Book of the Week
Each week, we'll let you know about the new releases the editors of O and Oprah.com couldn't stop reading.
Original Content |
November 07, 2012
It's hard for any of us to imagine the life of our parents before...well, us. Who were these mysterious people prior to diapers, carpools and mortgages? Did they ever have a secret long-lost love? Did they travel the world? Growing up in England, Emma Brockes had only heard a few childhood stories from Paula, her sharp-witted, beloved mother, who was raised in rural South Africa. One example: "Those snakes that weren't hanging from trees waiting to drop down her back were fighting scorpions for the deed to the toe ends of her slippers." Other tales involve hailstorms and practical jokes. But about Paula's family? Nothing. When Paula dies of lung cancer, however, Emma goes back to unearth the secrets of her mother's past.
Listening to one person tell another person's story can be boring; immediacy, after all, is the key to a compelling narrative. But Brockes nails you to each page. The truths she discovers about her mother's life are horrifying—but always told with humor, pathos and such brilliant, apply-to-all-of-us sentences as the one about "people whom you can't be alone in a room with because their pain is your own." Ultimately, however, this memoir belongs not to Brockes but to Paula. How did one woman survive such abuse and degradation, only to emerge not just alive, but loving? What distinguishes those who recover and those who fall down and often, in falling down, drag everyone else down with them? Perhaps the answer to these questions is found in a story told by Paula's younger sister: When all the children in the family bought Paula pink silk pajamas for her 21st birthday, she was so delighted that she stripped down immediately and walked out of the house, the young kids screaming with delight. "Everything that matters," says that younger sister, "came from her."
This sweeping coming-of-age novel begins in early 1979 on a cul-de-sac in Sri Lanka where Tamil, Sinhalese, Burgher and Muslim families find "a way to balance their own rituals and devotions and languages with those of other people." As we follow the children of those families through the next four years, we see how harmonious and delightful that balance can be.
The Ripley of Ripley's Believe It or Not was—believe it or not—an actual person. In this engaging biography, Thompson follows LeRoy Ripley's struggles to escape his small town and make his career as a cartoonist for various San Francisco and New York papers.
Family sagas generally start with a joyous birth—or, as in the case of Taiye Selasi's debut novel, an unexpected death. When 53-year-old Kweku Sai keels over from a heart attack in his elegant backyard garden, the news quickly travels all the way from Ghana to America, wreaking havoc on his estranged adult children.
Read the first page of Elizabeth Scarboro's memoir My Foreign Cities, and you're ready for the inevitable tears. Her husband, Stephen, has cystic fibrosis and is slowly dying. More unexpected is this writer's intelligent and gripping honesty.
Typically, a ghost story involves the dead, not the living. But Constance Schulyer Klein is no ordinary ghost: She's the live, flesh-and-blood protagonist at the center of a gripping, painful family saga.
In Fiona Maazel's follow-up to her acclaimed debut Last Last Chance
, love inspires a woman to spend a decade cloaked in wigs, prosthetic noses and fat suits, tracking her estranged husband around the world.
In this sly and wise new novel by Oprah.com's own Amy Shearn, Jenny Lipkin, a depressed but drily witty Brooklynite, feels decimated by small disasters like a colicky infant and a toddler who bites. And then there are the big problems: the lack of money and the state of her marriage. When her husband goes AWOL, leaving Jenny alone with two young children and no income, she snaps. Jenny considers ending it all but is pulled back from the brink by a mermaid (yep, you read that right) who leaves the East River in order to take up residence in Jenny's body and, sometimes, her mind. In exchange for saving Jenny's life, the mermaid (who reminds us of Cher in Moonstruck, with her "snap-out-of-it!" advice) has certain demands.
Some stories begin with a bang. And some begin with a roaring fireball of truth. Jonathan Dee's latest novel belongs in the latter camp, plopping you directly into one of the most ouch-it's-so-honest marriage-counseling sessions ever written.
Leigh Newman spent half her youth fishing for king salmon, dressing caribou, and taking target practice with her father (a.k.a. the Great Alaskan Dad), and the other half trying to fit in at a Baltimore private school while caring for her fragile mother, a social worker with chronic money trouble.
