David Mitchell's 6 favorite books
The British novelist behind Cloud Atlas and number9dream, both of which were finalists for the Man Booker Prize, shares his favorites
One Man’s Justice by Akira Yoshimura (out of print). A morally probing novel about a Japanese officer, Kiyohara Takuya, who is delegated to execute a captured American airman near the end of the war in the Pacific. Whatever one’s nationality, the reader’s sympathies gravitate toward Officer Takuya during his own attempts to evade capture—and execution—during the Allied occupation. Thoughtful about war and compassionate about guilt, this book is a light-shedder.
A Tomb for Boris Davidovich by Danilo Kis (Dalkey Archive, $13). A septet of tales, mostly set in Eastern Europe and all built around betrayal, hypocrisy, and corruption. Kis’ prose is bitter coffee, flawlessly prepared and served.
Miracle Fair by Wislawa Szymborska (Norton, $16). The poetry of Szymborska, a Polish Nobel laureate, is droll, conversational, intimate, and life-affirming in a vinegary sort of way. Who cares if poetry is impossible to translate, when the results are this lucid, this memorable? Two or three to be taken every night, before sleep.
The Fish Can Sing by Halldór Laxness (Vintage, $15). An Arctic-lit thing of beauty about a houseful of misfits living outside Reykjavik, Iceland. Such is home to Álfgrímur, a boy who strikes up a sporadic but formative relationship with Iceland’s celebrated “world singer” Garoar Hólm. Hólm has a secret hanging around his neck, and Álfgrímur ultimately has a role in his redemption.
Under the Skin by Michel Faber (Mariner, $14). Faber may be best known for his postmodern Victorian glory, The Crimson Petal and the White, but his debut novel tattoos the memory with an unholy trinity of hitchhikers, the Scottish Highlands, and the extraterrestrial meat-packing industry. Wonderful, grisly, and beyond bonkers.
The World Without Us by Alan Weisman (Picador, $15). Last up, a book of nonfiction—in which the author projects what would (or will) happen to the world if (or when) the species Homo sapiens permanently disappears. The fruits of this many-headed inquiry are fascinating and curiously comforting.
—David Mitchell is the author of Cloud Atlas and number9dream, both of which were finalists for the Man Booker Prize. His latest novel, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, will be published June 29 by Random House