Lucky for some: 13 literary and televisual delights for the summer break

Welcome to ECFR’s list of book and TV recommendations for summer 2022. From easy-reading fantasy to hard-hitting memoirs and the long-awaited return of a favourite TV show, we hope you enjoy them as much as we did.

epa09341645 European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell sits down for a meeting with Zoran Tegeltija, Chairman of the Council of Ministers of Bosnia and Herzegovina, in Brussels, Belgium, 13 July 2021. EPA-EFE/PASCAL ROSSIGNOL / POOL
Josep Borrell reads a file at a meeting with Zoran Tegeltija, Chairman of the Council of Ministers of Bosnia and Herzegovina, in Brussels
©

After a year of reading little but alarming news reports and staggeringly high utility bills, we at ECFR felt in need of some respite. To provide that perfect summer distraction, our experts and staff have compiled a list of books and TV series for the relaxing days ahead. The novels, memoirs, and non-fiction offerings will transport you to Cyprus, Oman, and Sweden – as well as a dystopian South Africa and a purgatorial library – and confront you with unique perspectives on subjects ranging from nuclear deterrence to dictatorship in Albania. For the more televisually inclined, the series tell the stories of two different women navigating very different worlds – but some of whose challenges may be more similar than they first appear. Oh, and don’t forget to pick up a copy of our director Mark Leonard’s new book, “The Age of Unpeace”, which maps how the threads that bind the world together are also pulling it apart.

We wish you a pleasant journey and a restful summer.


📖 “Celestial Bodies” by Jokha Alharthi

Recommended by

This is the first novel originally written in Arabic to ever win the Man Booker International Prize. It is also the first book by a female Omani author to be translated into English. “Celestial Bodies”tells the story of a rapidly changing Oman – a country evolving from a traditional, slave-owning society into its complex present. Set in the fictional village of al-Awafi, it traces the stories of several generations of the same family, from the final decades of the nineteenth century to the early years of the new millennium. Alharthi focuses on three sisters and their marriages, allowing her to explore the changing roles of women in Omani society.

📖 “Baltic Souls by Jan Brokken

Recommended by

Programme Manager, ECFR Rome

This book takes you on an absorbing trip around Kaliningrad, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. It traces the roots, stories, lives, and tragedies of 20 people from the region who have shaped history, culture, politics, and society. Brokken sensitively tells the personal stories of, among others, Hanna Arendt, Gidon Kremer, Arvo Part, Mark Rothko, Mikhail Baryshnikov – and their experiences during the Nazi and communist regimes, the Holocaust, the second world war, and their aftermath.

📺 “The Chair

Recommended by

Programme Manager, ECFR Rome

In this comedy drama, Sandra Oh plays Professor Ji-Yoon Kim – the first woman to be appointed chair of the English department at the fictional Pembroke University. The series charts her personal and professional life as she struggles to be a good mother to her adopted daughter, a feminist role model, and a collegial rock for her younger colleagues and students. And as if that was not enough, she also finds herself tasked with figuring out her friendship with a former colleague – who was fired for doing a Nazi salute while teaching absurdism and fascism.

📖 “Silverview by John Le Carré

Recommended by

Director, Wider Europe programme

Of course, Le Carré’s final novel is a story about spies. This one, however, is very much about the backstage: agents’ family stories, doubts about the lives they have chosen, and more. This is often the case in Le Carré’s novels. But the sense of disillusionment is even stronger here than it was in earlier books.

Two main stories play out. One is about a financial trader who has quit the City to open a bookshop in a small British town. There, he meets a strange Polish man who happens to have been at college with the former trader’s father. The other features the head of internal security of the British intelligence service, who investigates a security breach involving a former analyst (incidentally, the wife of the strange Polish man).

