RaveBooklistNgai adeptly narrates both seismic shifts in the world economy and the nuanced dynamics of small communities, paying particular attention to the choices made by individual immigrants as they navigated harsh and unfair foreign environments. Every aspect of Ngai’s inquiry is sharply relevant today on many fronts.
PositiveBooklist[A] poignant memoir ... Vividly narrated and psychologically perceptive, Qu’s story uses family trauma to find perspective on immigration and perhaps even America itself.
Antonio Muñoz Molina tr. Guillermo Bleichmar
PositiveBooklistIt’s only by recalling the urban walks of Poe, Baudelaire, Melville, and De Quincey, among others, that our narrator achieves a degree of stability, if not quite purpose, in his wanderings. The resulting swirl of impressions and lamentations is both bewildering and poetic.
PositiveBooklist... exuberantly narrated ... Brandon emphasizes period-specific detail and revels in old-timey turns of phrase, conjuring a lost world of rough camps, gunpowder coffee, and pouches of leaf tobacco. He’s interested in the Reconstruction era not as a frame for sociopolitical commentary but rather as a vivid, turbulent backdrop for Gussie’s path to maturity. But for all its Southern Gothic touches and action-movie fight sequences, the novel’s most powerful moments may be its lush depictions of Florida’s wildlands.
PositiveBooklistNational Book Award–winner Packer explains our current political tensions as the collision of four incompatible narratives about what makes the U.S. special ... To some extent, [Last Best Hope] answers questions about American identity that Packer posed in The Unwinding (2013). But Packer’s optimism has been rattled by four years of Trumpism and a botched response to COVID-19, and this book is both an argument and a plea.
RaveBooklistTheir lives are full, dynamic, and ordinary, their twists and turns tied to the turbulence of the late twentieth century. What is extraordinary, the author implies, may be the fragile miracle of life in the first place. Spufford’s second novel swells with the same lively, intimate prose as his celebrated debut, The Golden Hill (2017). But its unconventional framing and larger, more contemporary themes makes it an even stronger book.
Ulrich Alexander Boschwitz, tr. Philip Boehm
PositiveBooklistBoschwitz’s tale trembles with tension and eerily anticipates the central role the German train system would later play in the horrific logistics of the Holocaust. In a new translation, this remains a potent and uniquely rendered work of witness.
RaveBooklistThe family’s reluctant reunion underscores the distance between its members but also the persistence of the centripetal forces pulling them together. Interspersing scenes from Mazna’s youth among present-day moments of chaos and conflict, Alyan points to patterns of secrecy and shame and the power of buried trauma to leap beyond displacement and time. Acute psychological insight and a sense of Beirut as a fluid, evolving entity further amplify the power of this moving family drama.
PositiveBooklistBrennan enjoyed broad access to his subject’s contacts and papers, allowing him to examine Said’s formative experiences and key relationships. The result is a warm and perceptive exploration of one of the twentieth century’s most compelling minds, and the passions that shaped it.
PositiveBooklistA new collection of Walser’s short prose presents fresh angles from which English-language readers may puzzle over the influential but enigmatic Swiss modernist ... All pulse with Walser’s organic observations, his melancholic dreaminess, and his relentless wandering. In their brevity but also their urgency, they resemble today’s flash fiction. It’s tempting to view these short works as test-runs for longer explorations or even fragments of a polyphonic, unfinished biographical novel; indeed, Walser himself suggests as much ... Flitting as he does from one small portrait to the next, Walser hints at strong feelings, kept at a distance through constant motion.
RaveBooklist... robust ... Traditional accounts of the European eighteenth century have emphasized scientific advancement, the rejection of religion, and France. Robertson allows for more complexity ... the book’s most fascinating insights connect popular novels to a \'sea change in sensibility, in which people became more attuned to other people’s feelings.\' The result is a fresh and expansive discussion of the philosophical substrate from which many cherished ideals first sprouted and a potent defense of an era that has been much piled-upon of late.
Robert D Kaplan
PositiveBooklist... celebrates a life of selfless dedication in perilous circumstances and offers an elegy for a time when humanitarian aid figured more prominently in U.S. foreign policy ... Kaplan writes with earnest reverence for a longtime friend and wistful praise for the particular blend of realism and idealism that Gersony represented, which seems less valued in today’s world.
PositiveBooklistOakes explored some of this before in The Scorpion’s Sting (2014) and Freedom National (2012). But his focus on Lincoln’s antislavery constitutionalism is new, and Oakes’ conclusions about Lincoln have evolved accordingly. The result is a timely consideration of the interrelation of law and politics and a valuable contribution to Lincoln studies.