The Gods of Heavenly Punishment places very real-feeling characters in the 1945 firebombing of Tokyo, an episode of World War II that most people find impossible to truly comprehend.
Sitting in dismal winter traffic, just about everyone has wondered what it'd be like to drive straight to the airport and fly off to someplace hot, far away and, most of all, not here. The problem for John Reed is not just that he does this, but that he takes his eight-month-old daughter with him—leaving his wife Veronica behind, sleeping in bed.
you've ever wondered what Downton Abbey would be like if it
were set in the South of France during our current century, then pick up this
smart novel de charme immediately.' '
In 1950, Hilly Wise is an everyday teenager
living in working-class New Haven, Connecticut. By 1951, after his father's
first big victory as a plaintiff attorney, he is the son of a
Kincaid is an inventive writer, and in See Now Then she takes all kinds of writerly risks: moving from past to present to future, exploring how we think of our relationships in our minds, where beginnings, middles and end exist simultaneously.
In his latest novel, The Love Song of Jonny Valentine, author and Whiting Writers’ Award winner Teddy Wayne paints a scathing portrayal of our culture’s celebrity obsession.
Most of us have busy lives. Then again, most of us aren't writing brilliant, hefty novels about Victorian England while trying to raise 10 kids. Considering the social mores of his time, Charles Dickens didn't even have to be an involved father—and yet he was. In this engrossing, delightfully written biography, Robert Gottlieb has created intimate individual sketches of Dickens' entire brood.
Live or die? Leave or stay? Debating either question can make any memoir compelling. But when both are addressed simultaneously, you've got the makings of a book so gripping that you'll read it in one feverish sitting—which is just what Alexandra Fuller has accomplished in Falling.
In this swift-moving sliver of a novel, all is well. The year is 1950-something. The doctor's wife is pregnant. Her other three children spend their time by the sparkling lake behind the house. When the new baby arrives and begins to show signs' ' of serious medical problems, though, that patina of joy is threatened.
When "a small
grey figure wearing a bright red foulard" disrupts the funeral for
respected Parisian civil servant Léon Le Gall—father of three,
grandfather of 12, great-grandfather of four—at the venerable Notre
Dame' 'Cathedral, a family secret unravels.
In each of these seven piercing stories, author Joan Wickersham reveals uncanny and complex parallels that occur when very different people love each other under very similar circumstances. What ostensibly links the tales is that somewhere along the line, the characters receive news from Spain.
Part love story and part intimate history of the Nazis' 1938 arrival in Vienna, Some Girls, Some Hats and Hitler was
originally released—and promptly forgotten—in 1984. Wandering through a
bookshop a few years ago, a British editor discovered the out-of-print
memoir and decided to republish it.
Novels about teenager angst can sometimes sound, well...teenage. Not so in the case of It's Fine by Me by Norwegian writer Per Petterson,. In this newly translated novel (courtesy of Don Bartlett), he follows the struggles of Audun Sletten, a 13-year-old boy who supports his mother by delivering newspapers.
Sano Ichiro, samurai, former police investigator and chamberlain to the shogun, finds three women dead after a major earthquake. After realizing they were not victims of the disaster but murdered in a deadly game, he soon finds himself searching for answers.
When a lonely orchard tender shelters two young girls on the run from a
cruel, vindictive pursuer, you'd expect some kind of romance to ensue.
But in Amanda Coplin's lavish novel set in turn-of-the-last-century
Washington State, another kind of love takes precedence—the
kind that turns strangers into fellow saviors.
In this tender, gorgeous novel, Michael Kimball explores how we try to understand even the most difficult family members.
This mystery is a delicate yet kooky romp. At the book's heart is Mink, formally known as Her Highness Princess Alexandrina, daughter of the Maharaja of Prindur. Raised by her exiled father in England, the princess finds herself destitute upon his death thanks to his taste for luxury.
Amir Ali has changed his identity to escape from a family feud in India. He claims to be an ex-Thug, a former member of the (made-up) Thuggee cult, which murders people for the sake of killing. As such, he allows himself to be "studied" by a phrenologist—a man who researches the so-called science of skulls and how their shape determines character.
There have been some beautifully written and truly upsetting end-of-the-world books recently, but Peter Heller's The Dog Stars has put a fresh twist on the genre.