New Year, New Beginnings

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No, this is not an exhortation to reinvent yourself in the style of a New Year, New You magazine article, but a chance to gather together an interesting collection of Calibre books related to making a new start, or being forced to move on to a new country, or a new way of life.

One of the most courageous examples of walking away from your life and into the unknown is Tara Westover’s book Educated: A Memoir (12559) which documents her childhood in a fundamentalist Mormon family in rural Idaho, and her escape at the age of sixteen, after suffering violence and abuse from an elder brother. Westover succeeds in getting an education and went to study in Cambridge. A fascinating tale of bravery and determination.

In Americanah (10078) by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, two teenagers fall in love in a Nigeria under military dictatorship. Ifemelu heads for America where she suffers defeats and triumphs, and finds and leaves relationships, all the while suffering something she never considered back home – race. Meanwhile Obinze is living a dangerous undocumented life in London, having been denied entry to America following 9/11. A beautifully written epic novel spanning three continents.

Something less epic, but deliciously domestic is Ladder of Years (5194) by Baltimore author Anne Tyler. One sunny day at the beach, Cordelia does something that many harassed and unappreciated mothers fantasise about, she walks away from her family and just keeps going! Hitching a ride to a new town she reinvents herself as a single woman but how long before her real life finds her? Another convincing novel by the queen of family relationships.

Kate Atkinson’s novel Life After Life (9951) is not so much a new beginning as an actual series of rebirths. Ursula first encounters life as a newborn in a snowstorm in England in 1910. There follow several lifetimes as she experiences the turbulent events of the 20th century time after time. A tremendous book that shouldn’t be missed!

In Burnt Shadows (10744) by Kamilla Shamsie, 21-year-old Hiroko travels to Dehli searching for a new life in the aftermath of the Nagasaki bombing. There she becomes involved in the lives of Elizabeth and James Burton, and their employee Sajjad. As the years go by, new homes are left behind and old conflicts are replaced by new ones. A book about shared histories played out in India/Pakistan, Afghanistan and New York.

Graham Greene’s short novel The Captain and the Enemy (2959) sees young Victor abducted from school by a stranger in a bowler hat who alleges he has won the boy in a backgammon game with his father. Victor is taken to live with the sweet, but withdrawn Lisa, where he acts as a bridge to the outside world. Thereafter, the story turns into a thriller of smuggling, jewel theft and international espionage!

The real-life new beginning in The Penguin Lessons (12794), starts when Tom Michell begins a teaching job in Argentina with the added bonus of lots of summer holidays. But something unexpected happens when he rescues a penguin from an oil slick and the grateful creature refuses to leave his side. There follows the tale of how Juan Salvador enriches the lives of Tom, and his pupils and colleagues, becoming the school mascot and the best swimming coach ever.

For some gentle humour, and an engaging story, there’s Hester and Harriet: Love, Lies and Linguine (12054) by Hilary Spiers, where the widowed sisters on holiday in Italy are tempted by new beginnings. But there’s a huge secret between them and a loved one on the home front is facing a potential catastrophe. What will each sister decide?

Finally, there’s the light-hearted New Beginnings (8820) by Fern Britton where journalist Christie gets a lucky break with an appearance on a daytime TV talk show. But can she juggle the demands of work and home, and make it in the cut-throat world of TV? Who better to understand the world of the TV presenter than Fern Britton and this warm and witty tale is narrated by the author herself.