RaveBooklistOut of this nugget of magical realism, Sathian spins pure magic ... Filled with pathos, humor, slices of American history, and an adrenaline-pumping heist, Sathian’s spectacular debut also highlights the steep costs of the all-American dream ... Pure gold.
Kirstin Valdez Quade
RaveBooklistQuade (Night at the Fiestas, 2015) ably delivers a story that is nuanced and authentic without a whiff of melodrama [...] in this generous tale of characters who understand the inevitability of fate but try to forge ahead anyway in the hope of breaking free.
PositiveBooklistA large cast of characters, from struggling actors to an aging mob hitman and underemployed millennials, populates this novel in which Mozley revisits themes of property and land ownership from her first, Elmet (2017), sometimes struggling to weave these characters’ aspirations into a relevant whole. Extraneous descriptions and style deviations detract from the plot’s more noble central focus, while a few characters seem less than relevant to the story. Nevertheless, this is a passionate and bruising take on the side effects of an increasingly unequal world, in which the rich and the poor function on alarmingly separate if parallel planes.
Yasmina Khadra, tr. John Cullen
MixedBooklistThe characters sometimes feel like mere vehicles for Khadra’s messaging about disaffected youth. Nevertheless, the novel does illuminate Khalil’s travails with plenty of empathy. As a result, his misguided motivations define a believable if not entirely relatable figure.
Pola Oloixarac, tr. Adam Morris
PositiveBooklistOloixarac delivers a scathing indictment of the book circuit, where nobody wants to point out that the emperor has no clothes ... Even if the cynicism feels heavy-handed at times, Mona emerges as an intriguing subject, a woman who worries that the sum of her talents distills down to nothing more than her potent yet fragile sexuality.
RaveBooklistDavies...creates a world that is magical yet daubed with menace. Nuanced characters, lush descriptions of South India, and an incisive look at class and religion make for a rich and layered novel.
RaveBooklistThe immigrant’s story might be well-traveled ground, but Engel...constructs a layered narrative outlining how the weight of every seemingly minor choice systematically cements into a crushing predicament ... Lively folktales of the Muisca peoples punctuate Engel’s remarkable novel as it illuminates the true costs of living in the shadows. Told by a chorus of voices and perspectives, this is as much an all-American story as it is a global one.
PositiveBooklist... heart-wrenching prose ... Although the relentlessly bleak story doesn’t sustain a full narrative arc, Bush portrays a vibrant Dakar, including a wrenching street view from the eyes of the children. A tearjerker with touches of magical realism, however monochromatic, Bush’s tale is darkly revelatory.
RaveBooklistWhat defines a life well-lived? What does it take for a chance encounter that turns into a friendship developed over the course of one summer to make its presence felt decades on? Krauss (Forest Dark, 2017) winningly explores these and other weighty issues in a home run of a short story collection ... Above all, these stories pay homage to strong women.
Anja Kampmann, Trans. Anne Posten
PositiveBooklistGerman poet Kampmann touchingly and intimately illustrates the fallout of capitalism’s dependence on oil. The true tragedy here is that Waclaw’s story is not unique. His plight is a perfect vehicle for Kampmann’s lyrical descriptions, which reach from dusty Moroccan cities to the brass-colored balustrades in a Budapest hotel. At times Waclaw’s ennui threatens to slow the pace to a crawl. Nevertheless, this is a haunting exploration of the devastating costs all kinds of gig workers have to bear to feed themselves and the belly of the beast.
RaveBooklistAlam...brilliantly captures the shift in dynamics between the two families, from apprehension about each other to a collective front against an external entity. The narrative’s increasing tempo expertly dives into subtle yet incisive intersections between class and race ... Alam’s novel lobs a series of unsettling questions: How will we react to the next nebulous horror? How will we parent? What will we define as home?
RaveBooklist\"The ghost of history looms large too. Kunzru sets his protagonist in the grim shadow of the Nazi final solution. Near the writer’s center, the narrator comes across the grave of Heinrich von Kleist, the German poet, dramatist, and writer who committed a murder-suicide in Wannsee. As Kunzru’s protagonist slowly loses his hold on reality, he questions if what he’s seeing is just another whitewashed version of the truth. Kunzru has created a complex, challenging, and bold story about a world gone amok and a middle-aged man coming to terms with his one truth: his mediocrity.\
PositiveBooklistVeselka has a keen eye for social class ... And motherhood, a theme she wields sharply to highlight the precarious existence of people living on the fringes. A fitting story for our times of families trying to stay together despite all odds, redefining their own relationships along life’s perilous journeys.
