A page-turning chronicle of the life and career of a favela don illustrates the larger challenges of a deeply impoverished, class-ridden Brazilian society.
British author and former BBC Central Europe correspondent Glenny (DarkMarket: Cyberthieves, Cybercops and You, 2011, etc.) finds an inspiring subject in Antonio Francisco Bonfim Lopes, aka Nem, one of the most wanted drug running criminals in Rio de Janeiro, who has been imprisoned since 2011 in the high-security Campo Grande prison in Mato Grosso do Sul. Having interviewed him in prison multiple times over two years, the author vividly depicts the extraordinary career of this young don of the Rocinha favela—the largest of Rio’s hundreds of slum neighborhoods—with enormous subtlety and sympathy, filling in his story by interviewing his family, enemies, colleagues, and others. Rocinha—the size of a small city in which tens, possibly hundreds, of thousands of residents live “cheek by jowl” with more middle-class districts of Ipanema, Leblon, and others—was adversely affected by the rise of the cocaine trafficking market in the 1980s, with drug lords taking turns running the favela economy, employing the gangsters, eliminating enemies, and generally keeping the peace with the Red Command. Having grown up in the favela, Nem was in his early 20s in 2000, a driver by trade and with a wife and sick daughter, when he solicited help from the current don, Lulu, borrowing money for his daughter’s care and thus indenturing himself with the Mafia. From working for Lulu’s “security” to gradually taking on more responsibility, Nem rose above the internecine gangster wars in 2004 and 2005 to take command in Rocinha at the time of Brazil’s enormous economic surge and globalization. For five years, Nem ran the local welfare economy in relative harmony, until the military and civil police began a “pacification” program to rid the city of the drug trade—and clean it up for the World Cup and the Olympics.
Glenny does an admirable investigative job, delving deeply into the complicated causes and effects of Rio’s drug trafficking.
What happens to you when your child dies? “You fall,” writes cartoonist and bereaved father Hart (Sequential Art/Univ. of Florida), “into a hole.”
Scarcely out of toddlerhood, Rosalie Lightning, her memorable name suggestive of the brevity of life, passed away to a sudden illness. Hart and his wife, Leela, a writer, had stumbled into parenthood without being quite prepared for it, as if anyone ever is. Both were living the lives of poor artists, though that was not strictly by design, since, as Hart’s story reveals at some length, they were being blocked from selling a New York apartment by a building board that thought the price too low. Without calling them by name, the author writes of their passing through the stages of death—denial, anger, paralyzing grief—after Rosalie’s death; if lying on the grass and staring into the middle distance won’t get you through the worst patches, he suggests, there’s always Roland Barthes. Hart’s mood is often bitter, not just over Manhattanite greed, but also over such things as paying for his daughter’s cremation with a debit card “like I’m buying a bag of bananas.” The faux-naif drawings are crude and impressionistic, somewhat reminiscent of half-finished panels by Harvey Pekar or Gilbert Shelton, but the story is well-rounded and profoundly affecting. It risks being thought insensitive, given all this, to wish that it ran shorter; grief is endless, but at times, it seems that Hart’s book is as well. The New Age–ier moments are the most dispensable: “Everything is a message. Everything beautiful is her.” Nonetheless, anyone coping with such loss—meaning a vast readership—will find Hart’s expression of pain and heartache to be entirely understandable and entirely appropriate.
A bracing, deeply saddening journey into death and loss whose wryly affirmative resolution, “joy breaking through the storm clouds,” is nothing but hard won.
The life of an American expat living in Bulgaria intersects repeatedly with that of a young gay hustler in this gorgeous debut novel from Greenwell.
