The Books Briefing: What Does Home Mean to You?

The places that make us and the places we make our own: Your weekly guide to the best in books

“My home was not simply a house or a town but, more importantly, an awakening story,” Chinua Achebe writes in his memoir Home and Exile.

For Achebe, this realization was part of what motivated his work: He saw that Africa’s image in the eyes of the world had been shaped by a colonial narrative, and set out to write novels and criticism that helped convey a more accurate picture of the continent. Many other authors also find inspiration in the idea of homes and homelands, exploring the complex and bittersweet associations of the places people leave behind or choose to make their own.

In her short-story collection, How to Love a Jamaican, Alexia Arthurs follows characters across the island and throughout its diaspora to capture what a Jamaican identity can mean. Dance of the Happy Shades, Alice Munro’s debut story collection, has a memorable setting that’s influenced by the author’s own rural Ontario hometown, and features protagonists reckoning with the confines of domestic life.

The recently divorced narrator of Rachel Cusk’s novel Transit struggles with feelings of vulnerability while her fixer-upper house is dismantled and rebuilt around her. And the single mother in Yuko Tsushima’s Territory of Light builds a new home for her daughter in a small, light-filled apartment that she hopes will protect them both.

Every Friday in the Books Briefing, we thread together Atlantic stories on books that share similar ideas.

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What We’re Reading

Revisiting the rural towns in Alice Munro’s debut
“In a setting where many homes lack electricity or running water, many men still make a living off the land, and many housewives must jar their own preserves, Munro’s female protagonists often confront expectations that seem as old, and firmly rooted, as the landscape itself.”

📚 Dance of the Happy Shades, by Alice Munro

The father of the modern African novel
Home and Exile … is both a kind of autobiography and a rumination on the power stories have to create a sense of dispossession or to confer strength, depending on who is wielding the pen.”

📚 Home and Exile, by Chinua Achebe
📚 Things Fall Apart, by Chinua Achebe

Rachel Cusk remakes her fiction
“Cusk’s [approach to the novel] looks and feels like a particularly well-realized ‘gut renovation’: elegant, spare, and often very beautiful, stripped of the dusty corners and overstuffed armchairs of its forebears.”

📚 Transit, by Rachel Cusk
📚 Outline, by Rachel Cusk

The careful craft of writing female subjectivity
“The brilliance of Territory [of Light] is that [Yuko] Tsushima’s skilled attention to her narrator’s inner struggles ultimately asks the reader to feel empathy not just for one woman but also for a whole strata of women living with little societal support.”

📚 Territory of Light, by Yuko Tsushima

How to Love a Jamaican complicates the idea of home
“[Alexia] Arthurs … paints a disparate but not disjointed portrait of a complex national and diasporic landscape.”

📚 How to Love a Jamaican, by Alexia Arthurs

The Reference Desk

(New York Public Library)

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About us: This week’s newsletter is written by Rosa Inocencio Smith. The book about home that she’s reading next is Home in America: On Loss and Retrieval, by Thomas Dumm.

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