Annoyance can be a powerful prod to action. And so after being annoyed for years by the praise much of the world lavishes on the supposedly enlightened Scandinavians, British writer Michael Booth has bestirred himself to take a closer, more jaundiced look at the people, customs, institutions and landscapes of Sweden, Norway, Finland, Iceland and his adopted homeland of Denmark. Are these five nations the political incarnation of human happiness? Well, maybe.
Will’s entire world exists inside the walls of his house. Raised by an agoraphobic mother, he’s taught to fear the world outside—and the world inside, too, wearing a helmet constantly and donning body armor just to change a light bulb. He feels safe. Then he goes outside, and everything feels strange.
In Michael Crummey’s novel, Sweetland, a Newfoundlander named Queenie offers some literary criticism. Concerning books about her province, she says: “It was a torture to get through them. They were every one depressing. . . . Or nothing happened. Or there was no point to the story.” She adds that they are unrecognizable and probably written by outsiders.
This exciting historical novel is about mountain man and trapper Hugh Glass, who is working for the newly formed American Fur Company, founded in 1823 and owned by Jacob Astor when beaver pelts were worth serious cash. For men like Glass, there’s serious pressure to produce pelts and a profit for the young business—even it if means entering the land of the hostile Ariakra tribe.
The diamond mines of Marange in Zimbabwe serve as the setting for this portrait of a family in turmoil, which focuses on a tenacious 15-year-old boy named Patson Moyo. Patson and his little sister, Grace, adore their father, a man who has dedicated his life to teaching. But it is their new stepmother, known simply as “the Wife,” who compels her husband to leave his home and seek wealth by moving to Marange, where her brother James is involved in mining. In Marange, she claims, there are “diamonds for everyone.”
Michel Faber’s phenomenal The Book of Strange New Things is primed to become a classic on space, faith and, above all, devotion.
Michael Pitre’s unforgettable debut, while not a memoir, is just as brutally honest as one in its depiction of the Iraq War, to which the author was twice deployed before leaving the Marine Corps in 2010. Pitre’s harrowing story centers on three men: two ex-Marines now forging new lives back in the States, and an Iraqi who served as their interpreter and is now trying to gain asylum in this country.
I read The End of Absence with interest, because I am a member of what author Michael Harris calls the “Straddle Generation,” the generation born before 1985, the last one to remember adult life before the Internet. Harris compares this moment in history to the advent of the Gutenberg press in the 15th century, when the written word became universally available. “Young and old,” he writes, “we’re all straddling two realities to a certain degree. In our rush toward the promise of Google and Facebook—toward the promise of reduced ignorance and reduced loneliness—we feel certain we are rushing toward a better life.
In his heyday, E. Forbes Smiley III was larger than life, a man who excelled at virtually everything he set his hand to. Although his name smacked of sitcom pretentiousness, he was never the rich buffoon. Raised in a middle-class, well-educated family in New Hampshire, Smiley became a superb college student, an engaging conversationalist, a gifted woodworker and a generous and loyal friend.
From the Duke boys’ car named the General Lee on the “Dukes of Hazzard” TV show to his appearance on a U.S. postage stamp, Robert E. Lee has come to “embody and glorify a defeated cause,” Michael Korda asserts in a monumental new biography, Clouds of Glory: The Life and Legend of Robert E. Lee.