An elucidating cultural study explores the ways artists forged a sense of redemption—both personal and societal—from the devastation of post–World War II Germany.
European and American writers, journalists, filmmakers, and painters were drawn to postwar Germany to witness the horrendous carnage as well as the Allied attempts at rehabilitation. In her rigorously researched study, a natural extension of her previous look at the Blitz through the eyes of selected London authors, The Love-charm of Bombs (2013), British scholar and journalist Feigel (English/King’s Coll. London) picks through the rubble of Germany through the points of view of a variety of writers. These include Ernest Hemingway and his wife, Martha Gellhorn, and two of the children of Thomas Mann, Erika and Klaus, returned from exile. Should the Germans be excoriated and forced to confess their guilt—as the Allied Occupation established in the “JCS 1067” document that formed the official postwar policy in Germany and which the Manns insisted upon—or should the suffering of the people be addressed through humanitarian efforts, as proposed by British author Stephen Spender and others who hoped to enlist German culture in the country’s resurrection? Were the British, Americans, Russians, and French who divvied up Berlin to be considered liberators or enemy occupiers? Moreover, along with the divergent opinions on how to deal with the defeated Germans, there was the personal anguish experienced by correspondents like Gellhorn, who plumbed her grief over visiting Dachau in her war novel Point of No Return (1948). Feigel looks at the incredible speed with which the Berlin theater regained its footing and examines the rise of what would become known as Trümmerliteratur (“rubble literature”), as writers scrambled to find what Peter de Mendelssohn called “a vocabulary with which to describe bombed cities.” Exiled German speakers—e.g., Hollywood director Billy Wilder and actress Marlene Dietrich and Thomas Mann—were most relentless in their damnation of the Germans.
A deep, significant exploration of artistic atonement in postwar Germany.
After accidentally shooting his friend and neighbor’s young son, a man on a Native American reservation subscribes to “an old form of justice” by giving his own son, LaRose, to the parents of his victim.
Erdrich, whose last novel, The Round House, won the National Book Award in 2012, sets this meditative, profoundly humane story in the time just before the U.S. invades Iraq but wanders in and out of that moment, even back to origin tales about the beginning of time. On tribal lands in rural North Dakota, the shooter, Landreaux Iron, and his wife, Emmaline, trudge toward their neighbors’ house to say, “Our son will be your son now.” As both families amble through the emotional thickets produced by this act (the wives are half sisters, to boot), Erdrich depicts a tribal culture that is indelible and vibrant: Romeo, a drug-addled grifter still smarting from a years-ago abandonment by his friend Landreaux (and whose hurt makes this novel a revenge story); war vet Father Travis, holy but in love with Emmaline; and LaRose, his father’s “little man, his favorite child,” the fifth generation of LaRoses in his family, who confers with his departed ancestors and summons a deep, preternatural courage to right an injustice done to his new sister. Erdrich’s style is discursive; a long digression about the first LaRose and her darkness haunts this novel. Just when she needs to, though, Erdrich races toward an ending that reads like a thriller as doubts emerge about Landreaux’s intentions the day he went hunting.
Electric, nimble, and perceptive, this novel is about “the phosphorous of grief” but also, more essentially, about the emotions men need, but rarely get, from one another.
In a slender volume that contains multitudes, the award-winning critic and novelist details his travels in such far-flung places as Tahiti and the Arctic Circle.
In the author’s note, Dyer (Writer-in-Residence/Univ. of Southern California; Another Great Day at Sea: Life Aboard the USS George H.W. Bush, 2014) proclaims the subsequent “chapters,” for lack of a better word, are “a mixture of fact and fiction…the figure at the centre of the carpet and a blank space on a map.” Prefacing each chapter with a brief anecdote relating to a physical landscape of memory—e.g., a rock formation called Devil’s Chimney at Leckhampton Hill that his uncle climbed—Dyer creates a pictorial framework for his digressions on place and culture. (There are also photographs throughout.) Referencing D.H. Lawrence’s use of the term “nodality” and how certain places feel “temporary” and others “final,” the author inflects his musings on place with a mystical quality as he recounts experiences tracking Paul Gauguin’s footsteps in Tahiti, a trip to upper Norway to see the northern lights, and a pilgrimage to Theodor Adorno’s Brentwood, California, house, among others. The two standout chapters focus on Dyer’s adventures experiencing Walter de Maria’s The Lightning Field and Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty, both landmarks of the land art movement. Though the author’s travels are diverse, he has an outsized fascination with the vastness of the American West. However, his interest in landscape goes beyond a sacrosanct connection to the Earth. With philosophical incisiveness, Dyer extols the virtue of landscape to conjure in himself the tangible and the mirage, the real and the illusion, the possessed object and the desired object. There is an undeniable joy throughout Dyer’s writing, an affirmation that travel and the experience of place—not merely being someplace, but being present in it—is a gateway to the humanity of past, present, and future.
