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February 1, 2016 BOOKLIST
Find more Booklist Editors' Choice
The Adult Books editors have selected the following titles as representative of the year’s outstanding books for public-library collections. Our scope has been intentionally broad, and we have attempted to find books that combine literary, intellectual, and aesthetic excellence with popular appeal.
Arts and Literature
King, Ross. Brunelleschi’s Dome: How a Renaissance Genius Reinvented Architecture. illus. Walker, $21 (0-8027-1366-7).
King illuminates the mysterious sources of inspiration and the secretive methods of architectural genius Filippo Brunelleschi in a fascinating chronicle of the building of his masterwork, the dome of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence. A remarkable saga of how one incandescent mind performed the one matchless feat that would forever transform architecture from a mechanical craft into a creative art.
Nesbitt, Peter T. and DuBois, Michelle. The Complete Jacob Lawrence. 2v. illus. Univ. of Washington, $125 (0-295-97963-1).
This is a superb and comprehensive study of the dynamic and deeply humanitarian work of African American artist Jacob Lawrence. The two-volume work contains a wealth of jewellike color reproductions and insightful biographical and critical essays that enable readers to appreciate fully the vibrancy and scope of Lawrence’s virtuosic oeuvre.
Ross, Harold. Letters from the Editor: The New Yorker’s Harold Ross. Ed. by Thomas Kunkel. Random, $26.95 (0-375-50397-8).
This grand collection of letters by prolific letter-writer Ross has been astutely selected by Kunkel to reveal the outsize personality and talent of the founder and original editor of the New Yorker.
Severin, Tim. In Search of Moby Dick: The Quest for the Great White Whale. Basic, $24 (0-465-07696-3).
In what is often a white-knuckle literary adventure, Severin, who retraced and wrote up St. Brendan’s voyage to America and the Argonauts’ to Colchis, resails Melville’s ocean journeys and learns, hands on, what nineteenth-century whaling was like, all to ascertain whether the lethal albino sea beast ever actually existed.
Silverman, Debora. Van Gogh and Gauguin: The Search for Sacred Art. illus. Farrar, $50 (0-374-28243-9).
By delving deeply into the religious legacies of Van Gogh and Gauguin, and forging new connections between their disparate spirituality and revolutionary artistic techniques, subject matter, and styles, Silverman casts new light on these two seminal figures and their timeless masterpieces.
Zagajewski, Adam. Another Beauty. Tr. by Clare Cavanagh. Farrar, $23 (0-374-17652-3).
The philosophical poet Zagajewski says he has pursued a vision of wholeness all his life. But living in Communist Poland necessitated splitting his life into private and public realms and impaired that pursuit. It also instilled the fascination with dualities that figures so prominently in the memoirs, reflections, and aphorisms that constitute this glorious literary scrapbook.
Alvarez, A. Where Did It All Go Right? Morrow, $25 (0-688-18003-5).
The best memoirs always go beyond anecdote to give us the shape of a life. Free-falling between art and action, between despair and exhilaration, English poet and critic Alvarez struggled for decades to find the right shape for his conflicted life, and we share his surprise and his joy that it all went right. A remarkable book about a remarkable life.
Atlas, James. Bellow. Random, $35 (0-394-58501-1).
Atlas shares his subject’s devotion to literature, intimacy with Chicago (the city Bellow immortalized), and Jewishness, and he succeeds brilliantly in chronicling and interpreting Bellow’s very full life, difficult personality, and powerful work.
Belford, Barbara. Oscar Wilde: A Certain Genius. Random, $29.95 (0-679-45734-8).
Belford paints a detailed psychological portrait of Oscar Wilde, from precocious schoolboy to pampered, talented adult to literary lion undone by a reactionary, moralistic society. She writes frankly of his sexual adventures and in so doing impresses us with how contemporary Wilde remains, 100 years after his death.
Bix, Herbert. Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan. HarperCollins, $35 (0-06-019314-X).
