Can an unimaginable catastrophe bring forth a triumph of the imagination? It can and, in the case of Haiti’s 2010 earthquake, has with this bright, brilliant novel.
Journalist Léger’s first novel is, all at once, a bittersweet romantic comedy of errors, a vivid evocation of a calamity’s aftereffects and a valentine to his home nation of Haiti. The calamity in question is the 2010 earthquake that ravaged the island in a manner of seconds. In the midst of the devastation, three intersecting lives arrive at a reckoning: the country’s president, who has inherited a terrible legacy from decades of tyranny and corruption; his wife, Natasha Robert, a beautiful artist who, just before the quake struck, was in a sexual clinch in the presidential palace with her former lover Alain Destinè, the dreamer/entrepreneur she dumped for the chief executive. For a while after the quake, none of the three sides of this romantic triangle is certain the others have survived, yet they carry on with their lives on and off the island. The president is shown heading north to the U.N. in search of support, moral and otherwise. He finds it from his American counterpart in a hilarious exchange that, even if it didn’t happen, should have. Alain, meanwhile, finds himself dragging a broken foot through the debris while finding other survivors and dodging thugs ordered by the president to kill him for coveting his wife. (He’s saved from a beating by an American movie star who’s helping with the recovery.) As for Natasha, she wanders the battered landscape of bodies and rubble in a daze, her personal regrets overpowered by the grace and perseverance she finds in her people, whose country’s history was fraught with despair, death and injustice even before it was changed forever by what Haitians call the “goudou-goudou” (a euphemism approximating the sounds made by the earthquake).
With shimmering, lyrical prose, Léger conjures an incisive vision of Haiti’s complex heritage, tortured soul and dauntless spirit.
“The cheering proved to be our folly.” Thus said Robert E. Lee, chiding Southern vanity at the outbreak of the Civil War, the setting for this thoughtful study of command.
Recognizing that plenty has already been written about the generals who led the Civil War on both sides, Davis (History/Virginia Tech Univ.; The Rogue Republic: How Would-Be Patriots Waged the Shortest Revolution in American History, 2011, etc.) takes an interesting approach, using secondary sources and correcting them where applicable and relying on first-person, contemporary accounts of Lee and his formidable adversary, Ulysses S. Grant. The men had met in the field in the war with Mexico but had traveled in different orbits, Grant in particular having a flair for, if not always success in, business. Both, however, inclined to the depressive and carried the burden of the literally countless men who died in their service. Lee, writes the author, was opposed to secession and, by his account, was a reluctant slaveholder; moreover, he professed that his country was Virginia, a sentiment radical South Carolinians returned by suspecting Lee of lukewarm devotion to the cause. Yet Lee was a faithful lieutenant to the Southern government, and Jefferson Davis in particular, even though his “mistrust of politicians kept him aloof from the political morass.” Grant was less aloof, carefully gauging political mood swings, though Lee was no slouch, either, as when he instructed his Virginia troops in battle in Maryland to pretend “to be Marylanders holding their own ground,” thus rallying their allies and evidencing “a neat bit of political and diplomatic camouflage showing Lee’s subtlety in areas other than military.” Indeed, one of Davis’ chief contributions in this accessible, well-written study is to show how thoroughly politicized the war was—as was its aftermath, revealed by a charged but by no means unfriendly meeting the two had in 1868, when Grant was in the White House.
A fresh look at the sources and a careful eye to leadership and character places this book high atop the list of recent Civil War histories.
A dark comedy follows the misadventures of a boy trying to get rid of the devil that has moved into his basement.
Yes, Max starts the book by doing something bad: He steals a silly toy for his sick mom. Then he indulges his paleontology obsession by digging a hole on the hill that looms over his town, only to open a huge, apparently bottomless crater. Sadly, it seems that Max’s decision to embrace the criminal life is enough to bring the powers of hell down upon his head—or rather, into his basement. Upon returning home from his excavation efforts, he finds an actual devil named Burg happily snacking on junk food and declaring himself a permanent resident in Max’s home. Seeing a possible advantage in his new supernatural housemate, Max makes a deal: the constantly wisecracking Burg will cure his mom’s critical heart disease if he can find Burg a free mansion with a hot tub. Lore, a girl who understands Max’s dilemma only too well, teams up with him to try to appease Burg before he starts killing people. Damico, who explored the lives of teenage grim reapers in her Croak trilogy, writes with wry wit and constant dark humor. She mixes in a bit of possible romance, as Max wonders if he has any chance with the vastly different Lore, also to great comic effect.
