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It’s common practice among many publishers to leave translators’ bylines off book covers—an act of erasure that reinforces the widely held belief that original texts are sacred and thus superior to any translation. Jennifer Croft, who is best known for her translations of Nobel Prize-winning Polish author Olga Tokarczuk’s books, is challenging readers and critics to rethink this flawed paradigm.

“Our contemporary notion of authority depends upon the existence—still—of a single trustworthy individual. In literature, this figure is the author, the inimitable person who chooses and disposes words,” Croft writes in “Superlichen,” an essay published in Orion Magazine in 2023. “In this mystical-commercial understanding of literature, translators are necessarily suspect. They adulterate the truth, making it impossible to trust. When translators are truly necessary, they’re ideally neither seen nor heard. That way we can tell ourselves that the Original has remained mostly unscathed on its journey into English.”

But books thrive in translation. They reach new readership, and in some cases, the quality of the original text can even improve. Croft, who won the International Booker Prize in 2018 for her translation of Tokarczuk’s Flights, urges readers to consider translation to be co-creation, a labor of interdependent individuals who are building a completely new work of art.

“The translator is the one who writes every single word of the book that you end up reading,” Croft says, speaking from her home in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on a late December morning—the kind of gray day that’s well suited to a discussion about her puckish, unnerving debut novel. “The writer is obviously the person who’s behind everything, which in a way, of course, is true. But I feel like people aren’t fully grasping the essentially, fundamentally collaborative nature, that [a translated work] is a co-authored book. So I really wanted to show that playing out in an exaggerated, humorous way.”

“What is a faithful translation? What is your duty to a text and a person and a vision and also a readership?”

The Extinction of Irena Rey, which earned Croft a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2022, is the story of eight translators who are initially introduced not by name but by their languages of translation (English, Spanish, Serbian, etc.). It’s 2017, and they have convened at the idyllic home of (fictional) world-renowned Polish author Irena Rey. Her house resides at the edge of the Bialowieza Forest, a primeval wood spanning the border of Poland and Belarus. Over the course of the next several weeks, they will translate her presumed magnum opus, Grey Eminence.

Translators aren’t always in contact with an author while translating, but Irena prefers to be highly involved in the process. The translators are forbidden from translating other authors—except two Polish poets widely considered untranslatable—and they must follow Irena’s many house rules, which include no drinking, no eating meat and so on. It is full isolation, full adoration, full commitment to Irena’s genius. But suddenly, Irena vanishes, and the translators are left reeling.

Having lost their moral center, the translators move en masse from room to room, from forest to pub and back to Irena’s house, wondering if Irena’s dead and completely freaking out. It’s such an ominous, claustrophobic setup that the reader would be forgiven for not realizing at first just how funny it all is. There’s a lot of shrieking and kissing and running around with a frantic narrative pace that resembles an old episode of “Scooby-Doo.”

During the gang’s search for clues, they come across some postcards, which only serve to further confuse them. “Postcards are like translation,” Croft says. “There’s the inherent hybrid and potential for clashes between the one side that has the picture and the other side that has the message.” There’s also the potentially troubling political significance of the type of imagery that is selected to represent a place, which can be stereotypical or limiting, “and then it may end up forcing the place to become more like the postcard.”

Croft explains that when postcards were first introduced in the 1860s, they were a revolutionary innovation that allowed more people to send mail, which previously had been a luxury exclusive to the upper classes. “[But the elite] were horrified by the idea that the hired help would be able to read their words,” she says. “I love looking at old postcards, because sometimes you can sense there’s a code happening or a private reference that you just cannot possibly understand.”

The implications of obscured, divided or layered interpretations run rampant in Croft’s novel, which opens with a preface titled “Warning: A Note from the Translator.” We learn that the book is a work of autofiction by Spanish (whose real name is Emi), subsequently translated by English (real name Alexis). Alexis’ translator’s note is dismissive, even derisive, and her footnotes are deliciously scathing. As a translator, she’s doing the unthinkable: sharing her true feelings about the book and even illuminating choices made in the translation process. (For example, when Emi refers to her own “pubis,” Alexis adds the footnote, “Here I have preserved her ridiculous word.”) Their feud renders the story’s perspective so canted, so untrustworthy, that we have no idea which version of events to believe.

