May 13, 2023
One-word titles always catch my eye and ear, and this week four of the novels qualify. For two of them, we have signed copies while they last. This week we look at an emotionally powerful novel of the Holocaust; three novels where the protagonists are not quite who they purport to be or are pretending to be someone else; and a clever twist on the menage à trois.
Also, congratulations to the Pulitzer Prize-winning novels: Barbara Kingsolver’s Demon Copperhead, which we had the pleasure of celebrating at our event last fall; Hernan Diaz’s Trust; and the runner up, Vauhini Vara’s The Immortal King Rao, which was also shortlisted for our own First Novel Prize!
Buyer, The Center for Fiction Bookstore
By Anne Berest
Published by Europa Editions
Translated by Tina Kover
Europa Editions has a knack for introducing English-speaking readers to important foreign fiction. This French bestseller mines its author’s personal history in which her characters uncover the truth about family members lost at Auschwitz. It begins when an anonymous postcard arrives in 2003 with nothing on it but the names of four people—each of whom perished there. It reminded me of the recent Tom Stoppard play, Leopoldstadt, in which the author also grapples with his heritage and those who died during WWII. As Berest fictionalizes her ancestors’ tragic past, she gives voice to lost souls and honors her family’s legacy in this significant contribution to the literature of the Holocaust.
By Emma Cline
Published by Random House
Grifter extraordinaire, Alex shuttles from man to man, apartment to apartment. Then she meets Simon, a wealthy older guy, a bit of a control freak (he has ‘psychotic discipline’), with a Hamptons beach house. When he invites her for the summer Alex carefully keeps it together, until she doesn’t. She is sent packing but lingers on Long Island…. Cline’s first novel was The Girls, about the Manson family, followed by Daddy, a collection of short stories. She told the Paris Review, “I think of novel writing as almost like surgery—the stakes are very high—and I think of stories more like acupuncture.” The stakes are definitely high in her thrilling new novel. Limited signed copies available..
By Bea Setton
Published by Penguin
Reminiscent of Elif Batuman’s novels (The Idiot and Either/Or), Bea Setton’s debut also sets a young woman down in a foreign city attempting to find her place in another culture. Daphne experiences an existential crisis in Berlin as she traverses the city aimlessly, unmoored and unsure of herself, taking German classes. As she tries rather unsuccessfully to make friends and find a boyfriend, she is haunted by the feeling someone is out to get her. But can we trust her? Setton perfectly portrays that feeling of desiring to be independent in new frontiers while also wanting to belong. It is equal parts disturbing and darkly funny, an impressive start to a literary career.
By R. F. Kuang
Published by William Morrow
Following her enormous success with last year’s dark fantasy, Babel, Huang turns to a very timely satire of racial prejudice and literary theft. Educated at Oxford and Yale, the author has an inside view of the competition between young writers trying to get published. When June’s friend and more successful Chinese American colleague at Yale suddenly dies, she cannot resist stealing her work-in-progress and presenting it as her own to instant acclaim. What follows is a sly commentary on the state of publishing today, and how factors of race, cultural diversity, and desperate ambition can have dangerous consequences. Another terrific read for Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. Limited signed copies available..
The Three of Us
By Ore Agbaje-Williams
Published by G. P. Putnam's Sons
This crafty debut has an ingenious structure and I read it in one go. Told in three voices, two of the characters in the novel are best friends, both Nigerian women living in London. They were always opposites in temperament, but that was part of the glue. When one gets married, the other feels their bond loosening. Their constant companionship, endless glasses of wine, and firm intention never to be married or have children is no longer in sync. In the new husband’s portion, we find out he barely tolerates the friend—she is constantly in their home when he returns from work, making trouble. Can all three exist in this marriage?