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Exberliner’s best books of 2021

From fiction to memoir, travelogue to poetry, Exberliner's biggest readers share their best books of 2021

We sat down the most prolific readers we know: Exberliner books editor, Alexander Wells, and with culture journalist and critic Eve Lucas and got them to share their top 10 best books of 2021.  

My Top 10 Books – Alexander Wells 

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Patricia Lockwood’s No One is Talking About This – more than just an “internet novel”. Photo: IMAGO / PA Images

  1. No One Is Talking About This Patricia Lockwood. More than an “internet novel”, this experimental treatment of the online (American) mind is hilarious, word-drunk and surprisingly moving.
  1. Harlem Shuffle Colson Whitehead. A genuinely suspenseful heist story with a retro Harlem setting, enriched with social and psychological insight. What’s not to like?
  1. Before the Ruins Victoria Gosling. This full-length fiction debut from a fixture of Berlin’s lit scene is gripping, tender, and perfectly paced.
  1. Ghosts Edith Wharton. A fine collection of spooky tales by one of the 20th century’s top prose stylists. Spoiler: the monster’s inside us.
  1. In Memory of Memory Maria Stepanova. (Trans. Sasha Dugdale). Russia’s rising star delivers with this genre-bending work about her family history, modern art, social media, oblivion – and more.
  1. Love in Five Acts Daniela Krien. (Trans. Jamie Bulloch). A thoughtful literary exploration of gender, love and friendship in contemporary Germany, artfully composed from five different women’s perspectives
  1. The Passenger Ulrich Alexander Boschwitz. (Trans. Phillip Boehm) One of the year’s great rediscoveries was this harrowing 1938 novel about a Jewish Berliner on the run after Kristallnacht.
  1. The Dead Girls’ Class Trip Anna Seghers. (Trans. Margot Bettauer Dembo). Legendary Berliner*in, Seghers demonstrates the depth of her humanism and creativity in this 1925-1965 prose collection.
  1. Aftermath Harald Jähner. (Trans. Shaun Whiteside) A colourful and nuanced portrait of (West) Germany’s rise from the moral and physical rubble after WW2.
  1. Land Simon Winchester. Mixing travelogue, history and personal reflection, this sprawling exploration of global land ownership is skilfully woven – and utterly timely

My Top 10 Books – Eve Lucas

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Damon Galgut’s The Promise won the 2021 Booker Prize. Photo: IMAGO / PA Images

  1. The Promise Damon Galgut. For history infused with irony and slapstick, this South African tale of false promises—and blasted lives—fascinates and amuses.
  1. A Passage North Anuk Arudpragasam. Invokes and upends E.M. Forster in a searing exploration of desire, satisfaction and memory post Sri Lankan civil war.
  1. How Beautiful We Were Imbolo Mbue. Pits African village life against the corporate interests of a US oil giant. Timely, compelling and yes, nuanced story-telling.
  1. Two Besides: A Pair of Talking Heads Alan Bennett. Two more monologues that revisit precarious lives tee- tering on the volcano’s edge of middle-class despair.
  1. The Lamplighters Emma Stonex. A (non-)whodunnit that delves into the elemental forces without and within as three lighthouse-keepers mysteriously disappear.
  1. Field Work: What Land Does to People & What People Do to Land Bella Bathurst. Shines a light into the lives of farmers, knackermen and butchers et al. If you eat, you should read this.
  1. Aftershocks Nadia Owusu. An unfiltered memoir of an African-American childhood and barely-survived adolescence that crosses generational and continental divides.
  1. Real Estate Deborah Levy. Volume 3 of an autobiography celebrating the conscious act of writing as a panacea for all forms of loss.
  1. Dark, Salt, Clear: Life in a Cornish Fishing Town Lamorna Ash. Takes a debut writer back to her roots and an exploration of extreme life-choices.
  1. Memory Rose Into Threshold Speech: The Collected Earlier Poetry Paul Celan. (Trans. Pierre Boris)—A navigational aid through the lyrical tripwires of a 20th century icon.