The Big Jubilee Read

The Reading Agency with BBC Arts have just released the list of seventy novels selected to represent the Commonwealth as part of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations. I’ve long wanted to up my quota of African and Caribbean writing – and will look to add some of these to my summer reading I think.

Here’s the list.

1952-1961

  • The Palm-Wine Drinkard – Amos Tutuola (1952, Nigeria)
  • The Hills Were Joyful Together – Roger Mais (1953, Jamaica)
  • In the Castle of My Skin – George Lamming (1953, Barbados)
  • My Bones and My Flute – Edgar Mittelholzer (1955, Guyana)
  • The Lonely Londoners – Sam Selvon (1956, Trinidad and Tobago/England)
  • The Guide – R. K. Narayan (1958, India)
  • To Sir, With Love – E. R. Braithwaite (1959, Guyana)
  • One Moonlit Night – Caradog Prichard (1961, Wales)
  • A House for Mr Biswas – VS Naipaul (1961, Trinidad and Tobago/England)
  • Sunlight on a Broken Column – Attia Hosain (1961, India)

1962-1971

  • A Clockwork Orange – Anthony Burgess (1962, England)
  • The Interrogation – J.M.G. Le Clézio (1963, France/Mauritius)
  • The Girls of Slender Means – Muriel Spark (1963, Scotland)
  • Arrow of God – Chinua Achebe (1964, Nigeria)
  • Death of a Naturalist – Seamus Heaney (1966, Northern Ireland)
  • Wide Sargasso Sea – Jean Rhys (1966, Dominica/Wales)
  • A Grain of Wheat – Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o (1967, Kenya)
  • Picnic at Hanging Rock – Joan Lindsay (1967, Australia) (in the TBR)
  • The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born – Ayi Kwei Armah (1968, Ghana)
  • When Rain Clouds Gather – Bessie Head (1968, Botswana/South Africa)

1972-1981

  • The Nowhere Man – Kamala Markandaya (1972, India)
  • Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy – John Le Carré (1974, England) (read pre-blog)
  • The Thorn Birds – Colleen McCullough (1977, Australia) (read pre-blog)
  • The Crow Eaters – Bapsi Sidhwa (1978, Pakistan)
  • The Sea, The Sea – Iris Murdoch (1978, England) (in the TBR)
  • Who Do You think You Are? – Alice Munro (1978, Canada)
  • The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams (1979, England)
  • Tsotsi – Athol Fugard (1980, South Africa)
  • Clear Light of Day – Anita Desai (1980, India)
  • Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie (1981, England/India)

1982-1991

  • Schindler’s Ark – Thomas Keneally (1982, Australia) (read pre-blog)
  • Beka Lamb – Zee Edgell (1982, Belize)
  • The Bone People – Keri Hulme (1984, New Zealand)
  • The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood (1985, Canada) (read pre-blog)
  • Summer Lightning – Olive Senior (1986, Jamaica)
  • The Whale Rider – Witi Ihimaera (1987, New Zealand)
  • The Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro (1989, England) (read pre-blog)
  • Omeros – Derek Walcott (1990, Saint Lucia)
  • The Adoption Papers – Jackie Kay (1991, Scotland)
  • Cloudstreet – Tim Winton (1991, Australia)

1992-2001

  • The English Patient – Michael Ondaatje (1992, Canada/Sri Lanka) (read pre-blog)
  • The Stone Diaries – Carol Shields (1993, Canada)
  • Paradise – Abdulrazak Gurnah (1994, Tanzania/England)
  • A Fine Balance – Rohinton Mistry (1995, India/Canada)
  • Salt – Earl Lovelace (1996, Trinidad and Tobago)
  • The God of Small Things – Arundhati Roy (1997, India) (in the TBR)
  • The Blue Bedspread – Raj Kamal Jha (1999, India)
  • Disgrace – J.M. Coetzee (1999, South Africa/Australia) (read pre-blog)
  • White Teeth – Zadie Smith (2000, England) (read pre-blog)
  • Life of Pi – Yann Martel (2001, Canada)

