Brand New Books to Give to Your Best Friends
'Tis here: the most thoughtful books of the season.
4 of 5
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
In 2001, a 20-year-old American named John Walker Lindh was arrested for fighting with the Taliban in a headline-grabbing case. Journalist and novelist John Wray was on assignment in Afghanistan more than a decade later when he heard rumors about a second "American Taliban"—in this case, a young woman. Godsend is his imagining of who she might have been. In his telling, 18-year-old Aden Sawyer, shattered by her parents' bitter divorce, goes with a male friend to Pakistan to study the Quran. After all, her father is a professor of Islamic studies, and she learned Arabic as a child. In Pakistan, the teenagers become increasingly drawn into a violent network, crossing over the border, finding themselves in way over their heads. Wray's audacious fiction is clearly steeped in painstaking research, offering a devastating portrayal of the Taliban while finding a place of compassion for his profoundly misguided protagonists. At one point, Aden regards a bird: "As she gazed up transfixed the mist seemed to part and the magpie's blue and emerald highlights iridesced like Heaven's mystery disclosed. She felt herself sobbing and took her shawl between her teeth to make no sound that might send that wondrous bird away from her." The feat Wray pulls off is to seek understanding without ever becoming sentimental.
— Dawn Raffel