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Sisi and Gertie meet as children in the 1940s. They come from different strata of their Haitian society, where skin color, hairstyle and city of birth can all mark a person’s worth, depending on who is judging. These two fast friends are often confused but not truly bothered by these distinctions until Gertie’s meddling sisters conspire to separate them. Ignorant of significant truths about their families, Sisi and Gertie don’t realize how intertwined they really are. Then their budding connection is suddenly severed, and misunderstandings and mistrust lead to alienation that lasts for decades until life finally draws them back to each other. 

Told from both girls’ perspectives, Myriam J.A. Chancy’s Village Weavers homes in on the intricate, nuanced lives of women—as sisters, friends, lovers and mothers. With interjections in French, Spanish and Kreyol throughout, the novel also covers historical ground, incorporating some of the spirituality, art, activism and politics of an island that has been divided between Haitians and Dominicans for centuries. The losses they endure eventually drive Gertie and Sisi away, like migrating birds, from their land and their memories. Against the backdrop of these weighty issues, Village Weavers unfolds somewhat slowly at first but finds a rhythm halfway through, where the pace picks up. 

Chancy takes the reader from the 1940s and the World Expo marking Port-au-Prince’s bicentennial through the 1970s, when both women are living in America, and ultimately to 2002, when Sisi and Gertie have both grown old. “Not all sweetness is sweet at first,” and these two women must be willing to “dive into the depths” of what they do not understand to finally heal. Village Weavers is full of vibrancy, wistfulness and even playfulness, capably portraying the enduring tenacity of women in uncertain times. Reading Chancy’s portrayal of Haiti is a memorable experience—rich with contradictions and complexities, visceral and ever-changing. 

Village Weavers is full of vibrancy, wistfulness and even playfulness, capably portraying the enduring tenacity of women in uncertain times.
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At its heart, Ferdia Lennon’s debut novel, Glorious Exploits, is something of a Judy Garland/Mickey Rooney let’s-put-on-a-show romp . . . with a few minor, and mind-bending, exceptions. The stars are a pair of foul-mouthed unemployed potters from Syracuse, Sicily, the year is 412 BC and the acting troupe isn’t a bunch of neighborhood kids; it’s composed of Athenian prisoners of war left in a quarry to starve.

The tale’s narrator, Lampo, is a garrulous scoundrel always on the lookout for spare coin. One day, after tossing scraps of food to the Athenian prisoners in exchange for their reciting passages from Euripides, Lampo’s more taciturn friend Gelon presents him with a plan: reinvent themselves as directors, recruit the prisoners as a cast, tart up the prison quarry as their amphitheater and present two of Euripides’ plays, Medea and Trojan Women, back to back.

What could possibly go wrong? Apart, of course, from the fact that the potential audience of Syracusans hates the defeated Athenians, and that the production is to be mounted by two unemployed potters with no background in theater. Nonetheless, the show must go on; the hapless duo happens upon a mysterious benefactor who offers funds for the production, sets are built, costumes are sewn and various potentially hazardous wheels are set in motion.

At the outset of rehearsals, co-director Gelon gives his captive cast a little pep talk. He reminisces about how the Athenian tragedy Oedipus Rex sparked his fondness for the theater: “I don’t hate you. How could I? Even though I know you came to make us slaves. I can’t hate you. I believe any city that gave us those plays has something worth saving.”

If politics makes strange bedfellows, then Glorious Exploits reveals that art makes even stranger ones, as the captors and the captives pause their hostilities for the sake of a greater—if imperfect—good. Lennon’s unique voice sparkles with a darkly comic undertone in this quirkily uplifting commentary on war, art and the surprisingly resilient spirit of humanity.

Ferdia Lennon’s unique voice sparkles with a darkly comic undertone in his debut novel, Glorious Exploits, a quirkily uplifting commentary on war, art and the surprisingly resilient spirit of humanity.