“What we do enriches the cultural ecosystem, the linguistic ecosystem. The original text doesn’t even really matter that much.”

Even without quarreling co-authors, autofiction as a genre is a thorny bramble between memoir and fiction, memory and embellishment. The genre is particularly popular with French- and Spanish-language readers. Croft’s first book, Homesick, is a work of autofiction that she wrote in Argentine Spanish while living in Argentina, and it was only sold to an English-language publisher under the condition that it be published as a memoir, presumably because American readers aren’t as comfortable with the gray areas between truth and fiction.

“[Homesick] was kind of inspired by my childhood but [is] definitely not a factual account,” Croft says. “I think that frustration of always talking about what is true and what is not probably fed into the writing of [Irena Rey]. I think also I may have rebelled and made it even more outlandish. Obviously I’ve never fought a duel in a forest.”

The duel is only one of the many ludicrous outcomes of the translators’ search for Irena. It’s also, importantly, between two women: Emi and Alexis. “I actually wrote my PhD dissertation about duels in 20th-century fiction. I was so frustrated that I couldn’t find a single example of a women’s duel, or even a duel between a man and a woman,” Croft says. “A classic dueling premise is to fight over an ethical question. In this case, English and Spanish are fighting—well, at least Spanish believes that they’re fighting over the nature of truth, essentially. What is a faithful translation? What is your duty to a text and a person and a vision and also a readership? How do you truthfully or faithfully convey a sacred message to the world?”

The duel occurs in the Bialowieza Forest, which serves as a classic source of menace and myth. Forests exist in fiction to haunt us, and this one feeds off a history of violence, with corpses from World War II providing nutrients for a fungal network that subsequently feeds the trees and understory, which then feed the deer that feed the Polish villagers, and so on. In fact, the original title for the novel was Amadou, the name of a fungus that parasitically infects trees, serving as an essential decomposer in the forest, and which can also be used as both tinder and fabric.

“Obviously I’m an advocate for translation, and I love translators,” Croft says. “But I also wanted to think about the potentially darker side of translation in a lot of different ways, which goes hand-in-hand with thinking about the power of the translator.” However translation alters the original, or even betrays it, “what we do [as translators] enriches the cultural ecosystem, the linguistic ecosystem. The original text doesn’t even really matter that much. What matters is this potentially really lovely afterlife that [a work] can have, and all of the echoes and reverberations that it can have throughout that ecosystem.”

The concept of a literary afterlife opens us to seeing books as living, changeable works of art, in which language can die and be reborn in translation. Certainly by the end of The Extinction of Irena Rey, the structures that uphold notions like artistic celebrity and all-powerful genius have rotted through and collapsed, and from the remains, something new grows.

Read our starred review of The Extinction of Irena Rey.

Jennifer Croft author photo © Nathan Jeffers.

With her mischievous debut novel, The Extinction of Irena Rey, Jennifer Croft draws readers deep into a gnarled forest in which eight translators search desperately for their beloved, vanished author.
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Far too often, translators’ bylines go missing on book covers and in reviews. The author is seen as the one true artist, whose translators exist in service to them. Jennifer Croft, the International Booker Prize-winning translator of Polish author Olga Tokarczuk (and many other authors), has become a leading advocate for changing this perception, encouraging readers to view translated books as acts of co-creation rather than pale shadows of their original text. In her satirical debut novel, The Extinction of Irena Rey, Croft serves up all the controversial, inherently political questions posed by translation, and warps them into a ghoulishly funny tale.

As the book begins, the eight translators of world-renowned Polish author Irena Rey have arrived at the author’s home at the edge of the Bialowieza Forest, a primeval, endangered wood that sprawls across the border of Poland and Belarus. All the translators are initially referred to by their languages of translation (English, Slovenian, Serbian, Swedish, etc.), and the narrator of these events is Spanish, who insists that the translators are wholly devoted to the author and her original text. “Irena’s works were eternal,” Spanish says, “but our translations were no more enduring than socks.” As they prepare to translate Irena’s new novel, Grey Eminence, they cocoon themselves in her world, fully isolated and committed to her unusual rules. But Irena’s behavior is bizarre. She’s reluctant to give them the manuscript, and after a couple of days, she vanishes. The translators are left scrambling to figure out where she went, and over the course of “seven toxic, harrowing, oddly arousing, extremely fruitful weeks,” they race from one clue to the next, terrified and paranoid, getting more and more lost in the proverbial woods.

