MixedThe Washington PostInventive but uneven ... The Survivalists pokes and prods at this generational malaise: How do you cope in a failing society? ... Cauley...has shown herself to be a master of diagnosing our nation’s troubles through acerbic humor. She flashes this power early in The Survivalists with efficient sketches of Aretha’s life ... Cauley’s quick wit flickers across these pages as her comedy carries us from scene to scene ... The novel takes a sinister turn, but Cauley maintains a steady hand, approaching her portrait of doomsday preppers with more curiosity than suspicion ... There’s a nail-biting urgency to the juxtaposition of Aretha’s fledgling survivalism and her increasingly clumsy performance at work, contributing to the sense that The Survivalists would make for a thrilling screen adaptation ... Its success on the page is shakier. Cauley can be coy, even withholding, when it comes to fleshing out people in Aretha’s orbit. As the action sequences move to the front, character development collapses. Repetitive observations coupled with a baggier style loosen the novel’s hold on our attention ... The Survivalists circles compelling questions — about the history of gun use in America, the relationship between work and identity, what capitalism encourages us to value — as Aretha juggles the ethical implications of the house with her crumbling legal career. But these stretches are too often interrupted by dutiful exposition. The effect is a jagged, tempered narrative that flaunts Cauley’s sharp humor but only partially commits to finishing what it started.
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewThe women populating these stories are not merely at the center, they are the center. As they move languorously through the world, observing and operating with a cool detachment, their questionable choices — stalking an ex-lover, having sex with a Yeti, living with her husband and 100 ex-boyfriends — fuel the narratives, and heighten their stakes ... The eight wily tales mark the return of an author whose inventive debut, Severance, urgently announced her as a writer worth watching ... an assured follow-up, a striking collection that peddles in the uncanny and the surreal, but it often lacks Severance’s zest. Some stories are confident in their strangeness and ambiguity, a handful feel like promising sketches of sturdier narratives and the rest fall somewhere in between. The connections between them are loose, tethered by similar leads ... Wry, peculiar stories like Los Angeles and Yeti Lovemaking confirm that Ma’s imagination operates on the same chimerical frequency as those of Helen Oyeyemi, Samanta Schweblin, Meng Jin. Each of these stories leans un-self-consciously into the speculative, illuminating Ma’s phantasmagoric interests. They are funny, too ... Despite their nagging loose ends, Ma’s stories stay with you — evidence of a gifted writer curious about the limits of theoretical possibility. They twist and turn in unpredictable ways and although the ride wasn’t always smooth, I never regretted getting on.
PositiveNew York Times Book ReviewThe narrator of this tightly conceived and distinctively written debut novel is perceptive, precise and unsparing with her words ... Brown’s taut novel arrives at a time of heightened and anxious interest in stories about the realities of anti-Black racism ... Assembly becomes an elegiac examination of a Black woman’s life and an acerbic analysis of Britain’s racial landscape. Brown’s rhythmic, economic prose renders the narrator’s experiences with breathless clarity, especially the steady, gnawing stream of racial and sexual harassment she faces. At only 100 pages, the book moves at an almost dizzying speed. Vignettes are packed with detail and heavy doses of cultural criticism ... At times, Brown struggles to balance the narrative and the criticism, favoring the still interesting but classic analysis over the more complicated and powerful story. Nonetheless, Assembly is a smart novel that takes risks with the questions it raises. I look forward to Brown’s next work, in which she might try — with the same refreshing conviction — to answer them.
Zakiya Dalila Harris
MixedThe New RepublicThe Other Black Girl isn’t a story about finding solidarity or even about speaking up; it probes something more unsettling. As the novel presents competing ideas of success at the office, and the sacrifices that might entail, it evolves into an intense psychological thriller ... Although Harris’s book takes up the office novel’s critique of opaque and soul-crushing hierarchies, it also flirts with race transformation, a theme explored in decades of African American literature ... Harris formulates a central dilemma: For many Black people, the office setting becomes a microcosm of the version of the United States that sees them as vessels of struggle and tension. To push back against that system feels essential. And yet the Black experience in America has never been solely defined by struggle ... Diana or Kendra, Hazel or Nella, career or identity: This is the binary that pulses through The Other Black Girl. The novel shows a workplace pushing individuals into ever-hardening, limiting roles. It captures, through Nella especially, the stories some Black employees feel they must tell themselves about themselves to survive all-white environments ... If The Other Black Girl often swerves beyond the conventions of the genre, into territory between psychological thriller and sci-fi, it may be because the specific experience of the Black employee—haunted by precarity and tension—can be almost otherworldly.
Marie Ndiaye, tr. Jordan Stump
PositiveBookforum... assiduously translated ... One of NDiaye’s early texts, it serves as a site of play for the writer’s longtime interests, from class mobility and assimiliation to power and control, and offers an opportunity to survey the development of a writer whose enviably imagined and intelligently executed stories have propelled her into the international spotlight ... shows us an earlier NDiaye, one who is still figuring out what she wants to do. Instead of committing to a single theme, she flirts with several ideas ... NDiaye plays with race here and through the rest of the novel in a way that piques interest, and her language, taut and specific, invites multiple interpretations of its meaning. Are Herman and Alfred using different senses of the word? Rather than being restricted to a particular identity, race becomes a stand-in for difference itself ... There are many points at which it is clear That Time of Year is an early work. The narrative gaps feel less intentional, more clumsy than they do in NDiaye’s later novels. Such moments don’t completely distract from this eerie novel, which is part ghost story and part allegory of class and racial difference. And in the end, the narrative, even with its flaws, delivers a haunting lesson about the ease with which a panicked outsider can be lulled into complacency and inaction.