Percival Everett brings The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn’s enslaved supporting character, Jim, into the foreground of his new novel, James, a reworking of the Mark Twain classic. Though James stays with Huck Finn’s characters, setting and first-person perspective, it’s Jim, not Huck, who narrates this story. Jim overhears that he’s about to be sold to a man in New Orleans, and, as in the original, he runs, landing on Jackson Island, where he encounters Huck, who’s faked his own death to flee his abusive, alcoholic father. The two set out together, floating down the Mississippi.

James, like Huck Finn, is a picaresque tale, one of improbable adventures and moments of reunion. Jim and Huck encounter the con men the Duke and Dauphin, and though this duo get their comic moments, Everett highlights their quick turn to brutality. Jim and Huck are soon separated, and Jim recounts a series of horrors—Everett pulls no punches in depicting white enslavers’ treatment of enslaved people—leavened with the unexpected connections Jim makes. Unlike in Huck Finn, James’ Jim can read and write, secretly reading books from his enslaver’s library. In a feverish dream encounter after he’s bitten by a snake, Jim debates Voltaire, proponent of liberty and equality, forcing Voltaire to admit to his own racism. All the while, he longs for his wife and daughter, determined to gain his own freedom and theirs.

Everett balances a moral clarity about the atrocities of slavery with a dry, Twainian humor, even turning Twain’s dialect on its head to great effect: In this telling, enslaved people use this stereotypical “slave” dialect only around white people, so as to seem unthreateningly foolish, while laughing about it together in private. On his journey, Jim repeatedly encounters other enslaved people being brutalized by white people, but he’s powerless to intervene; life has taught him that to do so leads to greater violence, and sometimes death. Throughout, the novel’s revelations feel both surprising and convincing, and its explosive, cathartic ending points at the possibility of hope for Jim and his family.

In an era of retellings, James stands out for staying true to Twain’s voice, tale-spinning talent and humor, while also accurately depicting what Twain failed to acknowledge: the reality of life for enslaved people. In revealing Jim’s full humanity, deep thinking and love through his hero’s journey, Everett has written a visionary and necessary reimagining.

In an era of retellings, Percival Everett’s James stands out for staying true to Mark Twain’s voice, tale-spinning talent and humor, while also accurately depicting what Twain failed to acknowledge: the reality of life for enslaved people.
STARRED REVIEW

Our top 10 books for March 2024

The best new books of the month include highly anticipated follow-ups from Sloane Crosley, Sasha LaPointe and Juan Gómez-Jurado.
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Book jacket image for 49 Days by Agnes Lee

49 Days is an unusual, profoundly moving graphic novel whose elegance belies its complexity and whose emotional impact only grows upon rereading.

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Book jacket image for All That Grows by Jack Wong

In All That Grows, Jack Wong evokes the soft haze of childhood summers where a small stand of trees might be seen as a huge

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Book jacket image for Black Wolf by Juan Gomez-Jurado

The Antonia Scott series is hands-down the best suspense trilogy to come along since Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy.

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A lushly crafted tale of a Maine fishing village cursed by a mermaid, The Moorings of Mackerel Sky is a debut to submerge yourself in.

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Book jacket image for Mrs. Gulliver by Valerie Martin

In Mrs. Gulliver, Valerie Martin offers us an idyll, perhaps even a comedy. All’s well that ends well. We hope.

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Book jacket image for The Phoenix Bride by Natasha Siegel

Natasha Siegel’s beautifully written The Phoenix Bride pushes readers to reconsider what happily ever after looks like.

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Book jacket image for Thunder Song by Sasha LaPointe

Thunder Song is an essay collection full of sensitive meditations and powerful observations from Coast Salish author Sasha LaPointe.

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Book jacket image for The Unclaimed by Pamela Prickett

Gripping and groundbreaking, The Unclaimed investigates the Americans who are abandoned in death and what they tell us about how we treat the living.

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Book jacket image for The Great Divide by Cristina Henriquez

Cristina Henriquez’s polyvocal novel is a moving and powerful epic about the human cost of building the Panama Canal. It’s easy to imagine, in these

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Novelist, essayist, humorist and critic Sloane Crosley shows a remarkable willingness to face the dark questions that follow a suicide.