Croft’s novel employs a beguiling structure that serves to undermine any sense of truth we might try to reap from Spanish’s version of events. Spanish’s book is not a memoir but a work of autofiction, and it has been translated by English, who has illuminated the book with a vicious preface and copious footnotes, often mocking Spanish and offering a peep show of (some of) the changes made in translation. The reader is left to wonder which writer, if any, can be trusted.

Through this trippy mix of high concept and high tension, Croft takes a real chunk out of the convention of deifying the author as an all-powerful genius to whom translators must be beholden. Reading The Extinction of Irena Rey is like encountering a mischievous forest spirit, full of riddles and gloriously disorienting, then somehow getting back out of the woods alive.

Read our interview with Jennifer Croft on The Extinction of Irena Rey.

In her satirical debut novel, The Extinction of Irena Rey, Jennifer Croft serves up all the controversial, inherently political questions posed by translation and warps them into a ghoulishly funny tale.
Review by

“Cartoonish” is typically a pejorative label. Overexaggerated, outlandish, silly—when a piece of art provokes these descriptions, we expect to be met with sticks of dynamite and eye roll-worthy puns. But the recent elevation of cartoons, from the existentialism of “BoJack Horseman” to the tender lessons of “Adventure Time,” should make us reconsider how we view cartoonishness. Isabel Waidner’s new novella, Corey Fah Does Social Mobility, is cartoonish on every conceivable level: The story of Corey Fah is a comedic romp through a queer, absurdist world. Fit with an adorably passive-aggressive deer-spider hybrid, a wormhole-hunting playwright turned talk show host, and biting social commentary about social commentary, Waidner’s novel is a thoroughly enjoyable, envelope-pushing head-scratcher.

Corey lives with their partner Drew Szumski in a capital city loosely resembling London. After winning the Award for the Fictionalization of Social Evils, Corey is tasked with retrieving their trophy, but it’s not so simple as picking it up from the prize committee. The trophy is a neon-beige flying saucer that has a mind of its own, teleporting away from Corey and Drew as they repeatedly try to claim it. On this wild goose chase, the pair meet Bambi Pavok, the aforementioned fawn-spider creature who teleported from an alternate dimension. Still sans trophy and under pressure from the prize committee to do publicity, Corey takes Bambi Pavok onto a cultish talk show where the dimensional layers of this strange world start to fold in on themselves and the story takes a turn from weird to utterly bizarre.

I can say with certainty that Corey Fah Does Social Mobility is the wildest book I have ever reviewed for BookPage. The plot toes the line of ridiculousness in a truly masterful way, never ceasing to surprise, and Waidner’s ultramodern language, a mix of the Queen’s English and Tumblr-speak, results in some strangely beautiful sentences. All the while, the characters are developed in subtle, touching ways. For example, in a socially awkward, quintessentially millennial moment of tenderness, Corey expresses that they would be utterly lost without Drew, who has stood by them throughout their flailing career as a writer.

Corey Fah Does Social Mobility is a flashy, punchy whirlwind: Waidner has caught lightning in a bottle.

Isabel Waidner has caught lightning in a bottle with this comedic romp through a queer, absurdist world.

“I’d hate to live in a world where we tell people what they should and shouldn’t write based on the color of their skin.” R.F. Kuang, the award-winning, bestselling author of Babel and the Poppy War series, fans the discourse on diversity, racism and the “right” to tell certain stories with her novel Yellowface, a thought-provoking first-person narrative of a plagiarist.

