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My Favorite Fiction Books of 2020

May 2, 2021

Culture and Society / Reading Books / Roque Recommends

Last year was a record year of reading books for me. Devouring 52 of them was an unintended consequence of Covid-19. As such, I wanted to write about the fiction books I enjoyed the most for today’s post on TSOG.

First of all, these books were not published in 2020. I simply happened to discover and read them last year. They are new to me.

Secondly, I will do my best not to give away any spoilers.

1. On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong

This book was recommended to me by a friend whose taste in such matters is deeply trustworthy, and of course, it has become my favorite work of fiction of 2020. This novel is as much a semi-autobiographical coming-of-age story as it is a poetic tour-de-force. Vuong’s writing is lyrical and full of emotional depth. Themes of queer adolescence and self-discovery, healing from a family’s post-war trauma in Vietnam, and the uphill climb of being a family of immigrants in America are intricately woven into this delicate and haunting narrative. The world through Vuong’s eyes is not rose-tinged, but with such tenderness and vulnerability, it is absolutely gorgeous nonetheless.

2. A View Across Rooftops by Suzanne Kelman

By now, I have read numerous books about the holocaust of Nazi Germany during World War II. This particular story takes places during the Nazi occupation of Amsterdam during the war. Kelman is adept at creating characters who I wanted to cheer on as I kept reading. Its protagonist, Professor Josef Held, decides to hide one of his Jewish students in his attic to protect him from getting killed. This decision sets off a tense and gripping page-turner of a book. When we explore the human capacity for compassion in moments of grave danger, we get fantastic stories like this one. The view from inside this novel’s pages is well worth seeing.

3. Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin

I am new to the world of James Baldwin, but I see why his books and talent are revered all over the world. This novel details the complexities and challenges of two men in love at a time when such a thing could never be admissible. The heart of this novel lies in the subtext of its dialogue and in its quiet moments in which anguished silences betray all that is unspoken. It is a masterful gift to convey something deeply meaningful without actually saying it. Baldwin’s prose is a flow of tension and emotion that we feel, and in this story, the feeling is everything.

4. The Wind-up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami

I have heard of this author a few times, and I’ve been curious about the genre called magical realism for a while. I started reading with an open mind, and this book felt a lot like falling through the rabbit hole in Alice in Wonderland. The book’s protagonist is reluctantly thrust into an odyssey of a world that is hidden in plane sight. I could describe it as quirky, unique, and unconventional, but these adjectives fall short of the truth. It is a psychological mind fuck—in a good way, but not quite in a pleasurable way either. There is trickery, thievery, and tiny moments of whimsy that give this book a fullness of life—with the continuous sensation of the unexpected lurking just around every corner. It makes for a bewildering and wide-eyed reading experience. Murakami’s voice is staggeringly and stubbornly one that follows its own offbeat rhythm. The journey along this novel’s pages is unlike any other.

5. The Night Tiger by Yangsze Choo

What I loved about this novel was how it cleverly wove haunting folklore, mysticism, and a story of human struggle together so completely. The pacing never lagged for an instant, and it felt adventurous and suspenseful. At its core, this novel presents a search for identity and belonging. It features complex characters who are forging their own way through life despite immense obstacles. The scenic backdrop of sleepy villages and farming towns of rural Malaysia give its story a richness and charm that make this novel all the more enchanting.

I hope you enjoyed checking my top fiction books from 2020. Check back next Sunday when I kick off my new series of Roqué’s Sunday Book Reviews.

Happy reading to you all!