Bradley Hope and Justin Scheck
PositiveBooklistUnlike other recent reporting focusing on MBS’ enigmatic personality, Scheck and Hope follow the money, emphasizing the crucial role that billion-dollar development projects, investment funds, and public stock offerings played in securing MBS’ legitimacy among international elites and the chaotic and highly transactional Trump administration.
RaveBooklist... a tale thick with hubris and junk social science, and a grim foreshadowing of our present reality ... Lepore does not demonize the company’s exuberant but flawed founders, among them Ithiel de Sola Pool, the MIT scholar whose theories would later be heartily embraced by Silicon Valley. But she pulls no punches in criticizing the folly of trying to understand human behavior via algorithm, and the corrosive consequences of trying to hack democracy. The result is not so much a cautionary tale for today’s Big Data companies, for which the allure of knowing the future may be hopelessly irresistible, but rather a perceptive work of historically informed dissent.
PositiveBooklistDespite noirish trappings and some clever plot reversals, Hofmann’s novel is noteworthy not for its riff on the espionage-thriller genre, but for using a surreal historical moment to explore broader points about the collapse of ideals and the corrosiveness of secrecy.
PositiveBooklistThis panoramic look at the concept of character reveals cultural shifts, unexploded fallacies, and more than a little bad behavior, rhetorical and otherwise ... Surveying philosophical, literary, and social science perspectives as well as recent political rhetoric, Garber...finds that character is a bewilderingly slippery abstraction that has endured and evolved ... Garber wonders if the concept is so hollowed out by misuse that it should be retired, but in the end, she views character as a mirror reflecting the contradictions that define human nature.
PositiveBooklistEach character’s chapter has its own voice, and swells with its own concerns, but they all crackle with tension and linger on loss ... The perspectives overlap, but the composite leaves some questions unanswered, some connections intriguingly unrevealed. Though set in the second half of the twentieth century, and thick with nostalgia for its diners, highways, and well-trimmed suburban lawns, Castleberry’s memorable tale probes fissures and anxieties that are undeniably current.
Laurence C. Smith
PositiveBooklistThis engagingly panoramic and truly global discussion of the connection between rivers and human civilization meanders, yet serves as an important reminder of our dependence upon the planet’s arteries of fresh water ... Today, thanks to increasing environmental awareness and new high-tech tools, we understand the dynamics and ecosystems of rivers better than ever. Yet our commitment to the health of our waterways, as with so many environmental issues, remains ambivalent.
Roberto Calasso, Trans. By Richard Dixon
PositiveBooklistCalasso is famously serpentine in his style, approaching his subject through oblique digressions, obscure anecdotes, and constant locomotion. And so his narrative of how humans imitated predatory animals and internalized the symbolism of the hunt covers familiar archetypes—Orion in the night sky, Artemis the pure and ruthless—but also roams beyond Olympus into Egyptian, Vedic, and Persian sources ... His tone is authoritative, so confident in the veracity of his intellectual synthesis that he verges on audacity; one may even detect the ghost of Nietzsche. It may be best to engage with this book almost like a novel, allowing its impressions and profundities to flow without worrying about verifiability.
Witold Szablowski, Trans. By Antonia Lloyd-Jones
PositiveBooklistSzablowski shares some interesting anecdotal revelations ... But the more fascinating thread may be the chefs’ biographical narratives, which present variations on the themes of rare opportunity, terrifying pressure, and lives permanently warped by proximity to power and cruelty. It’s frequently ambiguous whether the chefs are accessories to atrocities or victims themselves. And while Szabłowski grapples with questions of trustworthiness and reliability of information—he never does get a straight answer out of Amin’s cook about the cannibalism claim—the messier issue may be whether scrutiny of dictators’ gustatory preferences risks humanizing them and if so, to what end.
Yan Lianke, Trans. by Carlos Rojas
RaveBooklistA leading Chinese novelist tells the story of his family’s hardscrabble life with surprising tenderness ... Yan admires [his family\'s] selflessness, and their persistence in the bleakest of times, and renders their portraits in loving detail, knowing that he is the beneficiary of their sacrifices. But Yan also admits to wanting to flee and needing to create a bigger life, even if it means dodging his filial obligations. It is this tension, together with Yan’s unadorned prose, that leavens a sentimental account of peasant life into something complicated and powerful.