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The latest from author-illustrator Randy Cecil is a fun book to read aloud, with beautiful oil-on-paper illustrations for readers to contemplate as they make their own discoveries right along with our diminutive hero.
The best new books of the month include highly anticipated follow-ups from Sloane Crosley, Sasha LaPointe and Juan Gómez-Jurado.
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In The Great Divide, her first novel since 2014’s The Book of Unknown Americans, Cristina Henriquez paints an intricate, layered portrait of a monumental moment in the history of the Americas: the construction of the Panama Canal. Set in 1907, this polyvocal novel is a powerful act of witness and remembrance.

Instead of focusing on only one character, Henriquez threads together the stories of over a dozen people whose lives are profoundly affected by the canal project. This inspired choice suits the scope of the event and hints at even more stories beyond these pages: It’s easy to imagine, in the snippets of lives that Henriquez zooms in on, just how many more love stories, deaths, moments of radicalization, migrations, injustices, protests and other life-altering moments occurred during the construction of the canal between 1903 and 1914.

The characters come from many countries and a wide range of backgrounds. There’s Francisco, a Panamanian fisherman who’s disgusted at what the canal project is doing to his country, and his son Omar, whose decision to work in the excavation zone causes a deep rift between them. There’s Ada, a girl from Barbados who arrives in Panama hoping to earn enough money to help her ill sister back home. She finds work in the house of John and Marian Oswald, a white American couple who have come to the isthmus in the hopes that John can eradicate malaria. Joaquin, a fishmonger who’s mostly content to live an ordinary life in the city, gets swept up in his wife’s burgeoning protest movement when she finds out her hometown is being forcibly moved to make space for the canal.

Additional points of view include those of canal workers from across the Caribbean, a foreman, a mail carrier, a young woman with dreams of becoming a photojournalist and an egotistical French doctor. The canal disrupts their lives in different ways: It kills some of them and makes others rich.

The Great Divide is a collection of small narratives that together create a moving and powerful epic about the human cost of building the Panama Canal. The novel’s greatest strength is this unrelenting smallness. It insists on the importance of every human life, and illuminates the endless, ordinary, forgotten stories that underlie every pivotal moment in human history.

Cristina Henríquez’s polyvocal novel is a moving and powerful epic about the human cost of building the Panama Canal. It’s easy to imagine, in these snippets of lives, just how many more love stories, deaths, migrations, protests and other life-altering moments occurred during the canal’s construction.

Elizabeth Brooks returns to World War II-era England with her fourth novel, following two young women connected by their love of the same man. But The Woman in the Sable Coat isn’t a typical story of plucky, cheerful British heroines making a difference to the war effort: Although World War II is at the center of the novel, and its period details are sharply etched, this is a darker, more Gothic-leaning story.

Nina Woodrow and Kate Nicholson are first brought together on an August afternoon in 1934 when 14-year-old Nina is on the outs with her best friend, Rose, and Kate, married to her childhood friend Guy Nicholson, is pregnant and miserable in their new home in Cottenden village. That night, a spontaneous dinner party has both Nina and Kate acting impulsively and seemingly out of character.

Eight years later, the war is grinding on. Nina, now 22, has joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force, where she folds silk parachutes and tries to find her footing. Back in Cottenden, Kate cares for her son, Pip, and takes in refugees. But Guy, now a Royal Air Force Pilot at the same base as Nina, tells Kate he wants a divorce and that he’s in love with Nina. This revelation draws the despairing Kate to Nina’s father Henry, an awkward, cautious widower.

The novel rotates between Nina’s and Kate’s perspectives, as each contrives to live with her decisions and precarious situations: Nina as the second wife of a divorced man and Kate as a divorcee. With a sense of suspense and menace in the vein of Daphne du Maurier (to whom there’s a nod as Kate obsessively reads du Maurier’s Frenchman’s Creek), The Woman in the Sable Coat lays clues for the reader to suspect a long-hidden deception, a secret that turns out to affect both women in unexpected ways. The novel also shows how the era’s prim morality feels suffocating for middle-class women, and how the trauma of the Great War still reverberates for some of these characters decades later. The Woman in the Sable Coat is a slow burn of a novel, with a lovely, surprising moment of redemption and connection for both Nina and Kate at the story’s end.

