April 1, 2023
Two debuts and three returning writers grace this week’s selection. There are five voices from around the world: Mexico, the Czech Republic, Palestine, and the mountains of Tennessee. Ghosts haunt two of these books in different but powerful ways. Plus, an irresistible takedown of the Hollywood experience. And to usher in National Poetry Month, here is a haiku from Sonia Sanchez’s new collection, written when she was in Peking:
let me wear the day
well so when it reaches you
you will enjoy it.
Buyer, The Center for Fiction Bookstore
By Isabella Hammad
Published by Grove
Hammad’s wonderful debut, The Parisian, is a hard act to follow. From a completely different approach, she investigates what it means to be a Palestinian. Sonia, a Palestinian-born actress living in London, comes to visit her sister in Haifa after a romantic breakup. Drawn into a local production of Hamlet she finds herself both engaged with the play and thrown into the post-Intifada Israeli/Palestinian turmoil which quickly creates a guerilla theater experience. The metaphor of the ghost of Hamlet’s father echoes the violent killings in the West Bank, and the spectral visions of lives lost in conflict and protest. It is another stunning accomplishment.
By Julia Langbein
Published by Doubleday
When Penny publishes a successful novel entitled American Mermaid, Hollywood comes calling. Relocating to L.A. to adapt it with the help of two hilarious screenwriters she finds the glamorous life, well, not so glamorous as the powers that be tweak and twist her story to suit the market. The narrative is interspersed with excerpts from that novel in which the orphan Sylvia is adopted and raised as a human girl after painful operations to transform her tail into legs. Langbein’s story becomes a feminist tale of empowerment and the lure of the sea as the line between Penny’s and Sylvia’s lives blur. An utterly original comic debut..
A Brief History of Living Forever
By Jaroslav Kalfař
Published by Little, Brown and Company
In Spaceman of Bohemia (shortlisted for The Center for Fiction First Novel Prize), one of 2017’s best debuts, Kalfař demonstrated an Eastern European sensibility combining wit with profound musings on the future of mankind. In his spectacular new novel, mainly taking place in 2030, the search for immortality is on. A Czech mother who gave up her daughter for adoption comes to America seeking a joyful reunion after being given a terminal diagnosis. It is a world where America’s borders, now under the Reclamation Act, are mostly closed. Among Kalfař’s influences here are: “My mother’s life story, vintage Eastern European sci-fi, …[and] the tragedies of U.S. immigration policy…” Also, look for the film of Spaceman to drop this year.
House of Cotton
By Monica Brashears
Published by Flatiron
Born in the mountains of Tennessee where her story is set, Affrilachian writer Brashears says she was “raised on oral tales concerning ghosts made of scorned women.” Her extraordinary debut opens on a Baptist church funeral. Nineteen-year-old Magnolia’s beloved grandma, whom she lived with, is dead but Mama Brown’s spirit will haunt this story and help Magnolia stay on the straight and narrow. She works in a gas station and her mother is hopelessly addicted to drugs. But then she meets Cotton, a peculiar mortician who will change her life. Eventually she will gather the strength to forge her own path—and you will root for her every step of the way..
This Is Not Miami
By Fernanda Melchor
Published by New Directions
Translated by Sophie Hughes
Melchor’s prize-winning novel Hurricane Season begins with the discovery of a witch’s dead body. Her new essay collection, set mostly in the Mexican state of Veracruz, includes “Lights in the Sky” about the nocturnal lights (called ‘witches’). The author thought they were alien spaceships, but they turned out to be Colombian aircrafts carrying drugs. The title piece follows dockworker Paco as a group of emaciated Dominican stowaways turn up at the port thinking they are in Miami. All these essays are quietly powerful. Also available: the new paperback edition of her novel Paradais. In both her fiction and nonfiction, Melchor explores the brutal racism and corrupt society of 21st-century Mexico.