June Hayward is a struggling 27-year-old straight white author, and as the novel begins, she’s getting drinks with Athena Liu, her Asian American friend whom she’s known since college, to celebrate yet another of Athena’s huge literary successes. However, when the picture-perfect Athena ends up dead, envious June makes a decision that leads her to stardom—and damnation. June edits her dead friend’s manuscript, a cultural saga set in China, and presents it as her own work under a pseudonym that uses her middle name, Song, as her surname.

Despite a few readers’ protestations of possible cultural appropriation, the book is a huge success, and June Song embraces her soaring status in the publishing world. But the questions around June’s authenticity and ethnicity keep getting louder, as more and more anonymous social media accounts wonder if June has the right to pen a story about Chinese culture. June’s followers revolt, and her star plummets. 

Kuang hooks readers from the first chapter with June’s preoccupation with Athena and the life-altering choice to steal her frenemy’s manuscript. June’s theft makes her an immediate antagonist, and her delusional entitlement makes her a compelling unreliable narrator. But exactly how unreliable is June? Kuang casts a light on this question with her adroit representation of June’s disloyal social media following, which lurches from commendation to castigation, and of a publishing world committed only to financial success. 

“I know what you’re thinking. Thief. Plagiarizer. And perhaps, because all bad things must be racially motivated, Racist. Hear me out. It’s not so awful as it sounds,” June assures the reader. Poignant and provocative, Yellowface is an in-your-face satirical novel with layered commentary on discrimination, social media and creative freedom. Kuang allows for numerous sides of our society’s heated conversations about cultural (mis)appropriation and censorship, and examines how judgment is so often clouded by perception rather than shaped by truths. This is a riveting read for fans of Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu, Year of the Tiger by Alice Wong and George Orwell’s 1984

Poignant and provocative, Yellowface is an in-your-face satirical novel with layered commentary on discrimination, social media and creative freedom.
Review by

T.C. Boyle has never been afraid to torment his characters or draw from real life, and he does both in Blue Skies, putting his cast through just about every climate-related calamity to make the contours of the crisis so prominent that no one could miss them.

He begins this bicoastal adventure—the action toggles between Florida and California—with, of all things, jewelry. But it’s “living jewelry,” a Burmese python purchased by influencer Cat to wear around her neck. Boyle, the unparalleled stylist, describes Cat’s thought process in gorgeous prose: She thinks snakes are beautiful, “as if somebody had dipped a brush in acrylics and traced the lines that radiated in a widening V from their mouths to draw reticulate patterns across their backs and down their sides.”

Plenty of descriptions as unforgettable as that one follow as Boyle introduces multiple characters and complications, from the self-inflicted to the unforeseen. Cat’s ambition is to gain online followers and show off her Florida beachfront home. She lives there with her Tesla-driving fiancé, Todd, whose job involves drinking and partying to promote a rum brand. To Cat’s chagrin, it also involves a lot of time away from home.

Across the country in California are other members of Cat’s family. Her brother, Cooper, is an entomologist, disparaged as “Bug Boy” by classmates when he was growing up but who now conducts field research to study ticks and other arachnids. Their mother, Ottilie, is so deeply impacted by Cooper’s warnings about harming the planet that she begins cooking with crickets, making everything from cricket cobbler to cricket-infused cookies and brownies.

The disappearance of Cat’s snake is only the mildest of calamities to befall this group. Ever the maximalist, Boyle inflicts one disaster after another to show the perils of climate change. If anything, there’s too much incident. Fewer would have made his point more effective.

But wealth is better than poverty, and Boyle doles out ample riches. The pace never lets up, and he blends many other timely themes into his narrative, from aversion to parenthood to the ruthlessness of the media. Blue Skies may not be top-flight Boyle, but it’s Boyle at his most urgent. “What good was beachfront property if there was no beach?” Ottilie asks. As Boyle warns us, take the planet for granted, and don’t be surprised if, like a snake, its luxuries slither away.

Ever the maximalist, T.C. Boyle inflicts one disaster after another to show the perils of climate change in his novel Blue Skies.
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Few conditions feel more dystopian than toiling away at a dead-end job. But imagine performing menial chores in a massive, vacant research facility so remote that a helicopter is required to get there. Plus, outdoor conditions are so fierce that anyone who steps outside is likely to develop a mysterious “snow sickness.” This is the situation accepted by three people in Sean Adams’ new novel.

