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.
This week, stories of human endurance and persistence, whether in the courtroom or behind enemy lines.
The Price of Justice By Laurence LeamerThe epic legal struggle between two Pittsburgh lawyers and an energy tycoon in West Virginia.Kafkaesque considerations lie at the heart of The Price of Justice, such as whether a citizen’s constitutional right to due process and a fair trial was violated when the judge received large contributions from one side of the legal dispute. In his 14th book, veteran journalist Laurence Leamer recounts his ground-level view of the epic legal struggle between two Pittsburgh layers, Dave Fawcett and Bruce Stanley, and the head of the massively lucrative Massey Energy, Don Blankenship, over the latter’s tyrannical and unconstitutional control of West Virginian coal mining country.
From a young girl’s real-life diary of her time in a concentration camp, to John le Carré’s new novel taking on the war on terror.
Helga’s Diary by Helga Weiss A young Jewish girl under the thumb of Nazi Germany keeps a diary of her time in the ghettos and camps.There’s no such thing as a definitive account of surviving the Holocaust. No one person lived all the horrors or found every way to express the horrors. Helga Weiss adds a new story into a shrinking community of survivors with her edited diary, full of life despite the void of humanity that surrounds her.This young girl is adaptable.
This week, from the songbirds of rural Indiana to the forgotten gothic literature of Russia.
Snapper By Brian Kimberling A lovestruck ecologist’s mission roaming the woods and fighting for songbirds.Evansville, Indiana, is the setting of this debut novel, but it’s easy to mistake the city for a character in this book. “If Indiana is the bastard son of the Midwest, then Evansville is Indiana’s snot-nosed stepchild,” the protagonist, Nathan, observes. Nathan is an ecologist who spends his days roaming the forests in a truck held together with duct tape and Band-Aids, tracking birds, using trigonometry to calculate nest locations, composing wry, anthropomorphizing field notes.
From a long-awaited sequel to a courtly farce, to a memoir of a childhood spent in the ruins of American aristocracy.
The Astor Orphan By Alexandra AldrichA debut memoir of an Astor descendant’s childhood spent living in crumbling Rokeby Mansion.Perhaps the reason that large, old mansions feel like characters in their own right is that they are given proper names: ostentatious Brideshead Castle from Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited, or ignominious Darlington Hall from Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day. The American cousin to these homesteads, central to Alexandra Aldrich’s debut memoir The Astor Orphan, is Rokeby, a 43-room mansion in the Hudson Valley built by the Astor family in tribute to their own enormous wealth and influence.
From André Aciman’s novel of a Harvard student struggling with his immigrant identity to a history of the women who ruled Renaissance Italy.
American Dream Machine By Matthew SpecktorAn agent and his son play out the Hollywood version of the American Dream.Matthew Specktor’s newest novel shows the cutthroat nature of how to succeed in Hollywood, a world where moving up means climbing over someone else. New-York-born Beau Rosenwald moves to Los Angeles in 1960, and his charisma helps him become a wealthy Hollywood agent. His son turns to drugs in his father’s shadow. The story is familiar: a powerful man struggles to keep control of his empire; the son searches for his identity outside of his father’s shadow.
From the story of the runners who made marathons mainstream to a novel obsessed with speed by a National Book Award nominee.
Kings of the Road By Cameron Stracher The men who made marathons mainstream began their endurance run in the ‘70s.In 2012, 487,000 Americans ran a marathon; that figure would have easily exceeded half a million if not for the post-Sandy cancellation of the New York City Marathon, a race in which 9 percent of marathoners participate each year. Today, the sight of “grown men … on the roads in their long underwear and gloves, battling traffic for the shoulder,” is nothing unusual.
From a reissue of a violent 1972 classic to a macabre odyssey across a Gothic Southern landscape.
The Prince By R.M. Koster A reprint of a 1972 classic in which a fictional Latin American nation boils in violence.The value of a well-chosen reprint should go beyond merely reminding us of a good book that we might have forgotten—it should reengage us with a former state of the world and that world’s reflection in literature. The Prince, R.M. Koster’s 1972 National Book Award–nominated first installment in the Tinieblas trilogy, is the story of Tinieblas, a fictional Latin American country based on Koster’s time spent deployed as a soldier in Panama, and one of its many would-be rulers, Enrique “Kiki” Secundo.
From the tragedy of Soviet composer Serge Prokofiev’s wife to a novel about the life of Typhoid Mary.