The Woman in the Sable Coat isn’t a typical story of plucky, cheerful British heroines making a difference to the war effort: Although World War II is at the center of the novel, and its period details are sharply etched, this is a darker, more Gothic-leaning story.
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The American Queen

Bestselling author Vanessa Miller has penned yet another moving and illuminating novel in The American Queen. Inspired by a true story, it celebrates a Black woman’s pursuit of freedom and a community’s undying courage.

It is 1864, and though President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation over a year ago, Louella is still enslaved at the Montgomery Plantation in Mississippi. Emboldened by a speech of her father’s about revolution and freedom—one that later costs him his life—Louella decides to risk her own life to become a free woman. Together with her loving husband, William, she leads her community on a journey fraught with unimaginable obstacles to build a kingdom founded on equality, justice and love.

An indestructible spirit shines through the hardship and cruelty Louella and her community face. Brutal beatings and murders are constant on the plantation, and even after they establish their Kingdom of the Happy Land, inequality, injustice and attacks by the Ku Klux Klan threaten to destroy everything they have painstakingly built. Still, they persevere and create a society where Black people can not only live freely but also pursue their dreams.

With gentleness and empathy, Miller examines the complex relationship between faith and adversity. Though she is inspired by William’s faith, Louella struggles to reconcile her circumstances with God’s promises. Having lost both her mother and father, hate settles in her heart towards those who continuously seek to subdue Black people. Louella’s spiritual journey is beautifully chronicled, and by the end of the novel, her growth is evident.

 

The Irish Matchmaker

Matchmaking season is approaching and Lisdoonvarna’s matchmakers, Catriona Daly and her father, are preparing for the 1905 Lisdoonvarna Matchmaking Festival. Though she’s helped many in the town find love, Catriona herself has been unsuccessful. With each matchmaking season, her hopes of finding her true love and finally leaving Lisdoonvarna are reignited. When Catriona is asked to be the matchmaker for Lord Osborne’s son, Andrew, she instead hopes to catch Andrew’s eye herself, and sets out to become the bride his family wants for him.

Meanwhile, Donal Bunratty is struggling to provide for his young daughter while facing the possibility of losing his farm. Fifty years after the Great Famine, Ireland is still suffering from its impact. Donal’s farm is not as productive as it once was, and without help, he may soon be forced to give it up. Though he misses his late wife, he decides to take part in the matchmaking festival with his daughter’s encouragement.

Filled with delightful twists, The Irish Matchmaker is an immersive story about faith and finding love in unexpected places from Jennifer Deibel, the author of A Dance in Donegal, The Lady of Galway Manor and The Maid of Ballymacool. Deibel skillfully weaves Donal and Catriona’s stories, creating realistic characters and a fascinating storyline. She also takes an honest look at the crushing impact of economic hardship and explores the role of faith when all hope seems lost.

 

The Foxhole Victory Tour

With enchanting prose, author Amy Lynn Green’s endearing historical novel, The Foxhole Victory Tour, follows the intriguing adventures of a group of USO performers during World War II.

Socialite Catherine Duquette joins a USO tour set to travel across part of North Africa, hoping to escape her sheltered life and find out what happened to Sergeant Leo Wallace, a pilot she’s in love with who suddenly stopped responding to her letters. After getting fired from her dream job, musician Maggie McCleod joins the USO camp show as well. Their unit also includes a magician, a tap dancer and a singer. As the group starts to bond, they learn that the USO talent manager will be selecting only one of them for the prestigious Pepsodent Show tour, a career-making opportunity that all of them are determined to land.