RaveThe NationIn her second novel, Transcendent Kingdom, Gyasi returns more forthrightly to her original subject of mothers and daughters, using that relationship to explore the intersection of faith, culture, and science ... a sensitive and propulsive story that reveals how differently individuals, even those in the same family, seek salvation ... At times, Transcendent Kingdom leans heavily on expository writing, not fully trusting its readers to connect the details in Gifty’s life to the novel’s themes ... The novel encouraged, at least for me, a personal reckoning ... Sometimes the strength of a novel is found in more than just its artful execution or its formalist experiment; it’s found in how it helps you articulate a feeling that you’ve held in your chest for years
PositiveThe AtlanticThere are no perfect Black women in Raven Leilani’s debut novel, Luster, and that is by design ... Through Edie, her 23-year-old protagonist, Leilani tries to liberate the Black woman figure’s range of behaviors, thoughts, and feelings from an inherent virtuousness or exceptionalism. This choice challenges readers to recognize Edie’s agency and see her as a young Black woman in progress ... Edie’s matter-of-fact confessions, underscored by Leilani’s caustic prose, are on-brand for Millennial literature of the past few years ... The most interesting moments in Luster are those between Edie and other Black women and girls, especially Akila, because they subvert expectations of what Black women should mean to one another.
Sarah M. Broom
RaveThe NationMore than just a narrative about a family, it is a masterpiece of personal and social history, examining the devastating consequences of decades of government neglect and revealing the very weak foundations on which the American dream rests. Using oral history, forgotten pieces of journalism, photographs, deeds, and other artifacts, The Yellow House helps to fill in those painful \'silent leaps,\' as Broom puts it, that fragment the history of her family and her home of New Orleans East ... By giving her family members space to tell their stories, Broom does far more than help knit this history back together ... Broom’s strengths as a writer are most obvious when she uses the story of the Yellow House not only to examine her family but also to analyze the history of black Americans in New Orleans. Her method reflects Trouillot’s observations about the role of structures in history making ... Broom’s intimate relationship with New Orleans only amplifies her sense of the importance of her role as a documentarian ... The power of [Broom\'s] book comes from just how successfully she navigates what it means to assert that claim and own a narrative at once unique to her family and yet common to many others in New Orleans. Sometimes her narrative deviates from its main story to the author’s existential questions and self-development in ways that can feel jarring. But that, too, is part of the point. One cannot write a memoir without a thorough, if sometimes awkward, self-interrogation. And throughout, Broom makes sure that we keep our eye on the book’s true protagonist: the yellow house.
RaveThe New York TimesAlways Another Country, a graceful memoir by Sisonke Msimang, is a welcome novelty. Msimang, a South African writer and political analyst, charts an alternate course to the now familiar conclusion that home is not always a place on a map.
MixedThe New York Times Book Review...an earnest — though at times frustratingly frenetic — portrait of Nigeria’s sprawling metropolis ... Unfortunately, in the second half of the book, Onuzo sacrifices meditative sketches of the city to narrative momentum ... As Onuzo attempts to juggle the stories of these individuals (and many others), the novel abandons its portrait of Lagos in favor of fast-paced comedy ... But despite the blunders, missteps and excessive plot twists of Welcome to Lagos, its dialogue rings true. Conversations between Onuzo’s characters move fluidly between Igbo, Yoruba, pidgin and English, demonstrating her skilled ear ... Navigating these urban landscapes requires a willingness to experiment with the delicate interplay of individual stories while preserving the city’s character. Welcome to Lagos starts this way, but by the end Onuzo has split her narrative into too many parts.
Patrisse Khan-Cullors and Asha Bandele
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewWhile Khan-Cullors outlines the reasons for some of Black Lives Matter’s tactics, particularly its emphasis on inclusivity and a decentralized organization, readers won’t find Situation Room-style play-by-plays here ... While its importance will not be in doubt, for the significance of Black Lives Matter cannot be overstated, the book’s necessity comes from its other subject. 'I am Patrisse Marie Khan-Cullors Brignac,' its author writes in her introduction. And indeed, between the moments spent serving everyone else, the rest of the book — chronicling her evolving sexual identity, her radical redefinition of love, her relationships and eventually the birth of her child — uncovers just who she is.
PositiveThe New RepublicThe Givers benefits from Callahan’s relationship with the faces of philanthropy. He is the founder and editor of the watchdog site Inside Philanthropy, whose goal is to 'pull back the curtain on one of the most powerful and dynamic forces shaping society.' Through interviews with wealthy donors like John Arnold and Eli Broad, Callahan provides a measured take on this issue. He does not condemn the actors; instead, he criticizes the system they operate within. Philanthropy is neither inherently good nor inherently evil. The problem lies in inequality itself, and the opacity surrounding the giving process ... Depending on where one’s politics fall, Callahan’s solutions can read either too optimistic or too critical of the benevolence of the one percent. Regardless, The Givers at least attempts to think through solutions for this issue.