Belle City by Penny Mickelbury is the chronicle of a Black Georgia family throughout the 20th century and into the 21st century. The characterization is deep. I learned history that I didn’t know, such as white racists’ particular hatred of Black families who painted their houses and planted flower gardens.
I’m going to break my rule and mention a book I haven’t read yet. Mickelbury’s Two Wings to Hide My Face, the sequel to Two Wings to Fly Away (a book I love), was released December 5. This story tells of Black people fleeing to Canada after the Supreme Court’s Dred Scott decision proclaimed that Black people could never become US citizens. The book is certain to be excellent.
Lady Tan’s Circle of Women, Lisa See’s novel based on a 15th century Chinese woman trained in traditional medicine by her grandmother, is a superb historical novel that highlights connections among women.
Fellowship Point by Alice Elliott Dark is the story of two women, lifelong friends, who have homes in a Quaker community on the Maine coast. One woman is a writer who has remained single, while the other is devoted to her husband and family.
I almost think I shouldn’t mention Geraldine Brooks’ excellent novel Horse because almost everyone I know has already read it. This is the remarkable story of a famous racehorse, from his training by an enslaved young Black man to his discovery by 20th century equestrian art historians.
Enter Ghost by Isabella Hammad is the story of a Palestinian woman actor like Hammad who lives in England but goes home to visit her sister and meets a charismatic Palestinian woman director. They decide to produce Hamlet in Classical Arabic in the West Bank. What could go wrong?
Grey Bees by Andrey Kurkov is about a Ukrainian man living in the “grey zone” in eastern Ukraine, caught between the Ukrainian and Russian armies. The main character, who is a beekeeper, stays in this dangerous situation because he can’t imagine leaving the house where he was born. It’s a grim, moving story about people caught up in war who just want to keep living their accustomed lives.
Stolen by Ann-Helen Laestadius tells about Sami reindeer herders living above the Arctic Circle. Swedes who despise the indigenous Sami persecute the herders. The story starts with a thug’s killing of a young girl’s reindeer.
Emma Donaghue has returned to writing about lesbians in her novel Learned by Heart, a fascinating fiction about nineteenth century lesbian Anne Lister as a teenager in a girls’ boarding school who becomes involved with a mixed-race girl born in India, Eliza Raine.
Say Their Names by Karen D. Badger is the story of a contemporary Black lesbian couple who buy a house in Upstate new York and discover it once sheltered two Black women fleeing from slavery. The novel shifts in time between the two eras.
Integrity by E.J. Noyes is an adventure novel about a lesbian working for the CIA who is recruited by a secret organization that monitors government agencies, including the CIA. She discovers corruption and has to flee from Washington.
Extended Capacity by Elena Graf is part of her Hobbs series about lesbians living in a small town in Maine. This novel focuses on a school shooting and its effect on the town.
Once in Berlin by Jo Havens is a novel about an English lesbian who a British government representative has asked to lure a brilliant German lesbian scientist to defect in the beginning of World War II. I’m particularly impressed with the believable portrayal of a scientific genius who cares only about her work.
The Ada Decades by Paula Martinac is the well-told story of an unusual lesbian character: a religious, white, small-town librarian in the South who learns slowly about the need for integration.
KC Luck’s Darkness Series, beginning with Darkness Falls, tells about lesbians in the Pacific Northwest surviving after solar events make every sort of electrical power unavailable. Chaos ensues, but brave lesbians find ways to cope. There are adventures, romances, and ethical choices in every volume of this six-volume (so far) series.
One of my favorite contemporary detective story writers, Ausma Zehanat Khan, has launched a new series with an Afghan-Pakistani American woman police detective, Inaya Rahman. Rahman is based in Denver but in Blackwater Falls she’s assigned to a small, racist town. She has to investigate a hate crime against a Muslim young woman.
