Hannah Giorgis is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where she covers culture. Her work has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, New Yorker, BuzzFeed News, The Guardian, Pitchfork, The Fader, andThe Lifted Brow, among others. She is the 2018 Jack Jones Literary Arts Writers of Immigration and Diaspora fellow.
PositiveThe AtlanticNow, 22 years later, a new sequel finds Winter ready to reclaim the life that should have been hers all along—but not without facing unexpected hurdles. In Life After Death, published last week, Sister Souljah continues to explore the vices that ensnare Winter and materialistic young people like her. The second novel follows Winter to a temptation-packed purgatory where she must surrender the avarice, lust, and ego that have defined her existence. Though Life After Death doesn’t take place on the literal streets of Brooklyn, the sequel joins its predecessor—and the rest of Sister Souljah’s work—in illuminating both the glamour and the danger of urban life ... Life After Death presents an opportunity to more thoroughly consider literature of its kind—for those of us who first became acquainted with Winter as teens, and for a publishing industry that still doesn’t quite understand characters like her ... Even in her condemnation of Winter’s actions, Sister Souljah—both the actual author and the character in the book—addresses the larger injustices affecting people who live in similar environments. The novelist’s critiques are interpersonal as well as societal.
RaveThe AtlanticAn exuberant picaresque in style, My Year Abroad is thematically a study of human consumption, and the kinds of people who benefit from it ... Smaller crises also crop up throughout My Year Abroad, an ambitious work that sows an exhilarating sense that something could go wrong at any turn. More than malice, the characters’ ennui is what threatens their well-being. That relatable boredom makes My Year Abroad a curious quarantine read. Following along with Tiller’s international—if sometimes unsavory—adventures, I found myself wishing I could fly off … nearly anywhere. The trick—and delight—of Lee’s novel is that it forces readers to sit with their confusing desires, to question the appeal of the things we don’t or can’t or shouldn’t have ... To Lee’s credit, he explores this human impulse not through self-conscious inquiry, but through wildly creative, adventurous storylines ... Hunger—to belong, and for belongings—drives the primary conflicts in My Year Abroad. Whatever they’re looking for, the characters find trouble when they let the intensity of their desires cloud their judgment ... In that sense, My Year Abroad prompts the same hunger its story implicitly criticizes: Even at the end of a jam-packed tale, it’s hard not to want more.
PositiveThe Atlantic... moves across time and space as it deftly weaves the families’ paths ... Card weaves these bloodthirsty characters—tragic, but complex—into the novel’s larger arc by emphasizing their origins. Though they weren’t Paisleys, they were among those who suffered as a result of Abel’s deceit. In other words, these soucouyants are a warning, and These Ghosts Are Family is a tale of the most monstrous acts: intimate betrayals with unthinkable consequences.
RaveThe AtlanticApart from telling a poignant story about two siblings, Brother & Sister is a fascinating exercise in writing a personal and methodical tale about someone who has come to feel, in some sense, like a stranger ... Keaton spends much of Brother & Sister appraising Randy’s collages and poems. Here, as in other parts of the book, her prose is meditative but not detached ... she doesn’t hesitate to name some of the more unpleasant parts of her family history ... Sibling relationships can be particularly hard to navigate without reliable social scripts. But Keaton seems to have arrived at these connections, and at the complicated tenderness required to conceive of such closeness, in part because she first looked outside herself—and her own memories of Randy—to better see him.
