January 21, 2023
Spanning the globe this week, we travel around the world with a group of artful and totally entertaining writers: a Bosnian American, a Colombian American, two Irish writers, and an American writer who has lived in the Middle East, the Caucasus, and France. Two of our books are story collections—though quite unalike—what everyone needs in the winter by their bedside. This group will make you think, laugh, shiver and even cry—just as good fiction should.
Buyer, The Center for Fiction Bookstore
The World and All That It Holds
By Aleksandar Hemon
Published by MCD
Set on the eve of WWI, Hemon’s two main characters meet in the Bosnian army after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria. Pinto, who’d been running the family apothecary since the untimely death of his father, was quickly conscripted. His love for fellow soldier Osman and their horrific journey through the war fill this novel with its own kind of poetry—the poetry that Pinto declares he can no longer write after the unimaginable things they experience. Filled with sex, history, and drama across continents (Sarajevo, Galicia, Shanghai), this is a career-defining and astonishingly beautiful epic.
The Faraway World
By Patricia Engel
Published by Avid Reader Press
Engel writes wonderful short fiction, and this collection is a welcome follow-up to her bestselling novel, Infinite Country. Both deal with characters navigating at least two cultures: American and, most often, Colombian—the author’s background. “Libélula” (dragonfly) is a standout about an unhappy wealthy Colombian wife living on the Park in Manhattan who’s had multiple miscarriages and her live-in maid—both of them from Medellín but in much different circumstances. Others are set in Cuba, Miami, and Brazil. Engel touches on immigrant life and class and sexual power in a straightforward, but extremely moving style that marks her work..
By Wendell Steavenson
Published by W. W. Norton
Margot is a serious, privileged young woman growing up in the ’60s between Park Avenue and an estate on Long Island. Cursed with being too tall, with a sour, status-obsessed mother, and a distant father, she longs to go to college to become a scientist, and have a life not dependent on marrying ‘well.’ She yearns to break free from the carefree arrogance of her conservative wealthy community. Margot’s coming of age is set against big cultural events: the Viet Nam War, sexual rebellion, civil unrest. Steavenson captures a moment in social history with acute observation, creating a captivating heroine.
A Guest at the Feast
By Colm Tóibín
Published by Scribner
Unarguably one of the most generous writers we have today, this collection brings together many of Tóibín’s best personal writings from 1995 onward, starting with a harrowing description of his treatment for testicular cancer which manages to be brutally honest, funny, and poetic. Classic Tóibín. In the final piece, “Alone in Venice,” the author contemplates paintings of the Crucifixion. Within those bookends, the title essay is about his birthplace, Enniscorthy in County Wexford; others are about the Church, including a piece on the writer Marilynne Robinsons’s biblical prose; and reporting on homosexuality and the Supreme Court. Each is beautifully observed, a treat to read slowly over time..
By Claire Keegan
Published by Grove Press
Although this story collection was originally published over 20 years ago, the superb Irish writer Claire Keegan has only just gained a following in the U.S. since the publication of her most recent novellas (Small Things Like These and Foster). These stories combine many emotional states in achingly tender portraits and unsettling circumstances. Her quiet style of storytelling belies the power of her fiction. The title story haunts me. It features a middle-class housewife who takes herself on an ill-advised adventure right before Christmas without telling her family the real reason for the trip. It will surprise you. I highly recommend this collection and anything else Keegan writes in the future.