There’s a bit of a theme in this week’s book set regarding being on the run: some are scattered, some disappeared, and others know they are being chased. All of them, funny enough, offer some pretty good escapes.
The Half Known Life by Pico Iyer
Paradise: that elusive place where the anxieties, struggles, and burdens of life fall away. Most of us dream of it, but each of us has very different ideas about where it is to be found. For some it can be enjoyed only after death; for others, it’s in our midst—or just across the ocean—if only we can find eyes to see it.
Traveling from Iran to North Korea, from the Dalai Lama’s Himalayas to the ghostly temples of Japan, Pico Iyer brings together a lifetime of explorations to upend our ideas of utopia and ask how we might find peace in the midst of difficulty and suffering. Does religion lead us back to Eden or only into constant contention? Why do so many seeming paradises turn into warzones? And does paradise exist only in the afterworld – or can it be found in the here and now?
For almost fifty years Iyer has been roaming the world, mixing a global soul’s delight in observing cultures with a pilgrim’s readiness to be transformed. In this culminating work, he brings together the outer world and the inner to offer us a surprising, original, often beautiful exploration of how we might come upon paradise in the midst of our very real lives.
This is the Night They Come for You by Robert Goddard
On a stifling afternoon at Police HQ in Algiers, Superintendent Taleb, coasting towards retirement, with not even an air-conditioned office to show for his long years of service, is handed a ticking time bomb of a case which will take him deep into Algeria’s troubled past and its fraught relationship with France.
To his dismay, he is assigned to work with Agent Hidouchi, an intimidating representative of the country’s feared secret service, who makes it clear she intends to call the shots. They are instructed to pursue a former agent, now on the run after twenty years in prison for his part in a high-level corruption scandal. But their search will lead them inexorably towards a greater mystery, surrounding a murder that took place in Paris more than fifty years ago.
Uncovering the truth may be his responsibility, but Taleb is well aware that no-one in Algeria wants to be reminded of the dark deeds carried out in the struggle for independence – or in the violence that has racked the nation since. Before long, he will face a choice he has long sought to avoid, between self-preservation and doing the right thing.
And, ultimately, the choice may not even be his to make.
American Midnight by Adam Hochschild
The nation was on the brink. Mobs burned Black churches to the ground. Courts threw thousands of people into prison for opinions they voiced—in one notable case, only in private. Self-appointed vigilantes executed tens of thousands of citizens’ arrests. Some seventy-five newspapers and magazines were banned from the mail and forced to close. When the government stepped in, it was often to fan the flames.
This was America during and after the Great War: a brief but appalling era blighted by lynchings, censorship, and the sadistic, sometimes fatal abuse of conscientious objectors in military prisons—a time whose toxic currents of racism, nativism, red-baiting, and contempt for the rule of law then flowed directly through the intervening decades to poison our own. It was a tumultuous period defined by a diverse and colorful cast of characters, some of whom fueled the injustice while others fought against it: from the sphinxlike Woodrow Wilson, to the fiery antiwar advocates Kate Richards O’Hare and Emma Goldman, to labor champion Eugene Debs, to a little-known but ambitious bureaucrat named J. Edgar Hoover, and to an outspoken leftwing agitator—who was in fact Hoover’s star undercover agent. It is a time that we have mostly forgotten about, until now.
In American Midnight, award-winning historian Adam Hochschild brings alive the horrifying yet inspiring four years following the U.S. entry into the First World War, spotlighting forgotten repression while celebrating an unforgettable set of Americans who strove to fix their fractured country—and showing how their struggles still guide us today.
Dr. No by Percival Everett
The protagonist of Percival Everett’s puckish new novel is a brilliant professor of mathematics who goes by Wala Kitu. (Wala, he explains, means “nothing” in Tagalog, and Kitu is Swahili for “nothing.”) He is an expert on nothing. That is to say, he is an expert, and his area of study is nothing, and he does nothing about it. This makes him the perfect partner for the aspiring villain John Sill, who wants to break into Fort Knox to steal, well, not gold bars but a shoebox containing nothing. Once he controls nothing he’ll proceed with a dastardly plan to turn a Massachusetts town into nothing. Or so he thinks.
With the help of the brainy and brainwashed astrophysicist-turned-henchwoman Eigen Vector, our professor tries to foil the villain while remaining in his employ. In the process, Wala Kitu learns that Sill’s desire to become a literal Bond villain originated in some real all-American villainy related to the murder of Martin Luther King Jr. As Sill says, “Professor, think of it this way. This country has never given anything to us and it never will. We have given everything to it. I think it’s time we gave nothing back.”
Dr. No is a caper with teeth, a wildly mischievous novel from one of our most inventive, provocative, and productive writers. That it is about nothing isn’t to say that it’s not about anything. In fact, it’s about villains. Bond villains. And that’s not nothing.
A Heart That Works by Rob Delaney
In 2016, Rob Delaney’s one-year-old son, Henry, was diagnosed with a brain tumor. The family had moved from Los Angeles to London with their two young boys when Rob’s wife was pregnant with Henry, their third. The move was an adventure and a challenge that would bind them even more tightly together as they navigated the novelty of London, the culture clashes, and the funhouse experience of Rob’s fame—thanks to his role as co-creator and co-star of the hit series Catastrophe. Henry’s illness was a cataclysm that changed everything about their lives. Amid the hospital routine, surgeries, and brutal treatments, they found a newfound community of nurses, aides, caregivers, and fellow parents contending with the unthinkable. Two years later, Henry died, and his family watched their world fall away to reveal the things that matter most.
