RaveHarper\'s... gripping ... Like Oliver Sacks and the neuroscientist Antonio Damasio, Arikha structures her exploration of these larger questions around individual cases. Each is fascinating not only in itself, but also as an opportunity for Arikha to expand on the historical and social understandings of particular ailments, and of the evolution of those understandings ... Between these case studies, Arikha threads deeply moving accounts of her mother’s perplexing and ever more common condition, Alzheimer’s, and of the ways in which her mother remains fully herself in spite of her cognitive decline ... wide-reaching, and engrossing ... Fixed in time and in society, we tell our stories as best we can; for these patients, the doctors compile an external version of their stories. All accounts are of course partial and uncertain—but Arikha affirms that this makes them no less meaningful.
Michelle de Kretser
RaveHarpersEach work teaches us how to read it, engaging more or less with formal or genre conventions, and thereby shaping our understanding. With her new book...Michelle de Kretser asks us to shift from the familiar ... Whether you begin with Lili or Lyle, the range and verbal pleasures of de Kretser’s considerable gifts are compelling. Both sections explore themes of gender, race, and displacement ... The relationship between Lili and Lyle...is intuitive, rather than overtly drawn ... De Kretser captures with luminous specificity Lili’s experiences as a young woman in provincial France in the early Eighties ... Lili gradually awakens to the complexities of race and class, and in these moments of heightened awareness de Krester’s biting sense of humor is often on full display ... De Kretser is a wonderful writer, and woefully underrated in this country. Though her skewering satire is pointed and painful, her gallows humor keeps the reader smiling.
PositiveHarper\'sReaders of Elif Batuman’s delightful first novel, The Idiot, will need no introduction to its sequel, Either/Or, which shares both its pleasures and its limitations ... The Idiot takes place in 1995, primarily at Harvard University, where Selin is a freshman. Either/Or, set the following year, cheerfully offers more of the same ... Whimsical, relatively plotless ... The joys of Batuman’s fiction lie not so much in plot or the development of characters, but rather in Selin herself—her lively voice, her comic observations, and her marriage of literature and philosophy with the potentially oppressive banality of undergraduate life.
Shuang Xuetao tr. Jeremy Tiang
MixedHarper\'s... affords an indelible introduction to Shuang’s work ... Around what might, in less capable hands, seem like a premise from Law & Order, Shuang weaves with Dostoevskian skill the voices and experiences of the players in this drama. Among them are two childhood playmates from Yanfen Street, Zhuang Shu and Li Fei, whose lives unexpectedly intersect decades later when Zhuang Shu is a detective investigating the cold case. Through various monologues, the novella creates not just a suspenseful thriller, but a textured, rich portrait of a community over time.
RaveHarper\'sFew writers are as keenly alive to absurdity or write with as sharp a pen as Gary Indiana, whose new essay collection, Fire Season, spans almost forty years of stellar criticism ... His interests are expansive ... When I was at university in the mid-Eighties and setting out in the world soon thereafter, Indiana’s sensibility, and indeed his canon, were formative for my cohort, and it’s enormously pleasurable to revisit his brilliant mind ... Perhaps the central feature of Indiana’s writing remains its elegant and astringent wit. At times, this can look like nastiness; but just as the difference between the erotic and the pornographic is said to be that the latter is gratuitous, so too is strong critique distinct from simple nastiness in being purposeful ... Indiana also turns his stinging clarity on living subjects ... Some pieces may read differently now than when they were first published, as the urgency of the avant-garde has been subsumed by the inescapability of mass media. And it’s true that Indiana’s work can feel not wholly contemporary, insofar as it refuses ever to be nice. This, thank goodness, ensures its timelessness.
RaveHarpersWe Don’t Know Ourselves...may appear a daunting doorstopper of a book, but it is leavened by the brilliance of O’Toole’s insights and wit, and by the story of his own life, which he expertly intertwines into a larger historical narrative. O’Toole’s Ireland is, familiarly, a nation of grand myths and discordant realities ... O\'Toole...sees the country’s shift with an eye that is simultaneously critical and compassionate ... He returns repeatedly to Ireland’s ties to the United States, and astutely interprets moments such as John F. Kennedy’s 1963 visit ... O’Toole’s account ranges well beyond historical grandees to include minor celebrities ... frank moments punctuate this dense book, and these, more than strict reminiscence, constitute the personal nature of his history. O’Toole’s is a wildly ambitious project, one that accounts for inevitable partiality precisely through this invocation of the personal. It is a winning gambit.
María Gainza, tr. Thomas Bunstead
RaveHarper\'s...clever and captivating ... elegantly translated ... Gainza, author of the acclaimed 2019 novel Optic Nerve and herself an art critic, has taken the world of Argentinian art forgery as her subject, and wrought from it a richly layered fiction that often limns history ... erudite and engagingly digressive.
Yevgenia Belorusets, tr. Eugene Ostashevsky
PositiveHarpers... beautifully translated ... A near-invisible narrator recurs, and most pieces have women as their protagonists. Many of them have been displaced by the war, often to Kyiv from areas with heavy fighting in 2014. The scale of their worlds is largely domestic, but through Belorusets’s lens, small actions and encounters take on the qualities of myth ... Trauma lingers in the interstices of the everyday, only sometimes announcing itself. The effect, shocking, can also take on a register of searing dark comedy ... The effect is rather as if Isaac Babel and the Belarusian journalist Svetlana Alexievich had offspring.
Peter Neumann, tr. by Shelley Frisch
RaveHarpers[A] novelistic group biography...admirably translated by Shelley Frisch. It’s an exhilarating account of a remarkable historical moment, in which characters known to many of us as immutable icons are rendered as vital, passionate, fallible being ... Neumann, in drawing his subjects, selects marvelous vivifying details ... In lively, precise, and accessible short chapters, the book conveys both the earnest intensity of those heady days and the entropic forces that swiftly brought them to a close.