Lina and Serge By Simon MorrisonThe remarkable story of the wife of composer Serge Prokofiev, who was imprisoned in the gulag for eight years.Carolina Codina, whose stage name was Lina Llubera, was born in Madrid, raised in Brooklyn, and dreamed of being an opera singer admired by the world. Instead, she married Serge Prokofiev, who was one of the most admired composers on the world stage, and in 1936, Stalin’s Soviet Union lured them back to Moscow.
From a journalist’s personal history with the racism of the American South to a diary of a Japanese girl that washes up on the shores of Canada.
The New Mind of the South by Tracy Thompson Looking for new hope in the land of the old Confederacy.Tracy Thompson grew up in Georgia, and concluded that the simplest way to deal with the cognitive dissonance of being from the South was to “shove the whole thing into a mental drawer and get on with your life.” As a career journalist, though, it was only a matter of time until her need for deeper answers caught up with her. In The New Mind of the South, Thompson sets out to meet historian Carl Degler’s challenge: “No Southerner, so far as I know, has yet seen fit to write about the ‘two-ness’ of Southerners.
This week, a third installment from a master memoirist, two promising debut novels, and the story of a New York City culinary institution.
Falling To Earth by Kate SouthwoodA tornado obliterates a Midwestern town in 1920s Illinois and sets a family on an unavoidable path.When listing evocative American images, near the top would have to be Mother holding open the cellar door, as the kids scramble down the steps and dark clouds roll toward them across the plains. So opens Falling to Earth, a debut novel from Kate Southwood, which takes as its inciting incident the true-life disaster that befell an entire swath of the Midwest on March 18, 1925.
From a tour of four Eastern megalopolises to a novel that looks inside the world of the French ultra-rich.
A History of Future Cities By Daniel Brook A cultural and historical examination of urban growth in major population centers of the East.Unprecedented growth in the East has yielded a lot of art, innovation, and global industries, but such growth has also been the cause of crime, poverty, and death. In A History of Future Cities, Daniel Brook examines trends across several Asian cities as they’ve tried (and in some ways succeeded) to emulate the West, and wonders what is being lost in the progress.
From a story collection of manhood in Southern California to some of the last books of Maeve Binchy and Vasily Grossman.
Middle Men by Jim GavinManhood in Southern California stalls along the highways in this story collection.Crisscrossing along the highways of Southern California is a legion of men, mostly young, mostly lost. Middle Men, Jim Gavin’s soberly perceptive debut short-story collection, follows these men between jobs, relationships, and friends. There’s Berkeley dropout Bobby, skating from one mental breakdown to the next. There’s 23-year-old Brian, who spends all his money following a girlfriend 10 years his senior from Los Angeles to Bermuda.
This week, stories of moving on, whether in the face of disaster, trauma, or soul-testing technology.
This Is Running For Your Life By Michelle OrangeA brilliant collection of essays on modern life, and ways that technology and connectivity are changing how we interact with the world.The title of a new collection of essays from critic Michelle Orange, This Is Running For Your Life, is so striking in part because it is such an unspoken but recognizable feeling about the way we currently spend our time on earth. As Orange brilliantly breaks down the state of modern life and how it stands in relation to technology and the commoditized image, she tells us much of what we already have intuited, but might have been afraid to admit to ourselves.
From J.G. Ballard’s memoir about his days interned in a Japanese POW camp to a Pulitzer-winning journalist’s autopsy of Detroit.
Miracles of Lifeby J.G. BallardHow the dystopian writer’s childhood in a Shanghai internment camp and his young wife’s death made him into the writer of ‘The Atrocity Exhibition.’James Graham Ballard’s science fiction has no robots and no rockets, and the future and the present are equally dystopian. It mirrors French postmodernist Jean Baudrillard’s hyperreal—the simulacrum is not a copy but a truer world than our own. It folds and divides, jumps and tunnels.
From the breakdown of a teen heartthrob and Jamaica Kincaid’s first new novel in 10 years to Rosie Schaap as she drinks with men.
The Love Song of Jonny Valentine by Teddy WayneA pre-teen pop idol searches for his voice. It’s not easy being a tween. Eleven-year-old Jonathan Valentino—aka Jonny Valentine—isn’t good at talking to girls, doesn’t understand why his parents separated, and isn’t even allowed to use the Internet by himself. Given the choice (which he isn’t), he would much rather play his favorite video game, Zenon, than study math. After all, it’s hard to see the point of doing homework when your album has gone triple platinum.
Every week, we present brief but in-depth reviews of five fiction and non-fiction books.
The Daily Beast picks the best journalism from around the web this week. By David Sessions.