Green crafts a compelling and original cast of characters. Maggie is outspoken and witty, while Catherine is sophisticated and conflict avoidant. Then there is Gabriel, the pensive, withdrawn magician; Judith, the private and skeptical singer; Howie, the experienced tap dancer; and Douglas, their businesslike talent manager. The opportunity to grow their career adds an interesting twist to the group’s dynamics. All of them want to be selected for different, valid reasons. They grow individually and as a group, and beautifully exemplify the themes of friendship, faith and resilience explored in the novel.

The Foxhole Victory Tour is an eye-opening look at the experiences of brave USO performers who helped build troops’ morale and keep them connected to their lives back home during WWII.

Three Christian historical novels laud the power of faith, love and commitment in overcoming risk and tragedy.
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Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s Independence chronicles the lives of Bengali sisters Deepa, Priya and Jamini beginning in 1947, during a period of upheaval in India. Deepa looks for fulfillment in marriage, while Priya hopes to become a doctor like their father, and Jamini focuses on family and duty. When their father is fatally shot during a riot, their lives are turned upside down. During the Partition of India and Pakistan, each sister is forced to make a life-changing choice. At once a tender family portrait and a powerful exploration of Indian history, Independence is a rewarding book club pick. 

Dust Child by Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai tracks a diverse cast of characters whose lives are impacted by the Vietnam War. Phong, a Black American Vietnamese orphan, searches for his parents and dreams of immigrating to America. Dan, an American helicopter pilot haunted by his experiences in the war, goes back to Vietnam, aiming to lay the past to rest and mend his marriage. This stirring novel offers a nuanced look at how the country was affected by the conflict, and Nguyễn’s examinations of PTSD and racism will get book clubs talking.

Regina Porter’s The Travelers tells the story of two very different American families whose lives become interlaced over the course of several decades, beginning in the 1950s. James Vincent, a prosperous white lawyer, struggles to bond with his son, Rufus. Tensions mount after Rufus marries Claudia Christie, a Black woman. Through flashbacks, Porter provides a poignant account of Agnes, Claudia’s mother, who was raped as a young woman in Georgia. Porter masterfully spins the detailed stories of other family members as she explores the meaning of kinship and connection. The end result is an epic yet intimate tale teeming with humanity.

In Salt Houses, author Hala Alyan follows the Yacoubs, a Palestinian family displaced by the Six-Day War. The conflict splinters the family, as sisters Alia and Widad settle in Kuwait, and their mother goes to Jordan. Despite a troubled marriage, Alia and her husband, Atef, raise three children, two of whom move to America. Through skillful shifts in perspective, Alyan compassionately portrays the lives of the Yacoubs and their experiences across the years. Tradition, identity and assimilation are among the book’s many rich discussion topics.

Journey from India to Palestine, from Vietnam to midcentury America in these stellar reads.
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At one point in Kirsten Bakis’ second novel, King Nyx, Anna Fort, the protagonist and narrator, contemplates the tendency of evil men to wreck the lives of everyone they come upon, especially women and girls. Such men can never have enough money or power, and cruelty is their intention. Anna has spent a good deal of her life reacting to men like this. One was her employer and father-in-law; another a mysterious magnate named Claude Arkel who invites her and her eccentric husband, Charles, to stay as guests on his private island.

On a late autumn day just after World War I, we find Anna and Charles (who are based on real people of the same names) waiting for a boat to take them to the island. All the while, Anna hugs a cage whose cover barely protects the two little parrots inside from the cold. Anna’s obsession with their care hints at the lengths she’ll go to protect the vulnerable, introduces themes of captivity and freedom, and serves as a callback to the titular bird, King Nyx. Despite the mighty moniker, King Nyx is a toy made of tin. To the lonely, impoverished and motherless Anna, the toy—thought of as female despite the name—was a childhood friend and a totem. It will turn out that it still is.

Once on the island, the Forts meet Frank and Stella Bixby, a couple who enjoy a strange, and as we learn, very dark dynamic. The couples take to each other right away. Charles and Frank bond over their mutual weirdness, and Stella and Anna both need a female confidant. Stella is a fantastic creation: She’s quick-witted, mouthy, drinks like a fish, smokes like a chimney and has a heart of gold. Indeed, the injection of humor in some very tense scenes comes courtesy of Stella craving a cigarette or blurting out a bon mot.

