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Bernardine Evaristo's Favourite Reads of 2020

Posted on 16th November 2020 by Anna Orhanen
The first Black woman to win the Booker Prize and to top the UK paperback fiction bestseller list, Bernardine Evaristo is one of the brightest stars of contemporary British fiction. We have the greatest pleasure to have the author of Girl, Woman, Other share her top five reads of 2020 with us.

Black Rain Falling by Jacob Ross 

This is the second book in the crime fiction series by Jacob Ross, following on from the first, The Bone Readers (2016), which won the Jhalak Prize Book of the Year. Set on the fictional Caribbean island of Camaho, it’s written in the voice of an unlikely crime forensics detective, Michael ‘Digger’ Digson as he investigates a local murder. I have long been a massive fan of Ross’s writing. He is foremost a very literary writer who writes with exquisite depth and flair about our lives, conflicts, social issues and innermost secrets. Before his crime series, his debut novel, Pynter Bender, was a beautiful work of art about the Grenadian revolution. He has also published several short story collections. He brings his exceptional literary skills to the style and structure of crime genre, which, most unusually, is written from a Caribbean perspective. I wish more people knew his work and urge you to read this.
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With the wonderfully evocative backdrop of the Caribbean island of Camaho, Ross's complex, character-driven police procedural delves deep into issues of fear, friendship and the price of loyalty.

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The Mermaid of Black Conch by Monique Roffey 

This is Monique Roffey’s sixth novel and seventh book, and each one is markedly different from the other. She is the most adventurous of writers and The Mermaid of Black Conch does not disappoint. Set in 1976 on the imaginary Caribbean island of Black Conch, this is a strange, haunting, original and memorable novel about Aycayia, a mermaid from deep history who is entrapped and taken out of the sea. At the mercy of American tourists, she is saved by a kindly fisherman who gives her shelter. Slowly, she starts to lose her tail and shed her scales and stands to metamorphose back into the indigenous Indian woman she once was, persecuted by other women because of her beauty. This is a novel packed with layers of meaning around womanhood, alienation, masculinity, toxic attitudes towards women, and inter-female rivalry, as well as love, compassion and the search for home. 

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Set on an imaginary Caribbean island, this tantalising tale of disruption brought about by a beautiful stranger marries mythical elements with the piercing realism of everyday life.
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Rainbow Milk by Paul Mendez  

A terrific coming of age novel by debut author Paul Mendez. It begins in the 1950s with a Jamaican immigrant and his family, and moves on to his grandson, Jessie, who grows up with a growing awareness of his gayness within his family’s Jehovah's Witness family, which creates a repressive and conflicted dynamic. Aged 19, Jesse moves to London to find himself and ends up as a sex worker. This novel is bursting with vitality, daring and freshness while telling a story we rarely hear about in Britain, the lives of black gay men.

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A fearless meditation on race, class, religion, freedom and sexuality, Mendez’s debut maps the journey of a young Black gay man with a Jehovah’s Witness upbringing, as he makes a fresh start in London.
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The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta 

This is (also) a captivating coming of age story about a black British gay teen, although very different in every way to Rainbow Milk. The Black Flamingo is a Young Adult verse novel with Michael at its centre, a mixed-race, half-Cypriot and half-Jamaican boy who struggles to find self-acceptance and belonging as he grows up. It’s also a charming portrait of a loving family where love is unconditional. Michael comes into his own when he attends university and becomes a drag artist – and thereafter the glorious flamboyance kicks in. Aimed at young readers, the verse poetry is very prosaic, conversational, accessible, enjoyable. It deservedly won the Stonewall Book Award this year.

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Big hearted and dizzyingly flamboyant, Atta’s verse novel about a black gay teen reclaiming his identity as a drag artist is an outspoken triumph from the opening couplet to the last.
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The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett 

Twin sisters, Desiree and Stella, grow up in the Deep South of America in a very light-skinned black community founded on the principle that the residents must be light-skinned black folk. The novel speaks to the very real, historical and contemporary colourist hierarchy of race whereby the value of an individual is based on their approximation to whiteness. Aged sixteen, the sisters leave their stultifying home community together, but eventually separate. One pursues life with a new, white identity and the other embraces blackness, and we witness the way this shapes their lives and the consequences of their choices.

The novel is beautiful written, thrillingly-plotted and deeply immersive as it unpicks notions of shade, race, power and privilege that have prevailed since millions of Africans were first transported to the America as slaves where they became unwitting members of the pigmentocracy of the plantocracy. The second bestselling novel by Bennett, it’s already made its mark and will be made into a film. 
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Spanning the 1950s to the 1990s and from the Deep South to California, Bennett’s stunning novel follows the journeys of two estranged twin sisters leading very different lives – to the extent of adopting different racial identities.

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