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Literary Olympics: The best literary fiction books of 2020-2021

The Olympics just finished up in Tokyo, Japan. It has been, to say the very least, a very strange time. On the one hand, my brain can’t seem to comprehend that we even had an Olympics given the current state of the world right now, and then, on the other hand, I also understand the importance of having something ‘normal’.

With all that said, I wanted to have some light-hearted fun and do the 2020-2021 Book Olympics!

So, let’s cut to the chase: What are the rules? What are the categories?

The categories are – Literary Fiction, Auto/Biography, Non-fiction, and Australian Literature.

The rules – Must be published in either 2020 or 2021. Only Gold, silver, and bronze medalists will be discussed.

To the Literary Fiction books category!

Literary Fiction

Literary fiction is often described as high brow literature. I dislike the snobby-ness that can come with that title, but for this Olympics, this category is for novels, it is open to international authors, and generally doesn’t fall into any typical genre categories like crime or romance.

This was the most difficult category for me because I read a lot of literary fiction. It is also why I have decided to split this into two categories – men’s and women’s finals. That way – more medals and more amazing book recommendations for you!

The Men’s Literary Fiction Division

BRONZE – Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam (2020)

Rumaan Alam’s novel Leave the World Behind did something that I haven’t seen in a long time. It took on the challenge of writing about the first few days of a catastrophic event and made it thought-provoking, interesting, and un-put-down-able. Although, I did expect more from the story and almost wished there have been more explanations of what was happening. With this overall performance, Alam has won Bronze in my books!

SILVER – Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart (2020)

Douglas Stuart’s novel Shuggie Bain hit me right in the feels. It took a tried and true narrative of poverty and rags to riches and made it new and fresh in ways I haven’t seen before. The story is semi-autobiographical according to Stuart, which also adds to the narrative. Set in Glasgow in the 1950s, the story chronicles the early life of Shuggie Bain, a queer boy finding his way living in government housing and abject poverty. This one is definitely a prize winner and a deserved Silver medalist.

Drum roll pleaseā€¦.

GOLD – Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro (2021)

The Gold medal winner was an easy pick for me. This book blew me away. I made my husband read it, and I recommend it to everyone I can. This novel was unlike anything I have ever seen from this author. And honestly, I am not sure how they are going to top it. That is why Kazuo Ishiguro win’s Gold with his stellar novel Klara and the Sun.

This is a dystopian novel about an Artificial Friend (AF robot) Klara whose sole purpose is to be the friend of Josie. There are sinister layers to this novel, that I don’t want to reveal for fear of some spoilers, that kept me intrigued. The beauty of Kazuo’s work comes from the simplicity of his writing. And at the end of the day, the immense irony of his novel is that we build robots that still worship the sun.

The Women’s Literary Fiction Division

BRONZE – Still Life by Sarah Winman (2021)

This book feels like an homage to the beauty and bittersweetness of all that life can offer us. It is quirky and heartwarming. When I first read the plot of this book, I was a little skeptical. I am generally not a big fan of books set around the first or second world war – I’ve simply read and studied too much about it. I generally can’t bare to think about it again. This book was something different though. Sarah Winman’s novel, Still Life is a love letter to life. And if you need something to uplift you and refresh your spirits in these dark times, then this is a great book to read. That is why it gets a Bronze in these Book Olympics.

SILVER – Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell (2020)

Maggie O’Farrell was able to take something that has been done over and over again – Shakepeare – and make it great. Hamnet is a beautiful story of how Shakespeare made his climb to literary fame and how he lost his son, Hamnet to the plague. The literary homages in this book are plentiful and well done. I thoroughly enjoyed the mystical nature of this story. As a literary scholar, I was also shocked to have new life breathed into something so old. That is why O’Farrell wins Silver.

GOLD – A Burning by Megha Majumdar (2020)

Megha Majumdar’s debut novel A Burning was a stunning and sharp disection of Indian culture, cast-system, and politics. It gripped me until the very end. I loved the multi-first person story-telling. I haven’t seen it done this good since I read Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible. Majumdar captures the dialects and venaculars of India that I loved reading and learning about as I read. I cannot wait to see what she does next and this is why she gets Gold.

Stay tuned for the winners of Auto/Biography, Non-fiction, Australian literature, and Poetry. May the best book win! Who would you give gold to for 2020-2021? As always, share the reading love.