RaveHarpersThe tenor of the narration is hardly effusive. Yet the effect is of the gentle quiet of snowfall, rather than the lethal frigidity of an icicle ... Au’s is a book of deceptive simplicity, weaving profound questions of identity and ontology into the fabric of quotidian banality ... Nuanced ... Not much happens in Au’s novel...but nonetheless, significant emotions, memories, and thoughts are meaningfully conveyed. What matters, the novel reassures us, is constantly imbricated with the everyday, just as alienation and tender care can coexist in the same moment.
PositiveHarpersThe novel is a searing catalogue of pinched bitterness that might best be summarized as \'no fun here.\' But with her gemlike apercus, Manguso renders this bleakness oddly fascinating ... [Manguso] has a distinctive and pungent style. She is known for her aphoristic precision and intense, adamantine paragraphs. Her novel thus has the effect of a series of sharply focused snapshots.
PositiveHarpersIn Joan, Wang has created a compelling character, utterly distinct, and the novel is carried by her dispassionate, clear-eyed, and often drily amusing narration. We come to understand her grief not through her own words, but through the quiet maneuvers she employs to sidestep emotion ... the pandemic—that inescapable memento mori—serves as a frame and a catalyst rather than a subject. On account of a particular concatenation of events, Joan is forced to face long-deflected emotional questions. What does family mean for one like hers, that has, in effect, been amputated? ... Such powerful insights will resonate with many, especially those with histories of displacement ... At the same time, Wang occasionally deploys an ironic, almost satirical hyperbole that is engaging and funny, but can shift the novel’s register closer to moralistic fable ... disjunction between the agonizing realism of Joan’s perspective and the cartoonish antics around her serves the novel in certain ways (enabling greater levity in an often dark account) but ultimately muffles the narrative’s consequence.
Gunnhild Øyehaug, Tr. Kari Dickson
PositiveHarpers... an elegant translation by Kari Dickson ... Øyehaug is splendidly clever, perhaps too clever for some. But she’s also thoughtful, using her elaborately conceived, interconnected narrative spirals to ask questions about the relevance and importance of stories, and about connections between the literarily lived life and the literally lived life. Simultaneously, she inquires about and, in spite of everything, enacts the divine power of language to create.
Peter Stamm, Tr. Michael Hofmann
PositiveHarpersStamm, whose precise, dry prose builds suspense in its very insistence on the quotidian, creates narratives simultaneously ordinary and strange, even uncanny. Atmospherically, these stories recall Arthur Schnitzler, or even Edgar Allan Poe: eventfulness is promised, then elided; death or oblivion hovers at the edges of an ordinary afternoon ... Repeatedly, in Stamm’s ghost-filled collection—beautifully translated, as are all his books, by the remarkable Michael Hofmann—the story proves to be an antistory, but no less a story for that[.]
Anna Della Subin
RaveHarpers... riveting ... The book is replete with such astonishing details. Subin, who combines fierce analytic intelligence with powerful storytelling, has here synthesized vast amounts of abstruse information. While another might run the risk of prurient or condescending anthropological interest in such behaviors, Subin deftly places them in the broader context of imperialism ... The challenge Subin’s book presents—and for which it provides, in its last pages, a beautiful but idealized posthumous vision—is how to find a better array of myths.
RaveHarper\'s... slender but potent ... is not simply an account of Clifton’s father and the generations that preceded him, narrated upon her return to upstate New York for his funeral. It is also, metonymically, the account of all our histories, of the violence on which this nation is built, and of the individuals whose lives have long been unheralded and unrecorded ... Clifton’s prose has the distilled eloquence of poetry. She also has the gift of voices: she inhabits her father’s with an immediacy that makes him seem alive ... The music of her father’s words is both conversational and poetic, and Clifton’s particular achievement is to render the two as one, life as lyric, without prettifying or sentimentalizing.
RaveHarpers... a rich, illuminating, and imposing history of that paradigm-shifting conflict. Like characters in a Homeric epic, the players in Greece’s war emerge, in Mazower’s telling, in an apparently orderly fashion. An expert storyteller, Mazower unravels a Gordian knot of local, regional, and international factionalisms ... The book deftly weaves in the broader international context[.]
PositiveHarper\'s[Bloom\'s] approach to writing is resolutely unwriterly and unacademic—that’s to say, he writes as if speaking, which brings a welcome immediacy to his explorations ... these explorations, richly substantiated, are punctuated by allusions not only to Daniel Kahneman and Robert Nozick, but also to The Matrix and Pokémon Go. Avengers: Endgame rubs shoulders with Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, and the effect, simultaneously authoritative and chummy, is engaging.
PositiveHarpersShafak...writes in English in a lyrical, magical realist mode that somewhat leavens her story’s darkness ... not simply a commentary on the bitter legacy of war, which Shafak suggests will shape future generations no matter how hard we try to prevent it from doing so; it is also a commentary on the folly of our adversarial relationship with nature and our refusal to learn from the flora and fauna with which we share the planet. Shafak’s English prose, though sometimes glorious, often relies on overly familiar phrases. But the scope of her thematic ambition is impressive, and she is a compelling storyteller. She writes as well about teenage irascibility as about profound human suffering, and, like the wise fig tree, understands the interconnectedness of all things great and small.
Gianfranco Calligarich, tr. Howard Curtis
PositiveHarpersElegantly translated ... Last Summer in the City has the languorous disaffection of the mid-twentieth century ... It is at once bombastic and melodramatic, simultaneously passionate and ironic, thoroughly enjoyable and very much of its time ... The novel is accented with oblique romantic banter, inflected by soul-searching and artistic pretension ... The novel, like the films that it recalls, offers a seductive, stylized fantasy of life; but one that, before the advent of the internet, had real resonance ... For those of us old enough to recall such aimless, yearning days, the novel is moving in spite of its silliness.
