Someone is setting fire to the houses of Pomeroy, New Hampshire, in Sue Miller’s latest novel, but that’s beside the point. The important thing is that Francesca “Frankie” Rowley has returned from a long sojourn in Africa as an aid worker and she doesn’t know what to do with herself. Besides, the thing that lights her fire is Bud Jacobs, the local newspaper editor whose life is just as up in the air as hers is. The two launch a passionate affair even as everyone else’s summer home is being torched.
In Your Fathers, Where Are They? And the Prophets, Do They Live Forever?, McSweeney’s founder (and 2012 National Book Award finalist for A Hologram for the King) Dave Eggers breaks out of the blocks at record-setting pace, depositing the reader, his protagonist and a captive astronaut in an abandoned building without even so much as a how-de-do.
BookPage Nonfiction Top Pick, June 2014
It was on a gray December day that 23-year-old Joanna Rakoff, nestled into her couch rereading Persuasion, received the call that she had gotten the job. Fresh out of grad school and without much of a game plan—aside from a deep-rooted desire to become a poet—Rakoff landed a position at one of the most storied literary agencies in New York City, one that represented such literary legends as F. Scott Fitzgerald, William Faulkner and Judy Blume.
In these heady days of immigration non-reform in the United States, it is worth recalling that much of this nation’s territory was once the property of Mexico, and that many immigrants have fled violence whose source can be traced to America, whether through military aid, drug demand and interdiction or flat-out invasion. One such family is the subject of Cristina Henríquez’s illuminating novel The Book of Unknown Americans, a kind of anti-census in which the statistics of Latino immigration are run backward to reveal individual struggles.
As the United States exits two protracted wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, it’s easy to forget that nearly 100,000 defense-related Americans remain in Japan, a country with which the U.S. ceased hostilities nearly 70 years ago. The American bases occupy about one-fifth of Okinawa, an island unfortunate to have served as a rampart for the Japanese mainland during the war and as an aircraft carrier for the Americans after it. Above the East China Sea by Sarah Bird attempts to bridge the gap between these two phases in Okinawan history.
Chestnut Street in Dublin, Ireland, is shaped like a horseshoe, with a “big bit of grass in the middle beside some chestnut trees,” and “thirty small houses in a semicircle.” These houses are inhabited by scores of fascinating human beings, however ordinary, who figure in these stories by Maeve Binchy, written between novels. Now, after her death in 2012 at 72, they are finally being published.
Mona Simpson’s sixth novel, Casebook, visits the country of divorce through the eyes of California teenager and Sherlock Holmes wannabe, Miles Adler-Hart. Aided by his sidekick Hector (living through the aftermath of his own parents’ breakup), Miles recounts their earnest, if often fumbling, effort to make sense of the emotional disturbance that inevitably surrounds even the most amicable end of a marriage and the survivors’ halting attempts to rebuild their lives. Simpson brings this all off with style, blending pathos with humor to create an appealing story.
BookPage Fiction Top Pick, April 2014
The title of Maggie Shipstead’s second novel, Astonish Me, is a fitting one indeed. It’s a request, a demand, a dare, all wrapped up in two little words, heavy with promise.
Ayelet Waldman (Red Hook Road, Love and Other Impossible Pursuits) has written about personal tragedy numerous times: failed marriages, the struggles of motherhood, divided families. Her latest novel, Love & Treasure, deals with a larger human tragedy: the true story of the Hungarian Gold Train during World War II. It is a slight departure from her previous work, and yet, it remains just as powerful and inspiring.
Mohandas K. Gandhi was born and raised in India and is best known for his work there as a world-renowned social reformer, political thinker, religious pluralist and prophet. If his life had followed the traditional path for someone of his family and caste, he would have remained in India, served in a prominent position and been unknown to most of the world. But as the noted scholar Ramachandra Guha demonstrates in his eminently readable and exhaustively researched Gandhi Before India, the 20 years that Gandhi spent in South Africa before his return to his home country in 1914 were fundamental to his success.