It's official: We can knock one title off our list of long-awaited second novels. Helen Simonson is returning on March 22 with a follow-up to Major Pettigrew's Last Stand. Set in 1914, The Summer Before the War is also set in the English countryside, during a summer so beautiful that no one can quite believe that the rumbles of war will come to anything. The small town of Rye is more bothered by the new Latin teacher, who turns out to be not only a woman (which is controversial enough) but also attractive and, even worse, assertive.
Though set in the modern day, Major Pettigrew was full of old-fashioned charm, so Simonson's writing style should be an excellent fit for historical fiction. I'm looking forward to seeing what she does with this one. Will you read it?
Historical writer extraordinaire Tracy Chevalier (Girl with a Pearl Earring; Remarkable Creatures) continues to explore America's past in her new novel, At the Edge of the Orchard, which will be published on March 16.
Chevalier, who is American but has lived in London for years, began her career writing about Western Europe and England. Her last book, The Last Runaway, was her first to be set in her home country. With At the Edge of the Orchard, she moves from 1830s Ohio to Gold Rush-era California to tell the story of two generations of the Goodenough family, whose search for a better life is as turbulent as the times that surround them. Including real-life figures like the legendary Johnny Appleseed, this sounds like an engrossing American drama. Will you read it?
Okparanta's debut novel is a touching coming-of-age story set during and after the Nigerian Civil War.
After her father dies in a bombing, Ijeoma is sent away to safety by her widowed mother. The only bright side of her exile is that Ijeoma falls in love—but the fellow displaced teenager who wins her heart is not only from a different ethic community, but also another girl. When she returns to her mother after the war, in disgrace after her romance is discovered, this defiance of custom results in extensive study of the Bible, with emphasis on the book of Leviticus.
By the end of all those lessons, all that praying, if anyone had asked how I felt, I would have told them that I was exhausted. Not angry, not confused, not even penitent. Just exhausted.
A week before I was to leave to board at the secondary school, two or three days after that last Bible study session, Mama turned to me again and asked, "Do you still think of her in that way?"
I looked into her eyes, knowing better than to tell the truth, but I could not get myself to speak the lie. I shook my head. I forced myself to shake it with authority, making sure not to blink. It was the first time that I had lied to Mama. I comforted myself with the thought that at least I had not spoken the lie.
Mama smiled, patted me on the shoulder. "Very good, my child. Very, very good." She signed, then she said, "The power of God! The wonderful power of our glorious and almighty God!"
What are you reading this week?
Pulitzer Prize-winning author Elizabeth Strout returns in January with a new novel, My Name Is Lucy Barton.
Strout explored the complicated relationships of three brothers in her last book, The Burgess Boys, but in her new novel, she once again explores the mother-daughter bond—the relationship that powered her knockout 1999 debut, Amy & Isabelle.
Lucy Barton and her mother are long-estranged, but when Lucy needs help after surgery, her mother comes for a visit. Their reunion brings years of tension and longing to the surface, as Lucy reflects on her difficult childhood and her relationship with her own two daughters.
Will you read it?
Canadian writer Yann Martel hit a home run with Life of Pi, an international bestseller and Man Booker Prize winner—even the film ended up with a handful of Academy Awards. His second novel, Beatrice & Virgil, was a bestseller but didn't quite reach the same level as his debut (allegories about the Holocaust are not necessarily an easy sell).
Will his third novel be more successful in capturing readers' imaginations? We will find out in February, when The High Mountains of Portugal is published by Spiegel & Grau. As with his previous work, the premise is anything but usual: Blending three storylines that cover most of the 20th century, the novel is set both in Lisbon and the mythical mountains of the title, which just might contain an artifact that will change the way the world thinks about religion. Oh, and there's also a chimpanzee involved. We have to admit, we're curious! How about you?
The latest from Iain Pears—author of the worldwide bestseller An Instance of the Fingerpost—is an ambitious literary work with a sci-fi twist. Actually, "ambitious" might be an understatement: This book is so complex that there's an app to help unravel it. (Is that a first? I'm pretty sure that's a first.)
Arcadia follows several different characters—including an Oxford professor, a teenager, a mathematician and a scholar's assistant—through 10 storylines that span decades and maybe even centuries. Knopf will publish it in the US on February 16.