The unnamed narrator—an English teacher who lives in the city of Sofia—has an addiction, and that addiction’s name is Mitko. After they meet for the first time in a public bathroom, Mitko flits in and out of the narrator's life with abandon, alternating among offers of sex, hints at love, threats, blackmail, hunger, illness, neediness, rage, and despair. Mitko is beautiful, self-assured, and an enigma, and the narrator finds it hard to resist him. His growth is in his responses, which range from acquiescence to refusal, and it is this engine that propels the reader forward through a series of tenuously connected chapters that advance in irregular chronological intervals. This is a novel with a short story sensibility; many of the chapters stand on their own, hanging together only in the loosest sense. This is a feature, not a bug: instead of aggressively pursuing a series of tightly woven plotlines, readers may have the sense that they're peering through the narrator’s window randomly and of their own free will, observing his latest state each time. As for the narrator, he can only move forward if he interrogates his past—the question is, will he be able to? The prose here is supple and responsive, and Sofia teems with beauty and decay. Mitko lights up scenes like a firecracker and haunts the ones where he’s absent—a large segment of the novel where he does not appear still vibrates with his energy—but the protagonist too is a source of gentle, steady illumination as he grapples with his cravings, memories, fears, and grief. This is a project of rare discernment and beauty, and it is not to be missed.
A luminous, searing exploration of desire, alienation, and the powerful tattoo of the past.
A New York artist and writer’s illustrated memoir about how she rose out of obscurity during the tumultuous decade of the 2000s to become a renowned artist.
New York native Crabapple, a contributing editor for Vice, grew up with loving parents in comfortable circumstances. Yet from the time she was a young girl, she felt trapped by her childhood and yearned for the freedom to explore the world. Crabapple left for Paris at 17, where she lived among bohemians at the legendary Shakespeare and Company bookstore and traveled around Europe and North Africa. When she returned, she began college at the Fashion Institute of Technology, where she drew compulsively, studied exotic cultures, and became involved in political movements that emerged in the aftermath of 9/11. Crabapple turned to “the naked girl business” to support herself and earned money first as an artist’s model and then as a goth-inspired SuicideGirl and, later, as a dancer and burlesque performer. In the meantime, her artistic talent blossomed. Yet the author realized early on that making it in the art world wasn’t just a matter of being good: it was also about “getting noticed.” In 2008, Crabapple became house artist for The Box, a NYC nightclub catering to elite clients. She earned recognition and monetary rewards for artwork that satirized the excesses of the rich, yet her achievements left her feeling hollow. The world outside The Box was collapsing while she "was painting pigs in Nero's nightclub.” After meeting up with journalist Laurie Penny and becoming involved in the Occupy movement, Crabapple discovered her true calling as a political artist and, later, writer. Lavishly illustrated, the book offers a candid portrayal of an artist’s journey to self-knowledge and fulfillment. The author celebrates the function of art as an act of “hope against cynicism [and] creation against entropy.”
Compelling reading about how art gave the author “a way to see, to record, to fight and interrogate…to find joy where once I could see only ash.”
In Inspector Gamache’s 11th outing, the sheltering forest around his small village of Three Pines is revealed to be a hiding place for unexpected evil.
Armand Gamache, former head of homicide at the Sûreté du Québec, is learning to let go and be happy with his new life in Three Pines, far from the evil that ate away at him for years. His former colleagues and friends poke fun at him, saying the great inspector will never truly hang up his hat, but these jokes turn deadly serious when an imaginative 9-year-old boy named Laurent is murdered shortly after telling what seemed to be a tall tale about a massive gun wielded by a monster in the woods. When it’s discovered that the boy was not exaggerating even in the slightest, Gamache’s mind quickly switches back to questioning his surroundings and the people who inhabit this space—many of them his close friends. Chief Inspector Isabelle Lacoste and her right hand, Jean-Guy Beauvoir, take up residence in Three Pines, and with Gamache’s sideline help, they begin to find out what sort of darkness lurks just outside of town. Penny uses her well-known, idyllic setting as the center point of a mystery with global scope and consequences, spanning decades and implicating many, including series veterans. What makes this story most magical, though, is how the many aspects of this spiraling tale can be connected by a Bible verse and related lines from a Yeats poem: “And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, / Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?” It’s with this eye for detail that Penny sketches the “nature of the beast”—evil that has the potential to grow even in the most unexpected places. An especially terrifying character returning from Gamache’s past is the perfect reminder of the dark side of human nature, but that side does not always win out.