PanThe Atlantic... inspires empathetic despair in a hypothetical American reader. Along with the rapturous praise that first accompanied it, the book encourages comfort with this facsimile of justice alone ... Are the tens of thousands of migrant children held in government custody, some of whom never see their families again, to feel comforted by American Dirt’s limp exhortation to the average reader—or by Oprah Winfrey’s selection of the novel for her famed Book Club? For those whose lives are not shaped fundamentally by the indifference of others, empathy can be a seductive, self-aggrandizing goal. It demands little of author and reader alike ... is at its strongest when it emphasizes Lydia’s protectiveness over her son. These moments do not, however, exist in a vacuum. For each moment of maternal connection that Cummins and readers living comfortably in the U.S. might relate to, American Dirt includes a depiction of sensationalized violence—bullets that tear, machetes that slice. Again and again, Lydia and Luca’s pain—and the pain of people like them—is offered up for dissection and consumption in place of meaningful character development. It’s these moments of torment that are Cummins’s clearest appeals to the otherwise unaware or uncaring reader; it’s these scenes that reveal just how tangential readers with their own traumatic experiences of migration are to the American Dirt project ... Does the same reader capable of reading numerous news stories about family separation soften when a story is presented through the lens of Cummins’s fiction—and if so, whom does that internal change really benefit? ... It is as though American Dirt seeks to justify its own didactic existence.
PositiveThe AtlanticSoulless is excruciatingly comprehensive ... The veteran reporter recounts in vivid detail not only the depravity of Kelly’s alleged behavior, but also the insouciance—or worse, active support—with which his associates, fans, and legal gatekeepers handled him after it was revealed. Soulless implicitly challenges their characterization of Kelly as a despondent sufferer in need of nebulous, benevolent \'help\' as opposed to accountability ... Should he be convicted of the felonies, Kelly could face a maximum of 30 years in prison. Soulless was completed before these charges were made public, but even without their inclusion, the book is a devastating, thorough accounting of Kelly’s alleged abuses as systematized predation. In explicitly outlining the multiple junctures at which Kelly, his supporters, law enforcement, and journalists have failed the dozens of young black women whom Kelly is accused of abusing, DeRogatis definitively—if also wearily—conveys the sheer magnitude of Kelly’s relative impunity.
PositiveThe Atlantic... channels much of the same caustic humor and heartrending dialogue as the Netflix series. The stories alternate between surreal, sci-fi–inspired tales and more grounded vignettes, but many are a poignant mixture of both tones.
PositiveThe Atlantic\"... a less skilled author might have produced an overly didactic text in the hope of exploring [the book\'s questions]. But Lalami largely avoids this impulse by imbuing her characters with a vitality that bridges the gaps between their identities and their interiority. They occupy a range of different social positions, but Lalami’s characters most often read like people, not avatars of representation. They are funny, cantankerous, and affecting. They keep secrets from one another, and, most thrillingly, from themselves ... One of the novel’s most poignant successes is how deftly Lalami builds a sense of inexorable terror as the characters recount their lives before Driss’s killing ... Throughout the novel, Lalami’s attention to contrast and contradiction is stunning. Her prose is incisive and lived-in, as though culled from decades of listening in on private conversations between older family members. In this, Nora’s chapters are the strongest ... To the extent that The Other Americans is a mystery or procedural, the novel does offer an answer to its central case, a nudge toward some small amount of justice. Even so, the book’s conclusion about American identity is a far more tenuous one than this legal resolution: For people on the country’s margins, particularly immigrants, no gesture of patriotism will ever be enough.\
PanThe Atlantic\"But unlike Harris’s many viral #resistance moments and meticulous snapshots of relatability, the memoir itself is a meandering work that lacks verve. More significantly, given far more than 280 characters to deliver a cohesive message, Harris doesn’t meaningfully reconcile her punitive track record as a California prosecutor with her more recent activist-adjacent positioning as a national Democratic darling ... The book offers anecdotes meant to endear her to a diverse (or #woke) readership as well as glimpses into Harris’s political worldview; the resultant mix is somewhat muddled ... The Truths We Hold, by contrast [to ], lacks the literary finesse that distinguished Obama as a memoirist and endeared him to voters. Instead of weaving a political vision into the biography of its author, it assembles itself rather like a campaign pamphlet ... For those already inclined to find her highly tweetable brand of #resistance rhetoric appealing, the memoir offers up palatably anti-establishment quotes for possible tote-bag screen-printing. If only it presented a holistic political foundation instead.\