Pears wrote in the Guardian that he decided to build an app to make it easier to play with narrative structure, and to allow readers to leave out any threads that "may displease." But it also taught him new ways to write: "Most peculiarly of all, I found that the story was most easily structured by looking at it visually; whole strands were expanded or even deleted simply to create a more pleasing shape in the writing program I was using. On every occasion, the more satisfactory the appearance, the better the story read, and I still haven’t quite figured out how that works."
The book has just gone on sale in the UK, so I guess we'll have a chance to see whether readers there embrace reading via app before Arcadia lands on US shores. Will you look for it in February?
Our month-long celebration of debut fiction may be ending today, but there are plenty of new voices to look forward to this fall. Read on for some of 2015's remaining First Fiction highlights.
The Art of Crash Landing by Melissa DeCarlo (Harper)
When you’re down on your luck, sometimes you have to look to the past for answers. At least, that’s the plan for Mattie Wallace, the resilient heroine of this sparkling debut.
A Bright Moon for Fools by Jasper Gibson (Viking)
This debut from the cofounder of a British comedy website (The Poke) follows a man with some serious trouth issues as he tries to outrun his past mistakes in Venezuela.
The Courtesan by Alexandra Curry (Dutton)
Set during the legendary Qing dynasty, this historical novel tells the story of a real-life Chinese courtesan whose world opened up after a scholar chooses her as his concubine. Suddenly Jinhua has the opportunity to travel the world, something rarely afforded to Chinesewomen—or indeed, many men—in the 1880s.
Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg (Scout Press)
Already longlisted for the 2015 Man Booker Prize, this debut from literary agent Clegg (Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man) is a scorching depiction of a community's grief after a life-changing event.
The Gates of Evangeline by Hester Young (Putnam)
A grieving mother starts experiencing visions after the death of her son, and wonders if she can solve a long-cold missing child case, in this Southern Gothic debut.
The Girl from the Garden by Parnaz Fourutan (Ecco)
The fortunes of a wealthy Iranian-Jewish family are explored in this poignant, accomplished and cinematic first novel from a recipient of the PEN USA Emerging Voices Fellowship.
Under the Udala Trees by Chinelo Okparanta (HMH)
When civil war breaks out in Nigeria, Ijeoma is sent away to safety and finds love—but with someone who is not only of a different ethnicity, but also another girl.
A Window Opens by Elisabeth Egan (Simon & Schuster)
An I Don't Know How She Does It for this digitally plugged-in decade, Egan's playful and provocative meditation on what it means to “have it all" is one of the fall's most charming releases.
After the Parade by Lori Ostlund (Scribner)
This gentle midlife coming-of-age story follows a gay man after the collapse of a nearly 20-year relationship who goes on a redemptive journey to his hometown.
Another Woman's Daughter by Fiona Sussman (Berkley)
Apartheid South Africa forms the backdrop of this powerful story of a mother and daughter who are caught up in the racial tensions of the day.
Bats of the Republic by Zachary Thomas Dodson (Doubleday)
An elaborately designed novel that weaves a 19th-century manuscript into its pages, this story of a future dystopia created through an alternate past (Texas gained independence, for one) is an original and thrilling ride.
Cleopatra's Shadows by Emily Holleman (Little, Brown)
Did you know Cleopatra had a little sister? Neither did we, but this historically detailed exploration of life on the Nile during the Ptolemy dynasty feels like a breath of fresh air after the "Downton"-inspired wave of 20th-century historical fiction. Fans of Madeline Miller's Song of Achilles should take note.
City of Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg (Random House)
This is probably the fall's most buzzed-about debut, and at more than 900 pages, it demands a significant time investment. But early word has it that the story, set in 1970s New York City and told by multiple narrators, is one that's worth getting lost in. Hallberg, a longtime contributor to the Millions blog, sold the manuscript for seven figures.
Gold Fame Citrus by Claire Vaye Watkins (Riverhead)
Watkins, whose short story collection, Battleborn, was highly touted in 2012, is finally releasing a work of full-length fiction. Set in a near future where water has nearly vanished from the American West, it's a story of survival, weakness and cults.
The Marriage Pact by M.J. Pullen (Thomas Dunne)
A former therapist makes her fiction debut with a smart story of Atlanta 30-somethings coming to terms with life, careers and love.
Our final debut of the week is Erin Duffy's Bond Girl. Duffy spent years on the floor as a trader, and she knows the world her book is set in well.