PositiveHarpersEach of the novel’s characters carries the residues of an initial love and its shattered illusions; these go on to shape the relationships that follow ... The characters lurch from beginning to beginning, always bringing the past with them. Yanique inhabits many of their divergent points of view ... Themes of race, religion, class, and education appear throughout this ambitious novel, but its abiding focus is on the intimate, and the way broader social forces can impinge upon it ... Yanique...retains only echoes of the magical realism that influenced her first novel. Rather, reality assumes a surreal tinge, and the fluidity of narration, across time, place, and characters, imparts an epic register to the intimate encounter between Stela and Fly. Though this episodic mode can, at times, diminish the novel’s narrative tension, the drama of its last fifty pages proves ample compensation.
Janine Di Giovanni
RaveHarper\'s... powerful ... di Giovanni’s book is also highly personal: raised Catholic, her faith recently restored, she frames her introduction and conclusion with moving details about her religious upbringing and the circumstances of her pandemic lockdown in the French Alps, where ritual and tradition provided solace. This account of her faith contributes to the force of her reporting, but does not cloud it ... The individuals di Giovanni interviews provide a rich portrait of these threatened communities, and of the wider societies they inhabit.
Harald Voetmann, Tr. Johanne Sorgenfri Ottosen
RaveHarpersChallenge and surprise are...essential to the Danish writer Harald Voetmann’s pungent short novel ... the concrete world of the first century ad is rendered present and particular ... But the vast differences from our contemporary times are as sharply conveyed ... To ask whether Awake is in any traditional sense a novel seems irrelevant, just as it’s irrelevant to quibble over Anne Carson’s forms. This short book is neither pleasing, nor in any straightforward way satisfying; in places, it is wildly unpleasant. But strange as it is, Awake is original, piercing, and richly exhilarating. Voetmann’s text is a sharp reminder of how powerfully and succinctly well-chosen words can create a world, render experiences, and express thoughts—in short, transport us, to places and in ways we could not have imagined.
RaveHarpers... on its simplest level, a tribute by one fine essayist of the political left to another of an earlier generation. But as with any of Solnit’s books, such a description would be reductive: the great pleasure of reading her is spending time with her mind, its digressions and juxtapositions, its unexpected connections. Only a few contemporary writers have the ability to start almost anywhere and lead the reader on paths that, while apparently meandering, compel unfailingly and feel, by the end, cosmically connected ... Somehow, Solnit’s references to Ross Gay, Michael Pollan, Ursula K. Le Guin, and Peter Coyote (to name but a few) feel perfectly at home in the narrative; just as later chapters about an eighteenth-century portrait by Sir Joshua Reynolds and a visit to the heart of the Colombian rose-growing industry seem inevitable and indispensable ... The book provides a captivating account of Orwell as gardener, lover, parent, and endlessly curious thinker ... And, movingly, she takes the time to find the traces of Orwell the gardener and lover of beauty in his political novels, and in his insistence on the value and pleasure of things.
PositiveHarpersThe story unfolds with an inevitability that is either pleasing or dismaying, depending on your feelings about plot ... Bewilderment feels, in certain respects, too familiar and tidy. Once the stakes are clear, the plot is obvious, and its mechanisms will be recognizable, along with the book’s themes, to readers of earlier Powers novels ... Characterization is not Powers’s forte ... But if Theo’s other relationships remain one-dimensional, the connection between father and son has greater density and texture, as does Robin’s urgent and unbridled passion for the natural world. Unabashedly issue-driven, Bewilderment may neither challenge nor surprise, but admirers of Powers’s ability to fold near-futuristic scientific facts into a meticulously constructed plot will nonetheless find satisfaction.
Simone De Beauvoir, Tr. Sandra Smith
RaveHarpers... an exciting surprise ... Margaret Atwood...has written a lively and inviting introduction ... Beautifully translated by Sandra Smith, Inseparable is torturously delicious and consuming in the way doomed love stories often are ... Brief and exuberant, Inseparable amplifies the canon of a titan of twentieth-century feminism, and reveals her in an unexpectedly tender, unguarded mode. More than that, it’s a touching iteration of the female bildungsroman. De Beauvoir evokes the landscapes, activities, and companions of her adolescence in a vivid and refreshingly unaffected way—bringing Sylvie and Andrée to life, as she hoped to do, \'through literary artfulness.\'
RaveHarpersThe impossibility of fully knowing someone else, or indeed oneself (the inevitable lacunae!), is an eternal theme of fiction, framed in infinite ways. The immigrant experience, in which multicultural characters necessarily navigate these gaps, is one such frame, and Yoon Choi’s beautiful debut story collection Skinship (Knopf, $26) uses it to bring a rich and engaging new voice to contemporary American letters. With refreshing amplitude, patience, and (dare I say) wisdom, Choi’s stories explore the complexities of her characters’ diverse experiences ... In each story, Choi evokes a world entire, an endeavor that extends beyond content into form.
PositiveHarper\'sLucy Jones’s impassioned exhortation Losing Eden may feel inevitable and hence almost extraneous. And yet her argument is both urgent and complex ... Jones conveys in evocative prose the exuberance of her own rediscovery of nature’s wondrousness, a significant component in her recovery from struggles with addiction and depression ... Jones’s compelling and wide-ranging investigation [is] marred only by a prologue and an epilogue that feel too cute ... Jones’s admirable synthesis of research serves chiefly to insist, passionately, on the paramount importance of the earth’s well-being.
PositiveHarpers MagazineSahota [...] is a restrained stylist whose details bloom in the imagination.
Pedro Mairal tr. Jennifer Croft
PositiveHarper\'sA slim and eminently readable iteration of the genre, delivered in the disarming voice of a feckless novelist turned house husband ... The two met at a literary festival, kept in flirtatious touch, and have seen each other a couple of times. The occasion of the novel is a further reunion, for which Lucas has high hopes ...With an insouciance greater than that of Spiotta’s intense Sam, Lucas makes light of his travails, and the novel feels, even at its darkest, almost like a comic romp; but Mairal gives his character the gift of frankness, and in his uncomfortable admissions and meandering reflections, Lucas, too, comes to accept the limits of his agency and the ineluctable force of reality. Midlife once again proves to be about compromise, and the freedom that comes with resignation.
