by Julie HaleMarch 2011
Mitchell, Shriver and Skloot top March paperback releases
This month’s best paperback releases for reading groups feature notable authors and bestsellers.
MITCHELL’S JAPANESE EPIC
In his fifth novel, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, David Mitchell focuses his prodigious narrative powers on Japan in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. A small Dutch trading settlement on an island in Nagasaki Harbor is where readers first meet Jacob, a representative of the Dutch East Indies Company. Jacob hopes to make his fortune and impress his fiancée back home, but instead he falls in love with Orito Aibagawa, a Japanese midwife. Theirs is a tenuous relationship, as Jacob isn’t allowed to visit the mainland where Orito lives. The pair encounter greater obstacles when Jacob is treated unjustly at work, and Orito’s conniving stepmother sends her away to a sinister nunnery. Their stories provide the foundation for Mitchell’s most ambitious work to date. He populates his tale with a cast of memorable characters that includes Uzaemon, an old flame of Orito’s, and various seamen, slaves and government officials. Author of the critically acclaimed Cloud Atlas and Black Swan Green, Mitchell, as always, pushes boundaries to create an epic and richly rewarding reading experience.
A reading group guide is available online.
IN SICKNESS AND IN HEALTH
Taking a swing at America’s health-care system, Lionel Shriver’s latest novel, So Much for That, is a humorous and insightful examination of the patient-caregiver relationship. After selling his business for a million dollars, Shep Knacker plans to retire and travel the world with his wife, Glynis. But when she’s diagnosed with a malignant form of cancer, Shep finds himself serving as live-in nurse. Glynis makes for a terrible patient, but Shep endures her demands with the support of his best friend, Jackson, whose teenage daughter is also terminally ill. The two patients strike up an odd friendship as the men in their lives struggle to maintain some sort of status quo. Shep’s retirement fund dwindles quickly as he pays for chemotherapy and hospital stays, and Jackson is basically broke. Shriver depicts their plight in lively prose that’s meticulously crafted. She writes with delicacy and a unique understanding of the ways in which illness can transform lives and relationships. This is a funny, angry, compassionate novel that’s sure to resonate with readers.
TOP PICK FOR BOOK CLUBS
In this vivid mix of science and biography, Rebecca Skloot tells the incredible true story of Henrietta Lacks, a victim of cervical cancer whose cells made possible some of medicine’s biggest discoveries. Lacks, a mother of five, came from a poor African-American family. When she died in 1951, doctors took samples of her tissues without having secured her consent. Her cells endured in the lab, allowing researchers to formulate a vaccine for polio and treatments for AIDS. Henrietta’s husband and children had no knowledge of her invaluable contribution until many years later. Skloot becomes involved with various surviving family members, who had passed the intervening years in poverty and bad health, helping them discover the truth about Henrietta. This poignant story about the invasiveness of medicine is also a deeply intimate look at one family’s efforts to claim its legacy.
Reading group resources are available online.