This week, a commando raid on occupied Crete, an opium-tinged mystery, and the story of one Russain nobleman’s attempts to expand the empire into California.
Rustication by Charles PalliserCharles Palliser (author of 1989’s million-seller The Quincunx) uses the opening pages of his first novel in over ten years, titled Rustication, to establish an interesting framing device: an author’s note (signed “CP”) explains that the following story is merely Palliser’s transcription of a Victorian journal that he found moldering in a records office somewhere. It’s unclear what point the device serves—couldn’t the story simply stand on its own?—until one realizes just how much Palliser likes to play with voyeuristic perspective, and add layers of confusion onto what might have at first appeared clear.
This week: a book about men in all sorts of ways, a writer’s 1940s New York, a rain drenched Irish tale of murder and pursuit, and a novel filled with trash.
The Book of Men Edited by Colum McCann, Tyler Cabot, and Lisa Consiglio In this collection, edited by Colum McCann and the editors of Esquire and Narrative 4, there are all kinds of men. Heroes. Cowards. Creeps. War correspondents and wanna-be lovers. Husbands and dreamers and sons. There are all kinds of women, as well. Mothers and lovers, convicts and authors. Ian McEwan, Salman Rushdie, and Khaled Hosseini are just a few of the writers who have contributed ideas about what is it means to be a man to The Book of Men; so are Edna O’Brien, Tea Obreht, Amy Bloom, and seventy-four other writers from countries around the world.
This week, from stories about the streets of Tehran to the quest to bring a lost World War II pilot home. By Mythili Rao.
The Pomegranate Lady and Her Sons by Goli Taraghi.Born in Tehran in 1939, Goli Taraghi was a teenager during Iran’s 1953 coup and a grown woman during the 1979 revolution. Both upheavals feature prominently in her writing, but the stories collected in The Pomegranate Lady and Her Sons are hardly polemical. Political tumult instead merely provides the backdrop of the transformations of her characters, young and old. The adolescent girls of “Flowers of Shiraz” can hardly comprehend the change underway in their country: In the run-up to Mossadeq’s ouster, they ride their bikes through the city, meeting for ice cream, flirting with boys, and racing through the hills, despite the protests on the streets.
From the Steely Dan lead singer’s memoir to the golden age of American French cooking, here are this week’s hot reads.
Eminent Hipsters by Donald Fagen. Steely Dan co-founder and lead singer Donald Fagen’s new book Eminent Hipsters is partly a compilation of his essays and partly a journal he kept while on tour in 2012. Fagen, who majored in journalism as an undergraduate, includes vignettes about his awkward adolescence and growing up Jewish in the predominantly Christian Midwest—alongside critical assessments of his own musical influences, science fiction of the 1950s, and radio legend Jean Shepherd.
James Franco’s first novel, a Dickensian ghost story, an ugly incident in American racial history, and England’s second-place effort in the race for the atomic bomb.
Actors Anonymous by James Franco. Though James Franco can now add “novelist” to his already lengthy curriculum vitae, his new book Actors Anonymous is less a novel than a collection of tangentially related short works, both fictional and non-fictional. He may not yet be a good enough writer to sustain a full scale novel, but Franco can write compelling short fiction. Of particular note are “McDonalds I” and “McDonalds II,” a pair of short stories about a struggling actor who works at a drive-thru, as Franco himself did before being discovered.
Two masters of the crime novel have new works: Jo Nesbo’s ‘Police’ and George Pelecanos’s ‘The Double.’
Police by Jo Nesbo. After starring in nine of Jo Nesbo’s novels, Harry Hole, a talented, troubled detective, needs a break from the violent world his author created for him. Oslo’s chill, humanity’s evil, and a violent, unsolved crime that struck too close to home had made this world seem too much like a nightmare. When he finally surfaces in Police, midway through the story, colleagues notice the laugh lines around his eyes, how happy and rested he seems.
From a novel on nostalgia to a novel on paranoia.
Nostalgia by Dennis McFarland. Summerfield Hayes, a Brooklyn-born soldier late of the Union Army, wakes up in a hospital bed unable to speak. He has been rendered mute by what in 1864 was a medical diagnosis: nostalgia. A modern name for it might be post-traumatic stress disorder. In his new novel, entitled Nostalgia, Dennis McFarland explores how war makes some men prisoners of their own minds. Though in a state of near catatonia, Hayes’s synapses are busily firing.
From a Hungarian novelist’s newest to a biography of Richard Wagner.
