Jill Kargman, Wild Bill Donovan, and Other Hot Reads
This week: a mesmerizing tour through the Arctic, zany, witty essays from Jill Kargman, the biography of espionage legend Bill Donovan, a haunting debut about a blinded scientist, and another about a girl who prophesies the collapse of the Ottomans.
The Magnetic North: Notes From the Arctic Circleby Sara Wheeler
A decade after her bestselling book about the Antarctic, Terra Incognita, Sara Wheeler elegantly tackles the other pole.
In The Magnetic North, Sara Wheeler journeys to the Arctic to explore an environment that paradoxically remains largely untouched and yet is beginning to face severe effects from global warming and pollution. She meets atmospheric scientists monitoring the changes, native inhabitants threatened by the environment, and prospectors taking advantage of the retreating sea ice to extract a bounty of minerals and oil. What could be a bleak account of environmental degradation is “buoyed up by Wheeler's collection of Arctic lore, histories, and picaresque characters,” writes The Guardian.
Sometimes I Feel Like a Nut: Essays & Observationsby Jill Kargman
Celebrated humor novelist Jill Kargman parlays her wit into a hilarious body of nonfiction.
Edgy, addictive, and relatable, Kargman’s collection of organized essays and observations in Sometimes I Feel Like a Nut further elucidates the author’s uniquely irreverent and sharp sense of humor that she established in her first two novels. Jill amuses readers with tales of absurdly comical incidents involving an assorted cast of characters: The Momzillas of Manhattan, a nymphomaniac babysitter, a boss who threw a tape dispenser at her head, and Don Henley, among others. Whether arguing the demerits of “Cirque du So Lame” or enlightening women on the fate of living with “a mommy vagina the size of the Holland Tunnel,” Kargman’s eccentric voice might be perceived as crude if not for her wise, positive outlook on life and ability to laugh at herself in any situation. Among the book’s greatest strengths is Kargman’s not-so-subtle but nonetheless hilarious use of vernacular: Spitzering (“They seem like a really cute couple, but I hear he’s totally Spitzering”). You’re almost certain to start using these terms yourself.
Wild Bill Donovanby Douglas Waller
Drawing on recently declassified documents, Waller pens a definitive portrait of an American legend and the father of modern espionage.
The father of the CIA, William J. Donovan, was born into a poor Irish-Catholic family, but he later married into Protestant wealth and fought heroically in World War I, earning the nickname “Wild Bill” for his notoriety as a risk-taking leader. As head of the Office of Strategic Services during World War II, Donovan was a leader venerated by his agents, but he was also known for his recklessness (including adulterous affairs) and came to personify the debate that still rages over American security—are risks of covert operations worth the benefits? Waller’s investigation into the successes and failures of Donovan’s career led him to dig into the mysteries of OSS operations: What kind of spying did J. Edgar Hoover and Wild Bill Donovan conduct on each other? Is it true that OSS officers plotted the assassination of Adolf Hitler but stole secrets from allies, like the Soviets, and botched major operations? Drawing on government documents and the interviews conducted with Donovan’s relatives and friends, Waller delivers a rollicking read that uncovers the myths surrounding one of America’s greatest legends.
Soloby Rana Dasgupta
Intertwining science and heartbreak, the old world and the new, Dasgupta’s debut novel Solo highlights a century of social revolution through the powerful story of a 100-year-old blind man.
In the first movement of Solo, we meet young Ulrich, the son of a railroad engineer, who has two great passions: the violin and chemistry. Denied the violin by his father, he leaves his home in prosperous but politically unstable Sofia, Bulgaria, to pursue chemistry in Berlin. But his studies are ended and he must return to Sofia to take care off his parents. Shortly thereafter, Moscow declares Bulgaria “the chemical engine of the socialist countries” and leaves Ulrich with no choice but to become a star worker until "the rivers ran with mercury and lead, and hummed with radioactivity." Part one ends as the socialist regime collapses, and so too does Ulrich, when he accidentally blinds himself with acid. Thus begins Solo’s second movement in which we enter Ulrich’s elusive dream world. In a drastic leap from past to present, from life lived to life imagined, Dasgupta follows Ulrich’s imagined children who find themselves in a post-communist, chaotic world. Though Solo tells the story of a 100- year-old blind man’s bleak life, it ultimately speaks of tragedy on a broader scale—that of the human condition.
The Oracle of Stamboul: A Novelby Michael David Lukas.
In his enchanting debut novel, Michael David Lukas captures the mystical world of the Ottoman Empire as seen through the eyes of a young prophetess.
Born in the Black Sea port of Constanta in 1877, Eleonora Cohen is heralded into the world by a mysterious pair of midwives who arrive just minutes before her birth and her mother’s tragic death. Raised by her adoring, carpet-salesman father and difficult, meddling stepmother, Eleonora spends her early childhood daydreaming and doing housework until—to her father’s amazement—she teaches herself to read. When Eleanora’s father prepares for a trip to Stamboul (Istanbul) where he will sell his rugs, she boards the ship hidden in one of his trunks. But Eleonora’s adventure goes awry when her father is killed in a terrorist attack. Left under the care and tutorship of an associate of her father, Eleanor immediately enlightens her teacher with her extraordinary gifts. He soon alerts the sultan of Eleonora’s phenomenal powers and she amazingly begins consulting with the young prophet for political and diplomatic advice as empire crumbles around him.