When Mimi Baird was 6 years old, her father, prominent Boston dermatologist Perry Baird, didn’t come home. In that moment, Baird effectively disappeared forever from his daughter’s life, for her mother told her only that he was “away.” Baird saw her father once in the 15 years between his disappearance and his death in 1959.
Grandparents who love their only grandchild fiercely, but haven’t spoken since their divorce 50 years ago, incite her urgent question: What happened? As she writes in A Fifty-Year Silence: Love, War, and a Ruined House in France, Miranda Richmond Mouillot hopes to recreate a fairy tale of love found, and somehow lost, amid the turmoil of World War II. But her grandparents, Armand and Anna, are growing frail and their memories of fleeing Nazi-occupied France are painful.
Cleopatra, Nefertiti: These are the names that come to mind when thinking of the legendary female rulers of ancient Egypt. In her highly engrossing The Woman Who Would Be King, Egyptian scholar Kara Cooney shines a spotlight on Hatshepsut, Egypt’s largely overlooked, longest-ruling female pharaoh, who led her country through a period marked by peace, prosperity and architectural achievement.
Suki Kim, author of the highly regarded novel The Interpreter, went to North Korea to teach English under doubly false pretenses. Her fellow instructors at Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST) were evangelical Christians pretending to be nonreligious teachers. (“North Korea was the evangelical Christian Holy Grail, the hardest place to crack in the whole world,” she writes.) To be accepted into the program, Kim pretended to be an evangelical pretending to be a nonreligious teacher. She feared exposure on all sides.
Real life spy Kim Philby had a level of charm that fictional spy James Bond could only aspire to. To meet Philby, it seemed, was to fall under his convivial sway. Thus, when it was disclosed in 1963 that this very proper, well-placed and Cambridge-educated Englishman had been spying for the Soviet Union since 1934, two people were particularly shaken by the revelation: Nicholas Elliott, his longtime drinking buddy and colleague at MI6, the British Secret Intelligence Service, and James Angleton, the zealous spymaster at America’s Central Intelligence Agency. Both men had regarded Philby as the supreme exemplar of their shadowy trade. Of course, he was.
On September 13, 1993, the day Yitzhak Rabin and Yasir Arafat shook hands on the White House lawn, several dozen CIA officers quietly gathered at the grave of Robert Ames in Arlington National Cemetery. While most of the world focused on the hope of Middle East peace, those at Ames’ grave paid tribute to an operative who may have made that peace possible, even though few knew what he had accomplished—not the presidents he served, not members of Congress, not even his own family.
BookPage Nonfiction Top Pick, April 2014
Frances Mayes’ lyrical memoir of growing up Southern was a long time coming. Worried about upsetting her family, she stopped and started Under Magnolia many times over: “Anytime I felt the impulse to start my Southern opus again, I instead headed for a movie or a new Thai restaurant,” she writes. “I’d go jogging or read a novel until the impulse faded.”
In a frank and richly evocative memoir, the author of Under the Tuscan Sun recalls growing up in the Deep South.
Why did you feel now was the right time to write a memoir of your coming-of-age?
Moving from California (where I lived and worked for decades) back to the South reconnected me on many levels with the land I came from originally. Some of the connections were simple and primitive—the fecund and flowery smells, the cheerful sounds of the tree frogs, the grating drama of cicadas, the grand sunsets and the intense humidity.
In her second book, My Life in Middlemarch, New Yorker staff writer Rebecca Mead offers a thoughtful examination of the book that has turned out to be a touchstone of her life. We caught up with Mead to ask her a few questions about this personal look at a beloved classic.
George Eliot’s Middlemarch is a crowning achievement among Victorian novels—a canon with its fair share of weighty masterworks. Admired by generations of writers, including Virginia Woolf, who called it “one of the few English novels written for grown-up people,” it holds primacy of place on many readers’ “to be read” lists, though many probably never get to the somewhat daunting task. Not so Rebecca Mead, a staff writer for The New Yorker, who first read the novel when she was 17 and has re-read it many times since.