In this provocative and disturbing work, the author paints a far more complex portrait of Emperor Hirohito than is generally portrayed in most postwar histories. Bix convincingly asserts that the emperor was deeply involved in most aspects of the Pacific war, from start to finish, and he voiced few objections to the most brutal outrages of his military.
Bordewich, Fergus. My Mother’s Ghost. Doubleday, $23.95 (0-385-49129-8).
At the age of 14, Bordewich witnessed the bloody, accidental death of his mother, and he struggled long to come to terms with losing her. As a national leader in the fight for Native Americans’ rights, she was larger-than-life in many ways, and Bordewich uses all his considerable literary skill to tell her story as well as his own.
Carter, William C. Marcel Proust. Yale, $35 (0-300-08145-6).
Carter retraces the lifetime of Marcel Proust, from his formative years to his lofty final achievement in publishing, Remembrance of Things Past. The text deftly reveals how Proust’s artistic talents enabled him to fathom the mysteries of memory, revealing not only how memory recalls the past but how in rare and luminous moments it transforms that past into living meaning.
Duiker, William J. Ho Chi Minh. Hyperion, $35 (0-7868-6387-0).
To this day, the jury is still out on Ho’s place in history. Was he merely an agent of the Comintern, acting under orders from Moscow, or was he a true patriot? The truth, as Duiker uncovers it in this absorbing biography that never falters, is both.
Foreman, Amanda. Georgiana: Duchess of Devonshire. Random, $29.95 (0-375-50294-7).
Georgiana, duchess of Devonshire (1757-1806), was the society leader in the Britain of her day. Daughter of the fabulously wealthy Earl Spencer (and ancestor of the late princess of Wales) and married to the even more wealthy duke of Devonshire, Georgiana was watched, adored, and imitated, but she evolved into much more than just a fashionable hostess.
Kershaw, Ian. Hitler, 1936-1945: Nemesis. Norton, $35 (0-393-04994-9).
Kershaw continues from the first installment of his magisterial biography, Hitler, 1889-1936: Hubris (1999), with an analysis of how and why Hitler was able to ignite a world war, commit the most heinous crime in history, and throw his country into the abyss of total destruction.
Kessler, Lauren. The Happy Bottom Riding Club: The Life and Times of Pancho Barnes. Random, $24.95 (0-375-50124-X).
She was a kind of den mother to the “right stuff” early test pilots at Edwards AFB, but she had tested limits herself as a race pilot, movie stunt pilot, and oft-wed 1920s celebrity. Born rich, dying poor, living wide and high in between, Florence “Pancho” Barnes deserves, Kessler convinces us, to be a legend.
Lever, Evelyne. Marie Antoinette: The Last Queen of France. Farrar, $30 (0-374-19938-8).
Marie Antoinette--the very name has come to signify all that was immoral in the ancien régime. In a valuable reassessment of a notorious life, Lever, an important French historian, offers a tempered and very accessible account of the consort of the ill-fated Louis XIV. Her marriage was empty, and out of her need for distraction, the queen gave herself over to an insatiable pursuit of pleasure.
Lewis, David Levering. W. E. B. Du Bois: The Fight for Equality and the American Century, 1919-63. Holt/John Macrae, $35 (0-8050-2534-0).
In the opening pages of the second and final volume of Lewis’ masterful biography of the great African American scholar, intellectual, writer, and leader, World War I has ended and Du Bois, at age 52, is hard at work as the distinguished founding editor of the vastly influential journal of opinion, The Crisis. One of the most informative aspects of Lewis’ highly perceptive account of this, the second half of Du Bois’ life, is the discussion of Du Bois’ reactions to and participation in the Harlem Renaissance.
Morris, Jan. Lincoln: A Foreigner’s Quest. Simon & Schuster, $23 (0-684-85515-1).
The latest book by this superb British historian and travel writer is not simply about the life of Abraham Lincoln but also about Morris’ personal investigation into Lincoln’s mythical status as saint and icon. Only after a personal tour of Lincoln country was Morris fully able to embrace the myth.
