Alice, the Earth, and a host of wonderlands are on display in this week’s list of books we’ve recently enjoyed.
Dead in the Water by Matthew Campbell & Kit Chellel
In July 2011, the oil tanker Brillante Virtuoso was drifting through the treacherous Gulf of Aden when a crew of pirates attacked and set her ablaze in a devastating explosion. But when David Mockett, a maritime surveyor working for Lloyd’s of London, inspected the damaged vessel, he was left with more questions than answers. How had the pirates gotten aboard so easily? And if they wanted to steal the ship and bargain for its return, then why did they destroy it? The questions didn’t add up—and Mockett would never answer them. Soon after his inspection, David Mockett was murdered.
Dead in the Water is a shocking expose of the criminal inner workings of international shipping, told through the lens of the Brillante hijacking and its aftermath. Through first-hand accounts of those who lived it—from members of the ship’s crew and witnesses to the attacks, to the ex-London detectives turned private investigators seeking to solve Mockett’s murder and bring justice to his family—award-winning Bloomberg reporters Matthew Campbell and Kit Chellel piece together the astounding truth behind one of the most brazen financial frauds in history.
The ambitious culmination of more than four years of reporting, Dead in the Water uncovers an intricate web of conspiracy amidst the lawless, old-world industry at the backbone of our new global economy.
An Immense World by Ed Yong
The Earth teems with sights and textures, sounds and vibrations, smells and tastes, electric and magnetic fields. In An Immense World, Ed Yong coaxes us beyond the confines of our own senses to encounter beetles that are drawn to fires, turtles that can track the Earth’s magnetic fields, fish that fill rivers with electrical messages, and even humans who wield sonar like bats. We discover that a crocodile’s scaly face is as sensitive as a lover’s fingertips, that the eyes of a giant squid evolved to see sparkling whales, that plants thrum with the inaudible songs of courting bugs, and that even simple scallops have complex vision. We learn what bees see in flowers, what songbirds hear in their tunes, and what dogs smell on the street. We listen to stories of pivotal discoveries in the field, while looking ahead at the many mysteries that remain unsolved.
Funny, rigorous, and suffused with the joy of discovery, An Immense World takes us on what Marcel Proust called “the only true voyage . . . not to visit strange lands, but to possess other eyes.”
In the Shadow of the Gods by Dominic Lieven
From the rise of Sargon of Akkad, who in the third millennium BCE ruled what is now Iraq and Syria, to the collapse of the great European empires in the twentieth century, the empire has been the dominant form of power in history. Dominic Lieven’s expansive book explores strengths and failings of the human beings who held those empires together (or let them crumble). He projects the power, terror, magnificence, and confidence of imperial monarchy, tracking what they had in common as well as what made some rise to glory and others fail spectacularly, and at what price each destiny was reached.
Lieven’s characters—Constantine, Chinggis Khan, Trajan, Suleyman, Hadrian, Louis XIV, Maria Theresa, Peter the Great, Queen Victoria, and dozens more—come alive with color, energy, and detail: their upbringings, their loves, their crucial spouses, their dreadful children. They illustrate how politics and government are a gruelling business: a ruler needed stamina, mental and physical toughness, and self-confidence. He or she needed the sound judgement of problems and people which is partly innate but also the product of education and experience. A good brain was essential for setting priorities, weighing conflicting advice, and matching ends to needs. A diplomatically astute marriage was often even more essential.
Emperors (and the rare empresses) could be sacred symbols, warrior kings, political leaders, chief executive officers of the government machine, heads of a family, and impresarios directing the many elements of “soft power” essential to any regime’s survival. What was it like to live and work in such an extraordinary role? What qualities did it take to perform this role successfully? Lieven traces the shifting balance among these elements across eras that encompass a staggering array of events from the rise of the world’s great religions to the scientific revolution, the expansion of European empires across oceans, the great twentieth century conflicts, and the triumph of nationalism over imperialism.
How to Be Eaten by Maria Adelmann
In present-day New York City, five women meet in a basement support group to process their traumas. Bernice grapples with the fallout of dating a psychopathic, blue-bearded billionaire. Ruby, once devoured by a wolf, now wears him as a coat. Gretel questions her memory of being held captive in a house made of candy. Ashlee, the winner of a Bachelor-esque dating show, wonders if she really got her promised fairy tale ending. And Raina’s love story will shock them all.
Though the women start out wary of one another, judging each other’s stories, gradually they begin to realize that they may have more in common than they supposed . . . What really brought them here? What secrets will they reveal? And is it too late for them to rescue each other?
Unmask Alice by Rick Emerson
In 1971, Go Ask Alice reinvented the young adult genre with a blistering portrayal of sex, psychosis, and teenage self-destruction. The supposed diary of a middle-class addict, Go Ask Alice terrified adults and cemented LSD’s fearsome reputation, fueling support for the War on Drugs. Five million copies later, Go Ask Alice remains a divisive bestseller, outraging censors and earning new fans, all of them drawn by the book’s mythic premise: A Real Diary, by Anonymous.
