Pushkin’s Books of the Year
Posted 8th December 2020
We made it! With 2020 drawing to a close, we are feeling extremely reflective over what has been a complete rollercoaster of a year. While we’re definitely looking forward to the new hope that January will bring, this year has been an absolute testament to the power of books. Despite entirely unknowable circumstances, so many outstanding books were published this year: books that acted as an escape; a microscope; a point of connection. And we’d like to think our books contributed to that, just a little!
So, to see out 2020, we decided to look back on our favourite reads this year were – from the Pushkin list and beyond.
Poppy – Publicity Director
When Life Gives You Mangoes by Kereen Getten is my Pushkin Book of the Year without a doubt. It’s a gorgeous middle-grade debut novel and it truly has everything: family, playground friendships and fallouts, adventure, heart. At a time when children are being separated from their friends because of Covid-19, this is a story with universal appeal – and where better to be this Christmas than on Clara’s tropical island with delicious mangoes to enjoy!
Three Hours by Rosamund Lupton is a fast-paced, unforgettable and moving account of a day that changed everything. I was genuinely on the edge of my seat throughout and didn’t want to look away. I needed to find out the characters were going to be alright, and that doesn’t happen a lot! A truly brilliant novel. I loved it.
Harriet – Editor
Tender is the Flesh by Agustina Bazterrica (translated by Sarah Moses) is a gut-wrenching Argentinian dystopia that wonders what the world would look like if we ate human meat. This novel stayed with me long after I finished it, and made me truly glad to be a vegetarian. A provocative premise, but also an insightful and compelling read that is truly deserving of the prizes it has won.
How Much of These Hills is Gold by C Pam Zhang – a blisteringly modern take on the Western trope, this story sets two young Chinese-Americans in the unforgiving wilds of 19th century America as they look for an appropriate place to bury their father. Dazzling in its ambition, this epic treads new ground with its revisionist take on the building of the American West. A nuanced take on class, race and gender – this is a bold new voice.
Kirsten – Editorial Assistant
At Night All Blood Is Black by David Diop (translated by Anna Moshovakis) – A heart-stopping, propulsive and ferocious tunnel through madness, racism and the psychological impact of colonial power structures, At Night All Blood is Black follows a Senegalese soldier in the violence of the trenches of WWI, mirrored by the violent unravelling of his sense of self after his best friend and more-than-brother is killed in the conflict. I was captivated by Diop’s unique rhythms and blistering prose, brilliantly translated by Anna Moschovakis.
The Mirror and The Light by Hilary Mantel – A small silver lining in the spring lockdown was that I could drag this immense book – too heavy to take on the overground, where I did so much of my reading pre-pandemic – around my flat with me and read it in every spare moment that I had. The world that Mantel took me into wasn’t particularly better than the world that we’re living in, but the prose was so masterful, strange yet lyrical, Mantel’s psychological acuteness so extraordinary, that I didn’t care. It’s a masterpiece.
Daniel – Commissioning Editor
The Girl Who Said No to the Nazis by Haydn Kaye – History becomes breathless drama in this powerful retelling of the story of Sophie Scholl and The White Rose – the perfect book to kick off the brilliant True Adventures series.
Lark by Anthony McGowan – A perfect bittersweet conclusion to the Truth of Things quartet – as hilarious as it is heartbreaking, Lark manages to make something beautiful out of what is true.
Natalie – Head of Marketing
The Other’s Gold by Elizabeth Ames – A celebration of friendship in a year when we needed it most, The Other’s Gold is a heady mix of nostalgia, page-turning thrills and quiet heartbreak. When I turned the final page, I immediately ordered another three copies to send to my best friends.
Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell – Hardly an original choice, but this extraordinary novel seeped into my bones and never left. An eerily timely story that’s centuries-old, this is one of the most intimate and unforgettable portrayals of grief I’ve ever read.