Bakis, author of Lives of the Monster Dogs, creates an atmosphere of gut-churning dread from the first chapter, when two strange women warn of trouble on Arkel’s island while the Forts wait for their boat. Trouble happens quickly, and there are scenes so anxiety-producing that you might want to put the book down and check to see that your windows and doors are secure. King Nyx is a scary good book.

 

Kirsten Bakis, author of Lives of the Monster Dogs, creates an atmosphere of gut-churning dread from the very first chapter of King Nyx. This is a scary good book.
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Valerie Martin’s captivating new novel, Mrs. Gulliver, lies just beyond the horizon. The year is 1954. Verona Island floats a longish ferry ride away from the mainland. Lila Gulliver’s clients enter through a side door behind a hedge, unseen from the street, though prostitution is legal on the island.

Lila, who tells this tale, is a keen observer of surfaces. She crisply describes the clothing and demeanor of everyone we meet. Of the two destitute farm girls who arrive in her drawing room one humid day, Carita stands out. She possesses a rich velvet voice and “an archness as well, distant and amused.” Carita has been blind since birth. Lila thinks Carita might just fulfill a fantasy of some of her clients.

We readers, like Lila, her clients, her colleagues and a college boy named Ian, are soon enchanted by Carita. Lila notes that Ian is “a romantic, self-righteous boy, and I liked the idea of him with Carita, two healthy young bodies driven together by sexual attraction and not much else. . . . She would forget him in a month, but he would remember her for the rest of his life.”

Alas, Lila is not quite right. Ian decides he must save Carita from this den of iniquity. (Lila’s house, by the way, is a place where part-time sex worker Mimi describes the economic theories of Adam Smith and Karl Marx, and Carita decides Marx is right.) Ian, scion of the wealthiest family on the island, is involved with a murder that may be a gangland hit. He loses his mind. He and Carita flee to an impoverished fishing village.

Many complications ensue, mostly having to do with money, and the varying temperatures and power dynamics of love. In her afterword, Martin writes that she did not want Carita to end up like Juliet Capulet, a tragic heroine. Instead, in Mrs. Gulliver, Martin offers us an idyll, perhaps even a comedy. Her touch is tender and light. There are shadows and there is sunshine. All’s well that ends well. We hope.

In Mrs. Gulliver, Valerie Martin offers us an idyll, perhaps even a comedy. All’s well that ends well. We hope.
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“What’s past is prologue,” Shakespeare wrote in The Tempest. Tommy Orange demonstrates the veracity of that line in Wandering Stars, his follow-up to There There, the 2018 debut novel for which he was a Pulitzer finalist. Few literary debuts are as chillingly of-the-moment as There There, which spanned a huge cast of Native American characters and culminated in a tragedy at an Oakland powwow. Orange further explores the lives of some of those characters in this assured continuation.

Orange pulls off a neat sleight of hand in Wandering Stars: He limits the scope by focusing on only a few characters, yet he also expands his narrative by rewinding to the 19th and early 20th centuries to tell the story of ancestors of the Red Feather family.

The book begins with the 1864 Sand Creek Massacre, when the U.S. Army attacked Cheyenne and Arapaho people in present-day Colorado. As Orange puts it, “seven hundred drunken men came at dawn with cannons,” and killed hundreds of Native Americans—a prolongation of “America’s longest war.”

One of the survivors was Jude Star, a mute man sent by train as a prisoner of war to a fortress in St. Augustine, Florida. The man the army chose to run the prison was Richard Henry Pratt. Years later, Pratt founded the Carlisle School, to which Native American parents were forced to send their children to be “taught that everything about being Indian was wrong.” Jude’s son, Charles Star, is enrolled there. By the early 1900s, Charles develops an addiction to laudanum and tries to interview an aging Pratt to learn about his father.

