9 Must-Read Books for June 2013
A century-spanning novel that makes a stop in World War I, gripping new fiction from Khaled Hosseini, revealing new details about Sylvia Plath and more.
May 28, 2013
On a gusty afternoon in 1919, two World War I veterans nose their plane into the air, headed east from Newfoundland, pitching across rivers of tailwind and blizzard before crash-landing in a bog in Ireland for the world's first successful transatlantic flight.
And the Mountains Echoed (Riverhead) opens like a thunderclap, with a fable of sacrifice told by a destitute Afghan villager to his son and daughter. What makes his sad tale even more searing is that the children are unaware their father is about to sell one of them.
Twelve-year-old "Bean" Holladay and her older sister, Liz, aren't immediately concerned when their mother abandons them to "make some time and space for myself...to find the magic again"; she's done this before—to chase a man, or her dream of being a singer. But when she doesn't return after two weeks, the girls, who've been subsisting on a diet of chicken potpies, revert to plan B—buying bus tickets from California to their mother's hometown in Virginia—to avoid being taken away by social services.
Unmastered: A Book on Desire, Most Difficult to Tell (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), by Katherine Angel, a London journalist and postdoctoral research fellow, offers an arresting mix of diaristic experiences with her lover—à la Anaïs Nin—and heady reflections from feminist thinkers like Susan Sontag and Virginia Woolf. A genre-busting nonfiction account that reads like poetry, revels in ambiguity, and intentionally defies definition, the book explores the slippery emotions of sex in fiery, collage-like scenes intended to reconcile the contradictory "metaphors we love by.
This new twist on The Arabian Nights by Lebanese novelist Hanan al-Shaykh, entitled One Thousand and One Nights (Pantheon),
collects 19 of the ancient tales of lust, greed, and betrayal into one
spellbinding narrative. As a young girl, al-Shaykh first heard this
tantalizing tome dramatized on the radio but was forbidden to read it;
later she became obsessed with the mythic storyteller Shahrazad, who
invents these postcoital cliff-hangers to save her own skin. In the
introduction, Mary Gaitskill calls the book "a fight between sacred and
profane love." Sign us up.
On a Wintry Night in London , a young mother turned on the kitchen gas and put her head in the oven, leaving her two sleeping children upstairs, their bedroom doors sealed, their windows wide open. With that act, Sylvia Plath achieved tragic icon status, an end that overshadows her work as a writer. But in this accessible, eye-opening new biography, which focuses exclusively on one crucial month of Plath's life, June 1953, when she traveled to New York City to take up residence at the Barbizon Hotel and work as a guest editor for Mademoiselle magazine, it is the fun-loving, Dylan Thomas–stalking, daiquiri-drinking Plath who takes center stage.
Photographer Martin Usborne is on a mission to save as many animals as he can in 365 days. His aptly titled project—A Year to Help—began in July 2012 and will wrap up next month. The quest has sparked him to travel the world visiting rescue shelters in Spain and a dog meat restaurant and a zoo in the Philippines, as well as to launch a blog chronicling his adventures. In his just-released photo collection, The Silence of Dogs in Cars (Kehrer Verlag), he aims to capture the way in which we silence, control, or distance ourselves from other animals. Mission accomplished.' '
Fans of Junot Díaz, who, as fiction editor of Boston Review, published NoViolet Bulawayo's early work, will love her debut novel, We Need New Names (Reagan Arthur). Ten-year-old Darling goes from stealing guavas—and the shoes off a corpse—in Mugabe-battered Zimbabwe to Michigan, where the winter cold "makes like it wants to kill you" and isolation born of displacement threatens to devour her. Bulawayo's use of contemporary culture (the kids play a game in which they hunt for bin Laden and, later, text like their lives depend on it), as well as her fearless defense of the immigrant experience through honoring the cadence of spoken language, sets this book apart—on the top shelf.
In a hair-braiding salon in Trenton, New Jersey, Ifemelu— the articulate, lovely, and blisteringly frank protagonist of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's masterful novel Americanah (Knopf)—tosses off an e-mail to her first lover, the bookish Obinze, in Nigeria, where, after 13 years of living in the States, she plans to return to start life anew. Though successful as a blogger and on fellowship at Princeton, she feels "cement in her soul" and ditches the privileged life she's clawed her way toward to follow her passion back to Africa. An expansive, epic love story set in three countries, Adichie's fourth book pulls no punches with regard to race, class, and the high-risk, heart-tearing struggle for belonging in a fractured world.