Penny is an expert at pulling away the surface of her characters to expose their deeper—and often ugly—layers, always doing so with a direct but compassionate hand.
Caitlin Mary Prudence Rectitude Singleberry leads a wholesome, home-schooled life in Parsippany, New Jersey, and enjoys performing with her family (the Singing Singleberries) while waiting to hear from the 12 colleges she’s applied to, so what is she doing in jail with her nose pierced, neon hair, and a tattoo?
Caitlin blames her cousin Heller Harrigan, who, unlike Caitlin, wasn’t raised in a happy, two-parent Christian family but by a ditzy single mother who’s changed her name from Nancy to Ecstasy. Until five years ago, the girls were best friends. Caitlin hasn’t seen Heller since, after achieving TV stardom in her tweens, Heller landed the coveted role of Lynnea in four film adaptations of the blockbuster bestselling Angel Wars trilogy. Celebrity pressures have taken a toll on Heller, just back from four months of rehab. Caitlin, who subdues her crippling anxiety and panic attacks with silent rituals, agrees to keep Heller out of trouble during the movie’s premiere weekend in New York and the day Heller’s going to spend with a young cancer patient. While reforming Heller, Caitlin intends to settle a few scores. What ensues is a culture clash on steroids. Rudnick’s affection for his flawed characters lends emotional depth to the skillful satire. Targets skewered include the symbiotic culture of narcissism binding celebrities and their fans, teen literary clichés, and Brooklyn.
Hilarious, irresistible, and oh so timely.
Life as opera: the intrigues and passions of a star soprano in 19th-century Paris.
She was the last surviving member of a Minnesota farm family swept away by fever; "Lilliet Berne" is a name she borrowed off a gravestone by the East River on her way to board a ship to Europe in search of her mother's people. That mission is eventually abandoned as her original identity is buried under a succession of new incarnations and schemes for survival. She becomes a circus equestrienne, a high-level courtesan, a maid to the empress of France, a spy, and, ultimately, a "Falcon," the rarest breed of soprano—but double dealings, false steps, and bad bargains mark the way. When she is at the pinnacle of her fame, a writer brings her a book he plans to transform into an opera, hoping she will create the central role in its premiere. Reading it, she realizes with horror that the main character is her and that whoever has written it knows all her secrets. To find out who that is, she unfurls the whole of her complicated history and its characters, among them a tenor who's obsessed with her, a comtesse who uses her, her one real friend, and her only love. The story goes through the Franco-Prussian War, the Paris Commune, and the Third Republic, with cameos by Verdi, Bizet, P.T. Barnum, George Sand, and others. If the plot of Chee's (Edinburgh, 2002) second novel is overly elaborate, the voice he has created for his female protagonist never falters. Always holding a few cards close to her chest, Lilliet Berne commands the power of "the ridiculous and beloved thief that is opera—the singer who sneaks into the palace of your heart and somehow enters singing aloud the secret hope or love or grief you hoped would always stay secret, disguised as melodrama; and you are so happy you have lived to see it done."
Richly researched, ornately plotted, this story demands, and repays, close attention.
“Bones Found to Be of Human Origin, Blood Beginning to Fester.” In the spirit of M.T. Anderson’s Thirsty (1997), Ward’s apocalyptic novel will have readers checking the ground beneath their feet after each turn of the page.
Readers meet Lea, a confident teenage girl who just wants to hang out with her friends and spend quality time with her new girlfriend, Aracely. But when the Earth begins to ooze blood and other body parts, Lea’s hometown becomes a war zone, with citizens fighting over fresh water and food rations, and Lea becomes ever more concerned with her dwindling faith in humanity, her declining mental state, and the blood that won’t stop rising. To her family and close friends, Lea’s sexuality is largely a nonissue, which is refreshing (and sensible, considering the impending apocalypse); furthermore, readers looking for the next LGBT heroine will love Lea’s strong-willed attitude. The frightful moments are craftily deployed, creeping up and startling readers when they’re least expecting it. And the government PSAs regarding the blood that punctuate Lea’s narration are enough to panic even the most fearless of readers, their commonplace mundanity highlighting the freakishness.