India – Managing Editor
The Decagon House Murders by Yukito Ayatsuji (translated by Ho-Ling Wong) is in its purest form a Japanese And Then There Were None. Join the K – University Murder Club on a haunted island, investigate what happened when the original inhabitants were brutally murdered, and watch as they begin to be picked off one by one. If you are an Agatha Christie fan then you will adore this. It is the perfect Christmas read and may well open you up to the wonderful world of Japanese crime.
The Devil and the Dark Water is another perfect period crime from Stuart Turton. I escaped from lockdown with this immaculately realised trip on the high seas. With camaraderie and deceptions to rival Pirates of the Caribbean, and the world’s greatest detective locked away in the ship’s hold, it’s up to his bodyguard to solve the mystery, as a serious of terrifying supernatural occurrences unfold along an ocean voyage. It will keep you guessing until the last page, and you will not leave the boat disappointed.
Sarah – Children’s Editor-at-Large
Three-Fifths by John Vercher is a gripping read about two friends and their encounter one dark night after one of them has just been released from prison. It is a painful read in many ways as the author so incisively explores issues around race and identity and importantly the way in which societies ideas impact on the personal choices. This powerful urban crime novel will resound with readers everywhere as we too grapple with the way in which society constrains some of us more than others.
Skunk and Badger by Amy Timberlake with pictures by Jon Klassen. This delightful novel for young readers is the story of the irrepressible Skunk and his friendship with Badger. Skunk moves into Badgers home – not entirely as a welcome guest but soon they find that their differences are what make their friendship so special. This is a book that will bring such pleasure to readers young and old and remind us all about the importance of celebrating our shared humanity.
Rory – Assistant Editor
Machine by Susan Steinberg is one of the most immediate, original depictions of the painful intensity of teenage life I’ve read. Susan Steinberg takes a single, terrible event—a girl drowns in a small resort town—and refracts it through short chapters of dizzying stylistic invention, shifting from the individual to the collective then returning us to the jagged consciousness of one troubled girl.
A Minor Detail by Adania Shibli (brilliantly translated by Elisabeth Jaquette) is a spare, tightly constructed novel that has lingered in my mind more than any other this year. A story in two halves about a woman who becomes fixated on a horrific event from the past, it’s a rich exploration of the traces left by histories of violence and the insidious threat and erasure of life under occupation.
Laura – Deputy Publisher
When We Cease To Understand The World by Benjamín Labatut (tr. Adrian Nathan West) – This book is that rare, intriguing thing: a sui generis fictional deep dive into reality, combining biography, history, science and storytelling. I don’t think anyone on earth truly understands quantum physics, so this hugely entertaining, beautiful book about science, madness, destruction and discovery is one to savour for the extraordinary characters and those stories.
Rainbow Milk by Paul Mendez – I read this novel during a brief escape over the summer and just loved its fresh voice. Our hero is disfellowshipped from the Jehovah’s Witnesses, no longer welcome at home, and begins to make his way as a young black gay man in London. He nearly doesn’t make it, a few times. It’s about shaking off your old stories, and finding new ones. It’s also a true love story. I can’t wait to read more from this author.
Elise – Digital Marketing Executive
The Majesties by Tiffany Tsao – As far as memorable openings go, this book takes the absolute cake. Within one page, 300 people are dead, and our main character is in a coma. The Majesties is a devious and indulgent thriller but with incisive psychological subtlety, following Gwendolyn, a Chinese-Indonesian dynasty heir, as she tries to unravel the reasons behind her twin sister’s mass familicide. When I tell you I gasped out loud on the train at the twist!
Real Life by Brandon Taylor is by far the best book I’ve read all year. I picked it up for the campus setting, but was blown away by Taylor’s gut-wrenching and disorientating writing. Set over a single weekend, it is an intense and intimate look at race, grief and loneliness, and the clarity with which Wallace’s mind is drawn is nothing short of genius. I’ve pulled this book out during discussions over the dinner table, I’ve told everyone I know to read it. I loved it.