J. M Coetzee
RaveBooklistThe conclusion of Coetzee’s Jesus trilogy is no less intellectually confounding than the first two installments, but its mixture of allegory and philosophical discourse becomes further complicated, and its overall effect is intensified by strong currents of grief ... Though a veritable house of interpretative mirrors, as many of Coetzee’s novels are, this one points readers to a less cerebral, more visceral intimacy with the losses it contemplates.
PositiveBooklistThe latest by the author of Christodora (2016) is a multigenerational saga that insists upon the potential, even the necessity, of cross-cultural relationships while highlighting their challenges ... early chapters about Rita’s heritage swell with affectionate detail. But the geographic and cultural canvas of this work is much larger, and its message of empathy and respect for cultural nuance aims at an audience as big as America itself.
PositiveBooklistAs he did in Loner (2016), Wayne emphasizes the gap between social isolation and an intense internal life, and uses the contrast to explore contemporary cultural anxieties in tenderly close focus.
PositiveBooklistThese are stories firmly rooted in the postwar twentieth century, both in their suburban settings and their distinctive moral idealism. Catholicism and clergy figure prominently; the author was a Jesuit priest for many years before he became the director of the creative-writing program at Stanford University. But the aches and ecstasies that permeate L’Heureux’s prose may not only be expressions of religiosity but rather the symptoms of an insatiable longing for integrity and wisdom, wherever they may be found.
PositiveBooklistAs they head into the cornfields and manure-smells of the Midwest, growing ever-closer to Hennick’s dysfunctional family, Hennick agonizes over how much of his own brokenness he can reveal to his child. He considers taking a break from his hard-won sobriety; it would surely be easier than being a perfect father, or confronting his past. Raw, wry, and perceptive, Hennick’s memoir overflows with anxious love.
Emmanuel Carrere Trans. by John Lambert
RaveBooklistA collection of journalistic pieces by one of France’s leading literary daredevils showcases his long-running personal investment in the mystery that is other people, while offering indirect glimpses at his longer works ... [Carrère] thrives in the interstices between philosophy, fiction, and memoir, using actual events as prompts from which to relate deeply felt confessions about life’s big questions, often departing from the strictly factual to move readers toward greater truths. Here, in pithy magazine pieces and extracts, we see the author in relatively polished form, his lively humanism and characteristically intimate voice both on brilliant display ... Readers already familiar with Carrère may not find much new here, but those just discovering him for the first time may find themselves hungry for more
PositiveBooklistDikötter’s capsule biographies are vivid and pithy, revealing similar megalomania across regimes (these men learned from each other) but also commonalities in how they were enabled by opportunistic aides, gullible journalists, duped foreign leaders, and cowed rivals. And if there’s something unavoidably grim in the pattern that emerges, there’s also the observation that most dictators, in the end, become victims of their own hubris.
PositiveBooklistPrice faithfully presents Tomasi’s, but the goal of his imaginative reconstruction is not hagiography, but rather the humanization of a literary master. Price’s imaginative reconstruction of Tomasi’s work avoids hagiography and humanizes a literary master, while also depicting the agony and urgency of writing.
PositiveBooklistAnsary offers a remarkable big-picture synthesis that draws upon geography but resists determinism, and celebrates diversity while embracing humanity’s commonalities.
PositiveBooklistThe messy relationship between masculinity and language drives this seeking, eloquent story by poet-novelist Lerner ... The ekphrastic style and autofictional tendencies echo Lerner’s earlier works, and his focus on language games and their discontents fits nicely within the 1990s setting. But the fear at the core of this tale—that language, no matter how thoroughly mastered or artfully presented, simply isn’t enough—feels new and urgent.
Edoardo Albinati, Trans. by Antony Shugaar
RaveBooklistPrize-winning Albinati, a fellow alumnus, does not shy away from grisly sensationalism ... What initially seems to be context or digression—a hundred pages on bourgeois marriage; a hundred pages on rape—emerges as the book’s core, a knot of interlocking philosophical concerns that the author has spent a lifetime trying to untangle. Dense, sprawling, brilliant, like Rome itself.
PositiveBooklistHyde’s thesis—less a structured argument than an aggregation of loosely related anecdotes and observations, collected scrapbook-style—transcends simple polemic ... And alongside all of the bright-burning erudition, there is a very moving personal angle: his mother’s progressive dementia and the prospect of his own.