Olsen, Jack. The Last Man Standing: The Tragedy and Triumph of Geronimo Pratt. Doubleday, $26.95 (0-385-49367-3).
Olsen pumps much force into his presentation of the heroic story of Elmer Gerard “Geronimo” Pratt, the “world’s longest-held political prisoner.” Olsen’s narrative follows the highly charged, active crusade to free Pratt by the good guys-a charismatic Johnnie Cochran and the radical Irish lawyer Hanlon-who go up against a vicious informant, ruthless district attorneys, and Hoover’s FBI.
Paolicelli, Paul. Dances with Luigi: A Grandson’s Determined Quest to Comprehend Italy and the Italians. St. Martin’s/Thomas Dunne, $24.95 (0-312-25188-2).
Paolicelli lived in Italy while researching his family storia, and his narrative is made more compelling by his skillful interpolation of local history and folklore. His relatives--so many now gone--dance in these pages, and his writing has a headlong, heartfelt quality, the energy of someone who has searched to find words for what he feels so deeply.
Robb, Graham. Rimbaud. Norton, $35 (0-393-04955-8).
The youngest great poet in history, who quit literature altogether at 19 to become an opportunistic African “trader” in guns, among other commodities, Rimbaud set and often exceeded the practice of flouting all propriety, which avant-gardists have followed ever since. Robb brings him vividly to life in all his attractive repulsiveness--or repulsive attractiveness.
Schlesinger, Arthur M. A Life in the Twentieth Century: Innocent Beginnings, 1917-1950. Houghton, $27 (0-395-70752-8).
Esteemed historian Schlesinger evokes the past (his own as well as the country’s) in this splendidly written first volume of memoirs. He covers the years he was shaped and molded--important years in U.S. history, for he was born the year the U.S. entered World War I, and he ends this volume in the post-World War II cold war era. The result is a major book for readers of history and current events.
Shakespeare, Nicholas. Bruce Chatwin. Doubleday/Nan A. Talese, $35 (0-385-49829-2).
Award-winning writer Shakespeare brings his prodigious talent to this absorbing work about the life of Bruce Chatwin, the charming, enigmatic writer-adventurer-an intrepid T. E. Lawrence type who sought out remote and dangerous places, a born traveler who would trek across countries on foot and alone for great distances.
Smith, Donald B. Chief Buffalo Child Long Lance: The Glorious Impostor. Red Deer, 56 Ave. & 32 St., Box 5005, Red Deer. Alberta, Canada T4N 5H5, paper, $14.95 (0-88995-197-7).
A self-made man who tried an end run around early-twentieth-century racism, Long Lance lied about his age to get into an important Indian school and kept right on inventing himself. Intelligent and handsome, he became a compelling writer, an early movie star, and the first Indian member of the elite Explorers’ Club before his deceptions were finally exposed.
Weigl, Bruce. The Circle of Hanh. Grove, $24 (0-8021-1661-2).
Weigl grew up in a family of nonreaders, and it wasn’t until he began dealing with the demons of childhood sexual abuse and post-Vietnam substance abuse that he “woke up among words” to give poetic voice to the Vietnam experience, becoming a one-man cultural bridge between the U.S. and Vietnam.
Anderson, Fred. Crucible of War: The Seven Years’ War and the Faith of Empire in British North America, 1754-1766. Knopf, $40 (0-375-40642-5).
Anderson’s version of history in this wide-ranging and fast-moving book situates the war in its milieu of imperial rivalry, colonial and parliamentary politics, land speculation and squatting settlers, and Indian diplomacy and resistance, vividly re-creating events through the famous characters, such as Pontiac or Montcalm, as well as the common soldier, whose role may have been transient but was significant nonetheless.
Armstrong, Karen. The Battle for God. Knopf, $27.50 (0-679-43597-2).
Starting out in that fateful year for religion, 1492, when Ferdinand and Isabella expelled the Jews and the Muslims from Spain and opened virgin Christian missionary territory in America, Armstrong tells the story of fundamentalism in the world’s great monotheisms and argues that it is as much a product of modernity as the materialism and empiricism against which it fearfully reacts.