RaveHarpersThe menopausal (or in this case, perimenopausal) protagonist is rare, which is just one thrilling aspect of Dana Spiotta’s new novel ... Sam burrows into several women’s groups online and in person (Spiotta is highly amusing in her renderings of these; one of the novel’s many pleasures is its humor about the humorless) ... Spiotta’s novel is at once satirical and earnest: Sam asks what she can do to atone for her thoughtless privilege, what role she might play as an agent of change. There’s much comedy in the asking (menopausal feminists delivering deliberately unfunny monologues at open-mic night at the local comedy club prompts an uneasy titter in both the audience and the reader), but the novel makes clear that the answers aren’t straightforward ... Spiotta’s novels are unfailingly dense with life—the textures, digressions, and details thereof—and Wayward is no exception ... Spiotta offers grand themes and beautiful peripheral incidents ... She writes with sly humor and utter seriousness ... For this reader, roughly the same age as Sam Raymond, there is uncommon pleasure in the paradoxes of this climacteric tale.
RaveHarper\'sThe novel is an engaging confection. It is not, always, the highest version of its form—at times the effervescence of the plot is flattened by emphatic plot-point repetitions, and there are a few loose ends—but it is, at its best, a satisfying example of a time-honored genre ... Johnson is surely also observing that a certain entertaining type of comedy of manners—in which the elegant and amusingly entitled fuss about diminished incomes and inherited legacies or the lack thereof—is also perhaps nearing its end, at least for now, at least here. The frothiness is intrinsic to the novel’s pleasure—while Lorna obviously cares a good deal about how things might turn out, the stakes are, in global terms, fairly low—but this is also what will make it a treat for some, and not at all pleasurable for others ... it is a tender but decided indictment of the United States in the twenty-first century.
RaveHarpersAn elegant prose stylist, Scurr is above all a fabulous historian, and a vivid storyteller with a novelist’s eye for engaging detail. With the exception of the Battle of Waterloo—the most significant fighting of which took place over a garden at Hougoumont—the wars in this book occur largely offstage. Napoleon emerges not in his warrior guise but in his full humanity ... History’s palimpsest emerges in these pages too, through Scurr’s accounts of modern-day places shaped by Napoleon’s vision: while his empire is the stuff of history books, his legacy as a landscape genius endures.
MixedHarpersImmediately recognizable, Ellroy’s prose—an exuberant, alliterative staccato that could be described as camp noir—requires attention and some persistence. His witty verbiage can serve as pleasure and obstacle both. And perhaps needless to say, reader be warned, the world depicted in Widespread Panic...is sexist, racist, and violent, as befits the Los Angeles, and the United States, of the Fifties ... [an] elaborate thriller ... there is here, as in Ellroy’s other novels, so fully researched and plausible an evocation of the world about which he writes, so deft an intermingling of the real and fictional characters that the novelist asks the reader to believe that these events could have happened, and that some of them (Jack Kennedy’s exhaustive and exhausting philandering, for example) probably did.
RaveHarpers... traces, in a sustained and pragmatic way, crucial sites in our historical narrative, and exposes the bitter experiences that, as Americans, we have long sought to suppress ... Smith reveals and makes present for his readers the profoundly disturbing truths of what transpired in these places, of the systemic and strategic violence and abuse that enabled the society in which we now live ... In this important and compelling account, Smith, who conjures places and the people in them with striking attention to detail, exposes a gamut of responses to that history ... doesn’t simply bring news of the past; it seeks to convey the urgency of that news in our troubled present.
RaveHarpersWith this collection, she proves a compelling essayist...her voice direct, lucid, and fearless. All the pieces are enjoyable and often surprising, even when rather slight. But the most substantial ones are memorable—even unforgettable. They deftly straddle the personal and the political ... Her particular perspective sheds light on the complexity of race in the United States; the essay follows her education in a history that is not straightforwardly her own, and yet is inescapable.
RaveHarper\'sA surprising number of novelists are very good; few are extraordinary. Like his compatriot J. M. Coetzee, the South African writer Damon Galgut is of this rare company; like Coetzee, he is stringent, pure. He has, however, and mercifully, a sense of humor, even an occasional playfulness, which leavens that stringency ... Indeed, the novel carries within it the literary spirits of Woolf and Joyce, including, from the former, an almost rushing fluidity of narrative consciousness, and from the latter, a direct allusion to The Dead in its final pages, when a torrential rain is unleashed upon the veld ... To praise the novel in its particulars—for its seriousness; for its balance of formal freedom and elegance; for its humor, its precision, its human truth—seems inadequate and partial. Simply: you must read it. Like other remarkable novels, it is uniquely itself, and greater than the sum of its parts. The Promise evokes, when you reach the final page, a profound interior shift that is all but physical. This, as an experience of art, happens only rarely, and is to be prized.
RaveHarpersJenny Diski...writes a lot about death, and a reader is grateful for her humor. Whereas Galgut’s clarity of vision can seem sometimes almost unworldly, Diski is nothing if not parti pris. Everything in her delicious essays is filtered, unabashedly, through her particularly sharp, uncompromising consciousness ... Diski takes an almost triumphantly dissatisfied, even irascible, approach ... As the anthology shows, though, Diski could make almost anything seem interesting.
RaveHarpers... [a] remarkable book of essays ... The earliest pieces (including the title essay) date from 2014, but most are essentially contemporary, and their cumulative range and force are as exhilarating as they are compelling ... The book’s tone is broadly inviting ... McCarthy writes with equal authority and scrutiny about trap music and the seventeenth-century Spanish painters Diego Velázquez and Juan de Pareja, the latter a black man and a freed slave of the former. In his brilliant essay \'To Make a Poet Black\'—originally delivered as a lecture in his Introduction to Black Poetry course—McCarthy brings together Sappho, Kerry James Marshall, Phillis Wheatley, Theodor Adorno, and Ntozake Shange in what feels an entirely organic exploration of the cultural reception of two essential female poets, Sappho and Wheatley ... The finest essays in this book function like origami, folding together the apparently disparate into a unique and seemingly inevitable form ... he believes passionately in possibility, and a revolutionary, almost joyful sense of mission suffuses the book.
