10 fantastic books from the Commonwealth to read to celebrate the Platinum Jubilee

26 May 2022

10 fantastic books from the Commonwealth to read to celebrate the Platinum Jubilee

A young woman sitting in a window reading a book.

To mark the Platinum Jubilee celebrations, the BBC and The Reading Agency have created a list of 70 books from authors across the Commonwealth published during the Queen’s reign. The list is packed with well-known titles and some you may not have come across before.

Dive into these 10 options to explore a new culture, step back in time, or go on an adventure.

1. 1952: The Palm-Wine Drinkard by Amos Tutuola (Nigeria)

This novel mixes Yoruba folktales with, as T. S. Eliot once described it, “creepy crawly imagination” to create a work that’s gone on to influence African literature.

The classic tells the story of an alcoholic man as he searches for his dead palm-wine tapster. As he travels through the land of the dead, readers encounter a number of supernatural beings. It’s chilling, imaginative, and utterly unique. It’s easy to see why this was the first African novel published in English outside of Africa.

2. 1962: A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess (England)

A Clockwork Orange has frequently been named among the best English-language novels written. The dystopian novel perfectly blends horror with dark comedy.

15-year-old Alex rampages through an ultraviolent near-future where he and his gang of friends kill and rape until he undergoes re-education through an experimental behaviour modification treatment. Six decades on, the novel remains thought-provoking about political systems and humanity.

3. 1967: Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay (Australia)

If you’re looking for a thriller that’s filled with suspense, look no further than Picnic at Hanging Rock.

The eerie novel is set in 1900 when students from the Appleyard College for Young Ladies agree the weather is perfect for a picnic at Hanging Rock where three girls disappear and never return. You’ll be pulled right into the mystery of what happened to the girls from the start of this novel and discover why it’s become a cult classic.

4. 1978: The Crow Eaters by Bapsi Sidhwa (Pakistan)

The Crow Eaters gives a vivid portrait of the Parsi family in colonial India at the turn of the 20th century. Despite tackling important issues as historical change draws near, this is a wickedly funny novel to enjoy.

Faredoon “Freddy” Junglewalla and his family move from their ancestral, rural village to the bustling metropolis of Lahore. While initially, Freddy thrives, tragedy strikes and it forces him to reassess the legacy he’ll leave behind.

5. 1981: Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie (India/England)

Midnight’s Children won the Booker Prize in 1981 and was then awarded The Best of the Booker prize twice in 1993 and 2008. So, if it’s a book you’ve overlooked until now, you should add it to your to-read list.

Saleem Sinai is born at the stroke of midnight as India gains its independence. The accident of his birth connects him telepathically to 1,000 other midnight’s children who have unusual gifts. Mixing magical realism with India’s complex history, the epic story will sweep you away.

6. 1985: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (Canada)

After a TV series and a sequel released in 2019, The Handmaid’s Tale has found a new audience in recent years. Margret Atwood’s wit and irony have entertained readers for almost four decades, as well as the story remaining relevant to modern audiences.

In the scarily realistic dystopia of The Republic of Gilead, Ofred has only one function – to breed. If she refuses, she will be hanged. The novel navigates the oppressive state and shows how a revolution led to the United States becoming a religious totalitarian state through flashbacks.

7. 1994: Paradise by Abdulrazak Gurnah (Tanzania/England)

When Yusuf is to accompany his uncle on a trip from his native East Africa, he doesn’t ask any questions, until it becomes clear the trip isn’t as it first seemed. The young boy has been pawned to pay for his hotelier father’s debts to a rich and powerful merchant.

As you follow Yusuf’s journey as he comes of age against a backdrop of war and colonialism, the novel weaves together myths and biblical and Koranic traditions to create a beautiful novel.

8. 2006: Half a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Nigeria)

Half a Yellow Sun explores the shocking horror of the civil war that engulfed West Africa. Set in the 1960s, the book brings together a cast of interesting characters from very different backgrounds, from a radical professor to a young woman who has left her life of privilege.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie takes readers on an emotional journey as she tackles a range of topics, from ethnic allegiances to class, and explores how love can lead to complications.

9. 2009: The Book of Night Women by Marlon James (Jamaica)

Marlon James won the Booker Prize for A Brief History of Seven Killings in 2015, and his earlier work is well worth a read too. The Book of Night Women is an achievement in powerful storytelling.

Lilith was born into slavery on a Jamaican sugar plantation, but as she comes into her own, she starts to push the boundaries of what’s possible for a slave woman. James challenges the traditional slave narrative and explores a complex relationship between Lilith and Robert Quinn, a white overseer.

10. 2021: A Passage North by Anuk Arudpragasam (Sri Lanka)

Sri Lanka is vividly brought to life in A Passage North as Krishan travels north in search of answers. The journey is sparked by a phone call informing him that his grandmother’s carer has died in suspicious circumstances.

A Passage North offers a window into the war-torn Northern Province after the country’s 30-year civil war. It takes an in-depth look at how the connections made during your life can leave a lasting imprint.



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