Life & Style

A Beautiful Mind

Supermodel Liya Kebede is more than just a pretty face. The Ethiopian-born cover-girl boasts an intelligence as fierce as her natural beauty: a celebrated maternal health advocate, she also runs the Instagram book club, @liya_brairie, devouring reads that debate life’s big questions. Here she shares a few favourites…

Silence Is My Mother Tongue by Sulaiman Addonia

This poetic tale reveals how complex and complicated life can be in a refugee camp – not only the physical but also the inner life. The struggles, the desires that are allowed and not allowed, the obvious freedoms that are taken away and the not so obvious ones. How, even in these dire circumstances, society’s rules stay the same but a young boy and girl dare to dream and live differently.

At The Existentialist Café by Sarah Bakewell

I walked into one of my favourite bookstores in New York City, lured by the book that was in the window entitled ‘At The Existentialist Café’. To say this book was going to change my life is an understatement. It completely shook my life upside down! How can a book speak so intimately about the things you so intimately think about? And hello Sartre and hello de Beauvoir... nice to meet you too! This is the book that makes you dream of living in Paris in the ’60s, sipping coffees at Café de Flore while mingling with intellectuals such as Merleau-Ponty and Heidegger, de Beauvoir, Sartre and many others. What I wouldn’t give to be there.

Another Day Of Life by Ryszard Kapuscinski

I first discovered this author when I read ‘The Emperor’, his book on Haile Selassie, which was one of the few English-language works written about the old King. I loved it so much that I looked up the author and realised he had written other books about Africa, including this one. Ryszard is a Polish war correspondent and has found himself in many conflict zones – such as Angola in the ’70s on the brink of its independence from Portugal. His real-time account of the senseless war, violence and hate could not be more timely as we struggle today with similar conflict and confusion. It serves as a great historical snapshot of the never-ending African demise.

Cairo Circles by Doma Mahmoud

I read this book in two days. It shares a wonderful rendering of a family drama that is familiar to me and yet so new. The book reminded me so much of Ethiopia and family life there but also the disconnect we feel living outside our native countries, pulled by the illusion of the western world. The disparity between the haves and the have nots, even though very wide, obliges everyone to live intermingled, prompting a certain closeness, tolerance, acceptance, even love.

Life Is Big by Kiki Denis

Kiki and I first met almost 10 years ago, sitting close to each other at a screenwriting lab in New York city. I don’t recall how conversation sparked between us but I do recall that our connection was instant. So I was more than honoured when she asked me to write a foreword for the book I’d taken to the the beautiful island of Bali one summer and devoured. Twice. Life is Big is full of multiple characters from multiple dimensions, all searching for the same answers that have been plaguing me and the world in general: Why are we here? Where are we going? What should we be doing? With wit and infinite intelligence, Kiki poses these questions and puts forth intriguing theories that make you think and wonder and push your own possibly limited point of view out of its comfort zone. And the result is pure joy. Through fictionalised versions of characters we know, like Einstein and Neruda and even Death, she makes us examine the layers and layers of rich ideas she’s buries in the story, and leaves us wanting more.

My Name Is Why by Lemn Sissay

This book pulled at my heartstrings. What courage he had to divulge his own story like this. You feel all his torment and torture. Every piece of information he collects from his past records are like a stab in your heart. Sissay’s is a story about children who grow up in institutions and are moved from foster parents to other foster parents. He reveals the extent to which one can feel totally and utterly abandoned and the courage it takes to overcome all this. ‘Lemn’, his first name in Amharic, means ‘why’.

Paradis Perdus by Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt

I discovered this book while sauntering around in the only existing bookshop in Saint-Tropez. I was merely accompanying a friend who was looking for a book, so knowing myself I tried not to look at the titles that were waiting impatiently to be devoured by me. As usual, I couldn’t resist. One big book caught my eye. It was the second book in the series of ‘La Traversée Des Temps’. It had everything I love: history mixed with stories mixed with philosophy and intrigue. I asked the bookseller what her thoughts were on this book and she was surprised that I had never heard of the author or his books. She said I must read it, but not this one. I had to start with the first book in the series, ‘Paradis Perdus’. And let me say I have not been able to put it down since I read the first words. I close the last page and I am filled with sadness and excitement. Sadness that it’s over and I have to wait another week or so before I can acquire the second book and excitement because THERE IS a second book that will satisfy my hunger for the cliff-hanger the first book ended with. In other words, if you haven’t already, go read it!

My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk

What could be more exciting than an intrigue set the Ottoman Empire during the sixteenth century, when they discover the colour red for the first time and artists are being challenged by the Sultan to paint in the European style – something that goes against everything they believe in. This is one of my favourite books of all time. I love the pace, the poetic sentences, the images of Istanbul, Arabian art and culture, colour and most of all love. It made me want to move to Istanbul, rent a small apartment in Taxim overlooking the tea houses, and write a novel on a typewriter listening to the hustle and bustle of the streets below. There are chapters in this book I’ve reread many times. I was so obsessed I went to a book signing in NY when the author Orhan Pamuk came to 92 Street Y. I went there of filled with much excitement, thinking I knew him so well. And I knew this book so much. He just smiled and said thank you and signed my book. Still, how I would love to chat with him over a cappuccino about the books that mattered in his life. Those that changed his life, and what prompted him to write this masterpiece.