Seiobo There Below by László Krasznahorkai. The fiction of Hungarian writer László Krasznahorkai is often called “obsessive” by critics. For good reason—his sentences are enormous and repetitive, and his subjects are rigorously examined from all angles. He is a master of the breathless paragraph, the hypnotic meditation. James Wood, in a piece about Krasznahorkai’s pull as a postmodernist, noted that the worlds conjured by Thomas Bernhard seem more logical by comparison.
From a National Book Award winner’s raw yet elegant memoir to an architect of the modern Internet who died during the 9/11 attacks.
Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward. A string of tragic deaths leads the author to reexamine her roots. Ward won the National Book Award in 2011 for her novel Salvage the Bones, set in her native rural Mississippi in the days leading up to Hurricane Katrina. This time around, she turns her eye back on her own life in that region’s depressed economy and untamed landscape, and to the African-American community there struggling to transcend the conditions both historical and contemporary that hold them back.
A three-year journey across the Eurasian Steppe, a Cheeveresque story collection, and a new novel from a master of the quiet moment.
On The Trail Of Genghis Khan By Tim Cope The truly epic tale of a professional explorer’s three-year journey across the Eurasian Steppe.There are plenty of fine books written by people who go off on adventures and return to set their story to paper, but Tim Cope’s adventure, recalled in On the Trail of Genghis Khan, puts almost all of them to shame. His was a 6,000-mile journey on horseback from Mongolia to Hungary that lasted over three years.
From Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Paul Harding’s next book, to the story of mushroom foragers who supply fungal gold to the world’s best restaurants.
Enon by Paul Harding. Returning to the town of Enon and to the Crosby family of the Pulitzer-winning ‘Tinkers.’ If adapted for the stage, this novel would make an artful, off-Broadway monologue. We return to the town of Enon and to the Crosby family, which were the subjects of Paul Harding’s debut novel Tinkers, winner of the 2010 Pulitzer Prize. In the wake of his daughter’s tragic death, Charlie Crosby is crazy with grief. For one full year, we never leave his side.
From a debut novel where besieged journalists take asylum to a biography of the missionary who made California.
The House of Journalists By Tim Finch A debut novel about oppressed journalists who live together in LondonThere’s no lack of repressive regimes that will persecute, muffle, torture and kill journalists who shine a light where malignant leaders would prefer darkness. What if such journalists could seek asylum in a centralized placed? Not a country, but a house in London, where the exigencies of living together creates its own brand of tension? That’s the terrifically engaging conceit from Finch, a debut novelist who once served as political journalist for the BBC and now works for the Institute for Public Policy Research.
This Week’s Hot Reads: ‘Claire of the Sea Light,’ ‘Brief Encounters With the Enemy,’ ‘Lincoln’s Citadel’
From the Haitian master Edwidge Danticat’s new novel to the social history of the U.S. capital during the Civil War.
Claire of the Sea Light By Edwidge Danticat A child disappears from a Haitian village, showcasing how the island connects with grief in startling ways. Danticat’s latest novel is about a child who disappears from a Haitian village; as a character, she only flickers among the sadder stories of her father and the town’s residents, all of whom are distraught by her absence. Like Jane Campion’s Top of the Lake, a television series similarly about a missing child and the traumas of those that know her, Claire of the Sea Light is a mood piece about a place (Haiti) and a feeling (grief) and how the two connect in startling ways.
From a newly translated 1972 classic about women in the Caribbean to the latest in Benjamin Black/John Banville’s crime series.
The Bridge of Beyond By Simone Schwarz-Bart A 1972 classic laced with beauty and wonder, about women on the Caribbean island of Guadalupe.The narrator of this 1972 novel by Simone Schwarz-Bart (newly translated by Barbara Bray) is Telumee, who is looking back over four generations of women in her family on the Caribbean island of Guadalupe. Telumee finds miracles in the everyday as she draws on the struggles and triumphs of her forbears and navigates the pitfalls of her own life.
This week, an amazing survey of the short-story form by a single author and an investigation into the gossipy history of a venerable publishing house.
Snow Hunters by Paul YoonA North Korean defector tries to capture peace in Brazil after the Korean War.One symptom that oppressive Stalinist regimes, of which North Korea is a fine example, tend to visit on their citizens is an intentional infantilization, where knowledge of the true state of the world is kept hidden in favor of the party-approved truths. When someone with this background somehow finds their way out, then, they view things with wonderment that those of us raised in free societies can scarcely imagine.
Every week, we present brief but in-depth reviews of five fiction and nonfiction books.
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