As we look back on another year, here is the annual update to my list of The 105 Best Philosophical Novels. Based on curated lists from The Guardian, The New York Times, Publishers Weekly and more, suggestions from readers on Goodreads, and ratings on Goodreads and Amazon, here are the best philosophical novels of 2021.
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4. Heaven by Mieko Kawakami
Kawakami combines the first-person narrative of a fourteen-year-old boy who is tormented by his classmates because of his lazy eye with philosophical and religious reflections on violence against the weak. Heaven was one of the most anticipated books of the year according to The New York Times, The Washington Post, TIME, Oprah Daily and CNN.
3. Silence Is a Sense by Layla AlAmmar
A young woman flees her war-torn Syrian home for an unnamed British city, where she watches her neighbors across from her apartment and writes an anonymous magazine column about the refugee experience. When an anti-Muslim hate crime shakes the neighborhood, she must decide whether to remain a voiceless observer or become an active, visible participant in her new community.
2. The Committed by Viet Thanh Nguyen
Nguyen’s sequel to his 2016 Pulitzer Prize-winning The Sympathizer follows the eponymous Sympathizer, who arrives with his brother in 1980s Paris, where they quickly become drug dealers. As he struggles to assimilate into French culture, the Sympathizer confronts addiction, colonial worldviews and a moral dilemma that divides his two closest friends.
1. Appleseed by Matt Bell
Moving from eighteenth-century apple growers to a late-twentieth-century world ravaged by climate change to an ice-covered North American 1,000 years in the future, Appleseed explores issues ranging from environmental degradation to manifest destiny and the unchecked growth of humanity. Bell’s novel was a Goodreads Choice Awards semifinalist in Science Fiction and was named one of the best books of 2021 by Amazon and The New York Times.