Anjali Enjeti is an award-winning essayist, journalist & literary critic with work in the New York Times, Washington Post, NBC, The Guardian, the AJC & elsewhere. You can find her on Twitter @anjalienjeti.
PositiveThe Star TribuneUmrigar aptly tackles honor killings in rural India and paints Meena with agency and depth ... a stirring critique of individual agendas surrounding Meena\'s high-profile case ... In her years of reporting on gender violence around the world, Smita takes care to avoid the kind of \'trauma porn\' typical of such articles. Curiously, in the book, Umrigar pens a gruesome scene that feels close to fetishizing female victimization. It neither fortifies the narrative nor deepens the reader\'s understanding of the cultural context of such violence. Less would have definitely been more ... Nevertheless, Honor boldly examines a system that continues to greenlight brutality and serves as a poignant reminder that despite all odds, \'in every country, in every crisis, there are a handful of people who will stand against the tide.\'
RaveThe Atlanta Journal Constitution... crackles with sarcasm and wit. Sathian has adroitly captured a cutthroat academic environment where students feel compelled to ace tests, win awards and maintain the flawless appearance of pageant winners. She has painted infinitely flawed characters who engage in cringeworthy behavior while also shining a light on their humanity ... Sathian scrupulously deconstructs the hypocrisy of the tight-knit community in Gold Diggers, where adults swiftly judge others’ marriages, looks and children’s perceived failures before they’ve even had the chance to hit puberty ... a dazzling tale.
RaveThe Star TribuneAkhtar is an intrepid narrator ... evocative ... In a novel that blurs fact and fiction, Akhtar meditates on what is real, what is imaginary, and what has been hiding in plain sight ... The book’s stream of consciousness, absorbing prose and, at times, frenetic pace reflect this rigorous writing routine. Each scene embodies a sharp rendering of minutiae. Some paragraphs stretch to pages in length. It’s as if Akhtar worries that the details might evaporate from his mind if he doesn’t memorialize them on paper quickly enough. With this style, he succeeds in seamlessly weaving together threads about bigotry, nationalism and grief ... Akhtar’s rapturous reckoning with this terror.
RaveThe Boston GlobeBlame and objectification of the victim is a barbaric age-old tradition that Bowdler bracingly examines in her urgent book ... Bowdler incisively dissects the language surrounding sexual assault ... Is Rape a Crime? forcefully advocates for a more humane protocol ... As for the question she poses in the book’s title, Bowdler leaves readers with a searing edict. \'We have to do better than this.\'
RaveThe Star Tribune... indelible characters ... A Burning is a penetrating exposé about how the possibilities of fame and fortune gradually erode one’s integrity. The book’s title may represent, on a literal level, the violent act in its opening pages, but it also evokes a dynamic metaphor for greed and the dark side of ambition. That Majumdar has chosen to illustrate this with Lovely and PT Sir, two seemingly well-meaning characters who hail from humble circumstances not too far from Jivan’s own, makes the book’s execution all the more unsparing ... A Burning keenly illuminates the unfortunate reality that justice has limited reserves and a rigid expiration date.
De'Shawn Charles Winslow
RaveThe Atlanta Journal-ConstitutionDe’Shawn Charles Winslow’s enchanting debut novel, In West Mills, paints vivid, decades-spanning portraits of the residents of a segregated rural mill town in North Carolina who harbor long-held secrets ... Author Winslow pens layers of complexity in a narrative that is surprising and irresistible at every turn. He bestows upon his readers the gift of decades, following his indelible characters from the early 1940s, when West Mills’ men enlisted to fight in the second World War, through the civil rights movement in the 1960s, when residents read about activists in nearby Greensboro engaging in sit-ins, to more than a decade after the last U.S. troops were withdrawn from Vietnam. In West Mills is a refreshing and arresting book that shines a light on a woman who rebels against society’s strict and unforgiving social norms, despite the costs.
RaveThe Star TribuneThe Nickel Boys is a chilling, masterful novel that explores the depths of evil and the resilience of the human spirit. Whitehead’s prose is dazzling, and the narrative’s nimble twist is a swift kick to the solar plexus.
RaveThe Star Tribune..superb ... This lucid collection ingeniously examines the deep and sordid layers of complicity ... The exchanges between Todd Lincoln and Savage Indian consist of a masterful quid pro quo.
RaveAtlanta Journal-Constitution...[a] luminous debut ... There is no redemption story for Althea and Proctor, no lemonade made out of lemons, and that’s part of what makes Gray’s novel such a compelling read ... Each of the three Butler sisters narrates their own stories, and Gray handles the switching between their points of view superbly. Care and Feeding is a precise study of how each member of a family works through its demons when long-kept secrets are unearthed.
Jeanne Marie Laskas
PositiveThe Washington PostThere is little documentation of how previous administrations handled constituent mail ... To Obama is an insightful study of a president who listened to even his harshest critics with grace and humility ... Curiously absent from the book are letters the OPC must have received from birthers, tea partyers and other pre-MAGA prototypes questioning Obama’s U.S. citizenship and misidentifying his religion ... their inclusion would have provided insight into that constituency.
RaveThe Star TribuneChung’s dynamic prose tackles identity and the forces that shape it, such as classmates’ bullying about her noticeably Asian features and her parents’ colorblind insistence that they don’t think of her as Asian ... The book is a keen and meticulous critique of loving, well-meaning white parents raising a child of color in a predominantly white community ... What Chung painstakingly unearths about her birth family is thrilling and unsettling, and her articulation of her findings averts tropish feel-good stereotypes. Here, the open wound at the heart of this exquisite narrative heals slightly skewed, exactly as it should.
