Jim Crace’s starkly beautiful new novel, Harvest, takes place in a small, tradition-bound village in an era that feels medieval. The planting and harvesting of barley has always been central to the community’s existence. No one can remember a time when things were different. But village life is forever altered when three strangers appear and a fire breaks out on the property of Master Kent, whose family owns the land the villagers farm. These chilling events are recounted by a man named Walter Thirsk, who came to the village 12 years ago and knows how it feels to be a stranger there. Thirsk is an articulate and perceptive narrator, and his plainspoken account of the fear and upheaval that sweep through the community after the fire is unforgettable. Crace’s book is parable-like in its demonstration of what can happen when a people too-long isolated are overcome by suspicion and distrust. It’s no surprise that this deeply affecting novel was recently shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. 

Jodi Picoult’s The Storyteller is a complex, moving novel about two Holocaust survivors and the ways in which their stories change one woman’s life. Sage Singer, a 25-year-old bakery employee in Westerbrook, New Hampshire, is coming to grips with the death of her mother. At her grief-counseling group, she befriends 95-year-old widower Josef Weber. As they grow closer, Josef asks Sage to help him die. Confessing that he was a Nazi during the Holocaust, Josef shares the unsettling story of his past with Sage. Overwhelmed and confused, Sage contacts the authorities about him. When Leo Stein, a lawyer and Nazi hunter, arrives to investigate Josef, the process leads him to Sage’s grandmother, Minka, a Jew who was persecuted during the war and whose past is intertwined with Josef’s. Picoult writes with compassion and sensitivity about the Holocaust and questions of faith, and she demonstrates extraordinary insight into the grieving process. This is a memorable story that showcases her many gifts as a novelist.

In her much-praised debut novel, The House Girl, Tara Conklin tells the stories of two very different women—one a contemporary New York City lawyer, the other a 19th-century slave—and the remarkable connection they share. Lina Sparrow is involved in a class-action suit that will benefit the descendants of American slaves when she learns about Josephine Bell. A Virginia house servant who may have executed the acclaimed paintings long attributed to her white mistress, Josephine captures Lina’s imagination. Lina hopes to locate a relative of Josephine’s to enlist in the lawsuit. As she researches Josephine’s life, she begins to wonder about her own past, especially the strange death of her mother two decades ago. The mysteries soon multiply for Lina, and what she learns changes her life forever. Conklin, who worked as a litigator before devoting herself to writing, develops the parallel stories of her two heroines with the skill of a seasoned novelist. Her understanding of history and instinct for detail make The House Girl a remarkably assured debut.

comments powered by Disqus