A mesmerizing compendium that reflects on time, place, and just what, exactly, we are doing here.
This touching chronicle of love and pain traces half a century in a family of five from the parents’ engagement in 1963 through a father’s and son’s psychological torments and a final crisis.
Something has happened to Michael in the opening pages, which are told in the voice of his brother, Alec. The next chapter is narrated by Margaret, the mother of Michael, 12, Celia, 10, and Alec, 7, and the wife of John, as they prepare for a vacation in Maine. Soon, a flashback reveals that shortly before John and Margaret were to wed, she learned of his periodic mental illness, a “sort of hibernation” in which “the mind closes down.” She marries him anyway and comes to worry about the recurrence of his hibernations—which exacerbate their constant money problems—only to witness Michael bearing the awful legacy. Each chapter is told by one of the family’s five voices, shifting the point of view on shared troubles, showing how they grow away from one another without losing touch, how they cope with the loss of John and the challenge of Michael. Haslett (Union Atlantic, 2009, etc.) shapes these characters with such sympathy, detail, and skill that reading about them is akin to living among them. The portrait of Michael stands out: a clever, winning youth who becomes a kind of scholar of contemporary music with an empathy for black history and a wretched dependence on Klonopin and many other drugs to keep his anxiety at bay, to glimpse a “world unfettered by dread.”
As vivid and moving as the novel is, it’s not because Haslett strives to surprise but because he’s so mindful and expressive of how much precious life there is in both normalcy and anguish.
Orange Is the New Black actress Guerrero delivers an affecting tale of a childhood lived in the margins.
Born to undocumented Colombian immigrants upon their arrival stateside, the author quickly learned not to draw attention to herself or her parents. Mami and Papi, lovingly detailed in colloquial and well-paced prose, were hardworking and doting parents, deeply supportive of the author’s interest in the arts. Growing older, Guerrero noticed the small differences that set her family apart—e.g., the way her father’s personality shrunk in public or the terror inspired by an unexpected guest at the door. Mami and Papi struggled tirelessly to remedy their immigration status, but the family’s worst fears were realized when the author was 14: she arrived home from school to an empty house, discovering her parents had been deported just hours earlier. In the book’s strongest passages, Guerrero recounts the fear, shame, and instability that followed. Taken in by a family friend, she found solace in the performing arts while her relationship with her parents grew more fractured over time and distance. As she attempted to define herself and her future, Guerrero grappled with a number of serious financial obstacles and mental health issues, further deepening the rift in familial ties. The author’s candor in chronicling the lowest moments of her life reads like an urgent confessional. Indeed, it wasn’t until she shared her story that the healing—and her acting career—could finally begin. Readers looking for intricate details about Guerrero’s time on set will be disappointed; the sections recounting her Hollywood experiences are rushed, often cluttered with unnecessary detail. The author’s greatest strength lies in her ability to advocate for undocumented immigrants and others affected by immigration status: “I’ve written the book that I wish I could have read when I was that girl.”
A moving, humanizing portrait of the collateral damage caused by America’s immigration policy.
The acclaimed French chef and co-owner of Le Bernardin delivers a breezy account of his life in France and Andorra before he moved to the United States in his early 20s.
Ripert (Avec Eric: A Culinary Journey with Eric Ripert, 2010, etc.) makes it clear that food was always the warm center of his life, and his descriptions of the meals he prepared or devoured will make even the most ascetic reader hungry. As a boy, the author took refuge in a restaurant in his little town, where the chef indulged him with bowls of chocolate mousse or spoonfuls of caviar while his glamorous mother was off running the boutique she owned. Bored with academics, he left high school to go to a no-frills vocational boarding school, where he learned knife skills and “took naturally to the non-negotiable, army-like rules of the brigade system” in a restaurant. After an apprenticeship where he boned pounds of anchovies and peeled dozens of potatoes every day, working from 8:30 in the morning until 11:00 at night, the 17-year-old moved to Paris, where he learned to transform the “32 yolks” of the title into a proper hollandaise sauce and lived in fear of daunting chefs. Ripert worked first for Dominique Bouchet and then for Joel Robuchon, neither of whom cut their underlings any slack. The author keeps his tone light, even as he describes forbidding work environments, constant anxiety, escalating anger, and the pressures of being low on an aggressively male pecking order. His pleasure in good food—whether he’s following his grandmother to a town market, where he “swooned at the fragrance of anise, clove, and mint,” or preparing lavish restaurant dishes plated with 90 equally spaced dots of sauce—makes for some vicarious gastronomic thrills.