Barzun, Jacques. From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life, 1500 to the Present. HarperCollins, $35 (0-06-017586-9).
Others have written about the end of Western civilization, but none with more cogent erudition than Barzun. With a poise borne of decades of distinguished scholarship, Barzun recounts the religious, political, artistic, and social revolutions that shaped Western culture. An impressive culmination to a lifetime of serious reflection.
Bryson, Bill. In a Sunburned Country. Broadway, $25 (0-7679-0385-4).
The world’s funniest travel writer recounts his exploration of Australia, where he seeks out the odd, the little known, the one-of-a-kind, and the just plain weird. It is sheer delight to sink into his prose, especially his hysterical, enlightening, and sometimes moving descriptions of people and places we’ve never imagined.
Keay, John. The Great Arc: The Dramatic Tale of How India Was Mapped and Everest Was Named. HarperCollins, $24 (0-06-019518-5).
Keay brings to this captivating story about the Great Trigonometrical Survey of India his steeping in the subcontinent’s past (India: A History), his attuned descriptions of its landscapes and climate, and an elegant style that brings to life the personalities of the surveyors, making a once-obscure story cover-to-cover reading.
Nasdijj. The Blood Runs like a River through My Dreams. Houghton, $23 (0-618-04892-8).
Born on a Navajo reservation in 1950 to migrant workers (a Navajo storytelling mother and a white cowboy father), Nasdijj has spent his life on the move, and his personal stories, written with clarity and compassion, are imbued with history and the struggle and survival of a people whom the dominant white society defines as marginal.
Philbrick, Nathaniel. In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex. Viking, $24.95 (0-670-89157-6).
Philbrick’s accessible narrative of the tragic 1820s whaling voyage whose central disaster was the violent encounter with a sperm whale engages readers with descriptions of Nantucket’s unusual commercial, religious, and social characteristics, the class and racial aspects of Nantucket whaling, and other issues raised by the Essex’s final whale hunt. A fascinating tale, well told.
Ung, Loung. First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers. HarperCollins, $23 (0-06-019332-8).
This rare and chilling account of the bloody aftermath of the Khmer Rouge’s merciless victory over the Cambodian government in April 1975 is written in the present tense and narrated by a precocious child, who first learned of the Khmer Rouge when she was five and was then caught in the mass murder and inhumanity that followed in its wake.
Williams, Terry Tempest. Leap. Pantheon, $25 (0-679-43292-2).
Williams, author of Refuge (1991), turns an ardent study of The Garden of Earthly Delights, a triptych by the fifteenth-century Flemish painter Hieronymus Bosch, into a meditation on her Mormon heritage and an arresting and creative inquiry into our relationship with nature, the divide between religion and spirituality, and the significance of art and wilderness.
Graham, Jorie. Swarm. Ecco, $23 (0-88001-695-7).
Pulitzer Prize winner Graham’s startling and bittersweet new poems, as clipped and dramatic as the pronouncements of an oracle, consider the overarching question of change and explore the dynamics of transition and the promise of reformation.
Kizer, Carolyn. Cool, Calm, & Collected: Poems, 1960-2000. Copper Canyon, $30 (1-55659-146-2).
For four decades, Kizer has been writing passionate, lovely, and witty poetry, formally precise but thematically advanced. Her earliest book included poems in which she assumed the personae of goddesses, and she has always written more energetically feminine and feminist poetry than nearly all of her poetic antecedents--and successors.
Berlinski, David. The Advent of the Algorithm: The Idea That Rules the World. Harcourt, $28 (0-15-100338-6).
Berlinski locates the hidden sources of the algorithm’s power as a calculating tool while exposing its defects as a scientific metaphor. A tour de force, this book gives intellectual dilemmas a human face, while restoring grandeur and mystery to a universe still too richly intricate to fit within a computer protocol.
Montgomery, Sy. Journey of the Pink Dolphins: An Amazon Quest. Simon & Schuster, $26 (0-684-84558-X).