But Alice was only the beginning.
In 1979, another diary rattled the culture, setting the stage for a national meltdown. The posthumous memoir of an alleged teenage Satanist, Jay’s Journal merged with a frightening new crisis—adolescent suicide—to create a literal witch hunt, shattering countless lives and poisoning whole communities.
In reality, Go Ask Alice and Jay’s Journal came from the same dark place: Beatrice Sparks, a serial con artist who betrayed a grieving family, stole a dead boy’s memory, and lied her way to the National Book Awards.
The Missing Word by Concita De Gregorio
Irina’s life with her husband and her twin daughters is orderly. An Italian living in Switzerland, she works as a lawyer. One day, something breaks. The marriage ends without apparent trauma, but on a weekend seemingly like any other, the girls’ father takes Alessia and Livia away with him. They disappear. A few days later the man takes his own life. Of the girls, there is no trace.
Concita De Gregorio takes the unadorned, terrible facts of this true story and embodies the protagonist’s voice. In a narrative that is fast and urgent, she unravels these traumatic events to tell the story of a mother bereft of her children – a state for which there is no word.
The Missing Word delves deep into Irina’s thoughts and memories as she grasps at the shreds of truth and, piece by piece, stitches her life back together.
All the Lovers in the Night by Mieko Kawakami
Fuyuko Irie is a freelance copy editor in her mid-thirties. Working and living alone in a city where it is not easy to form new relationships, she has little regular contact with anyone other than her editor, Hijiri, a woman of the same age but with a very different disposition. When Fuyuko stops one day on a Tokyo street and notices her reflection in a storefront window, what she sees is a drab, awkward, and spiritless woman who has lacked the strength to change her life and decides to do something about it.
As the long overdue change occurs, however, painful episodes from Fuyuko’s past surface and her behavior slips further and further beyond the pale. All the Lovers in the Night is acute and insightful, entertaining and engaging; it will make readers laugh, and it will make them cry, but it will also remind them, as only the best books do, that sometimes the pain is worth it.
Dandelion by Jamie Chai Yun Liew
When Lily was eleven years old, her mother, Swee Hua, walked away from the family, never to be seen or heard from again. Now a new mother herself, Lily becomes obsessed with finding out what happened to Swee Hua. She recalls the spring of 1987, growing up in a small British Columbia mining town where there were only a handful of Asian families; Lily’s previously stateless father wanted to blend seamlessly into Canadian life, while her mother, alienated and isolated, longed to return to Brunei. Years later, still affected by Swee Hua’s disappearance, Lily’s family is stubbornly silent to her questioning. But eventually, an old family friend provides a clue that sends Lily to Southeast Asia to find out the truth.
Winner of the Jim Wong-Chu Emerging Writers Award from the Asian Canadian Writers’ Workshop, Dandelion is a beautifully written and affecting novel about motherhood, family secrets, migration, isolation, and mental illness. With clarity and care, it delves into the many ways we define home, identity, and above all, belonging.
Tomorrow, And Tomorrow, And Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin
On a bitter cold day, in the December of his Junior Year at Harvard, Sam Masur exits a subway car and sees, amid the hordes of people waiting on the platform, Sadie Green. He calls her name. For a moment, she pretends she hasn’t heard him, but then, she turns, and a game begins: a legendary collaboration that will launch them to stardom. They borrow money, beg favors, and, before even graduating college, they have created their first blockbuster, Ichigo: a game where players can escape the confines of a body and the betrayals of a heart, and where death means nothing more than a chance to restart and play again. This is the story of the perfect worlds Sam and Sadie build, the imperfect world they live in, and of everything that comes after success: Money. Fame. Duplicity. Tragedy.
Spanning over thirty years, from Cambridge, Massachusetts, to Venice Beach, California, and lands in between and far beyond, Gabrielle Zevin’s Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow is a dazzling and intricately imagined novel that examines the multifarious nature of identity, games as artform, technology and the human experience, disability, failure, the redemptive possibilities in play, and above all, our need to connect: to be loved and to love. Yes, it is a love story, but it is not one you have read before.
Grown Ups by Marie Aubert
Exhilarating, funny, and unexpectedly devastating, Grown Ups is for anyone who has ever felt the fear of being overtaken by a sibling, who feels almost–but not quite–grown up, and who’s struggled to navigate a new future for themselves.
Ida is a forty-year-old architect, single and starting to panic. She’s navigating Tinder and contemplating freezing her eggs, terrified that time has passed her by, silently, without her ever realizing it, which feels even more poignant and common in our COVID era.
All she sees are other people’s children, everywhere.
Now stuck in the idyllic Norwegian countryside for a gathering to mark her mother’s sixty-fifth birthday, Ida is regressing. She’s fighting with her younger sister, Marthe, and flirting with her sister’s husband. But when some supposedly wonderful news from Marthe heightens tensions further, Ida is forced to mark out new milestones of her own.