The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini.
Only in January, but I think it may be hard to top this one. It is a hard read--and it made me cry more than once. I wouldn't necessarily recommend it for anyone who is the least bit squeamish. But it had the same powerful effect on me that A Fine Balance did--and it opened my eyes to a completely different world than my own.
This is a story of modern Afghanistan--told through the lives of two boys. Amir is the son of a wealthy and powerful man. Hassan is the son of a servant. Amir is educated. Hassan is illiterate. Amir is handsome. Hassan has a cleft lip. But Amir is afraid and needy. Hassan is brave and generous. Growing up together, they share many things, including the joy of kite-fighting and kite running. But on one day, everything changes, with a terrible event that changes everything forever.
Through the eyes of Amir, the narrator, we see Kabul before the Russian invasion. We see the effects of that Russian attempt at takeover. And then we learn about what happened when the Taliban took over. It is a thought-provoking look at a people subjected to years of warfare--and its effects on the children.
But it's not a political book. That's just the background. The story is about love recognized too late, betrayal and redemption. "There's still time to be good." While a few of the plot twists are really far too neat (especially one about a high-ranking Taliban executioner), I didn't realize it at the time I was reading it. The story just pulled you along by your heart.
Hard to imagine it was Hosseini's first novel. I think it's fabulous.
Recommended highly, if (and only if!) you have a pretty strong stomach.
Here's a snippet, in fact, the first paragraph of the book:
I became what I am today at the age of twelve, on a frigid overcast day in the winter of 1975. I remember the precise moment, crouching behind a crumbling mud wall, peeking into the alley near the frozen creek. That was a long time ago, but it's wrong what they say about the past, I learned, about how you can bury it. Because the past claws its way out. Looking back now, I realize I have been peeking into that deserted alley for the last twenty-six years.
Nest book(s) up: Possession: A Romance which I need to finish to pass on to someone else in my book club, and Excellent Women by Barbara Pym, because I needed something far away from Afghanistan.