The explosive collaboration of two brilliant artists.
When composer Kurt Weill (1900-1950) and poet and playwright Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956) met in 1927, they were certain they had much in common: Both were artistic iconoclasts; both believed that art must address social, political and philosophical issues; both were intent on “liberating culture from its elitist jail cell.” As screenwriter and novelist Katz shows in this deft, incisive cultural history, despite their artistic affinities, what divided them made their six-year partnership volatile and, finally, impossible. Weill was self-disciplined, quiet and unwilling to let distractions—women, political activism—get in the way of his work. When he fell in love with singer/actress Lotte Lenya, he married her. Brecht was messy, noisy, cynical and undaunted by scandal. By the late 1920s, he was involved with three women: his wife, Marianne Zoff, with whom he had a daughter; actress Helene Weigel, with whom he had a son; and writer and translator Elisabeth Hauptmann. Although Weigel and Hauptmann energetically pursued their own careers, they were remarkably devoted to Brecht, acquiescing to his many demands but giving him the space and freedom he desired (Weigel moved into her own apartment after their son was born so the infant would not disturb Brecht). As Weigel described him, he was “a very faithful man—unfortunately to too many people.” Katz focuses most on Weill and Brecht’s two famous collaborations: the bawdy, irreverent Mahaganny, a musical play about a mythical American town dominated by greed; and The Threepenny Opera, a blatant critique of injustice, corruption and hypocritical morality, which made Lenya a star. Their work incensed the Nazis, and in 1933, both men—and Lenya, Weigel and Hauptmann—fled. Weill eventually had a successful career in the United States; Brecht, after years in exile, returned to East Germany.
With a novelist’s eye for telling details, Katz offers a colorful, perceptive and riveting portrait of a remarkable artistic partnership.
Lippman's latest installment in the Tess Monaghan series weaves an exploration of the joys and frustrations of motherhood with a clever and engaging mystery.
In the last Monaghan mystery, The Girl in the Green Raincoat (2011), Tess solved a Rear Window–style crime when her doctor confined her to bed rest at the end of her pregnancy. Fast-forwarding three years, Lippman has brought Tess back, now the mother of toddler Carla Scout as well as a full-time PI. She has taken on a new partner, ex–homicide cop Sandy Sanchez (the protagonist of Lippman's excellent 2014 stand-alone, After I'm Gone), but even with Sandy's help Tess struggles to juggle her tantrum-prone daughter, her relationship with longtime boyfriend Crow and her work. The job in question is complex and juicy: Tess has been hired by the rich and haughty Melisandre Harris Dawes, who killed her infant daughter by leaving her in a sweltering car. Dawes was found not guilty by reason of insanity (specifically, postpartum psychosis), but after her trial, she gave away custody of her older daughters, divorced her husband and fled the country. Now she's returned to Baltimore and wants Tess to look into her security. She's also commissioned a documentary on the insanity defense, giving Lippman plenty of room to share her observations on our passion for reality TV and obsession with the most horrifying crimes. Before long, both Dawes and Tess are receiving notes with creepy stalker overtones, and the case takes a nasty, violent turn.
Tess' constant worry about whether she's a good mother dovetails ironically with Dawes' fight to win her daughters back. Lippman dives deep not only into the ways women tend to question their choices and abilities, but also into whether all mothers, and kids, are a little crazy.
An absorbing meditation on Abraham Lincoln’s body, in life and death, and its role in shaping America’s memory of the man who saved the Union.
Taking a fresh approach to the legacy of the martyred president, Fox (History/Univ. of Southern California; Jesus in America: Personal Savior, Cultural Hero, National Obsession, 2004, etc.) examines the ways in which Lincoln’s iconic image has captured the American imagination, from recollections of his bruised and rigid corpse in the days immediately after his 1865 assassination to the public memorials, poems, books and movies that have turned his body into a "virtual embodiment of national purpose and glory." Lincoln as president was often deemed homely, even grotesque in appearance; Walt Whitman called his face "so awful ugly it becomes beautiful." Always accessible, the president had “put his body at the center of his public life,” endearing himself to the people. Thousands of mourners flocked to his funeral train, which became a moving shrine as it passed through Northern states. Recounting those days in exquisite detail, Fox shows how the “cult of Lincoln” lived on for a century, evinced in poetry (“O Captain! My Captain!”), in bronze and granite statues (some 87 statues by 1952, with one rising in formerly Confederate Richmond, Virginia, in 2003), and in the Lincoln Memorial (1922) in Washington, D.C., which “reimagined Lincoln’s unassuming and quirky body as a commanding symbol of the nation.” Lincoln’s commoner image lived on in the Lincoln penny, in Carl Sandburg’s mammoth biography and in films such as John Ford’s Young Mr. Lincoln (1939). Only the disillusionment of the Vietnam years could halt outright adulation of the president. More recently, Lincoln has been attacked in fiction by Gore Vidal, celebrated as a liberator by historians, and portrayed in popular culture, from a major Disneyland exhibit to Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln.
