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.
This week, a stunning debut of historically-set stories, Edward Said’s daughter hunts for her roots, and a journey told in noodles.
Byzantium by Ben Stroud A debut collection of stories that spans countries and eras with delightful ease.Ben Stroud may be known to the readers of Harper’s and Boston Review, where some of his short fiction has appeared, but to most he is a newcomer. His debut collection of short stories, Byzantium, takes place across thousands of years of history all over the globe. Fans of David Mitchell’s The Ten Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet will delight in Stroud’s sensitive approach to historical fiction.
From a teenage dystopian novel to the story of a forgotten artist of Native American scenes.
The Panopticon By Jenni FaganA teenage heroine is sent to a reformatory in this dystopian novel.Anais Hendricks, the 15-year-old heroine of Fagan’s debut novel, has been in and out of foster homes and endured a hardscrabble life, including finding her beloved foster mother stabbed to death in the bathtub. “I’ve moved fifty-one fucking times now, but every time I walk through a new door I feel exactly the same—two years old and ready tae bite.
From a novel of Brooklyn neuroses to what happens when evangelicals take over an Alaskan national park.
The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. By Adelle WaldmanA portrait of Brooklyn’s overeducated set as Woody Allen might have imagined it.For all the writers currently stealing around Brooklyn, until now no novel has depicted that subset in all its waffling, overeducated glory. Nate Piven is an early 30-something writer recently transitioned from aspiring to established as the publication date of his first book approaches. Still, he spends most of his time being obsessed with women without seeming to like them all that much, moving from one withering crush to another with an unsettling talent for retroactive character assassination.
From the unsolved murders of five women whose remains were found on Long Island to a new Louis Begley novella.
Lost Girls By Robert Kolker Who killed the five women found dead in Long Island?On the morning of May 1, 2010, 24-year-old Shannan Gilbert went missing in the secluded community of Oak Beach, Long Island. She had arrived hours before when someone responded to a posting she’d made on Craigslist offering sex. Now it was time to go home. But as her driver watched, a dazed and apparently terrified Shannan took off running from the john’s house and away from her ride.
This week, a debut novel about the challenges of modern courtship and an investigation into one of the darkest episodes of the big-tent circus era.
The Unknowns: A Novel By Gabriel RothA debut novel about unlocking the code of the millennial heart.By age 25, Eric Muller, the narrator of The Unknowns, the debut novel from former San Francisco Bay Guardian reporter Gabriel Roth, has already achieved today’s dorm-room dream: he has sold his Internet startup to a larger company for a sum that makes him a very wealthy young man. But his analytic mind, so useful in the world of computers, hinders his human interactions in the real world, especially with the fairer sex.
From the history of eggs Benedict to the astronauts’ earthbound wives to a pot-fueled county in California, five books to read this week.
A History of Food in 100 Recipes By William SitwellThe history of eggs Benedict and other foodie stories told in delicious nuggets.The recipes in Sitwell’s charming compendium are tacked as headers over short, digestible chapters about signal culinary developments in the last 4,000 years—including my personal favorite, the proliferation of cheese fondue parties in the 1970s, a tent-pole memory of my childhood thanks largely to the different-colored nubs on the fondue forks.
From a 1980s literary superstar’s return to a study of American trailblazers with obsessive-compulsive personality disorder.
The House of Mourning and Other Stories By Desmond Hogan A reclusive writer returns with a short-story collection of lost loves and opportunities. Back in the 1980s, Desmond Hogan was a writer to watch, one of those figures who could light up a London literary party just by showing up. The following decade, though, he fell completely out of sight—even his close friends couldn’t track him down. Today, his name elicits blank stares more than anything else, but the Irish author is back with a short-story collection that seeks to restore his place among the likes of Ian McEwan, Salman Rushdie, and Kazuo Ishiguro.
This week, from the women who conquered Paris and Tuscany to a man made—and ruined—by Wall Street. By Mythili Rao.
In the House Upon the Dirt Between the Lake and the Woods by Matt BellA marriage very darkly seen.In Matt Bell’s brutally dreamlike debut novel, a young couple’s marriage is slowly consumed by darkness after a series of failed pregnancies. Gradually, the darkness extends its reach beyond the home they’ve built together into the woods and surrounding lake. Then, when things seem at their bleakest, one day the narrator’s wife produces a child—from where, though, the narrator is not sure.
From Jeannette Walls’s venture into fiction to a Chinese poet’s Kafkaesque account of life inside horrifically crowded prisons.
The Silver Star By Jeannette Walls Two girls strike out on their own across the country after their mother abandons them. It takes only 20 pages of The Silver Star, the new novel from Jeannette Walls (author of the massively successful memoir of her impoverished upbringing, The Glass Castle), before the characters dive headfirst into their adventure. Twelve-year-old Bean and her older sister Liz find themselves abandoned in their California house one afternoon when their mother, a struggling singer who never found fame in the ’60s and suffers something like an artistic breakdown in 1970, skips town without warning.
From a book steeped in all the strange junk that we’re obsessed with in the contemporary world to a novel of the Cold War experience told through ghost stories.
Note to Self By Alina SimoneA goofy, sweet coming-of-age story that captures life among all the strange trash in the modern world.Reading Alina Simone’s novel Note to Self sometimes feels like browsing a catalog of the strange trash in this modern world. Simone’s funny protagonist, Anna, is suspicious, jumpy, and self-critical. She thinks she’ll get fired from her office job for time theft, fixates on Craigslist ads for fetish parties, and parrots life-coach jargon about goals and wishes.
From Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s tale of reassimilation back into Nigeria to a road-trip novel from Bulgaria to Greece.
Americanah By Chimamanda Ngozi AdichieA woman struggles to assimilate in Nigeria after living in the U.S. for 13 years.Ifemelu, the heroine of Adichie’s third novel, fled Nigeria as a college student when universities went on strike to protest the country’s military regime. “A piercing homesickness” has spurred her return to Lagos, but she also wants to reunite with her lost love, Obinze, who is married. But after living in the United States for 13 years, she is shocked by how much Nigeria has changed.
This week, from a childhood interrupted by war in Sri Lanka to the glory days of food reviewing.
On Sal Mal Lane By Ru FreemanWar threatens to shatter the innocence of children in Sri Lanka.Sri Lankan-American novelist Ru Freeman’s latest book, On Sal Mal Lane, turns to a charming row of homes on an ordinary road in Sri Lanka’s capital. During the years between 1979 and 1983, whispers of war fill the city. But on Sal Mal Lane, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, and Catholics live side by side in relative harmony. The street’s most beloved residents are the Herath children, four young siblings who together form a single unit—“every word uttered, every challenge made, every secret kept, together.
Every week, we present brief but in-depth reviews of five fiction and nonfiction books.
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