Naturalist Montgomery discovers a bridge between mythology and science in her quest for knowledge about the famously elusive and little-known freshwater pink dolphin, called botos in the Amazon, and reports on her surprising findings in a narrative rich in scientific precision, deep psychological insights, adventure, and lyricism.
Nuland, Sherwin B. The Mysteries Within: A Surgeon Reflects on Medical Myths. Simon & Schuster, $24 (0-684-85486-4).
For telling us literately and dramatically How We Die (1994), Dr. Nuland was given the National Book Award. As literately and, in two exquisitely suspenseful accounts of emergency surgery, even more dramatically, he now tells the stories of our past and present knowledge of and notions about the stomach, the liver, the spleen, the heart, and the uterus.
Ridley, Matt. Genome: The Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters. HarperCollins, $26 (0-06-019497-9).
Politics creeps into Ridley’s absorbing account of the secrets of the human traits, potentialities, and liabilities whose causes have been or may be discovered within the human genome. For while knowing the causes of diseases and learning to control or eliminate them is important, government-mandated genetic manipulation, no matter how well intended, may revive the discredited “science” of eugenics. (x Top of the List--Adult Nonfiction. x)
Tudge, Colin. The Variety of Life: The Meaning of Biodiversity. Oxford, $45 (0-19-850311-3).
Scientific classification has undergone a revolution in recent decades, and this compelling account introduces general readers to the secrets of an arcane world. In a lively style that renders the most opaque terms lucid, Tudge turns all of biology into an intellectual adventure.
Carter, Stephen L. God’s Name in Vain: The Wrongs and Rights of Religion in Politics. Basic, $26 (0-465-00886-0).
The author of the controversial Culture of Disbelief (1993) is more eloquent and cogent than ever before as he argues that religion mustn’t and can’t be walled out of politics but that church and clergy involvement in political parties only sullies religion. One of the most important books about freedom of religion of this, or perhaps any, era.
Dyson, Michael Eric. I May Not Get There with You: The True Martin Luther King, Jr. Free Press, $25 (0-684-86776-1).
Reflecting on the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., Dyson explores King’s little-known or forgotten views: his support of the concepts of affirmative action and democratic socialism and his cynicism about white Americans. A passionate and insightful analysis of a man whose “remarkable career . . . lasted a mere thirteen years.”
Garrett, Laurie. Betrayal of Trust: The Collapse of Global Public Health. Hyperion, $30 (0-7868-6522-9).
Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Garrett takes on public health: the desperate inadequacy of public-health infrastructure in much of the developing world and the shocking neglect of that infrastructure in “developed” nations, from the relatively simple inadequacies revealed by the 1994 Ebola epidemic in Zaire to a nuanced analysis of the issues involved in the near-total collapse of public health in the former USSR and the years-long underfunding and lack of respect for this key government responsibility in the U.S.
Gilbert, Charlene and Eli, Quinn. Homecoming: The Story of African American Farmers. Beacon, $35 (0-8070-0962-8).
Gilbert and Eli trace the historical connection between former slaves and their desire for land ownership to the unfulfilled promise of 40 acres and a mule (more than the name of Spike Lee’s film production company) during Reconstruction. An important tribute to the significance of land to a people who had worked it as slaves.
Kozol, Jonathan. Ordinary Resurrections: Children in the Years of Hope. Crown, $25 (0-517-70000-X).
Kozol has written about the South Bronx before, in Savage Inequalities (1991) and Amazing Grace (1996), but where those passionate screeds attacked the city of New York for the ways its schools, hospitals, and public housing abuse and maltreat the children and adults of Mott Haven and other poor communities, here Kozol’s focus is on the children themselves and how they find hope for a future that in most cases will, inevitably, disappoint.
Robinson, Randall. The Debt: What America Owes to Blacks. Dutton, $24.95 (0-525-94524-5).
Robinson looks beyond claims of “reverse discrimination” to the continuing achievement gaps between blacks and whites and evaluates the functionality of affirmative action as a remedy for past discrimination, leading to his highly publicized demand for reparations to black Americans and Africans for centuries of social and economic abuse.
