Health: Monica Ali

Welcome to Shelf Life, ELLE.com book column, where authors share their unforgettable reads. If you are looking for a book that will comfort you, move you deeply, and maybe even make you laugh, consider a recommendation from the writers of our history, like you (while you are here), love books. Maybe one of their favorite titles will be yours.

Love Marriage: A Novel

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Monica Ali opens up about the loss of confidence and the impact of depression that has kept her from bookstores, novels, literary festivals, speaking engagements and writing for years . More than 10 years have passed since his last book and almost 20 since his Booker Prize shortlist, Brick Lane. Love Marriage (Scribner), about two doctors from different cultures who get married, marking his fifth book and as a Sunday Times bestseller, returns.

Born in Dhaka to a Bengali father and an English mother, Ali ran with his brother and mother (who remembers reading The Story of Ferdinand to them on the fly ) when the civil war started. His father will be reunited with his family in the UK, and he will receive a degree in philosophy, politics, and economics at the University of Oxford.

The London-based writer studied writing at Columbia University and was Distinguished Writer in Residence at the University of Surrey. She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and a Trustee of the women’s and girls’ advocacy group Hopscotch Women’s Centre.

He has two children; worked as a marketing and sales manager at small publishers such as Verso and at a creative agency; spending time at his summer home in Portugal (where his second record Alentejo Blue was produced); and Love Marriage is being adapted for a BBC television series.

Practice: Transcendental Meditation. Listen to: Esther Perel’s “Where Do We Begin?” podcast. Seen by: Therapy as an alternative profession and community life. She shares her book picks below.

The book will:

… I wept uncontrollably:

A Working Life by Chang Rae Lee. The story of a Japanese-American man who falls in love with a Korean “comfort girl” takes place during World War II when he is in the Japanese army stationed in Burma. The “comfort girls” were female slaves, bound every day by many soldiers. It’s a sad and uncomfortable story at the same time.

…I often recommend:

A House for Mr. Biswas by VS Naipaul because it is the best tragi-comedy ever written. It also looks at colonialism, race, and religion. And the story of one man’s struggle to carve out, against the odds, his own place in the world.

… formed my worldview:

1984 by George Orwell. I first read it when I was 13, and it had a profound effect. I heard double talk around me. Naturally, when you were young, you thought your parents were hypocrites. But it forced me to think about news in a different, more questioning way.

…reminds me of a long-held belief:

In the Kingdom of hungry souls by Gabor Maté. I read it as part of my research for Love Marriage, because Maté is an addiction therapist, and one of my subjects is a female addict. I used to think that only a small minority of people had addiction. But Maté shows that addiction actually runs a continuum through our society. We can connect to many things – social media, stress, power, shopping – in order to treat or hide our fears or pain.

…I promise I will finish it one day:

The Gulag landscape by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. It’s a compelling story of Soviet terror and oppression, and a masterpiece. But I had to stop two thirds of the way because I couldn’t take it anymore.

…I read it in one sitting, that’s good:

Family Lexicon by Natalia Ginzburg, a fictional account of childhood in Italy in the 1920s and 30s, and the struggle against fascism when Mussolini came to power. Life is good. A lesson in the meaning of life.

… sitting on my nightstand:

The Love Songs of WEB Du Bois by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers. I’m 600 pages in, and I don’t want it to end.

…I will give to my son:

My daughter, who is 21, has read all my books. My son, he is two years old, does not read. But I live in hope, so I’ll give a copy of Love Marriagebut maybe he’ll look after I’m dead and gone.

… has the best opening line:

“In the city, there are two voices, and they are always together.” Do not The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers. One sound is interesting, but two? It is very interesting, it draws you in immediately. What do they do together? You want to know right away.

…a sex scene that will make you blush:

The Company by Mary McCarthy. I had often heard about the book (published in 1960) as a must-read, but I had never seen it until now. A book about love and heartbreak, marriage and business. And the woman. McCarthy is very good at writing about real, painful, ugly, complicated sex.

… it should be in every school:

The collection of stories by Natalia Ginzburg, Small Rights. Get everything you need to prepare yourself for adulthood and how to raise children. “For the education of children, I think they should be taught not the little virtues but the great ones. Not thrift but benevolence and indifference to money; not caution but courage and with contempt for trouble; not cunning but truth and love of truth; not thought but love of neighbor and self-denial; not a desire to succeed but a desire to become and know.

…I re-read too much:

Perhaps Anna Karenina by Tolstoy. Although it might sound like one of Jane Austen’s novels. I can’t imagine life without Tolstoy and Austen.

…I recommend the comfort food recipe:

The Cazalet Story by Elizabeth Jane Howard – five volumes of family history spanning from the 1930s to the 1950s. Howard was a keen observer of human drama and psychology, and wrote about suffering, loss and longing. Something – for me – this works like a kind of balm.

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