An original, brightly written and well-researched cultural history certain to have wide appeal.
Two cousins, close as sisters, survive the Haitian earthquake, but will life ever be the same?
Magdalie and Nadine, two 15-year-old schoolgirls, instantly lose their Manman, their home and their equilibrium to the disaster of January 2010. When Nadine’s father resurfaces and whisks her off to Miami, Magdalie is forced to confront her new life in a relief camp with her uncle-turned–reluctant caregiver, Tonton Élie, and heartbreaking challenges, still holding out hope that Nadine will one day send for her. Eventually Magda’s anger and grief find release via visits to a vodou priestess, the mourning and burial rituals for Manman, and emerging love. Debut novelist Wagner lived in Haiti and wrote her cultural anthropology dissertation on disaster and community in Port-au-Prince. She successfully folds in sensory experiences of the capital city and beyond, along with meditations on love, loss, home and hope, without lecture or contrivance. Readers will find the characters believable and engaging. The title reflects a form of Haitian Creole goodbye that captures the complexity of separation, while the final chapter is Magdalie’s hopeful projection for the future for herself and Nadine, as well as all of Haiti.
An insightful disaster-survival story with far-reaching emotional resonance. (brief history notes, glossary) (Fiction. 14 & up)
The 1989 rape of a 15-year-old golden girl profoundly alters her suburban Baton Rouge neighborhood and all those who love her.
"I imagine that many children in South Louisiana have stories similar to this one, and when they grow up, they move out into the world and tell them," says the narrator of Walsh's debut novel, looking back on the floods, fires, mosquitoes, heat waves and psychopaths of his childhood. Probably so—but only a few can do it with the beauty, terror and wisdom found in these addictive pages. When Lindy Simpson's childhood is abruptly ended one evening as she bikes home from track practice, so much goes with it, including the innocence of the 14-year-old boy who loves her to the point of obsession—and eventually becomes a suspect in the crime himself. He fills in the events of the next few years in a style that recalls the best of Pat Conroy: the rich Southern atmosphere, the interplay of darkness and light in adolescence, the combination of brisk narrative suspense with philosophical musings on memory, manhood and truth. All the supporting characters, from the neighborhood kids and parents to walk-ons like the narrator's cool uncle Barry and a guy we meet in the penultimate chapter at the LSU/Florida Gators game in 2007, are both particular and real. So is the ambience of late '80s and early '90s America, from the explosion of the Challenger to the Jeffrey Dahmer nightmare. In fact, one of the very few missteps is a weirdly dropped-in disquisition on Hurricane Katrina. That's easy to forgive, though, as you suck down the story like a cold beer on a hot Louisiana afternoon.
Celebrate, fiction lovers: The gods of Southern gothic storytelling have inducted a junior member.
Tyler’s 20th novel (The Beginner’s Goodbye, 2012, etc.) again centers on family life in Baltimore, still a fresh and compelling subject in the hands of this gifted veteran.
She opens in 1994, with Red and Abby Whitshank angsting over a phone call from their 19-year-old son, Denny. In a few sharp pages we get the family dynamic: Red can be critical, Abby can be smothering, and Denny reacts to any criticism by dropping out of sight. But as Part 1 unfolds, primarily from 2012 on, we see Denny has a history of wandering in and out of the Whitshank home on Bouton Road just often enough to keep his family guessing about the jobs and relationships he acquires and discards (“ ‘Boring’ seemed to be his favorite word”) while resenting his siblings’ assumption that he can’t be relied on. This becomes an increasingly fraught issue after Red has a heart attack and Abby begins to have “mind skips”; Tyler sensitively depicts the conflicts about how to deal with their aging parents among take-charge Amanda, underappreciated Jeannie and low-key Stem, whose unfailing good nature and designation as heir to Whitshank Construction infuriate Denny. A sudden death sends Tyler back in time to explore the truth behind several oft-recounted Whitshank stories, including the day Abby fell in love with Red and the origins of Junior, the patriarch who built the Bouton Road home in 1936. We see a pattern of scheming to appropriate things that belong to others and of slowly recognizing unglamorous, trying true love—but that’s only a schematic approximation of the lovely insights Tyler gives us into an ordinary family who, “like most families...imagined they were special.” They will be special to readers thanks to the extraordinary richness and delicacy with which Tyler limns complex interactions and mixed feelings familiar to us all and yet marvelously particular to the empathetically rendered members of the Whitshank clan.
