A standout year for fiction: a selection of 2022’s best fiction books

Empathy, inclusivity and reflection were among the dominant themes this year

Updated - December 26, 2023 12:51 pm IST

Published - December 23, 2022 09:01 am IST

It has been a standout year of fiction. Tomb of Sand by Geetanjali Shree (translated from the Hindi by Daisy Rockwell) is possibly the most mind-shifting, and riveting, novel I have read in years. Shree’s sprawling chronicle of a year in an 80-something woman’s life — beginning with her turning away from the world during a cold Delhi winter and ending with her escapades across the border in Pakistan.

Shree marshals her cast of narrators to tease out a picture of the interior life of Ma, and to speak on all else in the world we inhabit to make us question every border and faultline imposed by history, society and politics. She reminds us that being true to ourselves is an intensely political project.

Lucy by the Sea by Elizabeth Strout highlights the essential requirement of empathy in navigating our way through our personal lives and amidst the culture wars that are driving wedges among communities everywhere. In 2022, one of Strout’s Lucy Barton novels (Oh William!) was shortlisted for the Booker Prize — and Lucy by the Sea takes us past the pandemic.

As COVID-19 spreads in early 2020, Lucy leaves the city and quarantines with her former husband William in Maine. She worries about her daughters, deepens her back story further (as she has been doing in Strout’s previous books), takes her life outdoors as she forges new friendships keeping in mind COVID precautions and observes social ruptures in the age of Donald Trump.

Three other remarkable works of fiction reinforce the message that the world is what it is, and we must engage with it in thoughtful, inclusive ways. There is, first, Janice Pariat’s Everything the Light Touches, with narrative strands that include a young woman in today’s Meghalaya, an Englishwoman on a quest in India a century ago, and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe travelling in Italy under an alias — together they amplify the message that we open the vastness in our minds by heeding the mysteries of the natural world, and its recuperative power.

Banana Yoshimoto’s short stories collected in Dead-End Memories (translated from the Japanese by Asa Yoneda) recall her early-career wisdom of Kitchen, and remind us to read our environs and our dreams, and be attentive to the spirits of those who were here once.

Shehan Karunatilaka’s The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida actually gives over the narration to a spirit, and asks us to keep our ears open to the insistent life struggles of the dead and the oppressed, in this case in Sri Lanka’s civil war.


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