This week: Sara Gruen’s new novel about apes, a social history of the American company town, a riveting account of the great African-America migration, one US Marines life story from African child soldier to hero, and Ruth Rendell’s latest mystery.
Ape Houseby Sara Gruen
The bestselling author of Water for Elephants tackles the human-ape nexus.
Sara Gruen’s last novel, Water for Elephants, became a cultural phenomenon. The bildungsroman, about a young man’s experiences with a traveling circus, was heavily endorsed by Oprah, has over three million copies in print, and is being adapted into a major Hollywood motion picture starring Robert Pattinson, Reese Witherspoon, and Christoph Waltz. The success of Gruen’s third novel led to a furious bidding war among publishers—chronicled by The New York Times—resulting in a reported $5 million, two-book deal. Gruen’s highly anticipated follow-up, Ape House, swaps a circus elephant for a family of bonobo apes, enveloping the reader in a unique world populated by an ape scientist, a reporter, an alt-vegan, a retired porn star, and exploitative ape-themed reality TV. “The novel includes scenes illuminating the horrors of some scientific research, and indirectly raises the question of what bonobos might teach us about our own capacity for empathy,” said The New York Times.
The Company Townby Hardy Green
A labor historian recounts the story of American capitalism through the rise and fall of “the company town.”
The former books editor at Business Week, history/political science professor, and union strike consultant draws from his experience to trace the evolution of American capitalism through its rich history of single-enterprise towns. The Company Town explores how these towns, e.g. Hershey, Pennsylvania, or Gary, Indiana, became what Green dubs “Exploitationvilles”—vast laboratories of social control and experiment designed to regulate workers’ lives—lorded over by colorful capitalist utopians like candy-maker Milton Hershey. Traces of these once prevalent towns still exist today in the form of Microsoft and Google’s high-tech worker communities, and Kirkus Reviews calls the book, “A bright history of a quintessentially American place.”
The Warmth of Other Sunsby Isabel Wilkerson
A Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist delivers a profound narrative account of the African-American migration from the South to North.
The former Chicago bureau chief of The New York Times provides a gripping, extensively researched study of the “great migration”—the exodus of six million African-Americans from the Jim Crow South to the North and Midwest. Wilkerson, whose own parents left the South to settle in Washington D.C., traces the historical movement through the eyes of three unique characters, weaving a captivating tale of hardship and perseverance that is at once epic, and strikingly intimate. “A landmark piece of nonfiction… [Wilkerson’s] closeness with, and profound affection for, her subjects reflect her deep immersion in their stories and allow the reader to share that connection,” said The New York Times.
In the Shadow of Freedom by Tchicaya Missamou
The inspiring, gripping memoir of a true American hero.
Written with Los Angeles playwright, author, and screenwriter Travis Sentell, Tchicaya Missamou’s riveting memoir, In the Shadow of Freedom, takes its reader on an epic journey from his childhood in the Congo—where he served as an armed guard at a checkpoint at the age of 14—to the present day, operating The Warrior Fitness Camp in Valencia, California, where he teaches local youths the skills and tactics he learned in the African bush. In a life story made for the movies, Missamou acted as a war profiteer in Africa, before fleeing to America as a teenager and enlisting in the U.S. Marine Corps, eventually fighting for his adopted country in Afghanistan and Iraq. “ In the Shadow of Freedom sings with joy and howls with pain. It contains humor, terror, and guts. And if you want a book you won't soon forget, close your hands tight around this one,” said the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
Portobelloby Ruth Rendell
A suspenseful, complex mystery about mixed-up lives in a London neighborhood.
The award-winning mystery writer Ruth Rendell’s new book, Portobello, is a suspenseful, intricately written novel about the mixed-up lives of people in London’s posh Notting Hill neighborhood. One of those people is Eugene Wren, a good-hearted 50-year-old local who comes across an envelope full of cash on the street and sets out to find its owner. Rather than go to the police—the logical thing to do—Wren posts “Found” notices around Portobello Road (hence the book’s title). This act causes a number of unsettling characters to come into Wren’s life—and alter it forever. With thoughtful and complex storytelling, Rendell lures readers in with her complex plot, and then keeps them there, immersed in Wren’s upper-middle-class life. Even Stephen King said, with Portobello, Rendell “has surpassed herself.”