Exiles and emigrés haunt the pages of Vanessa Manko's evocative debut novel, which spans decades and continents. The story begins in 1913 Connecticut, where Russian emigré Austin has come to escape the pogroms and turmoil of his native land. After several years of hard work, he can afford to leave his cheap men's lodging house for a real boarding house, where he finds not only a room that only belongs to him, but an American woman he loves. But when the Bolshevik Revolution really takes hold in Russia, Austin finds himself under suspicion and expelled from his new home along with Julia, whom he marries at Ellis Island just before they are sent to Russia. Will he ever find his way back to the country he longs to call home?
The newspapers were calling it the Soviet Ark. The New York Times, January 1920, ran photos. A massive ship, anchored at Ellis Island on a bitter day. They stood on the peir amid the wind and ice. The sky opaque, flurries like chipped ice. The only sounds the murmur of men's conversations, seagulls crying, the moan of the boat on the day's hard air. The anchor cranking like a scream; the massive chain lifted out of the ocean, iron red with rust, calcified with sea salt, seaweed. Just moments before, he'd sat on the long benches of the waiting room, the very room he'd sat in only years prior eager to get beyond the bottled-glass windows whose light he knew was day in America—a country behind glass, the new country's light. . . . Somewhere, a man named Hoover had his name on an index card: Voronkov. Affirmed anarchist. Bail set at $10,000. Deported.
What are you reading this week?
Fall always brings a bounty of fabulous books, and this year is no different. Here's our guide to the 30+ books we're looking forward to seeing in bookstores this fall.
Lock In by John Scalzi (Tor).
The Hugo Award-winning author sets his latest in the near future, where a very contagious virus causes 1% of the people it infects to become locked in their bodies.
The Story of Land and Sea by Katy Smith Thompson (S&S).
Set in North Carolina during the American Revolution, this accomplished first novel is a lyrical exploration of one man's loves and losses.
Mr. Tall by Tony Earley (Little, Brown).
The acclaimed author of Jim the Boy returns with a collection of linked short stories.
The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell (Random House). Welcome to a world where lifespans are negotiable—Mitchell's latest is a tour de force of imagination, suspense and literary chops.
The Secret Place by Tana French (Viking). A new crime novel from the talented French is always news. This time, she's delving into the secret-filled world of an all-girl's school, which just might be harboring a murderer.
The Children Act by Ian McEwan (Doubleday). Would it feel like fall without an Ian McEwan novel? Here, the action takes place in family court, where a successful judge faces personal challenges as well as a complicated case that pits faith against medicine.
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (Knopf). Yes, we know you think you've been there, done that when it comes to post-apocalyptic fiction, but Mandel brings something fresh to the genre with a story that focuses on what remains after most everything is lost.
The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters. In a novel that early readers say could be her best yet, the British writer turns to 1920s London, where a widow and her daughter take on a young married couple as boarders—needless to say, things don't work out quite as planned.
Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle (FSG). The lead singer of The Mountain Goats makes his fiction debut with a world-bending story featuring a role-playing game and its mysterious creator. (read more)
The Betrayers by David Bezmozgis (Little, Brown). When an Israeli politician finds himself attacked by his own for taking a moderate position on settlements in the West Bank, he retreats to Yalta, the place he vacationed as a child. But in running away, he is instead forced to confront his past.
Rooms by Lauren Oliver (Ecco). The popular YA author makes her adult debut in this story of a family who inherit a mansion when their father dies—along with its ghosts.
A Sudden Light by Garth Stein (S&S). In his first adult book since the runaway bestseller The Art of Racing in the Rain, Stein returns to the Pacific Northwest—but this time, he's telling a story of fathers and sons.
Rebel Yell: The Violence, Passion, and Redemption of Stonewall Jackson by S.C. Gwynne (Scribner). A journalist whose first work of history (Empire of the Summer Moon) was a bestseller and a Pulitzer Prize finalist, Gwynne applies his stellar storytelling skills to the story of Stonewall Jackson, a mediocre professor from the Virginia Military Institute who became one of the Confederacy’s most brilliant generals.
The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher and Other Stories by Hilary Mantel (Holt). As the world eagerly awaits the final volume in her Wolf Hall Trilogy, Mantel throws us a bone with this collection of accomplished short fiction. (read more)
The Prince of Los Cocuyos by Richard Blanco (Ecco). The first Latino and openly gay inaugural poet (he read his poem “One Today” at Barack Obama’s second inauguration) offers a lyrical, hilarious account of growing up in Miami as the son of Cuban immigrants.