PositiveBooklistEach case history reveals salient points about selective change, or its absence, among nations, laying the groundwork for what Diamond really wants to talk about: the future of the U.S. as a nation and of the planet as a place to exist. It’s a cogent discussion and a plea for perspective; some of today’s crises have been weathered before ... in spite of its rather formal presentation, this is notably a more personal work for Diamond, who shares his experience with each country studied, folding in anecdotes and impressions.
PositiveBooklist...a unique chronicle of the settlement of the Ohio River Valley ... This is a compact work, but it often feels epic. And Pittsburgh-born McCullough’s personal affection for the region abounds ... McCullough’s latest vivid take on American history will generate avid interest.
RaveBooklistPacker, who knew Holbrooke personally, celebrates the man’s larger-than-life qualities while remaining clear-eyed about his profound flaws. And by the end, he convincingly argues that Holbrooke’s passing signifies the loss of something larger still, a sense of American possibility, now seemingly out of reach.
Pajtim Statovci, Trans. by David Hackston
PositiveBooklist...sad and searching ... Statovci uses no magic-realist elements here, and with its stark language, unanswered questions, and unrelenting heartbreak, this may be the more poignant of his powerful novels.
PositiveBooklistA fascinating, intelligent look at what may well be the most historically resonant book-hunt of all time.
Fernando Aramburu, Trans. by Alfred Macadam
PositiveBooklist\"Aramburu’s plot is simple but unfolds in a somewhat complicated fashion, with flashbacks and multiple points of view. The psychological complexity of his characters, especially the women, creates dramatic intensity. One of the first literary novels to directly address the ongoing consequences of Basque sectarian violence, this is a blockbuster in Spain.\
Agustín Fernández Mallo, Trans. by Thomas Bunstead
PositiveBooklistIn his radical three-part magnum opus, leading Spanish conceptualist Mallo shrugs off narrative conventions, insisting instead on the primacy of discovered associations as a means for constructing meaning in a fragmented, opaque world ... Mallo offers a whirlwind of implied significance and narrative possibilities, leaving it to readers to find significance in the storm ... As an anti-novel, Mallo’s trilogy can hang with the best and most bewildering texts of the genre, given the strong influence of Borges and Cortázar as well as Beat-era cut-up artists.
PositiveBooklistAn enigmatic work that serves as a fitting coda to a long and productive career, even as it emphatically resists anything resembling resolution or conclusion ... There’s \'always another thought to be spoken or written and we can’t go on but I do,\' declares Ferlinghetti. And that may be the point of this dissonant, bewildering, intermittently beautiful book: the end can be kept at bay so long as one can keep pushing out whirlwinds of words.
PositiveBooklist\"... [a] dark rumination on domestic violence ... Such subplots seem designed to crank up the dramatic tension by underscoring the extent to which Cole’s present and his future depend on his ability to find peace with his past. But the most affecting scenes may be the quieter moments in which Cole discovers intimacies—sharing a meal, helping with a shower—with his decaying monster of a father.\
MixedBooklist[A] comic meditation on technology, authenticity, and end-times anxiety ... lots of characters and a jumbly plot make for a clamorous read. But Lipsyte also offers high-velocity moments in which bleakness and humor, the quotidian and the apocalyptic all gloriously converge.
Dror Burstein, Trans. by Gabriel Levin
PositiveBooklistBurstein manages to wrest Pynchonian satire from biblical eschatology, and his narrative is frequently funny and sometimes opaque. The prevailing sentiment, as Jeremiah’s warnings go unheeded by his fellow light-rail commuters, is an all-too-familiar sense of anxiety about an uncertain future.
PositiveBooklistLeading political theorist Fukuyama...suggests that liberal democracy is in global crisis because of knotty, interrelated problems having to do with thymos, the human desire for dignity and respect ... The solution, suggests Fukuyama, is not rejection of identity politics, but rather a reinvigorated \'creedal\' identity—in which national identity is tied to shared values as opposed to race, ethnicity, or religion—so that thymos is channeled into constructive ends, like civic engagement. Keenly thought-provoking and timely.
PositiveBooklist OnlineA teenager creates a glossary to chronicle his adventures and catalogue his many losses in Reed’s dark yet uplifting debut novel. With his mother dead and his father vanished, young William ends up in the custody of an unreliable uncle and spends his days exploring the woods ... In framing William’s world as a lexicon, Reed allows readers only brief, brutal glimpses at William’s pain, nicely balanced with ample humor. But this novel’s true joy may be the wonder it radiates about a world as beautiful as it is cruel.