In Time’s Undoing by Cheryl A. Head, a Detroit reporter travels to Birmingham, Alabama, to learn what happened to her great-grandfather, who she believes was murdered by the Ku Klux Klan. The story moves deftly between the two time periods.
This year I reread the superb mystery series written by Batya Gur, an Israeli writer who died in 2005. The stories are just as outstanding as I remembered. In the six-volume series, Gur became increasingly critical of aspects of Israel. My favorite of her books is Literary Murder, set in a university’s Hebrew Literature Department, where questions about what is good poetry and what are readers’ responsibility to poetry are the focus. The detective is a male police officer who is rather sympathetic.
I discovered a fun mystery series—fun for me because it’s about Ireland in the years after independenc--the Mother Superior Mysteries by Cora Harrison. Yes, the detective is the mother superior of a convent.
Another interesting series, by Susan Elia MacNeal, presents a woman detective who winds up working for political leaders like Winston Churchill and Eleanor Roosevelt. The first book is The Prime Minister’s Secretary.
Still Alive: A Holocaust Childhood Remembered by Ruth Kluger is one of the finest books about the Holocaust I’ve read. Her thoughtfulness is reminiscent of Elie Wiesel’s. Kluger was born in Vienna and arrested there. Now living in the US, she hears Americans tell her that she was lucky to have come from such a beautiful, cultured city. People even suggest that she should cover up her number from Auschwitz. When she was eleven, she and her mother were sent to the concentration camp Theresienstadt. They were moved on to other camps. She tells how she and her mother fought each other constantly but saved each other’s lives. Her account also describes how prejudiced and insensitive their Allied rescuers could be.
Castles Burning: A Child’s Experience in War by Magda Denes is the story of a brilliant young Jewish girl in Hungary who survived isolation, starvation, persecution, the loss of her beloved brother, and relentless fights with her mother during World War II.
Viktor Frankel’s Man’s Search for Meaning is the story of a psychologist who examines how he managed to survive in Nazi concentration camps by searching for meaning. He believes that human beings’ attempt to find meaning in their lives is more fundamental than the search for pleasure or any other drive. He therefore believes that there is some element of free will, at least in thoughts, even in inhuman conditions.
Memoir of a Race Traitor by Mab Segrest was published in the ‘90s and has been reissued after going out of print. Segrest, who was a lesbian feminist who worked on the journal Feminary, changed her focus in the ‘80s to fighting racism. That choice was dangerous. The Ku Klux Klan was very active in North Carolina, where she was living, and she took many risks.
Nice Jewish Girls: A Lesbian Anthology, edited by Evelyn Torton Beck, a ground-breaking book that emerged in 1982 but went out of print, reemerged in a new edition in 2023 and now is available as an eBook for the first time. Jewish women, including Beck, Adrienne Rich, and Irena Klepfisz, tell diverse stories about their experiences of being Jewish, including revealing anti-Semitism in the Women’s Movement and some lesbian novels.
The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs by Heather McGhee presents a detailed calculation of the economic effects of systemic racism. Chapters look at racism’s effects on housing, wages, education, health, and the environmental quality.
King Leopold’s Ghost by Adam Hochschild is the horror story of King Leopold of Belgium’s ownership of what used to be called the Belgian Congo. Yes, he “owned” it personally. He felt deprived because his country didn’t have any colonies, so he searched for one he could acquire. Colonialism there was even more vicious than in some other countries.
War Came to Us by Christopher Miller is an American reporter’s first-hand account of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Miller had spent many years in Ukraine and provides a context for his account.
Shakespeare Was a Woman and Other Heresies by Elizabeth Winkler persuaded me to change my mind about my adamant defense of Shakespeare’s authorship of the plays and sonnets that bear his name. I had read and believed many scholars’ defense of WS, but now I accept that he probably wasn’t the author. Winkler doesn’t have a dogmatic position on who wrote the plays, but she says there very likely were multiple authors, and likely one of them was a woman.