• Henry Holt and Co.
Reading Group Gold
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The Civilized World



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Five Books Susi Wyss Can't Live Without

Susi Wyss, author of The Civilized World

• A Few Short Notes on Tropical Butterflies
by John Murray

The stories in this collection are powerful and dense—each one reads like a novel that's been condensed into a story. The settings range from India to the United States, the Himalayan mountains to the Rwandan border. John Murray doesn't go easy on his characters—they struggle and suffer and usually, though not always, survive. For me, the best books are those that make me think and feel, and this one does just that. He has also mastered one of the most challenging aspects of writing short stories: finding the right ending. Each time I reached one of his perfect endings, I had to pause and make sure I hadn't stopped breathing.

• Breath, Eyes, Memory
by Edwidge Danticat

This book—about a Haitian girl who moves to the United States to be with her mother whom she hardly knows—also sticks in my mind as one that made me both think and feel. The lyrical quality of Edwidge Danticat's writing and the surprising, quiet moments of light make this book one I've reread several times. Moreover, I greatly admire how adeptly she renders dialogue in English when her characters are speaking in a different language. Without resorting to stilted direct translations, she nevertheless subtly makes it clear that the characters aren't actually speaking in English.

• Swimming in the Congo
by Margaret Meyers

I originally fell in love with this collection of short stories because the setting—1960's Congo—reminded me in many ways of my Peace Corps years in the neighboring Central African Republic. Since the stories are told from the point of view of a child, the daughter of an agricultural missionary, the narrator doesn't "exoticize" her African surroundings. Instead, the stories are first and foremost about growing up and trying to make sense of a complicated world.

• Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood
by Alexandra Fuller

In this memoir about growing up in Zimbabwe, Malawi, and Zambia, Alexandra Fuller's writing is both poetic and visceral. Because she doesn't glorify anything—including her parents' drinking, the death of three siblings, even the African landscape—this book is a raw, heart-split-open narrative that held me hostage from the very first chapter.

• Aya
by Marguerite Abouet and Clément Oubrerie

In this graphic novel set in 1970s' Abidjan, the title character, Aya, is an adolescent girl more focused on her studies than chasing boys—much to the disappointment of her girlfriends, who resort to boy-chasing machinations that result in bittersweet comedy rather than true romance. Although this book shows a different world than the expatriate lifestyle I led in Abidjan during the same decade, I couldn't help but feel nostalgia for the "Ivoirian Miracle" years—before the current political and economic tribulations.