Atwood, Margaret. The Blind Assassin. Doubleday/Nan A. Talese, $26 (0-385-47572-1).
Stories spin within stories in this spellbinding tale of avarice, love, and revenge, which begins in Toronto in 1945 with the spectacular suicide of 25-year-old Laura Chase and continues over the course of the life of her sister, Iris, whose wry musings on their colorful past alternate with chapters from Laura’s mysterious and erotic posthumously published novel.
Bell, Madison Smartt. Master of the Crossroads. Pantheon, $30 (0-375-42056-8).
Bell continues his masterful fictionalization of the slave revolt on Haiti in a dramatic and powerfully imagined stand-alone novel that concentrates on the compelling figure of Toussaint Louverture, a former slave and healer who became a great military leader and liberator.
Bellow, Saul. Ravelstein. Viking, $24.95 (0-670-84134-X).
Bellow’s latest novel takes the form of a biographical essay, and the subject is Abe Ravelstein, a noted thinker and professor (based on Bellow’s University of Chicago colleague, the late Allan Bloom). Ravelstein has become a best-selling author, thanks to acting on a friend’s ideas about human nature, but after Ravelstein’s death from AIDS, his friend, now his biographer, is blocked in his efforts to compose the piece he wants to write.
Berry, Wendell. Jayber Crow: The Life Story of Jayber Crow, Barber, of the Port William Membership, as Written by Himself. Counterpoint, $25 (1-58243-029-2).
Orphaned at 4 by the flu epidemic of 1918, and again at 10, when age claims the elderly relatives who took him in, Jonah “Jayber” Crow finds a valued place as a humble barber in a Kentucky river township. He finds love, too, though he never speaks of it, and becomes one of literature’s few strong, compelling, yet pretty thoroughly good protagonists.
Bloom, Amy. A Blind Man Can See How Much I Love You. Random, $22.95 (0-375-50268-8).
Practicing psychotherapist Bloom’s masterful collection of eight stories deals with quirky modern situations that affirm the absolute and essential need to heal, to survive, and to love.
Boyle, T. C. A Friend of the Earth. Viking, $24.95 (0-670-89177-0).
Boyle’s ingenuous and involving novel about eco-warrior Tyrone O’Shaughnessy Tierwater explores the paradoxes inherent in environmentalism and the conflicts that arise between the commitment to activism and the demands of family, between love for life itself and love for individuals.
Chabon, Michael. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay. Random, $26.95 (0-679-45004-1).
Chabon illuminates the crass yet inventive and passionate world of the creators of comic-book superheroes in this brilliantly funny, complex, and profound 1940s novel of exile, love, and magic starring two young Jewish cousins: the ambitious and clever Brooklynite Sammy Klayman and the immensely talented and courageous Czech refugee Joseph Kavalier. (Top of the List--Adult Fiction.)
Crace, Jim. Being Dead. Farrar, $23 (0-374-11013-1).
Crace archly explores life and death and the effect of chance in this story of Celice and Joseph, married, middle-aged zoologists who, readers learn, have been murdered at the onset-the rest is an enthralling meditation on what happened.
Fuller, Jack. The Best of Jackson Payne. Knopf, $25 (0-375-40535-6).
Fuller’s dizzyingly brilliant novel follows Charles Quinlan, a white musicologist, as he researches a biography of Jackson Payne, a black saxophone player whose tormented life and groundbreaking music became the stuff of jazz legend. It is a story of obsession--Payne’s to create himself anew through his horn and Quinlan’s to grasp the source of Payne’s genius. A rich, complex, sometimes dissonant, but always beautiful jazz novel.
Harrison, Jim. The Beast God Forgot to Invent. Grove/Atlantic, $24 (0-87113-821-2).
Three novellas from a master of the genre offer characters that have staying power: a wealthy 67-year-old man, describing events leading up to the drowning of a younger friend; a Native American tracking a double-dealing friend to recover a clan relic, his stolen bearskin; and a middle-aged writer of formulaic biographies who glibly narrates his tribulations.
