Abdulrazak Gurnah’s previously out-of-print 2005 novel, published in the U.S. for the first time this year, begins with a half-starving Englishman named Martin Pearce. It’s 1899 and Martin finds himself in a coastal East African village where he meets and falls in love with Rehana, the sister of the local shopkeeper who nurses him back to health. The couple’s illicit love story plays out across the book’s early chapters with Gurnah using flashbacks to show just how symbiotic the two are despite their disparate backgrounds. One may begin to write off Desertion as a star-crossed epic romance, until Gurnah pulls off an unexpectedly heartbreaking twist. The book then jumps ahead to the 1950s, where a new narrator and cast of characters is introduced. When their connection to Martin and Rehana is eventually uncovered, Gurnah, winner of the 2021 Nobel Prize in Literature, reveals just how small the world really is. —Shannon Carlin

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