Editor’s Note: As in previous years, EJIL’s Book Review Editor, Isabel Feichtner, invited our Board members to reflect on the books that have had a significant impact on them this year. In the following days we will present some selections here on EJIL:Talk! They include books, not necessarily published in 2016, but read or reread this year, and found inspiring or enjoyable. These editors’ choices are not intended to be a prize in disguise, but rather are personalised accounts of the reading experiences of our Board members. We begin with our Editor-in-Chief’s selection.
As is now our custom, I list 10 of the books I read during the last year which stood out and which I do not hesitate to recommend to our readers. The law books – seven in all – are actually all relatively recent. Though typically I list the books in no particular order, I make an exception this time for the first in the list, Philippe Sand’s East West Street.
Philippe Sands, East West Street (Knopf, 2016)
East West Street is simply a must read; forgive the cliché for a book which is the opposite of cliché. It is both a Law Book and Book about the Law, as the subtitle indicates: On the Origins of Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity. But it is so much more. It has novel-like qualities (and a very fine novel at that) in weaving together the lives of its various protagonists as well as being an altogether not kitschy personal roots exploration of the author, Philippe Sands himself. He is not only author but decidedly one of the protagonists. It is not exactly a page-turner – that would actually diminish the quality and achievement of Sands, but despite its considerable length, it is hard to put down. You will learn a lot, become wiser and be moved in more ways than one. Last year I sang the praise of Sebald. Sand’s book has Sebald qualities and there is no higher praise in my evaluative vocabulary.
Mario Vargas Llosa, Travesuras de la niña mala (Alfaguara, 2006)
Travesuras de la niña mala by Nobel Prize winner Mario Vargas Llosa was an easy choice, even if I typically prefer his essayistic writing to his novels. It is a very traditional novel in style – which is one of its attractions. You will not be struggling with post-modernist experimentation, which is wonderful when it works (not often) and awful when it does not (frequently). The story begins with the first love of a 14 year-old (the dates, at least, correspond to Vargas Llosa’s own time line). It is no less than marvellous the ability of a 70 year-old to describe with such delicate and empathetic precision the mental world of the young protagonist – el niño bueno – whose enduring love affair with the complex and compelling niña mala the novel tracks. Not a ‘masterpiece’ but a piece of wonderful writing by a master that will stick in your mind. Read the rest of this entry…