The pandemic has done a number on my writing—I have not been able to concentrate at all, my motivation out the window. Thankfully, I have been able to read and read voraciously: classics I never had time for (Middlemarch dragged on like molasses, Moby Dick shocked me with its final image), classic I am rereading (The Magic Mountain, The Odyssey, The Plague), a really, really bad thriller (recommended—what a shock!—by The New York Times), two beach reads (didn’t finish either), and many others. But there have also been several amazing new authors that I have discovered and would love to share.
The first is Natalie Bakopoulos, a young Greek-American writer. Her sophomore novel, Scorpionfish, is set in Athens circa 2015 and the city itself becomes a character in the novel. We gawk at the street art of the anarchist Exarchia district, we revel in tavernas thrumming with bouzuki, we visit a museum with a visual art exhibit stunning in its scope. It is not the Athens of tourists, but the living and breathing (or rather heaving) Athens of a populace struggling with the financial crisis, the influx of refugees, casual and thus that much more malevolent Greek nationalism/neo-Nazism, and tight living quarters. This kaleidoscopic, bracing background showcases a profound exploration of loss (of love, of one’s parents, of a life-long career, of health). From Tin House Publishers just this year.
The other, whose second novel I am still in the midst of reading yet already besotted with, is Chigozie Obioma. An Orchestra of Minorities, like his first—The Fishermen— was a finalist for the International Man Booker Prize. Even though I haven’t finished it, I can already recommend this multilayered tour de force written in the most prodigious language where high lyricism mingles with the Nigerian dialect. Based on traditional Igbo beliefs, it is narrated by the main character’s chi, a guardian spirit, who is pleading his host’s—an Igbo poultry farmer’s—case to Chukwu, the highest god of the Igbo cosmology. I don’t know what the main character has done to require this intercession, but whatever it might be, I will find out. This 500-plus page book reads like a dream and keeps the reader captivated with its voice, its mythology, and the heartbreak at the centre of the story.
Margaret Nowaczyk is a pediatrician-geneticist and a short story writer living in Hamilton, ON. Her memoir about working in the medical profession is due out in 2021 with Wolsak&Wynn.