My top 10 books – Aliya Ali-Afzal
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte: One of my favourite novels and one I dip into whenever I need comfort or inspiration. The story about an orphaned young girl growing up in 19th century England and her path to becoming an independent, empowered woman was ground-breaking at the time. I love how the book is a page-turner, a romance, and a gothic horror tale all rolled into one.
The Overcoat and other short stories by Nikolai Gogol: My love for Russian literature was one of the reasons I did a degree in Russian. These stories are masterpieces in the study of human nature and psychology, with elements of surrealism woven in. Two of my favourites are The Nose in which a man wakes up with his nose missing, and The Overcoat, in which a young clerk becomes obsessed with buying an overcoat, which he thinks will transform his life and status, and this was also one of the inspirations for my novel.
Her by Harriet Lane: A taut, psychological thriller about two women who meet in present day London and share a past, which only one of them remembers. This revenge noir alternates points of view, exposing each woman’s state of mind in fascinating detail. This is one of the creepiest novels I have read, with a menacing mood which keeps the tension building.
The Secret History by Donna Tartt: This follows a group of students at an elite university in America, who commit a murder right at the start of the novel. It has been called a ‘whydunit’ rather than a ‘whodunit’ and explores the psychological aftermath of the crime and the bonds and strains of friendship. The suffocating atmosphere of the campus and of the relationships in the group make this a tense and gripping novel.
The Family Tree by Sairish Hussain: A novel about a British Muslim family and a devastating episode that tears them apart. Hussain, like me, wanted to write about the everyday experiences of a British Muslim family, without the focus being primarily on their ethnicity or experience of culture clash. The themes would resonate with any parent or child and the novel is moving, hopeful and brilliantly written.
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy: A tragedy set in tsarist high society Russia, it is about a woman who commits adultery. Tolstoy shows the emotional and societal impact on Anna as a consequence, and the way she unravels psychologically. There is a wide cast of characters who are nuanced and so realistic that I was invested in them all and remembered them long after finishing the book.
Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie: I have been a huge fan of the Poirot detective novels ever since I read the first one when I was 11. The personality of the detective and the simmering emotional and psychological tensions which lead up to the crimes are immensely engaging. The cast of characters, the setting of the legendary train, and the shocking twist at the end, make this one of my favourite Poirot novels.
Poems by Faiz by Faiz Ahmed Faiz: These poems by the celebrated Pakistani poet (1911-1984) are one of my favourite collections and range from traditional love poetry, to poems that combine the personal with the political. Although my Urdu is not good enough to read the original script, the transliteration is a great way to access his original words, and their timeless beauty, as well as having the poems in translation.
Life After Life by Kate Atkinson: I am fascinated by the concept of how life would have been if we had taken different paths, and this unusual and thoughtful book explores this idea perfectly. Spanning two world wars, this is a stunning novel about a family and the world events they are caught up in, and asks whether we can change the future if we get a second chance at the past?
Would I Lie To You? by Aliya Ali-Afzal: My novel is about Faiza, who has secretly spent her family’s savings. When her husband Tom loses his job, she must replace the money before he discovers the truth. I wanted to write mainstream, commercial fiction with universal themes, and a British-Asian lead. In my novel, Faiza’s heritage informs the story, but is not the story itself. I also wanted to write about the sort of British-Asian women I know – strong, professional, funny, but who I rarely saw in fiction. It is so important that books by British-Asian writers span all genres and themes and show a wide range of experience.
Would I Lie To You? by Aliya Ali-Afzal is published by Head of Zeus and available now