How to Be Both, by the British writer Ali Smith, tells two interconnected stories. The first is about Georgina, known as George, a 1960s teenager outside of London grieving the death of her mother and taking her first tentative steps toward love. The other is the story of the 15th-century Italian painter Francesco del Cossa, a historical figure responsible for the remarkable frescos in the Palazzo Schifanoia in Ferrara, Italy—and about whom very little else is known.
The Settlement is a community of about 100 people who live outside of the view of the rest of America, tucked away on a patch of land near Egypt, Maine. This curious collective, the focus of Carolyn Chute’s latest novel, Treat Us Like Dogs and We Will Become Wolves, is not altogether unlike the one inhabited by Chute herself. The author and her husband live off the grid in Parsonfield, Maine, where they run the 2nd Maine Militia and rely on the community around them for sustenance.
Michel Faber’s phenomenal The Book of Strange New Things is primed to become a classic on space, faith and, above all, devotion.
With the publication of The Lay of the Land in 2006, it appeared Richard Ford had written the final chapter in the story of Frank Bascombe, one that began with The Sportswriter and continued with the Pulitzer Prize-winning Independence Day. Happily, Ford has given readers one last chance to enjoy his knowing, wry protagonist.
A Map of Betrayal, the new novel from the PEN/Faulkner-winning author Ha Jin (Waiting, Nanjing Requiem) is a haunting tale of two families and two countries that are linked together by the life of a single spy. When American-born professor of Asian Studies Lillian Shang inherits her father Gary’s journals, she uncovers details of his four-decade career as a spy for Communist China. But when history threatens to repeat itself in the next generation, Lillian must struggle with issues of loyalty and betrayal.
Three novels exploring the confines of art and artistry make great picks for reading groups this month.
Rebecca Makkai’s second novel, The Hundred-Year House, is an appealing mix of archival mystery, ghost story and historical novel. Told in reverse chronology, it unfolds as a kind of bookish scavenger hunt set in a former artist’s colony, uncovering clues and putting pieces of the fictional puzzle in place. I was able to catch up with Rebecca at Nashville’s Southern Festival of Books.
Gina B. Nahai’s fifth novel, The Luminous Heart of Jonah S., is a book full of enchantments and mysteries. The mystery that launches her tale is a contemporary murder: On a morning in June 2013, Neda Raiis, the wife of a Iranian Jewish exile named Raphael’s Son, reports finding her husband with his throat slit in an idling car at the gate of their Los Angeles mansion. By the time the police arrive, his body has disappeared.
In December 1976, two days before the Smile Jamaica concert to promote political unity, armed gunmen walked into reggae star Bob Marley’s house at 56 Hope Road in Kingston and began shooting. Marley sustained injuries in his arm and chest; his wife, Rita, was hit as she raced to protect their children; and his manager, Don Taylor, was also injured. In Marlon James’ powerful new novel, A Brief History of Seven Killings, the attack is the centerpiece of a blistering commentary on Jamaica in the 1970s and its inextricable links both to Cold War politics and to the drug wars of the following decade.
In 1976, two days before the Smile Jamaica concert to promote political unity, armed gunmen walked into reggae star Bob Marley’s house at 56 Hope Road in Kingston and began shooting in what was a failed assassination attempt. In prize-winning author Marlon James’ groundbreaking new novel A Brief History of Seven Killings, the attack becomes a centerpiece of a blistering commentary on Jamaican society in the 1970s and its inextricable links both to Cold War politics and to the drug wars of the 1980s.