A notable tourist attraction in Thailand is the bridge “over the River Kwai”—part of the Death Railway built during World War II by the Japanese using the labor of Allied POWs under atrocious conditions. The Narrow Road to the Deep North, by Australian Richard Flanagan, follows the Australian contributors to this grandiose project, as well as its Japanese administrators, many of whom were destined to become prisoners themselves.
In her debut novel, Season of the Dragonflies, Sarah Creech delivers a masterly portrayal of sisterly sibling rivalry, Southern style. Creech’s own experience growing up in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in a house brimming with women storytellers with a penchant for the mystical inspired the novel’s setting and plot, which unfolds as the latest generation of Lenore women are swept up into a fragrant family crisis.
In Kim Boykin’s latest Southern-steeped novel, Palmetto Moon, a young woman struggles for independence and the right to choose her own life path in 1947 South Carolina. Vada Hadley is young, beautiful, college-educated and determined to choose a future that is certain to shock her very rich, privileged parents in post-war Charleston, South Carolina. Before she can move forward, however, she must summon the courage to walk away from the society wedding of the year—her own. To do so will disappoint her mother, outrage her father and deeply annoy her wealthy fiancé.
“We all forget things,” says a character in one of the four engaging novellas Mary Gordon collects in The Liar’s Wife. “We must.” Yet despite this sage observation, it is really the act of remembering past associations that serves as a common thread in this beautifully-rendered book. Gordon writes about young, intelligent women and men in the throes of self-discovery at formative junctures in their lives.
M.P. Cooley’s first novel Ice Shear is a solid, convincing mystery set in the snowy shadows of Hopewell Falls, New York. The story follows June Lyons, a former FBI agent who traded her big badge for the life of a small-town police officer to care for her sick husband, who has since passed. In an attempt to spend more time with her daughter and to fall in better with the police force, she volunteers for the graveyard shift. Her nights pass with no more excitement than driving drunks home and buying doughnuts for the morning shift.
Surgeon-turned-author Gabriel Weston made her literary debut with a gripping medical memoir. In her first novel, Dirty Work, she again turns to medicine for inspiration, this time investigating one of its most morally fraught procedures: abortion. In a behind-the-book story, Weston explains why she felt drawn to explore this contentious issue, and why she believes the two sides may be closer together than we think.
“Vietnam Vietnam Vietnam, we’ve all been there.” So says war correspondent Michael Herr on the persistent reality of a war curiously prone to re-examination. In The Lotus and the Storm, by Vietnamese-American author Lan Cao, this revisiting takes the form of a dialogue of sorts between a daughter and a father, lotuses swept to America’s shores by the storm of the American intervention.
Three acclaimed novels focused on history and family dynamics are sure to spark discussion in your reading groups this month.
In the summer of 1976, 19-year-old David Barwise takes a job at a holiday resort in the seaside town of Skegness, England, hoping to avoid spending the summer with his mother and stepfather. But there is something more sinister underlying David’s reasoning: The beach resort is where his biological father died 15 years earlier, and David feels strangely drawn to the area, despite the tension it causes within his family.