Nona Fernández, tr. Natasha Wimmer
RaveHarpers\'What then must we do?\' is also the question behind the Chilean writer Nona Fernández’s riveting novel The Twilight Zone...elegantly translated by Natasha Wimmer ... The terrain that the novel addresses is fertile in part because of its unimaginable brutality ... Fernández has found an answer to the urgent question: making art is inadequate always, but powerful nonetheless.
PositiveHarpers[A] useful and rich explication of Said’s trajectory, from his first mentors—R. P. Blackmur at Princeton and Harry Levin at Harvard—to his affiliation with French theorists, to his firm rejection of their ahistorical, ungrounded approach in favor of a historically informed, pragmatically revolutionary vision—which, indeed, might overlap significantly with McCarthy’s ... Brennan is very fine on the evolution of Said’s thought and writing, as well as on his return, after his leukemia diagnosis in 1991, to the music that had been central to his youth (he was a pianist of near-concert-level accomplishment) and his creation, with Daniel Barenboim, of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra. But the book’s professional focus can come at the expense of other aspects of Said’s life ... Brennan notes Said’s important friendship with his fellow Palestinian-American academic Ibrahim Abu-Lughod, but gives the reader little impression of the man. Similarly, Said’s other friends, his parents, sisters, wives, and children, are present in the text (as is one mistress, a writer named Dominique Eddé, though it’s implied that there were others), but remain largely ciphers ... Nevertheless, Said’s vitality and lasting importance as both a scholar and a public figure emerge strongly in these pages.
RaveHarpers... damning and meticulously researched ... There is, in Horst, a fascinating psychology to explore: what has prompted this man, who claims to acknowledge the atrocities of Nazism, to spend his life denying his father’s involvement? But Sands is a lawyer, not a novelist, and his book is a carefully researched prosecution, not an exploration of motive ... Sands has once again written a riveting and insightful historical page-turner that proves to be part History Channel, part W. G. Sebald.
RaveHarpersLee...builds an ever richer, circular understanding of his abiding themes and concerns, of his personal and artistic life, and of his many other passionate engagements ... Lee’s biography is unusual in that it was commissioned, and published while its subject is still alive. Lee is a highly acclaimed biographer whose rigor and integrity make her decision to write under such conditions surprising ... Lee is frank and thoughtful about the challenges of writing about a living subject. She is aware, as the reader will be, that her interview subjects do not want to speak ill of a friend and colleague who is still among them. In addition to the almost unrelievedly positive portrayal of Stoppard, the seven-hundred-fifty-plus pages of this volume might have been somewhat condensed, were its subject no longer living, thereby rendering the biography easier to wield and to read. In spite of these quibbles, this is an extraordinary record of a vital and evolving artistic life, replete with textured illuminations of the plays and their performances, and shaped by the arc of Stoppard’s exhilarating engagement with the world around him, and of his eventual awakening to his own past.
PositiveHarpersI have particular interest in and compassion for Owusu’s cultural complexity, for the code-switcher’s attentiveness to what’s necessary for survival ... The gamut of Owusu’s youthful experiences...make for compelling reading, interspersed as they are with elucidating histories of the countries with which she is affiliated or in which her family made their home ... the memoir is triumphant: the survivor’s account of a thoughtful, passionate young writer grappling with life’s demons ... But this sense of hard-won redemption doesn’t feel entirely convincing, given the tenor and form of the memoir. Aftershocks is written in an elaborately fragmented manner, looping and uneven, held together by the metaphors of the earthquake and the chair ... Owusu’s memoir is affecting despite, rather than because of, its structure ... At times the book feels more a howl of agony intended to command compassion from a distance than a work of art created to evoke an emotional experience in the reader. This is perhaps more generally a risk of memoir than of fiction, but the difference arises, too, from the artist’s control of narrative form.
Peter Ho Davies
RaveHarpersDavies is less interested in the bourgeois fabric of life—where McLaughlin is like Ibsen, whose plays are cluttered with objects, Davies is closer to Chekhov, whose characters act on a near-empty stage ... There is nothing superfluous in these pages, and yet Davies, whose characters’ humor carries the reader through considerable agony, allows cheerfully for life’s banality ... It would be easy, under the sway of this mild and familiar parental wit, to underestimate the ambition of the book, both formally and emotionally. Like Akhil Sharma’s remarkable Family Life, A Lie Someone Told You About Yourself presents the writer, and the reader, with an unusual challenge: its tragedy takes place in its opening pages ... Davies handles time with particular care ... Even in sentences pared down to the essentials, Davies’s nameless and hence faceless characters (in the way that McLaughlin’s powerful Chalk Sculpture is faceless) shift the quotidian (not just toys and childhood fads, but intimacy, sex, and masturbation) into the universal register of myth.