Nora Webster by Colm Toibin (Scribner). In his seventh novel, the acclaimed Irish novelist follows the quiet life of a widowed young mother, who must bring her four sons up alone in her small community of Wexford, Ireland.
A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James (Riverhead). In this literary tour de force that recalls Toni Morrison, James takes on Jamaican history through the attempted assassination of reggae star Bob Marley.
Some Luck by Jane Smiley (Knopf). The Pulitzer Prize-winning author of A Thousand Acres is back with an ambitious new project: a trilogy that spans from 1920-today. This first installment introduces the Langdon family, an Iowa farming clan at the center of her story. (read more)
Lila by Marilynne Robinson (FSG). Robinson returns to the quiet Iowa community she created in Gilead with the story of yet another of the town's inhabitants: Lila, the mysterious young woman who comes to town and marries John Ames. (read more)
The Boy Who Drew Monsters by Keith Donohue (Picador). Donohue is known for his ability to craft eerie and magical tales. His latest is no exception: It tells the story of a young boy whose talent for drawing monsters suddenly starts affecting the real world.
The Innovators by Walter Isaacson (Simon & Schuster). Journalist and author Isaacson, who has penned biographies of Steve Jobs, Albert Einstein and Benjamin Franklin, turns now to the "Inventors, Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks" who brought us the computer and the Internet. His narrative reveals the contributions of little known engineers and programmers, as well as the stars of the show (Bill Gates, Steve Wozniak, Larry Page, etc.).
Above the Waterfall by Ron Rash (Ecco). One of America's most beloved Southern writers returns with another story of modern-day Appalachia, where a young park ranger and a longtime sheriff join forces to solve a crime that threatens their community.
Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult (Ballantine). An elephant sanctuary is at the heart of Picoult's latest, which finds a lonely young woman attempting to track down the mother who left her without a word a decade before.
The Mime Order by Samantha Shannon (Bloomsbury). The sequel to The Bone Season promises more thrills in a near-future London, where clairvoyant Paige Mahoney continues to uncover the secrets of the Rephaim. [EDITOR'S NOTE: This book has been moved to January 2015.]
Prince Lestat by Anne Rice (Knopf). Rice returns to the genre that made her famous with her latest, which brings back everyone's favorite vampire: Lestat. Vampires around the world are being massacred, and Lestat may be their only hope.
Jerry Lee Lewis: His Own Story by Rick Bragg (Harper). It’s an author/subject match made in heaven: The chronicler of hardscrabble Southern life recounts the adventures of the hell-raising musician who brought us “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On” and “Great Balls of Fire.”
Yes Please by Amy Poehler (Dey Street). The first book from the SNL alum and “Parks and Recreation” star promises personal stories and advice on everything from sex to parenting. We hope it’s as funny and appealing as Poehler herself.
Let Me Be Frank with You by Richard Ford (Ecco). In case you couldn't guess by the title, Frank Bascombe (The Sportswriter) is back in Ford's latest book, which finds Frank attempting to put his life back together after Hurricane Sandy.
A Map of Betrayal by Ha Jin (Pantheon). The author of Waiting investigates the secrets that can be hidden within even the closest of families in his latest book, which veers between post-WWII China and the modern-day U.S.
Us by David Nicholls (Harper). The best-selling British writer, whose tear-jerker One Day was a dark horse hit back in 2009 and later became a film starring Anne Hathaway, returns this fall with a second novel that follows one man's attempt to rescue his broken marriage.
*Pub dates subject to change.
The myth of the rugged outlaw and the Wild West gets turned on its head in Courtney Collins' inventive debut, The Untold. It is based on the real-life story of Australian female outlaw Jessie Hickman, but making a woman the hero of a Western isn't the only risk Collins takes here: She also chooses to make the narrator of her story a dead baby, born to and killed by Jessie in a desperate act to preserve her own survival.
Collins says she's always been drawn to "alternative histories—histories told by aboriginals, by migrants, by women. . . . Maybe it’s because I went to Catholic school, and my education about these types of people was extremely moderate.” Those willing to veer onto the path not typically taken will thrill to this lyrical debut.
