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.
Lantern Sam is a rare male calico cat who lives aboard a train called the Lake Erie Shoreliner (New York to Chicago in under 20 hours!) in the 1940s. Ostensibly in the care of conductor Clarence Nockwood, Sam is an intelligent and independent cat who has the ability to share his thoughts with some humans. Clarence is one of them, but when 10-year-old Henry Shipley comes aboard, Sam finds he can “talk” to him, too.
The automobile is one of the inanimate objects most subject to the practice of personification. How many besotted car owners have referred to their shiny vehicle as “she” and stroked the hood as one would perhaps stroke a woman? In All I Have in This World, novelist Michael Parker’s eighth novel, a sky blue Buick Electra is as much a character as any other. Readers follow the car, in nonlinear fashion, from its birth to death; what comes in between is compelling, although the story takes a bit of time to rev up.
Finally, a book on New Orleans restaurants that feels like summer in the city: gusty, alluring, oppressive, extravagant and intentionally over the top. Eat Dat New Orleans is a love letter from ex-pat and food junkie Michael Murphy to one of the most complex and addictive cities in the world.
Wild, irregular and free, Henry Thoreau cut a distinctive figure in 19th-century Concord, Massachusetts, whether carving “dithyrambic dances” on ice skates with Nathaniel and Sophia Hawthorne or impressing Ralph Waldo Emerson with his “comic simplicity.” More at home in the woods than in society, Thoreau began the first volume of his celebrated journals with a simple word that also functioned as his motto: solitude.