2002-2011

  • Small Island – Andrea Levy (2004, England)
  • The Secret River – Kate Grenville (2005, Australia) (read pre-blog)
  • The Book Thief – Markus Zusak (2005, Australia) (in the TBR)
  • Half of a Yellow Sun – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2006, Nigeria)
  • A Golden Age – Tahmima Anam (2007, Bangladesh)
  • The Boat – Nam Le (2008, Australia)
  • Wolf Hall – Hilary Mantel (2009, England) (in the TBR)
  • The Book of Night Women – Marlon James (2009, Jamaica)
  • The Memory of Love – Aminatta Forna (2010, Sierra Leone/Scotland)
  • Chinaman – Shehan Karunatilaka (2010, Sri Lanka)

2012-2021

  • Our Lady of the Nile – Scholastique Mukasonga (2012, Rwanda)
  • The Luminaries – Eleanor Catton (2013, New Zealand)
  • Behold the Dreamers – Imbolo Mbue (2016, Cameroon)
  • The Bone Readers – Jacob Ross (2016, Grenada)
  • How We Disappeared – Jing-Jing Lee (2019, Singapore)
  • Girl, Woman, Other – Bernardine Evaristo (2019, England) (in the TBR)
  • The Night Tiger – Yangsze Choo (2019, Malaysia)
  • Shuggie Bain – Douglas Stuart (2020, Scotland)
  • A Passage North – Anuk Arudpragasam (2021, Sri Lanka)
  • The Promise – Damon Galgut (2021, South Africa) (in the TBR)

What do you think of this list?

For me, it’s both predictable (the number of Booker winners) and not. But it comprises 31 countries spread over the 70 years. I’ve read 14 titles, 9 pre-blog and 5 after. But where to start? I must admit I’m drawn to ER Braithwaite’s To Sir With Love from 1959.

28 thoughts on “The Big Jubilee Read

  1. Kristina says:

    Ooof okay- there’s only a few of them that I knew of..
    hitchhiker guide of the galaxy, the handmaid’s tale, Life of Pi (this one I didnt knew was canadian!)and the book theif 😅 none of those that i’ve read..

  2. kimbofo says:

    An interesting list although the Australian ones are pretty predictable. I’ve read 16 in total and have a few others on my TBR.

  3. Laura says:

    Ooh, interesting, if a bit predictable, especially in the more recent decades when my book knowledge is better. I’ve read 22 and there are a lot I’d already decided to skip or found disappointing on the list, and a couple I already intended to read (The Golden Age, The Book of Night Women). I really like the sound of Scholastique Mukasonga’s Our Lady of the Nile, which I’d never heard of before.

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      Frankly all the home countries selections are underwhelming and probably underrepresented. But it’s about celebrating the literature of the Commonwealth, not the UK.

  4. MarketGardenReader/IntegratedExpat says:

    How peculiar that the first section is so very Caribbean-centric. Thereafter it suddenly remembers the rest of the world and the ‘home countries’. I’m pleased to see I’ve read 18 and a half; I got stranded halfway through Midnight’s Children even though I love it. For those of us trying to read literature from many different countries, it’s a very useful list.

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      I think they went heavy on the Caribbean for the 50s into the 60s because of the Windrush generation. I agree it’s a useful list for inspiration for world reading, so I will do my best to include a few this summer. (I’ve now acquired To Sir With Love).

  5. Russell says:

    I’ve read 12, 3 of these I’ve seen the movie as well. I’ve seen the movie of three not in my 12. Outside the 12 I’ve read other books by 7 of the authors featured in in the list.

  6. BookerTalk says:

    I’m astonished to find I’ve read 20 of these – 8 of those were Booker winners so that gave me a head start. Many of the titles chosen are what I would have expected but the inclusion of The Bone People and Luminaries has me baffled. They’re readable but not remarkable.
    On the plus side, I’m glad to see some names of authors from Commonwealth countries that are new to me

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      It’s a real mixture of predictable and new names. I’m looking forward to reading a few of the latter.

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