PositiveThe New York Times Book Review... [an] engaging work of cultural biography ... Doherty provides lively glimpses of the individual trajectories and projects of these artists, both in the years leading up to and after their time at Radcliffe. Olsen’s complicated relationship with the academy is well evoked, as are Sexton’s volatility ... Doherty may be less interested in the visual artists; or perhaps there exists less documentation of their thoughts and experiences ... Doherty’s attention to these early Radcliffe fellows is tempered by her awareness of the institute’s homogeneity at the time with respect to race and, for the most part, class ... This endeavor simultaneously to offer a broader context for the Radcliffe Institute and to cover a large period of time — from 1957 to the mid-1970s — ultimately renders The Equivalents somewhat diffuse, and in places it can feel skimpy. While Sexton’s and Kumin’s lives are thoroughly documented (and have been told elsewhere), Swan’s and Pineda’s in particular are only briefly handled. Doherty isn’t notably a stylist, and her descriptions can be perfunctory ... It’s hard to tell whether the book’s primary interest lies in portraying the complicated and demanding friendships among Kumin, Sexton and Olsen in the context of what is now the Radcliffe Institute, or in representing, at speed, the diverse strands of feminist activism and scholarship in the late ’60s and ’70s. Doherty tries to address all of these, in part, one suspects, because the subjects of her title — the five \'Equivalents\' — seem, from a contemporary intersectional perspective, potentially problematic: They were white, and, with the exception of Olsen, educated and largely well-off ... Doherty’s account, may have its flaws, but The Equivalents is nevertheless an illuminating contribution to our history.
Kamel Daoud, trans. by John Cullen
PositiveThe New York Review of BooksThe genius and the limitation of Daoud’s novel lie in the directness of this engagement with Meursault/Camus ... Daoud is giving literary voice, in a language intelligible to the West—both literally, in French, and also within a familiar philosophical tradition—to a point of view that the West longs to hear but that tends to be drowned out by other voices from the Middle East ... Daoud’s voice is particularly telling for its subtlety and tolerance ... Daoud neither rejects Camus and his colonial legacy outright nor accepts his work uncritically. His resulting meditations are rich and thought-provoking, both for Algerian and for Western readers. He lets no one off the hook, including Harun himself ... That said, the book cannot be read meaningfully without The Stranger behind it: for all its vitality, the novel’s skeleton is Camus’s. Harun’s actions and meditations exist in counterpoint to Meursault’s ... By the same token, The Meursault Investigation, fascinating and important as it is, is not of itself an especially interesting work of art. Cleaving as it does to the substance of The Stranger, taking The Fall as a literary model, it too has the quality of an intellectual exercise—albeit one expertly executed and replete with significance; one that should, even must, be read for its fierce and humane intelligence.
RaveThe New York Times Sunday Book ReviewWith the keen and expert eye of an excellent journalist, Waldman provides telling portraits of all the drama’s major players, deftly exposing their foibles and their mutual manipulations. And she has a sense of humor: the novel is punctuated with darkly comic details ... If this lively and thoroughly imagined narrative has a weakness, it lies in Waldman’s decision to remain at a certain remove from [the] two central characters; in a sense, not to privilege them more. As the story unfolds, their fateful decisions are eminently plausible, but not always fully comprehensible ... Elegantly written and tightly plotted, The Submission ultimately remains a novel about the unfolding of a dramatic situation — a historian’s novel — rather than a novel that explores the human condition with any profundity. And yet in these unnerving times, in which Waldman has seen facts take the shape of her fiction, a historian’s novel at once lucid, illuminating and entertaining is a necessary and valuable gift.
Daša Drndic, Trans. by S.D. Curtis and Celia Hawkesworth
PositiveThe Guardian...Doppelgänger...deploys many of the same transgressive modes – digressive insertions; lists; Bernhardian riffs of reminiscence and rumination; the mingling of memory and imagination – but the narrative is tightly controlled and fully realised, grounded in memorable concrete detail ... Many of the ideas so forcefully and directly articulated in E.E.G. appear in this earlier novel, but here they are organically embedded in a fictional world. Fragmented but not disjointed, Beckettian as well as Bernhardian, Doppelgänger is complex, dark and funny: a strange gem.
Daša Drndić, translated by Celia Hawkesworth
MixedThe GuardianIf, as Ban says, \'wars are an orgy of forgetting\', then Drndić’s is a mission of restitution: to restore the humanity – if only, in some instances, by the magic of their names – to individuals whose stories have been lost ... if \'fierce meandering\' is possible, that’s the tenor of this text. The prose is sometimes pretty dire, verging on nonsensical. This is not the fault of Celia Hawkesworth, the delicacy of whose translation is elsewhere evident. Rather, it’s as if Drndić were writing at such speed that she couldn’t take time to reread her sentences ... E.E.G. reveals Drndić as a writer and thinker of ever greater relevance, a voice whose wide-ranging screeds we ignore at our peril. This book is not, however, an achieved literary or artistic artifact: incontinent, ill shaped (or unshaped) and shoddily written, it’s often tough sledding.
MixedThe New York Review of Books\"... a passionate, if complicated, American novel—or, perhaps more accurately, a novel of the Americas ... [The narrative from the stepson\'s perspective] is suspenseful, but its progression and resolution make clear that we are in the realm of consoling—and not entirely convincing—fantasy rather than in that of truth ... Luiselli’s stylistic freedoms... form a patchwork designed simultaneously to reflect and reinterpret our current reality ... The mother’s narrative voice, in its varying registers, sounds as natural as is possible ... The first half of the novel reads less like fiction than like a record of time spent in a café with a particularly interesting friend—one whose observations are alternately delightful and trenchant, unexpected and familiar; one whose presumption of her interlocutor’s intelligence and erudition is both flattering and quickening ... As [Luiselli] endeavors to marry fact-like fiction... with fairytale-like fiction... with dark myth... with a strong political intention that nevertheless aims to avoid propaganda, all the while spinning formal complexity upon formal complexity, there is ultimately a sense that the center cannot hold ... Many elements of Lost Children Archive are extraordinary, and yet the ultimate act of transformation has not occurred. One might of course contend that, in this ghastly time, such a transformation is no longer possible; but Luiselli’s decision to write a novel at all surely affirms otherwise.\
PositiveThe Guardian\"Spurling’s excellent and vivid biography will hopefully turn our attention again to Powell’s work ... Spurling’s account of the tensions and machinations there provides a lively portrait of London’s literary scene in the 1920s and 30s ... Spurling, a close friend of the Powells, writes with great affection and respect of their union and of Powell’s remarkable life’s work. She is delicate but straightforward in tackling sensitive subjects – such as Violet’s affair, during the war, with an unnamed man – and frank, too, in recording the hostility Powell faced, in later years, from former friends ... Powell emerges from this exemplary and deliciously readable account not only as a novelist of considerable significance who altered the parameters of the form, but also as a human being of great wit, impressive modesty and firm integrity.\
MixedThe New York Times Book Review...Miller has determined, in her characterization of this most powerful witch, to bring her as close as possible to the human — from the timbre of her voice to her intense maternal instincts ... Circe is very pleasurable to read, combining lively versions of familiar tales (like the birth of the Minotaur or the arrival of Odysseus and his men on Circe’s island) and snippets of other, related standards (a glance at Daedalus and Icarus; a nod to the ultimate fate of Medea after she and Jason leave Aiaia) with a highly psychologized, redemptive and ultimately exculpatory account of the protagonist herself. That said ... It’s a hybrid entity, inserting strains of popular romance and specifically human emotion into the lives of the gods. Idiosyncrasies in the prose reflect this uneasy mixture ... In spite of these occasional infelicities and awkwardnesses, Circe will surely delight readers new to the witch’s stories as it will many who remember her role in the Greek myths of their childhood ... Purists may be less enchanted, bemused by Miller’s sentimental leanings and her determination to make Circe into an ultimately likable, or at least forgivable, character. This narrative choice seems a taming, and hence a diminishment, of the character’s transgressive divine excess.
