by Julie HaleMay 2009
New paperbacks for reading groups
The Lazarus Project
By Aleksandar Hemon
Nominated for the 2008 National Book Award, this is the third work of fiction from Aleksandar Hemon, a gifted Bosnian writer who has lived in the U.S. since 1992. In this innovative novel, he focuses on the real-life murder of a young Jewish immigrant named Lazarus Averbuch. Averbuch, who came from Eastern Europe, was shot by George Shippy, chief of the Chicago police, in 1908. The details about the murder are murky, although Shippy insisted that Averbuch was a violent anarchist. From this incident, Hemon fast-forwards to present-day Chicago, where Vladimir Brik, a Bosnian transplant, lives and works as a writer. When Brik gets financial backing to go to Europe and learn more about Averbuch, he embarks on the journey of a lifetime. Accompanied by Rora, a Bosnian photographer whose images are featured throughout the narrative, Brik makes some surprising discoveries about himself and his past. Hemon skillfully weaves these narrative strands together to form an unforgettable work. Beautifully written and smartly constructed, it’s a poignant, often funny look at the ways in which the past informs the present. Hemon’s pleasurably complex novel—a wonderful blend of history and fiction—will challenge and reward readers.
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
By Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
Starting in 1946, the letters that make up this cleverly constructed novel provide a vivid snapshot of England after World War II. The book’s first entry comes from a young author named Juliet Ashton, who sends a note to her publisher saying that she’s tired of writing about the war. But when Dawsey Adams, a farmer in Guernsey, comes across Juliet’s name in a book and urges his neighbors to contact her with stories about the German occupation, her attachment to the conflict seems destined to continue. The letters written to Juliet from the warm-hearted, eccentric inhabitants of Guernsey recount various wartime events—some horrific, some humorous—that occurred while the Nazis occupied the English Channel island, including the birth of the unlikely book club known as the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Tackling works by William Shakespeare, the Brontë sisters and Jane Austen, the society provided fellowship in a time of incredible adversity. Each letter in the novel is the work of an individual, fully formed character, and each contributes a layer of complexity to the narrative. Mary Ann Shaffer was a bookseller, editor and librarian who died in 2008; her niece, children’s book author Annie Barrows, helped her finish the book. Together, they crafted a novel that pays tribute to the healing power of art and the endurance of the human heart. Already a book club favorite in hardcover, it’s sure to win many more readers with this new paperback edition.
A reading group guide is included in the book and online.
By Anita Shreve
A fast-paced novel with a provocative plot, Anita Shreve’s latest book focuses on a tragic scandal at a high-status private school in Vermont. When a sex tape implicating a freshman girl and three members of the boys’ basketball team surfaces, controversy rocks the Avery Academy—a place where the students are growing up faster than their parents realize. The shocking videotape—which features school sports star Silas Quinney—has far-reaching effects, resulting in a meaningless death and the destruction of three families. Mike Bordwin, the institution’s headmaster, recounts the initial scandal, but the narrative soon shifts to include the perspectives of the students, their parents and other individuals whose lives are affected by the tape. Through the skillful use of varied points of view, Shreve is able to examine events from all angles, and her development of this prep-school cast of characters gives the story flavor and authenticity. The best-selling author of 14 novels, including The Pilot’s Wife, an Oprah’s Book Club selection, Shreve has crafted a resonant and suspenseful work of literary fiction. This is a rich examination of modern moral codes cloaked in the guise of a thriller—a gripping novel that will strike a chord with readers.
A reading group guide is included in the book and on the author's website.