RaveThe Star TribuneThis intimate portrait illuminates how the marriages fluctuate between stability and dissolution ... [Flock's subjects'] honesty and authenticity speak volumes about how much they trusted Flock with their stories. Among the book’s many strengths, Flock abstains from generalizing about India or Indian marriages. Instead, she nimbly captures the interiority of her subjects.
RaveThe Atlanta Journal-Constitution\"...a dynamic story that ruminates on the short and long term emotional consequences of incarceration ... Jones’ edifying and penetrating prose is never sentimental or overblown. She remains laser-focused on the gradual loss of trust in their relationship, the trauma that outlives a sentence served, and the nuances of guilt when one-half of a couple loses his freedom, while the other half lives it out loud. And through her indelible characters, Jones masterfully probes denial and the ways it slowly seeps into the cracks and crevices of a shaky marriage until at last, it fully embodies it.\
MixedThe Minneapolis Star TribuneIn a charming debut memoir, The Milk Lady of Bangalore: An Unexpected Adventure, author Shoba Narayan and her husband, Ram, both of whom were born in India and came of age in the United States, decide to move back to Bangalore... Narayan deftly weaves the ayurvedic properties of milk, dung and even urine into a satisfying personal narrative of assimilation ... Despite this engaging mixture of science and culture, at times, the book has little forward momentum and relies too heavily on the relationship between Narayan and Sarala as its narrative spine ... A more detailed account of the gradations in class and caste in India would have provided greater context to their somewhat awkward exchanges and the tension inherent in their negotiations ... Despite this minor shortcoming, Narayan shines a lustrous light on the crucial and unexpected function cows play in her acclimatization to her old stamping grounds.
MixedThe Atlanta Journal-Constitution\"[Quatro\'s] prose in Fire Sermon is symphonic, erotic. Nimble passages paint vivid pictures of a woman filled with a longing for a life she feels she can never have, and elucidate how Maggie’s sanctuary, her religion, gives way to shaky ground. Yet Maggie is a frustratingly passive character who lacks agency. Her primary modus operandi is inaction ... Unlike Jenny Offill’s incomparable Dept. of Speculation, another very short novel that acutely explores the emotional depths of an extra-marital affair, Fire Sermon, leaves us wanting. Brief excerpts of dialogue with Maggie’s therapist allude to but don’t fully exhume her other transgressions ... Still, the lyrical writing may very well redeem its shortcomings, and Quatro’s trenchant introspection on faith, particularly as it falters, is stirring.\
RaveThe StarTribuneAs with Jenny Offill’s Dept. of Speculation, the ingenuity behind Chemistry stems from sparse, lucid prose that juxtaposes curious scientific facts alongside quirky musings. Wang, the winner of the Whiting and the PEN/Hemingway awards, is a visionary who, by boiling down the relationship at the heart of the novel to its most basic elements, has crafted a narrative that manages to be both restrained and explosive.
RaveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneAs she did in The God of Small Things, Roy astutely unpacks the layers of politics and privilege inherent in caste, religion and gender identity. Her luminous passages span eras and regions of the Indian subcontinent and artfully weave the stories of several characters into a triumphant symphony, where strangers become friends, friends become family, and the disenfranchised find the strength to wrestle control of their own narratives.
RaveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneKo paints a rich portrait of the indomitable young Polly, ‘the girl who’d defy odds, the girl who could do anything’ ... Ko’s depictions of the nuances of child-parent love in birth and adoptive families, as well as the long-term emotional costs of a family’s rupture, are authentic. She avoids the clichéd happy reunions of adoption narratives in favor of an astute study of the agony of separation and how grief, regret and dreams shape one another.
RaveThe Minneapolis Star Tribune...[an] insightful and unnerving inspection of the police and vigilante killings of black Americans since [Trayvon] Martin ... But the book is much more than a compilation of obituaries. Lowery draws crucial connections between the 'centuries-long assault of the black body,' and contemporary black massacre. He turns a critical eye toward journalists who congratulate themselves for orchestrating social justice movements, while conflating peaceful protesters with vandals and looters in their reporting. He deftly discredits the 'black-and-white binary of good guys and bad guys,' and exposes the power of public relations.
April Ayers Lawson
RaveThe Atlanta Journal-Constitution...[a] dazzling debut collection ... This artful exploration of the excruciating limbo between love and apathy, desire and repulsion, affection and aggression, embodies all five stories set in the present-day South. But if there’s one takeaway from this intrepid book, it’s that the nature of human emotions render such binaries futile ... Lawson’s palpable prose carries Virgin and Other Stories, and like any whirlwind love affair, leaves us breathless and wanting more.
RaveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneThe destinies of Effia Otcher and Esi Asare in Yaa Gyasi’s spellbinding Homegoing recall those of sisters Celie and Nettie in Alice Walker’s The Color Purple ... Fourteen radiant narratives illuminate the twists and turns of a genealogy molded by colonization, slavery, Jim Crow, the Great Migration, addiction and incarceration. Homegoing poses an essential question: Can people ever return to a land they’ve never been to in the first place? ... Gyasi has written a nuanced, scintillating investigation into the myriad intricacies and institutions that shape a family.
RaveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneIn Between the World and Me, his second, riveting book (written as a letter to his son), Coates delivers a fiery soliloquy dissecting the tradition of the erasure of African-Americans beginning with the deeply personal ... Coates' epiphanies are not rooted in religious belief or prayer, but in the relentless interrogation of the truth — a philosophy he inherited from his parents. His message is apocalyptic, and his language, urgent and poetic, recalls Claudia Rankine's Citizen.
PositiveThe Guardian“Okparanta deftly negotiates a balance between a love story and a war story, each of which threatens to eclipse the other.”