June 10, 2023
Three utterly absorbing works of fiction lead this week’s selection: a German novelist’s latest in an impeccable translation by Michael Hoffman; a stunning historical novel of India; and a heartbreaking book about a down-on-his-luck New Englander. We also have two nonfiction works about perception that bring levity to thorny topics. Once you start any of these five books, you are guaranteed to be lost in their worlds.
Buyer, The Center for Fiction Bookstore
By Jenny Erpenbeck
Published by New Directions
Translated by Michael Hoffman
Another stunning novel from this gifted German writer (Go, Went, Gone), the fifth published in the U.S. by New Directions. From their first encounter on a bus, the sexual electricity between Hans and Katharina leaps off the page. But she is 19 and he is married, in his 50s, with a 14-year-old son. Their complicated affair begins in East Germany in 1986 as the German Democratic Republic is teetering on the edge. This ingenious juxtaposition of their illicit, all-consuming romance with the fall of the wall places the lovers “all alone in their bubble.” ‘Kairos’ is Greek for the ‘god of fortunate moments’ or ‘opportunity’—an apt metaphor as Erpenbeck lays bare their inner lives.
By Tania James
Published by Knopf
Loot is a rousing, entertaining novel set in 18th-century India, England, and Rouen, with an appealing large cast of characters. Abbas, a talented young woodcarver in the sultan’s kingdom of Mysore, is apprenticed to a French sculptor and clockmaker. Together they create timepieces in the form of elephants, and an astonishing automaton in the shape of a tiger that plays music. The tiger’s journey parallels Abbas’s story as the automaton goes from the sultan’s collection to a castle in England. Along the way many characters will cross Abbas’s path, swaying his fortunes. James’s prose is lively, and the settings are as visually immediate as a Bollywood movie..
By Andre Dubus III
Published by W. W. Norton
Tom Lowe, Jr., a former builder, is at the end of his rope after a series of bad decisions and worse luck. Off painkillers but in constant pain following a life-changing accident, he’s lost his work, his home, his wife; is living in a crummy apartment complex; and is estranged from his 20-year-old son. Then someone steals his tools, and he can’t get his car out of hock. Sounds grim, right? But no—it is a beautifully told story of deliverance. Dubus perfectly captures working-class characters in New England, the slippery slope of poverty that illuminates our fragile world, and the small kindnesses that can redeem humanity.
By Darrin Bell
Published by Henry Holt & Co.
This is a great subject to get the graphic novel treatment. The author grew up in L.A., learning from his white mother about how he might be perceived as dangerous because of the color of his skin. It is regrettably a conversation that many parents have with their children to keep them safe. Bell, an award-winning cartoonist who has been called the “Ta-Nehisi Coates of comics,” is now the father of a young boy having the talk with his own son after the death of George Floyd. An essential addition to the discussion of race for parents and, really, for anyone..
How to Write About Africa
By Binyavanga Wainaina
Published by One World
Edited by Achai Prabhala; Introduced by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
A life cut tragically short, Wainaina, who was born in Kenya and lived in South Africa, passed at the age of 48 in 2019. The beloved author was also an influential journalist and edited a literary magazine. This essay collection shows the range and talent of a writer who was able to mix satire with astute political observation, becoming an advocate for both gay rights and for change in the way Africa is presented. He believed that “the world of humanitarianism and aid in Africa was designed to make the people passive.” One of his most acclaimed and viral pieces is the title essay. Here’s a taste. What a loss to the world.