Peter Bergen, Siobhan Fallon and Other New Books
This week: an essential read on America’s battle against al Qaeda, a moving novel of war-torn Sierra Leone, short stories that explore the homefront, a journalist’s memoir of her glamorous grandparents, and Betty Friedan revisited.
A grippingly important work that belongs on the shelf alongside The Looming Tower and Ghost Wars.
As we near the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, New York Times bestselling author and CNN national-security analyst Peter Bergen looks back to see how America’s “war on terror” has gone so far—and where it’s headed. In addition to detailing what’s been happening behind the scenes of the United States’ war against al Qaeda, Bergen, one of a handful of journalists who has interviewed Osama bin Laden, investigates the terrorist group’s inner workings—the internal debates over the wisdom of attacking the U.S. before 9/11 and the criticism of bin Laden following the attacks. Bergen then looks at what President Obama's policies and al Qaeda's declining reputation in the Muslim world mean for the future of the conflict. An essential volume for understanding America’s war against al Qaeda in the last decade.
The Memory of Love by Aminatta Forna
A critically acclaimed novelist explores the different ways people react to the aftermath of violence in war-torn Sierra Leone.
Aminatta Forna’s third novel is a subtle but psychologically brutal look at how people cope with the memory of war. Forna, whose father was from Sierra Leone, tells the stories of normal people struggling, in the aftermath of terrible violence, to survive the psychological and social impacts of what they experienced in that nation's brutal civil war. Some write. Others emigrate. And, in this consummate picture of the horror of civil war, some, like Forna’s heroine Agnes, are forced to live among the same people who committed unspeakable atrocities. Agnes is driven to lunacy, after she returns home to find her daughter married to the man who killed her husband. The Guardian called The Memory of Love “a remarkable novel: well researched, well thought out, well written—the kind that deserves to be on the Booker shortlist,” adding “Forna writes like a scientist, not only in the accuracy of her descriptions but in the way she selects which incidents to highlight.”
You Know When the Men Are Gone by Siobhan Fallon
In this moving set of short stories, debut author and real-life military spouse takes readers inside the fractured world of families left behind at the Army base.
Having said goodbye to their husbands and fathers who have left home for Afghanistan and Iraq, the broken families in Fallon’s eight loosely linked stories face the same hardships that ordinary families encounter in life—financial burdens, health problems, adultery, adolescent angst. These hardships are intensified in the lives of military families who are separated by a deadly war, but must nonetheless find a way to cope. In each compelling and beautifully told story, Fallon deftly captures the essence of the emotionally wrought, often-overlooked world of life on the Army base. Publishers Weekly has said the collection of stories “certifies Fallon as an indisputable talent.”
An Exclusive Love: A Memoir by Johanna Adorján
A poignant reconstruction of the author’s glamorous and mysterious grandparents and the day they ended their lives.
Cultural journalist Johanna Adorján turns her attention to her own grandparents, Holocaust survivors and expatriates from Budapest who lived a glamorous life in Denmark after fleeing the 1956 uprising. Adorján delves into her grandparents’ history in order to articulate their complex personalities, their extreme devotion to one another, and to shed light on why they decided together, when Adorján was 20 years old, to end their lives. Elegantly translating Adorján’s story is Anthea Bell, translator for W.G. Sebald.
A thoughtful reappraisal of Betty Friedan’s 1960s classic—and a meditation on the ever-evolving role of women in American society.
The Feminine Mystique was a bomb thrown at Mad Men-era conceptions of domesticity and female subservience. Fifty years later, historian Stephanie Coontz looks back at the impact of Friedan’s book, interviewing the women who say their lives were changed. Coontz also examines the strengths and shortcomings of Mystique in tackling the problems of the day and points out exaggerations and gaps while trying to show why the book resonated with its audience. Bookforum called it “a book of rigor and undeceiving, one worthy of Friedan's tradition.” A Strange Stirring takes you, says Nancy F. Cott, Trumbull Professor of American History at Harvard, “on an engrossing and enlightening tour of the past, with wisdom and meaning for the future.”