.
The Vegetarian by Han Kang, Deborah Smith (Translation), Janet Song (Narrator), Stephen Park (Narrator): I love dark, weird, and smart which is why this novel rang all my bells and I haven’t shut up about it since it I read it. In the U.S. we don’t think twice about anyone being a vegetarian but in South Korea Yeong-hye’s decision to no longer eat meat causes great strain in her family to the point of them thinking her mad. Told in three parts–from the point of view of her husband, brother-in-law, and sister–the main character is never truly given her own voice adding an extra layer of darkness to the novel.
The Devourers by Indra Das, Shishir Kurup (Narrator), Meera Simhan (Narrator): Kirrup and Simhan do a hell of a job narrating this very dark, brutal, and vivid story about a half-werewolf that asks a stranger in India for the favor of transcribing the tale of a shape-shifter and the woman he rapes and impregnates. Delving into the man vs monster, literally and figuratively, this was a unique take on werewolves/shape-shifters with a perfect setting and narrators.
The Expatriates by Janice Y.K. Lee, Ann Marie Lee (Narrator): A great book club pick that follows the lives of three very different women, in different stages of their lives, who are part of an expatriates community in Hong Kong. Mercy has never seemed to get anything right in life. Hilary is so desperate for a child she’s “testing out” adopting a young boy in an orphanage. Margaret is dealing with the aftermath of a tragedy. I loved each of the women for their flaws, honest representation of the messiness of life, and that they didn’t always think/feel/react the way I would have assumed.
Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty, Caroline Lee (Narrator): My favorite of Moriarty’s novels is this one because it reads like a wonderful women’s fiction wrapped around a whodunit. There’s been a murder at a school parent event that you only get glimpses of through police interviews between chapters that focus on the group of parents whose children attend *Pirriwee Public School. It’s the perfect balance of humor and real issues with the bonus of listening to an Australian accent narration. (If you like to read the book first, the HBO adapted miniseries is coming in 2017 so chop-chop.)
Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan, Lynn Chen (Narrator): By crazy rich the title means the 1% super rich, not they’re insane and rich. Apparently, no one told Rachel Chu about the super-rich part which leaves her in for a huge surprise when she decides to spend the summer in Singapore with her boyfriend. Turns out Nick is a most-wanted bachelor in Asia–have fun with that Rachel. Enter mean girls, family secrets, gossip, and of course lots of money.
The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma, Chukwudi Iwuji (Narrator): The youngest of four Nigerian brothers, nine-year-old Benjamin, narrates the story that begins with a madman in a trance foretelling Ikenna, the eldest brother’s, death. Ikenna becomes convinced that he’ll be killed by one of his siblings, sending the tight-nit family into chaos. Perfect for readers who like to have their heartbroken by a novel.
The Girl With All the Gifts by M.R. Carey, (Narrator): In the U.K., which has been devastated by a viral outbreak, Melanie is being kept in a military facility along with other orphans. All Melanie knows is the classroom, teachers, and military staff tasked with moving the kids from one daily task to the next… And yes this is narrated by the English actress Finty Williams who is Judi Denches’ daughter.
Guapa by Saleem Haddad, Fajer Al-Kaisi (Narrator): Rasa is a gay man keeping his sexuality a secret while also dealing with the political turmoil of his country (an unnamed Arab country). The novel takes place over the course of the 24 hours after he thinks his grandmother saw him with his lover. While the timeline doesn’t create any kind of urgency it does provide an interesting window into his daily life as the novel explores family, friendship, love, oppression, bigotry, racism, political turmoil, and what it means to be an Arab.
Here Comes the Sun by Nicole Dennis-Benn, Bahni Turpin (Narrator): Margot is trying her best to ensure her much younger sister Thandi has a good education and life options by not only working full-time but also secretly off hours as a prostitute. Thandi however struggles with her sister’s sacrifices which are too demanding for her when she’s yet to figure out the life she wants for herself. One of my favorite 2016 releases that dives into the poverty of the workers at high-end Jamaican hotels, family secrets, colorism, and the lengths some will go to in the hopes of creating a better life–even if that means possibly destroying themselves and the ones they love.
In the Woods (Dublin Murder Squad #1) by ,
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Adjoa Andoh (Narrator): Adichie’s beautifully written novel tackles immigration/emigration, race, and class by following Ifemelu and Obinze from their childhood love in Nigeria, to living countries apart (U.S. and London), to their return back home years later. You’ve probably heard quite a few Rioters rave about this novel over the years and if you haven’t gotten around to it yet Andoh does a gorgeous job narrating.
NW by Zadie Smith, Karen Bryson (Narrator), Don Gilet (Narrator): A tragicomedy set in Northwest London that follows the lives of four very different characters–all stuck in life in someway–including the married woman not ready for children while her husband is and the recovering drug addict. At the heart of the novel is Leah and Natalie’s friendship which seems to hinge more on their history and current circumstances than actual like and admiration for each other. Zadie Smith is a fantastic writer and Bryson and Gilet do a phenomenal job bringing her words, setting, and characters even more to life–especially, with the ease that they change dialect.
Not My Father’s Son by Alan Cumming: In his memoir Cumming relives the abuse of his childhood–including the manual labor job he was forced to have at a young age that is difficult enough for a grown man–and takes you through the events that lead up to him being on the celebrity genealogy show Who Do You Think You Are?. The show not only brought light to a long hidden family secret but forced Cumming to revisit old traumas and long ago cut ties. For all the sadness and painful memories dealt with in this memoir the personality I love Cumming’s for shines through and makes it impossible to not want to listen to in one sitting.
Yes, Chef by Marcus Samuelsson, Veronica Chambers: I’m generally a fan of memoirs and anything involving food so this was an easy choice for me. What I was not expecting was how emotionally invested I’d become in Samuelsson’s story. As an Ethiopian child adopted by a Swedish family the roots for his career as a chef started early in his childhood but his dreams and ambition were to become a soccer player. It wasn’t until that door closed for him that cooking became his path and passion. Through Samuelsson’s narration you can feel the determination that got him to where he is in a cutthroat industry and I found myself in the kitchen riddled with anxiety beside him as he did everything he could to make it.
*Originally erroneously written as a private school.