A Heart That Works is Delaney’s intimate, unflinching, and fiercely funny exploration of what happened – from the harrowing illness to the vivid, bodily impact of grief and the blind, furious rage that followed through to the forceful, unstoppable love that remains. In the madness of his grief, Delaney grapples with the fragile miracle of life, the mysteries of death, and the question of purpose for those left behind.
Delaney’s memoir—profound, painful, full of emotion, and bracingly honest—offers solace to those who have faced devastation and shows us how grace may appear even in the darkest times.
The Guest Lecture by Martin Riker
In a hotel room in the middle of the night, Abby, a young feminist economist, lies awake next to her sleeping husband and daughter. Anxious that she is grossly underprepared for a talk she is presenting tomorrow on optimism and John Maynard Keynes, she has resolved to practice by using an ancient rhetorical method of assigning parts of her speech to different rooms in her house and has brought along a comforting albeit imaginary companion to keep her on track—Keynes himself.
Yet as she wanders with increasing alarm through the rooms of her own consciousness, Abby finds herself straying from her prepared remarks on economic history, utopia, and Keynes’s pragmatic optimism. A lapsed optimist herself, she has been struggling under the burden of supporting a family in an increasingly hostile America after being denied tenure at the university where she teaches. Confronting her own future at a time of global darkness, Abby undertakes a quest through her memories to ideas hidden in the corners of her mind—a piecemeal intellectual history from Cicero to Lewis Carroll to Queen Latifah—as she asks what a better world would look like if we told our stories with more honest and more hopeful imaginations.
With warm intellect, playful curiosity, and an infectious voice, Martin Riker acutely animates the novel of ideas with a beating heart and turns one woman’s midnight crisis into the performance of a lifetime.
Scatterlings by Rešoketšwe Manenzhe
In 1927, South Africa passes the Immorality Act, prohibiting sexual intercourse between “Europeans” (white people) and “natives” (Black people). Those who break the draconian new law face imprisonment—for men of up to five years; for women, four years.
Abram and his wife Alisa have their share of marital problems, but they also have a comfortable life in South Africa with their two young girls. But then the Act is passed. Alisa is black, and their two children are now evidence of their involvement in a union that has been criminalized by the state.
At first, Alisa and Abram question how they’ll be affected by the Act, but then officials start asking questions at the girls’ school, and their estate is catalogued for potential disbursement. Abram is at a loss as to how to protect his young family from the grinding machinery of the law, whose worst discriminations have until now been kept at bay by the family’s economic privilege. And with this, his hesitation, the couple’s bond is tattered.
Alisa, who is Jamaican and the descendant of slaves, was adopted by a wealthy white British couple, who raised her as their child. But as she grew older and realized that the prejudices of British society made no allowance for her, she journeyed to South Africa where she met Abram. In the aftermath of the Immorality Act, she comes to a heartbreaking conclusion based on her past and collective history – and she commits her own devastating act, one that will reverberate through their entire family’s lives.
Intertwining her storytelling with ritual, myth, and the heart-wrenching question of who stays and who leaves, Scatterlings marks the debut of a gifted storyteller who has become a sensation in her native South Africa—and promises to take the Western literary world by storm as well.
Seven Empty Houses by Samanta Schweblin
The seven houses in these seven stories are strange. A person is missing, or a truth, or memory; some rooms are enticing, some unmoored, others empty. But in Samanta Schweblin’s tense, visionary tales, something always creeps back inside: a ghost, a fight, trespassers, a list of things to do before you die, a child’s first encounter with darkness or the fallibility of parents.
In each story, twists and turns will unnerve and surprise: Schweblin never takes the expected path and instead digs under the skin, revealing surreal truths about our sense of home, of belonging, and of the fragility of our connections with others. This is a masterwork from one of our most brilliant modern writers.
The Disappearance of Josef Mengele by Olivier Guez
An extraordinary novel about one of history’s most reviled figures, written as an action-packed historical biography
For three decades, until the day he collapsed in the Brazilian surf in 1979, Josef Mengele, the Angel of Death who performed horrific experiments on the prisoners of Auschwitz, floated through South America in linen suits, keeping two steps ahead of Mossad agents, international police and the world’s journalists.
In this rigorusly researched factual novel—drawn almost entirely from historical documents—Olivier Guez traces Mengele’s footsteps through these years of flight.
This chilling novel situates the reader in a literary manhunt on the trail of one of the most elusive and evil figures of the twentieth century.
Forbidden Notebook by Alba de Céspedes
In this modern translation by acclaimed Elena Ferrante translator Ann Goldstein, Forbidden Notebook centers the inner life of a dissatisfied housewife living in postwar Rome.
Valeria Cossati never suspected how unhappy she had become with the shabby gentility of her bourgeois life—until she begins to jot down her thoughts and feelings in a little black book she keeps hidden in a closet. This new secret activity leads her to scrutinize herself and her life more closely, and she soon realizes that her individuality is being stifled by her devotion and sense of duty toward her husband, daughter, and son. As the conflicts between parents and children, husband and wife, and friends and lovers intensify, what goes on behind the Cossatis’ facade of middle-class respectability gradually comes to light, tearing the family’s fragile fabric apart.
An exquisitely crafted portrayal of domestic life, Forbidden Notebook recognizes the universality of human aspirations.