Though Jason Mott's second novel won't hit shelves until September 30, the film rights were snapped up earlier this month by Lionsgate. The Wonder of All Things (MIRA) tells the story of a young girl whose miraculous healing powers are discovered by the media after a horrible accident. (read more)
Though the novel isn't YA, its teenaged heroine makes the film likely to appeal to fans of recent book-to-film blockbusters like The Hunger Games or the upcoming The Giver, and Lionsgate also cites films with a supernatural twist, like The Green Mile.
Mott's first novel, The Returned, was adapted into a popular ABC-TV series.
Any ideas about who should be cast as 13-year-old Ava?
Use your past favorites to discover your favorite new voice! Here are some notable first novels paired with their 2014 read-alikes. Agree? Disagree? Duke it out with me in the comments.
Susanna Clarke's twist on the conventions of the magician's tale captured reader imaginations nearly 10 years ago. Lauren Owen brings the same energy and creativity to the tired trope of the undead in The Quick, which is set in the Victorian era. When Charlotte's brother, James, goes missing in London, she leaves their isolated Yorkshire estate to discover what's happend to him—and uncovers a fate that just might be worse than death.
No, it's not just the word "box" that these books have in common—it's the creeping sense of horror and the difficulty you'll have falling asleep after reading them. The bogeyman in Malerman's debut goes nameless and undescribed, since to see it is to go mad. But its very vagueness increases the menace.
Like Jonathan Safran Foer's acclaimed debut, Boris Fishmann's first novel follows a young man who is grappling with his Jewish heritage in an unusual way. But instead of traveling through Eastern Europe, Slava Gelman is helping his grandparents' friends apply for restitution from the German government—whether or not they were directly affected by the Holocaust.
Fans of Sue Monk Kidd's Secret Life of Bees and Beth Hoffman's Saving CeeCee Honeycutt shouldn't miss the first novel from McNeal, a touching coming-of-age story set in Civil Rights Era New Orleans. Dollbaby is the story of Ibby Bell, a young girl who is abandoned by her flighty mother on the doorstep of the grandmother she's never met in the wake of her father's tragic death. As Ibby adjusts to life in the South—and to the habits of her eccentric grandmother, Fannie—she must navigate some troubling family secrets.
Like the works of Sarah Addison Allen and early Alice Hoffman, Creech's debut is centered on women who have more than a touch of magic in their lives. The Lenore women have long been able to make a living off their unique perfumes, which contain a secret ingredient from a magical flower cultivated by their ancestor. But when the flower suddenly begins to sicken and die, a prodigal Lenore sister may be key to bringing them back to life.
Ben Fountain took on the military and the media in his award-winning debut; German-born author Clark takes a similarly satirical and darkly humorous look at the food industry in Sweetness #9, the story of the inventor of an artificial sweetener and his slow realization that the consequences of his invention might be more serious than he could have imagined.
Fans of the friendly, uplifting and heartwarming will enjoy the first work of fiction from Woodroof, a longtime NPR contributor. It stars a long suffering college professor who falls in love and finds out he has a son all in the same eventful summer. Eccentric hero Tom's crooked path to love and family will charm fans of Graeme Simsion's quirky first novel.
Nancy Horan was one of the early adopters of the "telling stories of lost women in history" genre. In her remarkable first novel, Kimberly Elkins brings not one but two historical women to life in her debut novel, which tells the story of Laura Bridgman, the first woman to learn the language of the deaf/blind/mute that was later taught to Helen Keller.
Just as Hannah Kent brought to life the vanished world of 1820s Iceland, so Jessie Burton reveals the intricacies of 17th-century Amsterdam in her first novel, The Miniaturist. When country girl Nelle marries a rich merchant, she is at first in awe of his opulent household—and his icy sister, Marin. But as Nelle gains a foothold in her new family, she realizes they are hiding some dangerous secrets.
Boston writer and visual artist Annie Weatherwax's perceptive debut, All We Had (Scribner) is the story of an unusual mother-daughter duo attempting to find a place to belong. At just 13 years old, Ruthie convinces her mother, Rita, to leave her no-good boyfriend and start a new life. The pair hits the road, cruising through small-town America—a vista of diners, local businesses and memorable characters that Weatherwax describes with flair.
In a guest blog post, Weatherwax explores the appeal of the road novel, explaining what the pressure-cooker of car travel brings out in her characters.
At the beginning of my debut novel, All We Had, my protagonist, Ruthie, and her mother, Rita, spend a lot of time in their used Ford Escort. The car is central to their lives. It’s the only thing they own, and when they have no other choice, it doubles as their home.
The car is a built-in pressure cooker. With nothing to distract them their highs and lows become heightened and intensify.