RaveBooklistHughes breathes poetry into the fractured existence of each of these characters, rendering them vital even as they struggle to put a name to their deprived existence ... Sad without being maudlin, Hughes’ novel tells a moving story about one man’s slow decline to obsolescence, the ultimate indignity a father can suffer in front of his grown sons.
RaveBooklistThe tale’s carefully woven construct falls apart at every turn in this deeply unsettling yet ultimately redeeming story about one young man’s struggles in Nigeria in a society which too often straitjackets one’s identity. Every sentence is an achingly raw jewel ... Although the sneak peek into Vivek’s mental illness early on is sacrificed at the altar of the larger narrative, the dynamite story that emerges unflinchingly upends established definitions of family and community. This is another knockout performance from a writer who, much like Emezi’s complex protagonist, refuses to color within the lines.
PositiveBooklistMbue...paints a gripping and nuanced picture of resistance ... The book’s narrative device, a chorus of voices, sometimes stalls the linear march of the story as each narrator tells a similar tale of difficult circumstances, barely pushing the plot forward. This reflectiveness emphasizes the universal ring to the villagers’ epic battle, and the outcomes are tragically familiar. Mbue’s novel offers proof that capitalism is just colonialism masquerading as a different avatar.
PositiveBooklistIf a Venn diagram highlighted the overlaps among racism, sexism, technology, and millennial ennui, Nguyen’s edgy novel would be smack–dab at the center ... If at times the send-up of tech-bro culture feels familiar, Nguyen has created a distinctive, ace, and surprisingly sad critique of just how real the dichotomy is between our true selves and the ones drowned in the wash of technology.
RaveBooklist... immensely entertaining and fluid ... If at times key pivot points depend too conveniently on coincidence, Dupont’s spellbinding tale nevertheless spectacularly drives home the wonders of long-form storytelling ... Through his characters, Dupont has woven a memorable one.
Saud Alsanousi Trans. by Sawad Hussain
PositiveBooklistAlsanousi peppers a grim historical narrative of Kuwait with generous doses of warmth doled out by the lively Mama Hissa, Katkout’s grandmother. Although the story is overambitious in its reach, a cast of colorful characters winningly delivers the sights and smells of Kuwait.
RaveBooklistVapnyar distills and synthesizes different identities: immigrant, lover, wife, and daughter. As Katya movingly explains when she hits her forties, she always thought she lived in an \'Escher\' house, a metaphor that can stand for the disjointedness of her entire life. Woven together with math concepts and plenty of raw feelings, this is a love story for those who are forever engaged in the pursuit of happiness.
PositiveBooklistYou want me to talk about life, but all I’ve talked about is failure, as if they’re the same thing, or at least so closely entwined that I can’t separate the two—like the trees you see growing in the half-ruined buildings in the Old Town.\' This devastating opening line frames the life of Ah Hock, whose outsider status as a Malaysian of Chinese descent is only bearable because there are folks who occupy the darker fringes even Hock has the luxury of escaping ... Aw...savagely erases any doubt that only the fittest survive in the ruthless world of global capitalism.
RaveBooklistFolarin delivers a remarkably mature narrator, who must make peace with his past and navigate racial realities in the U.S. He wrestles with the shadows cast by both home-brewed racism and vestiges of colonialism imported from Nigeria.
Mary Beth Keane
PositiveBooklistEven if it occasionally seems like Keane’s male characters seek refuge for their troubles in predictable ways, this is a haunting look at what happens when mental illness goes undefined. The slow-burning and nameless terror it creates swallows everyone in its path.
Adam Ehrlich Sachs
RaveBooklist... beguiling and utterly magical ... a riveting story about geopolitical scheming, warfare, and the reach of the Catholic League in the seventeenth century. At the novel’s beating heart, though, is a much more universal theme as Sachs considers father-son relationships and other complicated family dynamics that can make or break creative ambitions of all stripes ... Sprinkled with generous doses of philosophy, this gem of a novel, with a spectacular denouement, might make for labored reading initially, but ultimately, it’s an utterly immersive and transportive work of art.