Grisly and sickening (but in the best way possible), the novel more than delivers on its promise of the macabre for lovers of horror, and curious readers will close the book with countless questions about religion, science, and human nature.
(Horror. 13 & up)
On the brink of her marriage, a charmingly quirky, unassumingly intelligent, and winningly warmhearted young woman forges an unusually strong bond with a squirrel.
It’s easy to understand why everyone in Veblen Amundsen-Hovda’s life adores and depends on her. The heroine of McKenzie’s (MacGregor Tells the World, 2007, etc.) disarmingly offbeat novel is the sort of person who not only sews her own clothes and fixes up her own tumbledown bungalow (in ultrapricey Palo Alto, California), but supports herself working temp jobs while performing the unappreciated yet worthy task of translating texts from Norwegian, especially those pertaining to maverick economist, anti-materialist, and leisure-class critic Thorstein Veblen, after whom she was named. Veblen—whom the author describes as an “independent behaviorist, experienced cheerer-upper, and freelance self”—has just gotten engaged to Paul Vreeland, an equally charming yet outwardly more conventional young neurologist, whose academic research has led to a device that's captured the attention of industry and the Department of Defense. Paul and Veblen are in love, betrothed, and planning their wedding and life together, but Paul is tempted by the kind of “conspicuous consumption” Veblen’s economist namesake and hero railed against. Meanwhile, Veblen’s heart has been stolen by a squirrel, who she suspects understands her in a way no one else may. Paul is struggling to calibrate his ethical compass—and to come to terms with his issues surrounding his hippy parents and his intellectually disabled brother, Justin. Veblen is laboring to free herself from the demands of her narcissistic, hypochondriacal mother (not to mention the mentally unstable father who was mostly absent from her childhood) and stake her claim to her own healthy identity and future. Will these kind, if somewhat confused, young people find their ways out of the past and to each other and a happy shared future? The reader can’t help rooting them on.
McKenzie’s idiosyncratic love story scampers along on a wonderfully zig-zaggy path, dashing and darting in delightfully unexpected directions as it progresses toward its satisfying end and scattering tasty literary passages like nuts along the way.
A young Dominican girl from the mean streets of Brooklyn forges a relationship with a white woman living in a bucolic upstate town and learns to love horses and respect herself.
Eleven-year-old Velvet has a soft name, but there’s nothing even remotely plush about her life in a rough part of Crown Heights, Brooklyn. Abused (mostly, but not only, verbally) by her mother, a tough immigrant, Velvet has little to call her own (she keeps her treasured objects—a shell, a dried sea horse, a broken keychain doll—in an old cotton-ball box in the back of a closet) and few friends, almost no one she can trust. Velvet’s mother clearly prefers her 6-year-old son, Dante, singing him to sleep at night with her back to Velvet in the family’s shared bed. Instead of comfort and cuddles, Velvet gets the message that she’s “no good”—not that it’s really her fault; it’s just that her blood is bad. While Velvet craves her mother’s love and attention, Ginger, a 47-year-old sometime artist recovering from alcoholism and drug abuse, an abusive relationship, and the death of her troubled sister, finds herself yearning for a child. Now living a comfortable life in upstate New York with Paul, her college-professor husband, Ginger has decided to “test the waters” of adoption by hosting a Fresh Air Fund kid for a couple of weeks, a commitment that stretches far longer and deeper. That’s how Velvet and Ginger meet, and it's also how Velvet meets a mistrustful and mistreated horse at the stable next door to Ginger's house, the horse the others call “Fugly Girl” and she renames “Fiery Girl,” whom she will tame and train, and who will do the same for her. Alternating primarily between Velvet's and Ginger’s perspectives, with occasional observations from other characters, National Book Award finalist Gaitskill (Veronica, 2005, etc.) takes a premise that could have been preachy, sentimental, or simplistic—juxtaposing urban and rural, rich and poor, young and old, brown and white—and makes it candid and emotionally complex, spare, real, and deeply affecting.
Gaitskill explores the complexities of love (mares, meres…) to bring us a novel that gallops along like a bracing bareback ride on a powerful thoroughbred.