The texture of everyday experience transmuted into art.
The extraordinary life of Karl Marx’s feisty feminist youngest daughter told with passionate sympathy and conviction.
The relationship between her committed socialist parents forms the key to the vivacious life of Eleanor “Tussy” Marx (1855-1898), as portrayed chronologically by British writer Holmes (African Queen: The Real Life of the Hottentot Venus, 2007, etc.). Exiled from Germany and France after their participation in the failed democratic revolutions convulsing Europe in 1848, the Marxes relocated to London. With only three surviving daughters, they scraped by largely thanks to colleague Frederick Engels’ generous subsidies. While the two elder daughters enjoyed some formal education, Tussy was mostly schooled at her parents’ knees, imbued with their firebrand ideals of collectivism and internationalism and their advocacy for the proletariat and the principles of the International Workingmen’s Association, and she aided her beloved father in his research for his opus Capital at the Reading Room in the British Museum. Having watched her mother’s intelligence and ambition subsumed by her father’s work, then seeing her two older married sisters shackled by motherhood and household drudgery, Tussy chose free love with talented older men and an autonomous life earning her own wages as a tutor, translator and writer. Indeed, writes Holmes in this consistently illuminating biography, she was the “apple of [her father’s] eye” and later became his executor. She channeled her high spirits first into the theater (she and her father had recited Shakespeare together as a way for him to learn English), translated Madame Bovary into English, among other works, and eventually set up house in London with the “reptilian” fellow actor and intellectual Edward Aveling, who never married her despite his 14-year promises. Holmes is absolutely outraged by Aveling’s betrayal and Tussy’s horrifying, untimely death—a tragic tale of a brilliant light eclipsed by the stifling patriarchy of her age.
A full-fleshed, thrilling portrait, troubling and full of family secrets.
This sequel to Kill Me Softly (2012) continues the adventures of the teen inhabitants of Beau Rivage, a town where fairy tales live again.
Viv has the Snow White curse. Her stepmother, Regina, clearly wants her dead, and Viv already knows the Huntsman fated to cut out her heart. The trouble is, she and that Huntsman, Henley, have been in love for years. As Viv realizes that the time of the curse is fast approaching, their relationship becomes strained. Viv hopes that Henley won’t kill her, but she can’t be sure. When Regina hires another Huntsman to make sure Viv dies, Viv decides to escape into the underworld. There, she meets the prince who is supposed to save her and marry her to live happily ever after—and she doesn’t like him at all. His father, the king of the underworld, turns out to be an extremely nasty sort indeed, one who will make Viv’s happily-ever-after life into unending torture. Viv still loves Henley, but she’s trapped in the underworld, and Henley can’t get to her. Meanwhile, other fairy tales play themselves out all around Viv. Can Viv find a way to thwart her curse? As before, Cross keeps readers guessing as she unfolds her mashup, bringing the German Märchen versions into the story with satisfyingly gruesome effect.
A fan-pleasing combination of fairy tale and thriller.
Heroism and steadiness of purpose continue to light up Lewis’ frank, harrowing account of the civil rights movement’s climactic days—here, from cafeteria sit-ins in Nashville to the March on Washington.
As in the opener, Powell’s dark, monochrome ink-and-wash scenes add further drama to already-dramatic events. Interspersed in Aydin’s script with flashes forward to President Barack Obama’s 2009 inauguration, Lewis’ first-person account begins with small-scale protests and goes on to cover his experiences as a Freedom Rider amid escalating violence in the South, his many arrests, and his involvement in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee’s formation and later internal strife. With the expectation that readers will already have a general grasp of the struggle’s course, he doesn’t try for a comprehensive overview but offers personal memories and insights—recalling, for instance, Martin Luther King Jr.’s weak refusal to join the Freedom Riders and, with respect, dismissing Malcolm X: “I never felt he was a part of the movement.” This middle volume builds to the fiery manifesto the 23-year-old Lewis delivered just before Dr. King’s “I have a dream” speech and closes with the September 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church. The contrast between the dignified marchers and the vicious, hate-filled actions and expressions of their tormentors will leave a deep impression on readers. Lewis’ commitment to nonviolent—but far from unimpassioned—protest will leave a deeper one. Backmatter includes the original draft of Lewis’ speech.