Recommended by

Deputy Director
Head, ECFR London
Programme Coordinator, Wider Europe

This powerful memoir traces the fall of the last communist dictatorship in Europe – the Enver Hoxha regime in Albania. The country’s history from that time is brutal and sad, but also little known. This book will get you up to speed. You’ll laugh out loud and shed some tears as Ypi tells the story of how she and her family survived Hoxha’s tyranny. And once you reach the end of this beautifully written book, you’ll simply want to go back to the beginning and start all over again.

Recommended by

Coordinator for Pan-European Data Projects

While attending a nuclear strategy workshop at the NATO Defense College in Rome, I was reminded of the legacy of Janne Nolan. A cherished and central figure in Washington’s nuclear community, she passed away in 2019. Nuclear weapons are regaining prominence due to Russia’s war in Ukraine – and this analysis of the people behind America’s cold war nuclear strategy is a must-read.

📺 “Borgen

Recommended by

Head, ECFR Berlin
Senior Policy Fellow

Finally, FINALLY, after many long years of waiting, there is a fourth season of Borgen. I was delighted to see Birgitte Nyborg as the Danish foreign minister, even if the series is even less “hygge” this time around. And there were far too few episodes. But it was, as always, an absolute pleasure to watch her (try to) juggle politics, family, and career.

📖 “A System So Magnificent It Is Blinding by Amanda Svensson

Recommended by

Communications Officer

This novel is so magnificent that it will blind you – blind you with strange stories, characters, and places (by turning the familiar – a summer house in Sweden – upside down and inside out). It will also leave you baffled, not quite understanding what just happened. We follow three siblings, triplets (or are there four?), as they navigate their lives, dealing with their past, future, family history, and climate anxiety. We also meet a very moral monkey – what more can I say?

📖 “The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

Recommended by

If you could change any one of your past decisions and live your life again, with all the differences that entailed, would you do it? In his fantasy novel, Haig sets out warnings about the pitfalls of unrealistic dreams without ever succumbing to doom and gloom. This is an easy summer read, but it nonetheless carries a powerful message about the choices we make – and coming to terms with the life we are living.

📖 “The Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante

Recommended by

The much-hyped Neapolitan series by the pseudonymous Italian novelist Elena Ferrante portrays, over four novels, the complex, lifelong friendship of two women – the fiery, uncontainable Lila and the bookish Elena – who met as children in 1950s Naples. The description of the Neapolitan society of the era is vivid and even transporting. But I picked up the books for insight into the phenomenon of female friendship, a critical part of the social fabric that most men (or at least me) don’t understand at all. The concept still largely eludes me but, halfway through the four novels, I am starting to get at least a hint.

📖 “The Fever by Deon Meyer

Recommended by

Adam Teufel

In this fictional memoir, the protagonist Nico tells the story of how he and his father survive a global pandemic that kills 95 per cent of humanity. After travelling across South Africa in a lorry, they build a new community – eventually becoming self-sustaining for food, electricity, and biofuel. But the dangers of the post-fever world pose challenges for the nascent society – which Nico and his father are forced to navigate at their peril.

📖 Au Café de la Ville Perdue by Anaïs Llobet

Recommended by

Head, ECFR Paris
Senior Policy Fellow

This is a wonderful story of how the seaside resort of Varosha in Cyprus became a ghost town. After the Turkish invasion in 1974, the division between the two parts of the city brought about its decay – crushing the dreams of many on both sides. At a time when war has returned to Europe, “Au Café de la Ville Perdue” reminds us of the atavistic nature of human beings – yet the writer never allows us to lose hope that we will learn from past mistakes.

Recommended by

As I head off on holiday, I have just received the first issue of this long-awaited, beautifully designed – and largely crowdfunded – literary magazine. It has pride of place at the top of my suitcase. The titles of some articles – like “The EU goes to church”, “Who will speak European?”, or “On American discoveries of Europe” – look particularly intriguing and promising. My European sentiment is surely set to get a booster shot.

The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. ECFR publications only represent the views of their individual authors.

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