January 13, 2023
Several disparate yet extraordinary voices this week are linked by themes of heritage and displacement—from North Africa to Puerto Rico, Poland, even outer space. We also have a posthumous novel about Asian American fetishism by an accomplished and beloved writer. Two books feature punk rock musicians (one an author, the other a protagonist). All are animated by a pulsating momentum, often irreverent, always surprising.
Buyer, The Center for Fiction Bookstore
By Hisham Matar
Published by Random House
Matar once again explores the theme of loyalty as in his Pulitzer Prize-winning memoir. Three Benghazi men come of age in Edinburgh and London, each struggling with homeland allegiances and making new lives abroad. During a 1983 Libyan protest in London, Khaled and Mustafa are shot, marking them forever as anti-Qaddafi activists. Hosam, a young dissident writer, becomes part of this triangle and they form a decades-long friendship through the Arab Spring, each making different life-changing choices. Rarely can a writer combine the personal and political so eloquently. Through their fierce bonds amid the violence of Libyan politics, Matar composes a tenderly powerful novel of exile.
By Marie-Helene Bertino
Published by FSG
Parakeet was one of the few breakout novels in the early pandemic, no doubt due to Bertino’s indescribable wit. Beautyland stars Adina who discovers she is an alien sent to Earth to research humankind. “It is an interstellar crisscross apple sauce. Two celestially significant events occurring simultaneously: The departure of Voyager 1 and the arrival of Adina Giorno, early and yellowed like old newspaper.” Adina struggles with being accepted at school, follows Carl Sagan, and sends faxes to her superiors on Planet Cricket Rice. Despite or because of the wacky premise, the author brings real pathos and insight into a novel about belonging. And who hasn’t felt like an alien in this world of ours?.
City of Laughter
By Temim Fruchter
Published by Grove Press
Fruchter, an award-winning writer and a former drummer in a feminist punk rock band in Brooklyn, offers up a rambunctious novel steeped in Jewish folk stories. The city in question is Ropshitz in Poland, and it ties four generations of women together over a century. The characters include a modern-day queer Jewish scholar, Shiva (whose story has echoes of the author’s), who returns to Ropshitz to discover her great-grandmother’s secrets. Going back to the 18th century we meet a badchan (Yiddish for a wedding jester) as Fruchter infuses her novel with spiritual lore, real and imagined, the literature and history of Jewish culture, a recurring shapeshifting trickster, and the essential importance of laughter.
The Best That You Can Do
By Amina Gautier
Published by Soft Skull Press
Displaced Puerto Rican women populate this boisterous collection of stories, a snapshot of American lives circumscribed by families back home with all the untidy emotions that attend living in two worlds. Many are focused on the Civil Rights era. In “Making a Way,” a mother of two whose husband returns to Puerto Rico is left stranded in Connecticut. Set during the ’60s assassinations she struggles to raise enough money to go back, making a ‘way out of no way,’ as her mother did before her. Bursting with pop cultural and musical references of the time, including TV celebrities (Marlo Thomas, Lawrence Welk, smoking Winstons), Gautier manages to cram an entire diasporic experience into these zesty short pieces..
By Katherine Min
Published by Putnam
Min’s novel comes four years after her untimely death from breast cancer. We are lucky to have it now, a zany revenge story in which Kyoko attempts to extract justice from the man responsible for the death of her mother. “Her mother’s death felt ongoing, always, inside a swollen and eternal present, in which Kyoko sat, in a buttered wedge of sunlight, on pale blue linoleum, smoothing her mother’s nightgown down around her hips.” Fittingly this fictional daughter is avenging her mother, and in real life Min’s daughter is leading the publicity for this publication. That’s sweet synchronicity. And the novel has a sweetness to it, too.