At first they feel invincible. Speeding along the freeway, with the windows down and the music blaring, they are full of almost exalted hope as they escape their California and head east towards Boston to what they are certain is the promise land.
But car rides can become endlessly boring and boredom can quickly lead to irritability. “[A]ll the things my mother usually did—tapping the steering wheel with her thumbs when she liked a song, biting her bottom lip when she wasn’t smoking—suddenly annoyed me,” Ruthie says.
If you leave characters in a car long enough there is bound to be drama. When emotions escalate there is no way to avoid them. Characters are restricted in their seats. When arguments are over they must sit with their feelings and negotiate the psychic space between them and, in a speeding car, there is a limit to the actions they can take.
At one point after a particularly bad fight, Ruthie rummages through the glove compartment and when she finds gum shoves the whole pack into her mouth. One piece after another, she crumples up the empty wrappers, throws them on the floor then abruptly hawks the entire wad of gum out. Her mother retaliates by blatantly ignoring her.
The lack of distraction in the confines of a car lends itself to the exploration of daydreams. Could there be a better vehicle (pardon the pun) for a writer?
The vantage point from inside a car is unique. The whoosh and rhythm of sounds has a particular quality. The skyline looks different and the fragmented glimpses from rearview and side mirrors can be astonishingly beautiful. In fiction a car can do many things. Most obviously it can reveal status and move characters from point A to point B.
For this writer, it’s the confinement of a car that exhilarates me. Limitation takes away choice but it also relieves the paralysis of choice. Creativity is often fostered by such constraints. Restrictions and obstacles can spark connections between things that are not necessarily obvious. The true nature of a human being can reveal itself when characters make decisions under pressure and a car can provide that pressure.
A car ride implies that the desired time and place resides at some point in the future. But the destination is often not what’s important; it’s what happens on the journey that can truly move a story forward.
For more on Annie Weatherwax and All We Had, visit her website.
Author photo by Lou Goodman
The power of TaraShea Nesbit's first novel, The Wives of Los Alamos, builds slowly and catches the reader by surprise. Told in a chorus of women's voices, the book provides a powerful portrait of life in Los Alamos, New Mexico, during the years of the fateful Manhattan Project. Clothed in secrecy, the project's aim was unknown to even many of the men who worked on it—and their long-suffering wives, torn from homes across the country and brought to this desolate area, knew even less.
As Nesbit writes,
“What did we think our husbands were doing in the lab? We suspected, because the military was involved, that they were building a communication device, a rocket, or a new weapon. We ruled out submarines because we were in the desert—but we closely considered types of code breaking.”
A time capsule in book form, this masterful debut recreates a lost world. Check out our full review here.
Debut author Graeme Simsion had a surprise bestseller on his hands last fall with The Rosie Project. On December 30, the Australian author returns with a sequel that promises to be every bit as charming: The Rosie Effect (S&S). Don and Rosie, now married, are living in New York City. Don is pleased with the success of the Wife Project, but now he's about to embark on the Father Project—Rosie is pregnant. But is he too wrapped up in learning how to be a dad and in sorting out his best friend Gene's tumultuous love life to notice that Rosie needs him, too?
Did you read The Rosie Project? Looking forward to this sequel?
Publishers are always on the lookout for the next big thing, which means plenty of choice for fans of new voices. After highlighting four outstanding August debuts in our print issue, it's time to take a look back at the year as a whole. Here are our 12 most notable first novels of the year (so far!).
About the book: A young widow who's always lived in the shadow of her famous husband must take a new tack on life after his unexpected and sudden death. This story of self-discovery is fun, relatable and poignant.
About the author: Radziwill is a star on "The Real Housewives of New York," who honed her writing chops with a best-selling memoir, What Remains, which explores her own widowhood.
Read more: Check out the review from our February issue.
About the book: A family of four leaves their home in Alabama to reach the California coast by the time the Rapture arrives. Teenaged Jess and her older sister, Elise, have plenty of earthly problems to deal with along the way—and they're not as sure as their parents that the end is near.
About the author: Miller, who grew up in Mississippi, is currently the John and Renée Grisham Writer-in-Residence at Ole Miss. She published a short story collection, Big World, in 2009.
About the book: Told in the voices of five very different childhood friends, Butler's debut is a paean to small-town Midwestern life and an exploration of how friendships can change over time. Bonus: One of the characters just might be kinda-sorta based on a famous Wisconsin musician who went to high school with Butler.