PositiveBooklistAt times, the connections between the two stories seem tenuous, but Barr’s promising debut is an unblinking look at the terrors humankind can perpetrate to squash the \'other.\' As hard-hitting as the acts of violence are, more insidious is the evil that seeps into the system that aids and abets atrocities.
PositiveBooklistBy being familiar with Benares while also being a spectator on the sidelines, [Taseer] proves to be adept at chronicling the city’s various fractured selves. Although the book’s nebulous goals (is it about Brahmins, the first Modi election, the clash between modernity and tradition, or all of the above?) threaten to muddy the narrative, the city nevertheless takes shape through profiles of Brahmins who share their views of the cultural and political landscape. Benares is especially sacred to Hindus as a place to make peace with death. Curiously, it is this aspect of the city that really comes to life in this meandering but engaging account.
RaveBooklistNow and then the story is nearly drowned out by the nine narrating voices, yet Lalami impressively conducts this chorus of flawed yet graceful human beings to mellifluous effect ... An eloquent reminder that frame of reference is everything when defining the \'other.\'
MixedBooklistThe story, switching between Brooklyn, Ukraine, and Russia, is ungainly and often veers into melodrama, leaving the characters with little room for growth. Yet Reyn delivers an elegiac look at the rootlessness that accompanies immigration while also tenderly capturing long-distance mothering and the challenges that all parents face when letting go engenders a terrible sense of powerlessness.
Novuyo Rosa Tshuma
MixedBooklistZamani’s opaque motivations distance the reader from the narrative, and sometimes the plot struggles under the weight of its hefty ambitions. But Tshuma ultimately delivers nuance and eloquent character studies, proving that an ugly history leaves no soul unscarred in its wake.
MixedBooklistEmmons...paints a convincing portrait of a young woman on the cusp of self-discovery. But other plot elements, such as a romance with a Florida newspaper reporter, remain sketchily drawn, as do the undercurrents of sexism faced by both woman of science. The story shines in its descriptions of weather phenomena, but the magical-realism elements leave more questions unanswered in their wake. A charged premise that provides an occasional spark but not the high-voltage intensity it promises.
MixedBooklistFarah’s exploration of the challenges of assimilation is a worthy goal, but a fair number of plot elements remain underexplored in a story that unfolds more like a dramatic play than a novel, complete with sudden exits by key characters. Repeated allusions to the 1920s Norwegian classic Giants in the Earth, which tracks early Norwegian assimilation in North America, feel forced. Nevertheless, Farah offers a soulful look at the divide between zealous ideology and secularism.
RaveBooklistGayatri Rozario is proof that we are the product of our circumstances. In 1930s India, she was forced into marriage because her family saw that as the only respectable choice for her. Unfortunately, matrimony stifled the young artist’s creative impulses. Up until then, Gayatri’s father had indulged her desire for education and shown her a glimpse of the wider world when he brought her on a tour of Bali. But Gayatri bottles up her potential after marrying until a visitor from the past, a German man, opens new possibilities for escape ... Roy peppers her novel with intricate descriptions of small-town India and weaves an eloquent and tragic story of straitjacketed lives upended when history and personal ambition intersect.
MixedBooklist\"The Himalayas, the world’s tallest mountain range, are intimidating enough, but Sarasvati is the most daunting of them all. Surrounded by sheer icy vertical drops and nearly insurmountable passes, the peak has shaken even the most persistent climbers. But the mountaineers in this brisk story are more persistent ... Froderberg peppers the novel with vibrant descriptions of the Indian subcontinent and weaves them in with contemplative takeaways about the sport of climbing ... After a while, the language becomes as esoteric and almost as difficult to process as the thin mountain air. Nevertheless, the harrowing adventure is ultimately suspenseful and nerve-racking, and the shifting emotional dynamics between the various members of the group efficiently spin a compelling story.
RaveBooklistFuller...is a master of propulsive action, making the ground spin as each unreliable narrator takes center stage. Every measured sentence...builds on itself with the crumbling estate providing the saturated backdrop for this ultimately macabre tale. A distracting plot element or two notwithstanding, Fuller’s tale offers a gripping and unsettling look at the ugly side of extreme need and the desperate measures taken in the name of love.
