Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing is a partnership of Qatar Foundation and Bloomsbury Publishing. Four of the publishing house's authors look back at the books they have read in 2011 and provide their top picks of the year.
Ali Bader, author of The Tobacco Keeper
I admired Ondaatje's latest novel, The Cats' Table. It is his most accessible, and, in many ways, most enjoyable novel to date. The story is about a passenger ship going between Colombo, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and London in 1954.
The second is Wave of Terror by Theodore Odrach. It is a very sensitive and memorable depiction of the establishment of soviet socialist republics, in 1939, with its bloodshed and violence. Furthermore, it is filled with trenchant observations of real people behaving realistically during times of real crisis.
Ali Bader is an award-winning Iraqi novelist, essayist, poet, scriptwriter and journalist who has written 10 novels, two poetry collections and several works of non-fiction. He fought in the Iran-Iraq war as a conscript and more recently worked as a war correspondent covering the Middle East. He lives in Belgium
Rosie Garthwaite, author of How to Avoid Being Killed in a War Zone
I have become an evangelist for the most surprisingly excellent book I have read this year: The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee. He somehow manages to make this biography of cancer fun and never maudlin. He approaches his subject through the eyes of the sometimes zany, sometimes drug-addicted, sometimes horribly misguided doctors who have made it their life's quest to beat this demon mercurial affliction. At every turn, he seems to have in mind journalist Steven Broder's take on the coverage of cancer, "statistics are human beings with the tears wiped off"; they are avoided. Everyone should read this, as almost all of us are, sadly, going to be affected by its subject.
Rosie Garthwaite is a TV journalist and producer. She began her career as a freelance reporter in Basra and says: "I interviewed 150 journalists, NGO workers, doctors, army people, even a Somali pirate about life in dangerous places so that my friends and colleagues could have the best possible handbook when they pack their bags to go running towards bombs and disasters. And so they could avoid making the mistakes I made in Iraq when I was 22 ..." Garthwaite lives in Doha and How to Avoid Being Killed in a War Zone is her first book
Inaam Kachachi, author of The American Granddaughter
Time for Outrage; this small book of only 32 pages was an immediate success worldwide. Stéphane Hessel, 93, sold millions of copies. Everyone was astonished by the phenomenon. But I wasn't. Reading this book gave me my youth back, my strength to stand up and fight back. This book is the embodiment that individuals together can make the difference.
In my life, I thought I had seen it all: wars, deaths, dictatorships, corruption … but this book was a revelation. A living proof that nothing is actually set in stone and that there's nothing like chance: we decide what we want to be. But the bright aspect of it is that there is light at the end of the tunnel. This tiny piece became millions of people's bible.
Also, there's The Beaver, by the young Saudi author Mohammed Hasan Alwan, which reflects on a Riyadh family. It interrogates the relationship with the latter, expressing feelings of attachments and rejection that are intrinsically inseparable. The narrator describes this fine mix of him being at the same time close and distant to his family. We enter his intimacy while sometimes we have the feeling we're looking from afar.
The title is a reference to this rodent, commonly known in Portland, down the Willamette River, for building dams, canals and lodges. The author left Saudi Arabia and settled in Oregon where he observed this species and found a striking resemblance between these animals and his very own family.
With a fascinating subtlety, the narrator moves back and forth from Riyadh to Portland, taking us with him without our noticing. Moreover, this novel is an attempt to conciliate the city where he was born and the one of his dreams.
As the pages go by, it seems the author finally accepts the fact that he loves and carries in his heart the city of Riyadh.
I wish it were published in English to touch a larger public.
Born in Baghdad, Inaam Kachachi now lives in France. She writes for several Arabic newspapers and has previously published two non-fiction books and one novel
Selma Dabbagh, author of Out of It
One Day I Will Write About This Place by Binyavanga Wainaina is a startlingly fresh coming-of-age novel about the author's middle class upbringing in Kenya.
Brash, but tendersweet with unbounded curiosity about everything around him, Wainana breaks new ground not only in terms of how he portrays Africa in a literary form, but as a literary stylist in his own right. He has a defiant quirky voice that demands attention.
Selma Dabbagh is a British Palestinian writer based in London. Her short stories have been included in a number of anthologies, including those published by Granta and International PEN. They have also been nominated for the International PEN David TK Wong Award and the Pushcart Prize. Out of It is her first novel