Houellebecq, Michel. The Elementary Particles. Tr. by Frank Wynne. Knopf, $25 (0-375-40770-0).
The Djerzinski half-brothers, Bruno, a failed academic and sexual obsessive, and Michel, an asexual, lonely molecular biologist, struggle to survive in this broadside against the decadent 1960s, which strives to show that a permissive culture leads to loneliness and misery.
Kneale, Matthew. English Passengers. Doubleday/Nan A. Talese, $25 (0-385-49743-1).
Britisher Kneale is deliciously sly and clever in this plot that has dual strands: one focuses on a ship sailing to Australia for a little smuggling and a search for the Garden of Eden; the other follows Peevey and the genocidal elimination of his tribe while he grows from boy to manhood. An utter delight to read.
Lightman, Alan. The Diagnosis. Pantheon, $25 (0-679-43615-4).
Lightman, author of Einstein’s Dreams (1993), perfectly captures the frenzy of our electronic era in this breakneck yet poignantly beautiful tale of one man’s short-circuiting under the relentless pace and pressure of life in the age of information overload, a predicament contrasted, thanks to an Internet college course, with the story of Socrates.
Min, Anchee. Becoming Madame Mao. Houghton, $25 (0-618-00407-6).
Madame Mao, a chameleon and a major instigator of the Cultural Revolution in China, emerges in Min’s stunning, powerful portrait as a woman with too much power in an unstable world.
Mitchell, David. Ghostwritten. Random, $24.95 (0-679-46304-6).
This engrossing, challenging, and urgent novel is organized into nine different tales set all over the globe, each with its own narrator and distinctive style that transmute into each other as the reader makes the acquaintance of a crazed cult member, a corrupt lawyer, a Tokyo jazz aficionado, an art thief, a New York late-night DJ . . . the global village.
A young Galway villager goes to London to make a living--and loses his legs. He returns to Ireland in a circus--and loses his girl and his self-respect. Finally, he sinks into the gutters of London. This laughably sad, morosely funny Irish-language short novel about a direct forebear of Beckett’s absurdist protagonists waited 90 years to be translated into English and more broadly recognized as the masterpiece it is.
Phillips, Jayne Anne. MotherKind. Knopf, $24 (0-375-40194-6).
Phillips mines familiar terrain for her: the cycle of life, with special emphasis on the three major mileposts of birth, marriage, and death. The central character, Kate, who tends to a new baby while serving as her dying mother’s caregiver, is also newly married and a stepmother. This compelling novel brims with vivid details of day-to-day family life.
Safire, William. Scandalmonger. Simon & Schuster, $27 (0-684-86719-2).
In his latest politically drenched novel, Safire draws his material from an actual episode, the first great scandal to rock the new federal government in the early years of the republic. Anyone who believes that sexual scandalmongering is something new in Washington, D.C., should read this splendid novel and think again.
Sontag, Susan. In America. Farrar, $26 (0-374-17540-3).
In this romantic yet keenly intelligent tale of the triumphant American emigration of a late-nineteenth-century Polish diva named Maryna Zalezowska, who is based on the renowned Polish actress Helena Modrzejewska, Sontag explores the complexities of friendship, love, and marriage, as well as the paradisical allure of California and the transformative power of the theater.
Trevor, William. The Hill Bachelors. Viking, $23.95 (0-670-89373-1).
As each new volume of Trevor short stories appears, the Irish writer never fails to demonstrate an immaculate mastery of the form. In his latest collection, all the stories deal with the major disappointments and small rewards that life brings, particularly within the arena of love. No story here is less that a bravura performance.
Vidal, Gore. The Golden Age. Doubleday, $27.50 (0-385-50075-0).
The latest in Vidal’s series of intelligently wrought historical novels tracing the rise and development of the American republic joins its predecessors in the front rank of historical fiction written over the past three decades. This one covers U.S. politics and culture from 1939 to 1945, the period when American democracy triumphed over fascist tyranny.
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