The Dark Materials Trilogy by Philip Pullman: Set in a parallel universe, Lyra ventures into other worlds to save her scientist uncle and missing friend, unravelling a dark yet exciting trail of events. It is so splendidly realistic, making you feel like a child again, yet themes of quantum physics, theology and spirituality engage the intellect of any mature reader.
Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan: When super rich heir to the family fortune brings his average New York girlfriend to Singapore for a family wedding, all kinds of drama ensues. Kwan’s quirky style humorously covers themes familiar to all Asians – family politics and the importance of keeping face. Kwan’s vivid description immerses the reader into high society Singapore, giving voice to an otherwise hard to access society.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson: The lives of a political journalist escaping trouble and a hacker with a photographic memory become entwined when they meet as part of a questionable deal. A dark, psychological thriller told in extraordinary detail, with an intricate plot line where no character escapes their ugly side being revealed. Yet, somehow we feel compassion for the often-misunderstood life of a hacker.
I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou: Set in the 1930s American South, this is a true story of segregation and discrimination told through the eyes of a child who saw right from wrong. The story shows how literature helped her overcome the trials of childhood. Beautifully preserved memories written by a master wordsmith, Maya shares her story not by telling, but by giving us her shoes to walk in so we may feel for ourselves.
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston: The book recounts the story of Janie through her marriages to three men in post-slavery Florida in the early 20th century, exploring the transition from adolescence to womanhood, and how it is shaped by relationships. Hurston’s poetic nature softens the brutal realities Janie faced. Whilst this is not your average love story, it inspiringly perhaps provides an understanding of the underpinnings of black love.
Heartburn by Nora Ephron: Rachel is pregnant with her second child when she finds out her husband is having an affair in this 1980s story set in Washington DC. She devises a plan to win him back, but soon wonders if he is worth it. This confessional novel unashamedly reveals the thoughts of a sarcastic, straight-talking, heartbroken, p*ssed off woman (add pregnancy hormones), making it a hilarious read. Using cooking as a narrative device, Ephron crafts a uniquely memorable tale.
Veronika Decides To Die by Paulo Coelho: In Slovenia, 1997, Veronika has a good life and should be happy, but isn’t and so one morning overdoses. She is saved in time and taken to a mental hospital where the story is set. She begins to question what she has been taught to believe about life and society, causing a stir amongst patients. Coelho weaves philosophy, religion and spirituality into his narrative. Through Veronika, we can explore the meaning of life safely.
White Tiger by Aravind Adiga: Set in a fictional village in India around the 1950s, a village boy works his way to success after taking an opportunity to become a chauffeur to a rich landlord. But wealth comes at a cost. Adiga does not attempt to beautify the reality of class and caste struggles in India. His narrative is different, as each chapter takes the form of a letter written to the Chinese Prime Minister.
Kite Envy: I Want To Be Free by Sang Ji: The book is made up of journal entries that trace a journey of self-discovery. Set in modern day London, it is the story of a good girl who does what she is expected to by her family, culture and boss. But what about happiness, dreams and love? This book questions what it means to be true to yourself in today’s society.
Skin Deep by Nergis Dalal: Set in post-partition India, in a Zoastrian community this story follows the lives of twin girls to mixed parents. One twin is beautiful and the other is not. Skin Deep gives a telling insight into how beauty is a currency in society. Dalal highlights cultural issues, including mixed marriage, dowry, infidelity and inheritance with rich and compassionate storytelling. It is one of the most honest books I have read.
Sang Ji is the author of four books and takes readers on soul-searching adventures across the world through her writing. She is the founder of The Alternative Writing Course.
Visit www.thealternativewritingcourse.com, www.sangsnotebook.com, @sangs_notebook and @thealternativewritingcourse