PositiveThe Atlantic\"... a wrenching study of the sacrifices made for love ... Obioma depicts the indignities the farmer faces with rich details, at times even appearing to revel in the contours of his protagonist’s suffering ... The author deftly weaves ancestral knowledge into the contemporary tale of Chinonso even as he gestures toward the country’s younger religious conventions ... Where a less skillful author’s descriptions of inner tumult might register as clichés, Obioma manages to elevate his characters’ transformations ... women all too often serve as either motivation or collateral damage ... Still, Obioma writes with an exigent precision that makes An Orchestra of Minorities feel at once timely and speculative. The novel aches with Chinonso. His triumphs are rare and hard-won. Obioma compels the reader to root for him, to see the poor chicken farmer’s story as an epic.\
PositiveThe Atlantic\"The book, aptly titled Becoming, offers a sometimes surprisingly intimate look at the life of the former first lady, born Michelle LaVaughn Robinson ... Obama writes with a refreshing candor, as though her keen awareness of her celebrity is matched only by her eagerness to shed the exhausting veneer that helped enable her husband’s political rise ... Becoming is at its most striking when it offers readers a glimpse at the preternaturally composed former first lady’s moments of fear and frustration ... Becoming is still a political memoir; it functions partly to solidify Barack Obama’s legacy as a complex and multilayered milestone for the country. The book makes the case for the Obama family as definitively American, for Michelle Obama’s concerns as worries that derive from the universal anxieties of marriage and motherhood. Still, Becoming is satisfying for the quiet moments in which Mrs. Obama, the woman who supported a black man named Barack all the way to the presidency, gets to let down her hair and breathe as Michelle LaVaughn Robinson, girl of the South Side.\
RaveThe AtlanticMichael Donkor explores the life of a domestic worker in London, while rejecting the common impulse to focus on more aspirational immigrant stories ... Donkor is careful not to simplify Belinda’s connection to Ghana. Leaving home, even when one is presented with opportunities for upward mobility, is often not a linear path. Housegirl troubles the idea of ascendance ... Housegirl deviates from the most common diaspora narratives. The novel charts its own course, bucking the tradition of immigrant literature in which a character’s distance from \'home\' is measured in either loss of homegrown prestige or access to Western (and it is always Western) opportunity ... Housegirl is refreshing in its tender focus: the interior life of Belinda, and the relationship she forges with Amma. Despite being set in dreary South London, the novel reads warmly. Donkor doesn’t relegate domestic workers to the margins of an immigrant story ... Donkor’s empathetic rendering of Belinda’s interiority is perhaps the greatest strength of a novel that is impressive both in form and in scope. Though fictional, Housegirl affords domestic workers, especially immigrant women, a far more nuanced emotional landscape than a significant number of nonfiction narratives.
RaveThe AtlanticSimpson’s work is distinctive, the patterns of her photography and collages often immediately recognizable. Simpson’s images operate in concert with the texts that frequently share their plane—her art is a study in meticulous harmony. From its first pages, Lorna Simpson Collages sets forth the artist’s multidisciplinary lens ... Simpson’s eye magnifies her subjects with curiosity and tenderness; her hand doesn’t flinch as she catalogs shifts in hair, clothing, social strata. Collages of women greet the viewer with piercing eyes; with their hair manipulated beyond the colloquial definition of natural, the women’s faces take center stage. Simpson’s subjects observe even as they are studied. She focuses her attention on the mundane; in the process, she excavates the sublime ... The smartest trick of Collages isn’t that Simpson forces us to examine her subjects’ phantasmagoric tresses. It’s that the follicular mysticism directs our gaze somewhere else entirely: toward the women’s faces.
RaveThe AtlanticAlam is careful to delineate the exhausting, embarrassing elements of early motherhood’s routines ... But Alam’s mothers are not one-dimensional martyrs. They question themselves; they wonder if they’ve made the right choices. They’re refreshingly human, vibrating with imperfection ... That Kind of Mother’s greatest triumph is its insistence on complicating the rescue narrative of transracial adoption without resorting to dogmatic indictments of its characters.