The novel then shifts to 2018, when Orvil Red Feather, a survivor of the tragedy in There There, is trying to overcome his injuries and emotional trauma. Like Charles, he turns to drugs, in his case with the help of his friend Sean, whose father sets up a basement lab and starts his own pharmacopeia. He also tries to piece together the story of his Cheyenne family history, although Opal, the great-aunt with whom he and his younger brothers live, isn’t forthcoming about their heritage.

The style of the first part of the book is different from the second, more modern half. If the result feels like two separate books, there’s still much to recommend Wandering Stars, from Orange’s sensitive depiction of Orvil’s path to recovery to the chronicling of important, overlooked moments in the brutal history of America’s treatment of its Indigenous people. As Opal laments, Native Americans have been “consistently dehumanized and misrepresented in the media and in educational institutions.” Wandering Stars is an impassioned censure of that marginalization.

Read Tommy Orange’s essay on the writing of Wandering Stars.

Tommy Orange’s Wandering Stars sensitively depicts Orvil Red Feather’s path to recovery after the tragedy in There, There, as well as chronicling important, overlooked moments in the history of America’s brutal treatment of its Indigenous people.
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Before March of 2018, I never intended to write a sequel to There There. When I first decided to do it, the mean voices inside immediately began judging me. Like it was lowbrow. Like it belonged in the Marvel universe of decision-making, like people would think it was a cash grab even though I made the decision before the success of There There.

The idea first came to me when I was sitting in a Penguin Random House warehouse signing an insane amount of books ahead of the publication of There There. That is not a romantic place for a novel to be conceived. I feel embarrassed to share that it came during that moment, but that is when it came. The sales reps who were helping me to sign all these books played a Spotify radio station based on the song “There There” by Radiohead. “Wandering Star” by Portishead came on and right when I heard it, I knew I wanted to write a sequel and that it would be called Wandering Stars. I didn’t at all know at first where the follow-up novel would lead based on this title, but I knew with strange certainty it would be the title. I could never have guessed all the unexpected places it would lead me.

Some of the earliest writing I did for Wandering Stars was about Maxine Loneman experiencing the death of her grandson. I was on a run in Baltimore, and I thought of Maxine and Tony in the afterlife and then of all these afterlife experiences of the characters from There There. That was the original conception—there was going to be a lot of weird afterlife stuff. And then in early 2019 I was in Sweden for the translation of There There. I almost didn’t go on this trip. I was to go to Italy, Sweden and Amsterdam. I’d traveled so much in 2018 that despite these being really cool sounding places, I didn’t actually want to go.

It was cool in the way land acknowledgments are cool. Until they aren’t. And it’s like, okay but what are we gonna do that means more? What’s the next step?

Just before I was to leave I went to a Lunar New Year festival at the Oakland Museum with my family, and we parked at the Lake Merritt BART parking lot, which is notorious for break-ins. I think I wanted something bad to happen. I even left my backpack in the car. And then it did. Someone stole all of my luggage, my passport and my backpack with my computer in it, plus even my son’s toys and some of my wife’s clothes and jewelry. I was upset but also excited because I thought it meant I wouldn’t have to go to Europe. But my agent insisted I should. And she was right. So I got an emergency rushed new passport and only missed the Italian portion of the trip.

Anyway, so then the organizers in Sweden asked if I wanted a private tour of a museum. They said there was a Cheyenne exhibit. I ended up getting this really weird meta-tour where the person leading me through the museum kept explaining that they knew the museum shouldn’t have all this stuff and that they were trying to find ways to return it but weren’t entirely sure how yet. It was cool in the way land acknowledgments are cool. Until they aren’t. And it’s like, okay but what are we gonna do that means more? What’s the next step?

When we came to the Cheyenne exhibit I looked at old regalia and felt that familiar sadness I feel at museums, wondering about why anyone thought showing stolen stuff directly related to colonialism was a good idea, when I caught sight of a newspaper article clipping that said “Southern Cheyennes in Florida, 1875.” I know enough about my tribe’s history to know we were never in Florida. Not as a people. When I came home from the trip, I ended up falling deeply down a rabbit hole researching why some of us were in St. Augustine, Florida, from 1875 to 1878, at a prison-castle called Fort Marion that was shaped like a star. St. Augustine was also the very first European settlement in the continental United States. It should be noted, and some know, but many do not, that Columbus arrived in the Caribbean, not in North America. His discovery of the United States is just as false and meaningless as his legacy as some kind of hero. He went home in chains and will always be remembered by people who know the history as an awful human being.