Sjón, Trans. by Victoria Cribb
PositiveBooklist\"A firm believer in making readers work for their reward, Sjón offers an amalgam of creation myth, surrealist absurdity, ancient saga, and contemporary satire that is frequently bewildering. Dedicated readers and Icelandophiles may discover profundity within, and delight can also be found in Sjón’s poetic language.\
David A. Kaplan
PositiveBooklistIn his penetrating if anxious analysis of Supreme Court jurisprudence, Kaplan laments recent decisions lacking \'judicial restraint\' and pleads for narrow exercise of the court’s power despite public pressure and ample temptation to rule broadly on controversial matters ... The result is assertive judicial decision-making that aspires to, in Chief Justice John Roberts’ words, \'protect the people from the consequences of their political choices.\' And if this isn’t an entirely new argument, it is certainly a timely one.
PositiveBooklistBoyd’s fresh and instructive look at 1930s Germany as described in contemporaneous travel narratives reveals a tourist destination that continued to attract visitors even as the true intentions of the Nazis became obvious ... Boyd has some sympathy for visitors who, unsure what to make of a bewildering mix of prosperity and propaganda, initially gave Hitler the benefit of the doubt. But she remains shocked that bold signs of Nazi evil were so frequently ignored.
RaveBooklist\"The product of his efforts is more deeply researched and engagingly narrated than nearly all of the looming stack of books on Osama bin Laden and his cohorts published in the past five years ... Wright seems to have found his calling: a perceptive and intense page-turner, this selection and Peter Bergen’s The Osama bin Laden I Know (2006) should be considered the definitive works on the topic.\
PositiveBooklistModernist architecture and the properties of water inform this poetic tale ... In her first novel, distinguished poet Kilalea describes Mr. Field’s emotions in a devastatingly evocative fashion.
PositiveBooklist Online\"Strangeness, wordplay, and loss saturate Wheeler’s debut essay collection, launched from southern New Mexico but aimed at the creaky mythology of American progress ... Wheeler visits a UFO festival, investigates the final days of a condemned criminal, and discovers a utopian asylum. Wheeler also introduces us to his family: proud, decadent, dying. If his hallucinogenic prose sometimes resembles the great twentieth-century gonzos, so does his moral outrage and his yearning for authenticity.\
Sergio De La Pava
RaveBooklist Online\"As with the author’s debut novel, A Naked Singularity (2012), the New York City criminal-justice system figures prominently, its jargon and bureaucratic instruments providing realist texture, while its absurdities and cruelties fuel the fury that is this novel’s molten core. Again we witness de la Pava’s gleaming wit, philosophical benders and pop-culture fixations, and the sheer intensity with which he hurls his words in this even more assured work of incandescent literary maximalism. And the underdog triumphs again.\
Robert D. Kaplan
RaveBooklistHis bleak but lucid core thesis is that the power dynamics of the future may look less like those of the Eurocentric twentieth century and more like those of the distant past ... An astute, powerfully stated, and bracing presentation.
RaveBooklistMerriman digests memoirs and newspaper archives to create a comprehensive, blow-by-blow account. But his true concern is the correlation between economic hopelessness and political violence ... The result is a lively, erudite work that, without romanticizing the Bonnot gang’s crimes, manages to humanize those in their milieu, and perhaps suggest lessons for the present.
RaveBooklistApplebaum deftly parses decades of politicized reportage and deliberate obfuscation to show how seemingly distinct aspects of Stalinism were deployed to suppress an independent Ukraine. Applebaum adds important context and compelling insights to WWII history and more recent regional conflicts. Highly recommended.
Jenny Erpenbeck, Trans. by Susan Bernofsky
RaveBooklist\"A nuanced depiction of people who have largely given up the luxury of hope and have little to do but wait. Erpenbeck bluntly reminds readers what is at stake for Germany and, by extension, the world. A timely, informed, and moving novel of political fury.\
Orhan Pamuk, Trans. by Ekin Oklap
RaveBooklistPamuk masterfully contrasts East with West, tradition with modernity, the power of fables with the inevitability of realism. Can we have our myths but be spared their consequences? As usual, Pamuk handles weighty material deftly, and the result is both puzzling and beautiful.
RaveBooklistTo the extent that these are all stories about dreams colliding with reality, it’s tempting to see parallels with Western millennials caught between their ideals and the crush of the marketplace. But such similarities disappear when Beijing-based journalist Ash turns to politics, noting the subtle ways in which Chinese youth now signal resistance. The result is a perceptive and quietly profound book that leaves open the possibility that personal disillusionment may one day lead to political change.