Adams has dialed down the dystopian quotient from his first satirical novel, The Heap, but that element is still very much present in The Thing in the Snow. The Northern Institute has lost its funding, and its original purpose has been withheld from its new caretakers: supervisor Hart and assistants Gibbs and Cline. All they know, as Adams describes in engagingly cryptic passages, is that something happened, and authorities concluded it was cheaper to keep the facility open than to shut it down.

Hart takes his supervisory duties seriously. In dry prose reminiscent of Kazuo Ishiguro’s unreliable narrators, Hart relates his quotidian tasks: sharing “coffee and light socialization” with his subordinates and assigning the week’s trivial chores, which include testing the stability of the chairs, checking out the doors and so on. In his off hours, Hart reads novels about Jack French, a man who finds himself in dire situations “demanding the kind of exceptional leadership only he can provide.”

The Institute and its surrounding tundra have many eerie qualities, among them an object buried deep in the snow, “something dark [that] glints in the little light that makes it through.” Other distractions are equally perplexing, such as lights that flicker as if in a pattern. Hart feels “a slight static tingle in [his] beard” that “aligns itself with the pulse of the light.” Then one of the chairs shatters.

Adding to the strange ambience is the Institute’s last remaining researcher, the “condescending, pretentious, and often outright batty” Gilroy. All he’ll say about his research is that it can “predict the future of cold,” but Hart suspects Gilroy is holding secrets he won’t share.

The Thing in the Snow gets repetitive at times, but Adams succeeds at building tension while exploring the lengths to which people will go to retain power, the narcissism often embodied by those in leadership positions and the effect of monotony on a person’s memory. Inexplicable phenomena can be devastating to the mind, but as this perceptive novel and any undervalued employee can attest, tedium is just as destructive.

Sean Adams has dialed down the dystopian quotient from his first satirical novel, The Heap, but that element is still very much present in The Thing in the Snow.
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First off, let’s address the elephant—or perhaps in this case, the elephant garlic—in the room: The Lemon is not “The Anthony Bourdain Story.”

Yes, it opens with a chef/food writer/TV host’s on-location death by suicide, which is discovered by his longtime best friend (also a famous chef). And while there are a few other passing similarities to Bourdain’s sudden and unexpected exit, The Lemon reads more like a bawdy Judd-Apatow-meets-Carl-Hiaasen romp than a roman a clef in the manner of Joe Klein’s Primary Colors.

Nothing in The Lemon is quite as it seems, starting with the author. S.E. Boyd is the nom de plume of a trio that includes James Beard Award-winning food writer Kevin Alexander, journalist Joe Keohane and book editor Alessandra Lusardi. It’s evident that they are comfortable moving about in high-end foodie and media circles, given their facility with dropping real-life names into the mix, from The New Yorker’s Adam Gopnik to author Malcolm Gladwell. Even Bourdain himself makes a cameo, as if to ensure he is not mistaken for the deceased fictional chef, John Doe. 

Other names have been changed to protect the innocent (or at least to avoid legal consequences). Chef Paolo Cabrini stands in admirably for Bourdain’s restaurateur friend Éric Ripert, T. Kendall Sun-Ramirez is surely the doppelganger of J. Kenji Lopez-Alt (The Food Lab), and Mark Fowler of the TV show “Top of the Morning” bears more than a passing resemblance to deposed “Today” host Matt Lauer.

But the four most significant names to note are Nia Greene, John’s longtime producing partner and agent; Paolo Cabrini, John’s aforementioned celebrity chef pal; Katie Horatio, aspiring journalist; and Charlie McCree, a cross between the Lucky Charms leprechaun and the demon spawn of Chucky. They, and their supporting cast, wrestle among themselves to control the narrative surrounding John’s death, because there’s a potential payoff in the post-Doe media tableau.

The dialogue crackles, the zip line plot slings the reader from one hilariously fraught incident to the next, and the conclusion is as emotionally satisfying as ever an author—or three—could have concocted. Like a perfectly seared slice of foie gras with a dollop of lingonberry jam on an artisanal toast point, The Lemon simply cannot be put down, and when you’ve finished it, you’ll want more.

