September 30, 2023
This week we have two powerful memoirs from writers who came to the U.S. after difficult childhoods; the funniest novel you’ll ever read about grief; an imaginative chronicle of mathematics; and a look at a trio of families living in a small Midwestern town. Two of the authors will share their work with us at upcoming events.
We are also happy to announce a partnership with Albertine, the bookstore at the Cultural Services of the French Embassy, and the addition of a ‘French Corner’—a mix of contemporary and classic books by French authors, in French. There’s a selection for children, too!
Buyer, The Center for Fiction Bookstore
How to Say Babylon
By Safiya Sinclair
Published by Simon & Schuster / 37 Ink
Growing up in Montego Bay, Jamaica under the thumb of a conservative Rastafarian father was not easy for Sinclair. He was violent, unreasonably strict, and volatile. His failing career as a reggae musician helped fuel his rage. Sinclair’s poetic memoir describes how she longed from early adolescence to break free, rejecting “the cage her father had built” for her. Her mother attempted to help, but, after too many infidelities, she eventually left as well. Sinclair’s first poetry collection Cannibal won her a Whiting Award, and her melodic prose, grace, and determination informs every page as she forges her own path forward to an independent life.
The Heart of It All
By Christian Kiefer
Published by Melville House
In a blue-collar community in North Central Ohio three very different families co-exist: the white family who have just lost their youngest child, and whose father works in the local factory that dominates the town; the Pakistani immigrant family whose patriarch manages the factory; and a widowed Black woman who works at the local grocery and has taken in her addicted sister’s teenage son. Kiefer sympathetically portrays these hardworking folks as their lives intermingle and they find ways to survive and even thrive. In a deeply touching slice of American life, he has captured these particularly ‘imperfect’ (as Richard Russo wisely calls them) residents with a gently perfect pitch..
By Benjamín Labatut
Published by Penguin Press
Labatut fictionalizes the history of mathematics, focusing first on the brilliant Hungarian John von Neumann, then through Teller, Oppenheimer, and the invention of AI computers who beat chess geniuses, and masters of the almost impossible-to-win game of Go. You don’t need knowledge of these subjects to be utterly fascinated by his enthralling accomplishment. The Dutch/Chilean author, whose influences include William Burroughs, also touched upon themes of moral responsibility and the limits of the infinite possibilities of science in his award-wining novel When We Cease to Understand the World. This is a deeper dive with spectacular results. And if you’ve seen the movie Oppenheimer, an added treat.
A Man of Two Faces
By Viet Thanh Nguyen
Published by Grove
At the beginning of this evocative memoir (longlisted for the National Book Award for Nonfiction) the Pulitzer Prize-winner Nguyen says, “…where, on the thin border between history and memory, can I remember myself?” The Vietnam War made refugees of his family. Graced with a striking cover based on a portrait of his father, the book displays his trademark observational style as he sets the stage for his family’s journey, ending up in San Jose, California. Nguyen brings the reader into his mind and heart with insightful opinions on America, through both personal history and cultural commentary. Limited signed copies are available..
By Melissa Broder
Published by Scribner
Grief, let alone double grief, can be hard to capture in prose. Broder manages to express an emotional journey through it in an unpredictable fashion. Her novelist protagonist has a cryptically ill husband and a father barely hanging on in the ICU. She flees to a Best Western hotel in the California desert for some head clearing and soul searching. There she embarks on an ill-advised hike with few provisions where she has her own near-death experience involving a mystical cactus that the reader should discover without further explanation. Despite it all, there is abundant humor alongside the enormous challenges ahead. Broder puts us right into her heroine’s head as we feel the intense desert heat and root for the survival of all three.