In John Irving’s 14th novel, aging Mexican-American novelist Juan Diego Guerrero travels from his home in Iowa to the Philippines. He plans to fulfill a decades-old promise he made to a Vietnam draft dodger to honor a father killed during World War II, and takes a former writing student as his tour guide. En route to Manila, he is overtaken and seduced by a ghostly mother-daughter duo: fans of Juan Diego’s novels, who will reappear in unexpected, -sexually-charged moments throughout his journey. Going on and off his blood pressure medications, he travels in an almost hallucinatory state. He dreams.
Stacy Schiff, author of The Witches, a brilliant, exceptionally well-researched account of the 1692 Salem witch trials, says her number one requirement when writing her prize-winning nonfiction books is “a big desk, an enormous desk!”
Golden Age, the third and final volume of Jane Smiley’s splendid The Last Hundred Years trilogy, opens during a 1987 family reunion at the Langdon family farm in Iowa. Gathered are the surviving children and a number of grandchildren of Walter and Rosanna Langdon, the progenitors and subject of the trilogy’s first volume, Some Luck, which began in 1923. By this point, readers know intimately many of these characters and are familiar with the affections and antagonisms that bind and separate parents and children, aunts and uncles, husband and wives, brothers, sisters and cousins. These ups and downs only proliferate as the story unfolds, until this final episode concludes in 2019.
James Holland’s The Rise of Germany, 1939-1941, the first of a planned three-volume series called The War in the West, is a great example of how a re-examination of historical accounts leads to new insights that urge us to reconsider the common wisdom about one of the most well-documented wars in history.
Beginning with the 1981 publication of his first novel, A Good Man in Africa, winner of the prestigious Whitbread Award, William Boyd has been astonishingly prolific—14 novels, four story collections, four plays, countless film and television scripts, essays and reviews.
Jonathan Franzen is a writer who swings for the fences, an ambition that attracts terabytes of online derision. Hold the derision. Franzen’s fifth novel, Purity, is quite simply his best, most textured, most plot-driven and, oddly enough, most optimistic novel to date.
Never heard of Jacob Fugger? That’s probably because he was born in Augsburg in 1459, the grandson of a Swabian peasant. But by the time he died in 1525, Fugger had become, according to author Greg Steinmetz (who compared the net worth of wealthy people with the size of the economy in which they operated), the richest man who ever lived.
When her writing is going really well, when she is “all in,” Paula McLain, author of the best-selling historical novel The Paris Wife, calls herself “a head in a jar.” All brain, no body.
In this fascinating explanation of the techniques of forensic science, Val McDermid takes readers on an “evidential journey” that begins at the crime scene and ends in the courtroom. McDermid, a Scottish crime fiction writer and former newspaper crime reporter, turns out to be a remarkably intelligent and witty guide for a tour of such gruesome subjects as blood spatter, DNA analysis, toxicology exams and forensic entomology, a discipline that McDermid writes, mordantly, is “based on one grisly fact: a corpse makes a good lunch.”
Many of us think of North Korea as a nation of automatons, blindly following Dear Leader over the cliff. If nothing else, Joseph Kim’s memoir of his harrowing childhood during the famine that devastated North Korea in the 1990s will complicate that view.