“Anna was a good wife, mostly.” So opens Jill Alexander Essbaum’s remarkable debut novel, the mesmerizing story of Anna Benz, an American expatriate who has lived in Zurich for nine years with her husband, Bruno—a Swiss banker—and their three children.
David Treuer’s fourth novel, Prudence, is set in northern Minnesota, near the Leech Lake Reservation where he grew up. It opens in August 1942, as Frankie Washburn is returning to the Pines, the resort owned by his parents, for a brief visit before joining the war as a bombardier. The reunion is fraught with negative memories from the past, especially the distance between Frankie and his father, Jonathan. Frankie’s sexual orientation, although never mentioned, is planted like a wall between them. Frankie’s mother is oblivious, her main concern in life being the upkeep of the Pines itself.
Priya Parmar’s second novel opens an intimate, witty and highly entertaining window into the early 20th-century circle of writers, philosophers and artists known as London’s Bloomsbury Group. They met several times a week at the homes of Vanessa and Clive Bell and Vanessa’s brother and sister, Adrian and Virginia Stephen (later Woolf). This erudite group also included the novelist E.M. Forster; biographer Lytton Strachey; artist Duncan Grant; art critic Roger Fry, curator of New York’s Metropolitan Museum; and economist John Maynard Keynes. The Stephen siblings—Vanessa, Virginia, Adrian and Thoby, the eldest brother— moved to the “bohemian hinterland” of Bloomsbury after their parents died, and Thoby’s Cambridge friends quickly adopted it as their favorite gathering place.
Lin Enger’s moving and enlightening second novel resonates emotionally and intellectually on several levels: as an homage to the vanished American bison, a reflection on the forceful removal of Northern Plains Indians from their homelands and an engaging family saga peopled with characters who could have been this Midwestern author’s own ancestors.
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.
Chinese-American author Lisa See has made her mark in the realm of historical fiction by melding her well-researched historical sagas with strong female characters linked either by birth, as in Shanghai Girls (2009) and Dreams of Joy (2011), or by lifelong friendship, as in her breakout book Snow Flower and the Secret Fan (2005).
Miranda Beverly-Whittemore’s intriguing third novel, Bittersweet, takes the reader inside the glamorous world of the super-wealthy, where everything is not as it seems, and dark, long-buried family secrets gradually make their way to the surface.
Justin Go’s ambitious, sprawling and compelling debut novel, The Steady Running of the Hour, lurches from America to England, France, Sweden Germany and Iceland—even stretching to the Himalayas—switching back and forth in time from pre-WWI England to the present.
Hargeisa, Somalia, was balanced on a fragile precipice in the fall of 1987—held in the grip of a powerful dictatorship, with signs of revolution emerging with ever-increasing frequency. Nadifa Mohamed’s moving, thought-provoking second novel, following Black Mamba Boy (2010), focuses on three female characters caught up in the maelstrom whose lives intersect in unforgettable ways.
Oak Park, Illinois, lies at the center of journalist and NPR contributor Rachel Louise Snyder’s riveting debut novel, What We've Lost Is Nothing. This community, situated on the border between Chicago’s declining, predominantly black west side and the affluent suburbs, precariously bridges those two enclaves, with all their racial, monetary and cultural disparities. The story opens just after one quiet cul-de-sac of homes—Ilios Lane—is shocked by an afternoon of home invasions, all eight families affected to varying degrees, from a single cell phone taken, to the loss of multiple electronic devices, to one house completely trashed.