RaveThe GuardianThose who have not yet discovered her might best begin with the fiction and save this collection for later, not because it doesn’t merit attention but because Moore’s incisive, often mordant yet exhilarating pieces illuminate the trajectory of a literary artist’s aesthetic evolution, and enhance an understanding of her fiction. They give us a cumulative sense of how the frank, savvy, tragicomic sensibility so evident in her stories and novels reverberates in the wider context ... Extended personal forays are rare, however, and in these pieces Moore’s particular frankness emerges chiefly (and deliciously) in parenthetical asides or digressive observations when she is focused on the work of others ... I had enjoyed many of the essays in this collection in the journals in which they first appeared but was struck, on rereading, not only by Moore’s intelligence and wit, and by the syntactical and verbal satisfactions of her prose, but by the fundamental generosity of her critical spirit. Moore’s astringency always enlivens her observations, but rarely her assessments, even when critical. In print, at least, she is a wit without malice.
RaveThe New York Review of Books\"Yet the confluence of themes raised by Laura Ingalls Wilder’s life enables Fraser to explore not only the \'profound act of American myth-making and self-transformation\' that the novels’ creation entailed but also the environmental, social, and political forces that shaped both the myths and the realities behind them ... That said, Fraser calls their literary relationship a \'collaboration,\' and reminds us that it involved a tension between opposing approaches—Wilder’s plain, unornamented empirical descriptions and Lane’s slick, dramatic, and crowd-pleasing sensationalism. Ultimately, says Fraser, \'Wilder saw writing as a cottage industry: books were the work of many hands, like quilts at a sewing bee\' ... Fraser’s meticulous biography has particular urgency today, as she unknots the threads of fact and fiction, of reality and myth, of mother and daughter. She takes on, very occasionally, a moralizing tone that surprises. But these rare lapses have a logic in the broader culture wars of which this book may be seen—at least by avid partisans in the fight for Wilder’s legacy—to be part ... But as Fraser is at pains to point out, that spirit lives on most vibrantly in the novels themselves.\
PositiveThe New York Review of BooksThe story in question, the novel’s dark heart, is that of the murder of an entire white family, the Lochrens, on their farm in 1911; and of the discovery of their bodies, along with one surviving infant girl, by a group of four Native Americans … The effects of this long-ago incident pervade the novel; but The Plague of Doves is not a single, simple story. (It is worth noting that many portions of the book were originally published as short stories, primarily in The New Yorker: each section stands on its own as a consistent whole; and the triumph of the novel is the way in which Erdrich has contrived to make their unfolding as a cohesive novel seem wholly organic.) Most, like Evelina’s own, are stories of passion, of love and its consequences … There is a symphonic achievement in Erdrich’s capacity to bring so many disparate stories to life, and to have their thematic echoes overlap in such compelling harmony.
RaveThe New York Review of BooksThese pages don’t simply capture viscerally the eleven-year-old’s joy at discovery, or his unspeakable fears, or his first stirrings of desire—although to do that successfully is in itself a rarer achievement than one might wish to believe. They also emanate, like a scent, the melancholy of age, the tender wistfulness with which a man over sixty sees again the vistas of his childhood … Ondaatje evokes, powerfully, the sorrow of growing older: the resignation, and recognition, of all that was not earlier understood. He articulates, too, the rueful amazement at what is past: when he finally finds Emily again, at the end of the novel…between the two of them lies a moment of fullness—a moment of being—reminiscent of Mrs. Dalloway’s at her party, when at last she is surrounded by the dear friends of her youth and finds them so changed.
Jenny Erpenbeck, Trans. by Susan Bernofsky
RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewHer new book, elegantly translated by Susan Bernofsky and set in contemporary Berlin, tells the story of a recently retired classics professor named Richard who, widowed and childless, seeks focus and meaning in his life... What ensues is Richard’s intellectual, social and spiritual blossoming ...Erpenbeck’s novel makes a powerful case for Richard’s evolution, and by the book’s close we understand that his own life — so long controlled and closed down — has been emotionally opened and revitalized by his new path ... timely political subject, distressing and confounding, could easily have worked against its success: The risk of didacticism is high ...Erpenbeck’s rigor, her crystalline human insight, her exhilaratingly synthetic imagination...combine to make Go, Went, Gone an important novel, both aesthetically and morally.