About the author: A Wisconsin native, Butler attended the Iowa Writers' Workshop and lived in the Twin Cities before moving back home to Fall Creek with his wife, an attorney, and their two children.
Read more: Check out the interview from our March issue.
About the book: Set in a small town in the Ozarks, McHugh's debut follows a young girl whose friend's disappearance stirs up questions—and secrets—relating to her own missing mother.
About the author: McHugh drew inspiration from her own experience of moving with her family to the Ozarks as a teen—where she first discovered that small-town life didn't necessarily mean an idyllic life—as well as from the real-life disappearance of a Missouri teen.
About the book: The story begins four years after then-11-year-old Justin Campbell was kidnapped—on the day that his father, Eric, receives a phone call saying Justin is coming home. Though they're overjoyed, the Campbells soon discover that putting their family back together might be just as painful as having it ripped apart.
About the author: Johnston is the current Director of Creative Writing at Harvard, and he was one of the National Book Foundation's "5 Under 35" in 2005.
Read more: Check out the review from our May issue.
About the book: Maud is worried about her best friend, Elizabeth, whom she hasn't seen in what feels like ages. But her daughter, and Elizabeth's son, blame Maud's worry on her increasing dementia. It soon becomes clear to the reader that Elizabeth's disappearance is bringing long-buried memories to the surface of Maud's now-cloudy mind, and the reader is completely involved in this double mystery.
About the author: Healey not only writes books—she knows how to bind them, having completed a book-binding degree in London before getting her MA in creative writing at the University of East Anglia.
Read more: Check out the review from our June issue.
About the book: A forgotten American life takes center stage in this compelling debut, which tells the story of Laura Bridgman, a deaf, blind and mute woman who was born in the early 1800s. She was the first person to learn to communicate by finger-spell, a language that was later taught to Helen Keller.
About the author: Elkins is a screenwriter, playwright and essayist who has lived in cities around the globe. She has degrees from Duke, Boston University and Florida State.
About the book: This homage to all things Gothic is the rare book that both feels completely grounded in its period setting and completely relevant to our modern times—and puts a creative twist on the somewhat tired vampire trend.
About the author: British author Owen is currently completing her doctorate in English Literature at Durham University.
About the book: After the apocalypse, a young couple finds all the society they need in each other—until Frida realizes she's pregnant. Their search for civilization leads them to a mysterious settlement that may or may not provide the sanctuary they seek.
About the author: A graduate of Oberlin and the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop, Lepucki has worked as a staff writer for The Millions.
Read more: Check out the review from our July issue.
About the book: Decades of colorful Caribbean history come to life in this engaging first novel, which follows the fortunes of one family after their arrival in the Virgin Islands and includes a touch of magic.
About the author: Yanique is a native of the Virgin Islands and now lives with her family in Brooklyn. She has received a Fulbright scholarship for her writing.
About the book: Research scientist David Leveraux starts to wonder whether the artificial sweetener he's created in his lab—and unleashed on the world—has a dark side.
About the author: Born in Germany to a Norwegian mother and Texan father, Clark has lived in five states and five countries. He is the author of a short story collection, Vladimir's Mustache, and currently teaches writing at Augsburg College in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Read more: Check out the review from our August issue.
About the book: Alma thinks she has left her small-town past behind her, but when her troubled younger sister is found dead on the side of the road, she is pulled back to Montana to discover the truth—and care for her orphaned young niece.
About the author: Like her main character, La Seur is a lawyer who left her home state of Montana to practice in the big city.
Agree? Disagree? let us know in the comments!
Related in BookPage: Check out our 2013 list of noteworthy debuts.
Fantasy fans, rejoice: There's a new series in town. Bay Area writer Erika Johansen has made an amibtious debut with Queen of the Tearling, the first in a planned series starring a young princess, Kelsea Glynn, who is attempting to regain her rightful throne from a pretender who wants her dead. Our reviewer writes:
In addition to the host of immediate threats, Johansen sets up a few mysteries that will be resolved over the course of her planned series. Most are common fantasy tropes—who is Kelsea’s father? What exactly is the story of the evil queen?—but Johansen’s world also contains a bigger mystery of setting: When and where, exactly, is the present action taking place? While it feels relatively medieval, there are numerous references to a Crossing, and everything Pre-Crossing sounds like the real world (our world). This suggests the kingdoms of Tear and Mortmesne may have more of a science fiction/post-apocalyptic tinge than is immediately apparent.