It doesn’t take a refined palate to savor Ripert’s culinary adventures.
A writer searches for a “holy grail” manuscript of endless words.
This extended essay by New Yorker staff writer Lepore (The Secret History of Wonder Woman, 2014, etc.), originally published in the magazine last year, is about a wild goose chase and missing dentures. Joseph Ferdinand Gould (1889-1957), aka Professor Seagull, first became a public figure thanks to New Yorker staff writer Joseph Mitchell. His two essays about Gould were published together as Joe Gould’s Secret (1964), which was made into a movie in 2000. The “secret” was his mysterious manuscript, an extensively detailed personal biography/history that was millions of words long and 7 feet high. Lepore describes his Oral History of Our Times as “plainspoken, arresting, experimental, and disordered…endless, and unremitting.” She wonders: “It didn’t exist. Or did it?” Gould was an eccentric, probably autistic, she believes, who “suffered from gramaphobia”—“he could not stop writing.” Often homeless, drunk, or ill, he required little but had friends—Ezra Pound, Marianne Moore, William Carlos Williams, and others—who would help him out. His close friend, e.e cummings, wrote of him: “b jeezuz, never have I beheld a corpse walking.” Like a detective, Lepore describes her mazelike quest, her clues, her dead ends, the many people she met and talked to, the dusty archives visited in a wonderful, sprightly prose lusciously filled with allusions and references. Questions abound. The search led her to a key figure in the Gould mystery: Augusta Savage, an African-American artist who lived in Harlem. Gould knew her and apparently even proposed to her. Could he have given her the manuscript? Borges’ great short story about the fictional writer Pierre Menard, author of the Quixote, comes to mind. Lepore is Borges to Gould’s Quixote, which was his life writ large…maybe.
A fascinating, sharply written, thoroughly engaging jeu d’esprit.
An ingénue from the Midwest learns the ways of the world, and the flesh, during her year as a back waiter at a top Manhattan restaurant.
A flurry of publicity surrounded the acquisition of this book, which was pitched by an MFA–grad waitress to an editor dining at one of her tables. Danler’s debut novel takes place behind the scenes of a restaurant in Union Square whose rigid hierarchy, arcane codes of behavior, and basis in servitude and manual labor makes it less like a modern workplace than the royal court of 18th-century France—but with tattoos and enough cocaine to rival Jay McInerney. There’s even a Dangerous Liaisons–type love triangle with the beautiful, naïve young narrator at its apex, batted between the mysterious, brilliant waitress who teaches her about wine and the dissolute, magnetic bartender who teaches her about oysters. The older woman says things like, “I know you. I remember you from my youth. You contain multitudes.” The older man “was bisexual, he slept with everyone, he slept with no one. He was an ex-heroin addict, he was sober, he was always a little drunk.” What 22-year-old could ever resist them? The writing is mostly incandescent, with visceral and gorgeous descriptions of flavors, pitch-perfect overheard dialogue, deep knowledge of food, wine, and the restaurant business, and only occasional lapses into unintentional pretentiousness. From her very first sentences—“You will develop a palate. A palate is a spot on your tongue where you remember. Where you assign words to the textures of taste. Eating becomes a discipline, language-obsessed. You will never simply eat food again”—Danler aims to mesmerize, to seduce, to fill you with sensual cravings. She also offers the rare impassioned defense of Britney Spears.
Leary (The Good House, 2013, etc.) writes about nutty, pedigreed New Englanders in this noirish comedy in which financial wrangling and emotional secrets are kept under wraps within a well-born Connecticut family until the arrival of an interloper from west of the Rockies.