RaveThe GuardianIt is a book in which almost nothing happens – an episode in which Aaliya, the protagonist, washes her mother’s feet is one of the most dramatic – and in which conversation is largely remembered or overheard. Rather, the novel overflows with the interior dialogue between Aaliya and her literary life, the sprawling erudition of her 72 years of reading... Alameddine’s novel is a hymn to an important type of excess – that of art and philosophy – that our ever more efficient and supposedly rational era is quick to discard ...prickly and proud as she is, will find herself reduced to a kind of nakedness before the novel is done. The surprise is that in her case, it proves a state of grace ... Alameddine’s narrative is digressive, at times didactic, unapologetically mandarin, written in resistance to almost all the current norms of a 'well?made' novel...a genuine literary pleasure: a complicated one.
MixedThe GuardianOne can admire a work of fiction without particularly enjoying it; one can dislike a novel even while appreciating its value ... The Night Circus is a sprawling historical novel about magic and the circus. Highly whimsical, it is a narrative so wilfully contrived that contrivance is its raison d'être ... Rather than forcing its readers to be prisoners in someone else's imagination, Morgenstern's imaginary circus invites readers to join in an exploration of the possible ... novel's plot is fairly straightforward ... Whether they will destroy each other and the circus into the bargain, or whether they can escape their magical indentured servitude and rewrite their fates, emerges as the novel's central question ... Like any successful illusion, it could be carefully unravelled; but surely, as rare as it is, it should simply be enjoyed.
PositiveThe Financial TimesLike its companion books, Lila is a novel in which, strictly speaking, little happens... chiefly, the book takes place inside Lila’s consciousness, in her memories, observations and ruminations. In spite of her contentment, she repeatedly contemplates departure: ambivalence – standing on the threshold – is her state of being … Robinson is a glorious writer, and her sentences, as much as their content, are a consistent pleasure. This novel, different in tone from its predecessors, stands beautifully alongside them, expanding our understanding not only of this woman, Lila, and of these people, but of their time and place.
RaveThe Financial TimesRoy’s admirers will not be disappointed. This ambitious new novel, like its predecessor, addresses weighty themes in an intermittently playful narrative voice ... Colourful and compelling, this is a novel in which characters embody political concerns rather than one in which those issues arise organically out of a sustained illumination of human nature. Roy is a mistress of the memorable vignette and the arresting detail ... Roy is not greatly preoccupied with interiority: her ancestor would be Dickens rather than Tolstoy. The novel teems with abundant incidental detail, and yet seems, for a considerable time, to present many apparently irreconcilably divergent strands. It’s a tribute to Roy’s gifts that she is ultimately able to arrange these into a coherent and meaningful whole; but some readerly perseverance is required ... Roy’s second novel proves as remarkable as her first. Its ambitions are rather different — grander still — and its formal strangeness risky and considerable. You will not finish this novel with a profound psychological understanding of its characters; but through their archetypal interactions, juxtaposed with Roy’s glorious social details, you will have been granted a powerful sense of their world, of the complexity, energy and diversity of contemporary India, in which darkness and exuberant vitality are inextricably intertwined.
RaveThe Financial TimesHadley’s admirers will not be disappointed. These pages are punctuated by her familiar calm, clear-eyed psychological acumen; by her delicate and precise lyrical descriptions (particularly of nature: 'the bluebells were like pools of water among the trees, reflecting the sky'); and by the formal freedom with which she roams through psyches and time ... Like Alice Munro, to whom she has more than once been compared, Hadley has the gift of making small canvases inexhaustibly new. She sees unsentimentally the subtle gestures that alter people’s lives forever; and charts, too, the instances when those gestures change nothing at all ... This zoom lens effect gives Hadley’s work the tenderness of wisdom: she grants readers an almost Buddhist apprehension of time’s inexorable levelling force. She captures childhood’s consuming immediacy; and with equal vividness, the confusions of young womanhood ... Compassionate and luminous, Hadley sees them all — or should I say, she sees us all: our travails, our fantasies and our small joys.
RaveThe AtlanticWe have before us so fine and controlled a stylist that we may imagine we cannot ask for more; surely these are pleasures enough … Briony is a storyteller: she undertakes to shape and describe the world around her with, significantly, a pretense of objectivity...If Briony and McEwan are in some measure indistinguishable in this novel (and only in the novel's conclusion do we discover how profoundly this is so), there remains, owing to McEwan's subtleties, a distance between them, a distance that articulates itself in a new raggedness of form and in a self-conscious insistence on the novel's story-ness … There is nothing storylike about these visions, nothing tidy, no narrative advantage to their telling. Reading McEwan's work, we often find it impossible to slow down, so powerful is the pull of ‘What next?’
RaveThe New York Review of BooksSwing Time may not parse easily and fits no mold, but it is uncommonly full of life ... Her complex relationship with her mother is one of the novel’s most powerful subsidiary threads ... Smith’s keen satirical eye, a pleasure of her earlier work, is often in evidence where Aimee is concerned ... In some ways, these event-filled final chapters feel almost incidental, like a coda. The intense, richly imagined life of the novel vibrates most strongly elsewhere, in the moving presentation of the narrator’s primal childhood years with Tracey, and in Smith’s exhilarating portrait of village life in Gambia ... Highly ambitious, overflowing, sometimes messy, this novel resists familiar satisfactions, as it resists containment or easy categorization. This, for 'the nearest thing to life,' is a high achievement.
Magda Szabo, Trans. by Len Rix
RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewIf you’ve felt that you’re reasonably familiar with the literary landscape, The Door will prompt you to reconsider. It’s astonishing that this masterpiece should have been essentially unknown to English-language readers for so long, a realization that raises once again the question of what other gems we’re missing out on. The dismaying discussion of how little translated work is available in the United States must wait for another venue; suffice it to say that I’ve been haunted by this novel. Szabo’s lines and images come to my mind unexpectedly, and with them powerful emotions. It has altered the way I understand my own life.
RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewThere is not a scintilla of sentimentality in this exquisite novel. Instead, in its careful words and vibrating silences, My Name Is Lucy Barton offers us a rare wealth of emotion, from darkest suffering to simple joy.