I must confess to panicking when I glimpsed the shiny black Louboutin stiletto embellishing Erin Duffy’s debut novel, Bond Girl. Call me a snob, but I have no interest in reading anything remotely resembling an homage to "Sex and the City." Thus I was delighted to discover that Duffy’s maiden literary voyage has steered clear of the silly and sordid clichés of so-called “chick lit,” and instead delivers a delectable tale of a plucky female bond trader whose Wall Street escapades just happen to coincide with the economic Armageddon of 2008.
Read our full review here.
So you sped through All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr's riveting second novel set during World War II. Starring two teenagers—a French girl and a German boy—on opposite sides of the war whose lives become intertwined in surprising ways, this magical, almost fable-like story is a sweeping saga. If you're looking for a book worthy of following it, allow us to humbly present the options below.
If you were drawn to Doerr's not-unsympathetic portrait of German life during wartime—and the explanation of how everyday people could be caught up in the Nazi machine—pick up Hummel's realistic story of a German hausfrau on the homefront, which is based on the lives of her grandparents. Full of pitch-perfect details about the hardships faced by families as resources were diverted to the army, this novel "drive[s] home the humanity and suffering of the people who are frequently considered only as the enemy."
This moving debut, set during the Chechen wars, also features a cast of characters whose lives, at first, appear to have little in common, but are eventually shown to be linked in surprising ways. It also possesses the same emotional heft as Doerr's bestseller—and hey, we already know you like books by authors named Anthony!
Was it the peek at a lesser-known side of World War II that drew you to All the Light We Cannot See? Then you should pick up Jamie Ford's accomplished 2009 debut novel, which sheds light on the shameful treatment of Japanese-Americans in their own country during that conflict. "Ford aims to portray the Japanese-American internment with solid historicity, choosing to focus on how the events affected the course of real people’s lives. And he succeeds," according to our review.
If you thought that Doerr's portrayal of life in France during and World War II felt real, don't miss this long-lost masterpiece. Némirovsky's manuscript for Suite Française was written as the Germans rolled into France, and is that rarest of treasures: A fictional account of WWII as it unfolded. And it was only found some 50 years later, long after the author herself (a Jew) was murdered in Auschwitz.
Fans of the fable-like feel of All the Light We Cannot See should consider picking up The Illumination, which imagines that the physical and psychological pain of others is visible—shining like a beacon. Through this device, Brockemeier explores the links between suffering and beauty, using the stories of six different characters connected by a journal of love notes, with a wisdom and compassion that will be familiar to readers of Doerr's work.
So you loved All the Light but thought that maybe, just maybe, it could use a little more action? An illicit affair or two? Gillham's twisty debut is your best bet. Set in 1943 Berlin, it's the story of an ordinary German woman who somehow finds herself helping Jewish refugees—even as her husband fights for the Third Reich. The fact that her short-lived lover, whom she still longs for, is Jewish might have something to do with it.
What books do you recommend to readers of All the Light We Cannot See? Tell us in the comments!
RELATED CONTENT: Read our previous "Read it Next" posts.
Which debut author from 2015 is destined to be your new favorite author? Let an old favorite lead you to it.
If you liked The Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Weisburger, you'll love Oh! You Pretty Things by Shanna Mahin.
This workplace drama has loads of humor and a touch of romance, all set against a finely drawn LA backdrop that's just as full of crazy as the fashion industry. (read our review)
Set on Staten Island, this family drama follows a close-knit Irish-Italian family whose world changed forever on 9/11. Like Butler's debut, it is especially good at making the relationships between men feel real. (read our review)
Like Messud's Nora Marie Eldridge, the protagonist of Hausfrau is angry (albeit more passive in expressing it) and definitely not a role model (/understatement). Yet somehow, you can't keep from turning the pages to see what she'll do next. And like Messud, Essbaum has some serious literary chops. (read our review)
Like Sebold's modern classic, Walsh's debut traces the effect of a horrible crime on a community. Walsh takes it a step further, though, to provide a thoughtful examination of what these crimes say about society—especially men—adding timely thematic resonance alongside his suspenseful story. (read our review)
Readers who couldn't get enough of the historical detail and chilly Nordic landscapes of Kent's debut will want to pick up Wolf Winter, which also pits outsiders against their community and features a mysterious death. (read our review)
Like Miller's Orange Prize winner, Cadwallader's debut takes readers to a vanished world in poetic and polished prose. Her heroine, though, is no warrior, but a 17-year-old girl who voluntarily retreats from society to become a holy woman, or Anchoress. (read our feature story)