Single, childless 29-year-old narrator Charlotte is a typical Leary character—likable but slightly bent. Charlotte makes a good living writing a fake mommy blog and swears she doesn’t have agoraphobia although she hasn’t left her home during the day since shortly after her beloved stepfather Whit’s death three years ago. Charlotte’s home is “Lakeside Cottage,” where she and her older sister, Sally, grew up with Whit and their mother, Joan. Wealthy, eccentric Whit had two great passions: Joan and the banjo. He and Joan didn't believe in talking about, let alone spending, money. Although his two sons from his first marriage, Perry and Spin, have inherited the once-grand, now increasingly dilapidated family house, Whit requested that Joan be allowed to live there until her death. Enter Spin’s new girlfriend, soon to be fiancee, Laurel, from Idaho. Laurel’s resume—Olympic-level skier, MFA from USC, huge advance for her first novel, a relative of Ernest Hemingway—is as intimidating as her aggressively friendly manner. While Charlotte warms to Laurel’s questionable charm, Sally, who has moved home after losing her job as a violinist in Manhattan, remains suspicious. But Sally, who has a history of sneakiness, sexual misbehavior, and mental illness, may not be the best judge of character. And Charlotte may not be, either; she's fascinated by Laurel’s knowledge of what she calls "life hacks"—actually scams, like ways to use a fancy hotel's amenities without staying there—which are supposedly research for her novel. Leary is by turns affectionate and vicious toward her characters. So, is Laurel trustworthy? Was Whit? And what about Charlotte’s off-and-on lover, Everett, who lives rent free on the property as a kind of caretaker and is not above flirting with an attractive woman like Laurel?
In this deeply satisfying novel about how unknowable people can be, intrigue builds with glass shards of dark humor toward an ending that is far from comic.
In the latest by TV writer and novelist Hawley (The Good Father, 2012, etc.), a struggling artist becomes a hero twice—first by saving a young boy’s life, then by outsmarting the anchor of a Fox-like conservative TV network.
A small charter plane mysteriously crashes into the water off Martha’s Vineyard, leaving only two survivors: the painter Scott Burroughs and JJ, the young son of the network owner who chartered the flight. In a well-turned rescue sequence, Scott braves the waves and sharks and makes dry land with JJ on his back. From there, the book is part whodunit and part study of Scott’s survivor’s guilt. Flashbacks trace the back story of each doomed passenger: network head David Bateman and his wife, Maggie, who may have had a thing for Scott; financier Ben Kipling, about to be tried for laundering terrorist money; flight attendant Emma Lightner, who recently jilted co-pilot Charlie Busch. While the rescue team works to figure out who crashed the plane, Scott struggles to get his bearings—no small feat when wealthy socialite Layla Mueller is trying hard to get him into bed and when O’Reilly-like anchorman Bill Cunningham is harassing him for an interview.
Like the successful screenwriter that he is, Hawley piles on enough intrigues and plot complications to keep you hooked even if you can spot most of them a sea mile away.
A dystopian fantasy novel set sometime in 19th-century England.
“We thank the Smoke” is a mantralike phrase that’s used by characters throughout this exciting, fearful fantasy novel by Vyleta (The Crooked Maid, 2013, etc.). His previous novels explored social paranoia, distrust, and fear, and he’s now bringing these same topics to a scary imagined world. Meet two young, upper-class best friends, Thomas Argyle and Charlie Copper, at what appears to be a classic English public school—except it isn’t. This is a world where children are born in sin, where Smoke emanates from their bodies when they lie or think a bad thought, and the purpose of this school is to cleanse them of the Smoke. Bleak House had its fog; in this world Smoke surrounds people, staining their clothes (only lye or urine will get it out). As children grow older, “Good begins to ripen.” Why? Can it be changed? Over Christmas holidays, Thomas and Charlie meet a girl named Livia, a prefect at another school, the attractive daughter of Baron and Lady Naylor. Following up on something shocking Lady Naylor tells Thomas changes the novel's trajectory into one familiar to Philip Pullman and C.S. Lewis readers—the quest. Thomas, Charlie, and Livia are off to London and its old, abandoned halls of Parliament, where they’ll seek answers about Smoke and the maleficence behind it. We root for these appealing characters as they face one dreadful obstacle after another. Although the novel is primarily told in the third person, many chapters are in the first person, narrated by a wide variety of characters, which helps the reader become more deeply invested in their adventures. Even though it’s somewhat derivative of other books in this vein and loses its way at times, the novel's sumptuous, irresistible narrative—filled with plenty of twists and turns and imagination—will satisfy any reader.
A terrific, suspenseful tale that could definitely cross over to the teen audience. Sequel, anyone?