Bernice L. McFadden
PositiveBooklistThe prepubescent Abeo faces endless horrors in a life of ritual servitude, and McFadden...pulls no punches in immersing the reader in the utter darkness of Abeo’s suffering. Even more terrifying than Abeo’s trials is the revelation that even the educated can be swayed, under pressure, to commit the most brutal acts. This harrowing yet compelling tale is not for the faint of heart but does promise redemption in the most trying of circumstances.
RaveBooklistHurley’s debut is a breathtaking performance, portraying not just the ugly corners of an abusive relationship but also how faith can color the contours of our lives. With absolutely spot-on descriptions of Boston, this spellbinding story adds much-needed nuance to the discussion of faith and what we’re willing to forsake in the name of absolution. Yes, the master is creepy and manipulative, but that’s almost beside the point. Even if Nicole could eventually break free, she would only be treating the symptoms and not the disease. That is the real horror.
MixedBooklistWolas (The Resurrection of Joan Ashby, 2017) takes on weighty themes such as atonement and faith, but the paper-thin characters teeter under that heavy burden. Gorgeous writing notwithstanding, it’s hard to look beyond the affluence and the endless vats of Arnold Palmer cocktails to sympathize with their plight. Too much polish and too little substance.
PositiveBooklist\"Though a bit disjointed, interspersed, as it is, with musings about historical figures and insights into colonialism, Kumar’s immigrant tale is nonetheless arresting.\
PositiveBooklist\"...[a] visceral and electrifying debut ... Gael’s ruthless manipulations make her a memorable character, but her fire, uncharacteristically, fizzles out toward the end. The novel also loses pacing as it lingers a tad too long on the Occupy Movement, and its somewhat neat and sappy ending doesn’t quite meld with the story’s early energy. Nevertheless, in Gael, Hughes has created a mesmerizing and compelling force.\
Shahriar Mandanipour, Trans. by Sara Khalili
PositiveBooklistThe novel’s halting narrative flow, alternating as it does between two \'scribes\' on Amir’s left and right shoulders, respectively, is disorienting at first, but the patient reader will be rewarded with a dazzling mosaic of a troubled young man and a troubled yet gloriously rich nation.
RaveBooklist...[a] stunningly resonant debut ... With remarkable assurance, Gabel takes the four through their shaky early performances and expertly ties their individual and collective lives together with generous doses of empathy ... A virtuoso performance.
RaveBooklist\"...[a] quietly brilliant novel about motherhood, families, and race ... his portrait is quite possibly the best peek at motherhood and its disorienting seesaw effects on a middle-class suburban woman that we have seen in a long while ... A stunning accomplishment.\
RaveBooklist\"How do you take the teeming microcosm that is Lagos, set it against a backdrop of Nigeria’s slow suicide by oil, and still manage to write one helluva novel? You weave a crisp story that uses well-fleshed characters and a razor-tight plot and stick closely to the \'show not tell\' philosophy ... What follows is a tangy Ocean’s Eleven–esque escapade that exposes class and ethnic divides in the country even as it manages to mock the West for its colonial gaze toward the African continent as a whole. Full of nuance, the story spares no one as it careens toward its satisfying finale.\
RaveBooklist\"In a tightly knit, compulsively readable tale, Davies precisely captures the spirit of untamed curiosity and middle-aged ennui that would have us abandon established societal norms and everything we hold dear only to follow our hearts to uncertain outcomes.\
PositiveBooklist\"First-grader Zach narrates Navin’s heart-wrenching debut, and his innocent voice effectively grounds the story ... Navin adds layers of (occasionally cloying) complexity. Navin explores the intersection between violence and mental illness in this important and timely book.\
PositiveBooklistFirst-grader Zach narrates Navin’s heart-wrenching debut, and his innocent voice effectively grounds the story ... Navin adds layers of (occasionally cloying) complexity. Navin explores the intersection between violence and mental illness in this important and timely book.
RaveBooklist\"...[a] mind-blowing debut ... Complex and dark, this novel will simultaneously challenge and reward lovers of literary fiction. A must-read.\
RaveBooklist...this sharp and astute debut essay collection reveals a young author who is wise beyond her years and whose keen eye moves beyond tired tropes about identity struggles ... Her ample talent and keenly observed essays will surely win her followers, especially at a time and place when authenticity is a rare and much-valued currency.