But how would I connect this piece of history with the aftermath of the powwow from There There?

It was in the research that the moment happened. This was maybe six months after Sweden and first finding out about Fort Marion. I’d been reading a book called War Dance at Fort Marion by Brad D. Lookingbill. I was immersing myself in the world of Fort Marion and beginning to write what would become the beginning of Wandering Stars. I got to the end of the book and it listed the names of the prisoners. The character I had already started writing I’d named Star. And there in the list of names was a Southern Cheyenne named Star, and not far below him, someone named Bear Shield. I immediately started crying seeing the names. That I had already written a character named Star was one thing, but to see a family name from There There was just so overwhelming. I became convinced at that moment that I would make a generational tie between one of the prisoners at Fort Marion and one of the families who survived the shooting at the powwow at the end of There There.

Writing a novel is a strange experience. Things go into it and things come out of it. It feels. It’s like this porous thing.

I have found in writing these two novels that there are things that go into the work, and also things that come out of it. For instance, the spider legs that Orvil Red Feather pulls out of his leg in There There, that was something that actually happened to me. In a West Oakland Target bathroom, just like Orvil. And then the week after I wrote the bat scene from the Thomas Frank chapter in There There, we had a bat fly into our house. The bat did what they call a flyby on my wife and niece. It felt so related to the bat I wrote into the novel and my wife definitely blamed me writing it in for what happened. And then my wife’s medical insurance had lapsed without our knowing and we ended up having to spend $10,000 to pay for rabies shots. One of the first things we did with advance money from There There was to pay that medical bill.

Writing a novel is a strange experience. Things go into it and things come out of it. It feels. It’s like this porous thing. You have to be open to what it can become, I think. You have to open yourself up to what might be possible for it to become that you might never have imagined. It can be a kind of collaboration with your unconscious, and with something else. The process, I guess. It can feel like it takes everything you have. And it does.

Read our review of Wandering Stars.

Tommy Orange author photo by Michael Lionstar.

The author shares the moments from his life that became part of the story of his hit debut, There There, and the song that inspired his sequel’s title, Wandering Stars.
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Foxes, trains, elaborate outfits, witty sayings, luck and chance, the last days of an empire. Told in two voices, Yangsze Choo’s The Fox Wife is a fitting follow up to Choo’s previous novels, The Ghost Bride and The Night Tiger.

Set in Manchuria in 1908, The Fox Wife plays with Chinese myths about the fox gods: foxes with the ability to transform themselves into beguiling, beautiful and tormented men and women. Legend has it that these fox gods sometimes live among people, causing trouble through their trickery and slippery relationship to the truth.

Equipped with an extreme sensitivity to the presence of truth, Bao is a detective on a mission to figure out what happened to a woman found frozen to death on the doorstep of a restaurant. His chapters—told from a third-person perspective—enthrall with keen observations about the gods, his own past and the people around him.

Snow is on her own quest to understand the death of her only child. She begins working for a family who has been cursed: Their sons die young. Her first-person chapters are particularly intriguing, with a strong voice and sharp turns of phrase. Who is Snow? And what will her journey allow her to discover?

As the story alternates between Snow’s and Bao’s perspectives, the pull to solve these mysteries builds momentum. The voices are compelling; the secrets are rich. When the two tales begin to overlap and the gaps fill in, the surprise is worth the wait. Layers of meaning accrue, bringing together the past and the present, mythology and personal ambition, actions and reactions, control and fate, into a fascinating tale of foxes, foes and friends.

Set in Manchuria in 1908, The Fox Wife combines Chinese myths about fox gods who live among people and the story of a detective determined to uncover the truth behind a woman’s mysterious death.

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