The zip line plot of S.E. Boyd’s The Lemon slings the reader from one hilariously fraught incident to the next, and the conclusion is as emotionally satisfying as ever an author—or three—could have concocted.
Review by

Climate change takes center stage in three-time Pushcart Prize-winning author Allegra Hyde’s debut novel. Set in a future world of toxic air, food shortages and deadly weather, Eleutheria is the story of 22-year-old Willa Marks, who refuses to give up hope for a sustainable planet and a better life for all.

Raised by survivalist parents on canned foods in the woods of New Hampshire, Willa has lived a lonely life—until a bad turn of events thrusts her into the arms of her cousins Victoria and Jeanette in the metropolis of Boston. The two sisters are the antithesis of everything Willa has known, their entire life revolving around posting fashionable pictures online.

Willa goes with the flow until a photoshoot gone wrong brings her to Sylvia Gill, a famous sociologist and professor at Harvard University. Sylvia and Willa fall in love despite their stark differences. It’s a comfort and love that Willa has never experienced before. But being with Sylvia also means living among the privileged and wealthy, who still hold onto their vanity amid a dying planet.

Willa doesn’t understand this obliviousness. She eventually stumbles upon a group of Freegans, dumpster divers who are committed to saving the planet, come hell or high water. They inspire Willa, who wants Sylvia to use her celebrity to tout Freeganism as the answer to the climate crisis. This eventually causes a rift between the two as Willa struggles to stay in a relationship with someone who doesn’t support her cause for a better tomorrow.

In this highly emotional state of mind, Willa comes across a book in Sylvia’s library titled Living the Solution by Roy Adams. It seems to provide the salvation Willa is looking for by way of a sustainable community run by the author: Camp Hope, located on the island of Eleutheria near the Bahamas. Willa gives up everything, including Sylvia, to be part of the community—until even this Utopia starts showing imperfections.

Fast-paced and dramatic, Eleutheria is a love story that plays out against the backdrop of a planet in trouble. Hyde, author of the award-winning story collection Of This New World, offers many twists and shocks throughout her first novel, delivering an eerie prophecy of a not-so-distant future if we continue our inaction toward climate change.

Fast-paced and dramatic, Eleutheria is a love story that plays out against the backdrop of a planet in trouble.
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Fruit of the Drunken Tree by Ingrid Rojas Contreras

Ingrid Rojas Contreras' impressive first novel, Fruit of the Drunken Tree, takes place in 1990s Bogotá, Colombia, when Pablo Escobar held the country in a grip of terror. The novel is narrated mainly by 7-year-old Chula Santiago, who lives with her family in the comfort of a gated community thanks to the money her father makes as an oil worker. When a maid named Petrona comes to work for the Santiagos, Chula befriends her. Petrona, who is 13, grew up in a slum. Terrorists kidnapped her father and brothers, and she is trying to support the rest of her family. As the situation worsens in Bagotá, Chula's family is able to leave. Petrona, meanwhile, becomes involved with a suspicious young man nammed Gorrión. Contreras juxtaposes the two girls' worlds with authenticity and covincing detail, and her portrayal of the social divisions and dangers of Colombian life is riveting and remarkably assured. 


French Exit by Patrick deWitt

Affluent widow Frances Price comes to terms with the loss of her fortune while her son meets up with the woman he loves—and her fiancé—in deWitt's sly, sophisticated novel.


Southernmost by Silas House

In House's latest novel, small-town pastor Asher Sharp upsets his congregation when he tries to help a gay couple after a disastrous flood, an act that affects his relationship with his conservative wife and their young son and makes Asher question his own faith.


Still Livesby Maria Hummel

Kim Lord's self-portraits, inspired by female murder victims are the talk of the LA art scene. But when Kim goes missing, a young editor becomes enmeshed in the mystery of this stylish, suspenseful thriller. 


Life in the Garden by Penelope Lively
In this delightful, beautifully wrought memoir, Lively meditates on how gardening has impacted her personal evolution and her work. 

 

Fruit of the Drunken Tree by Ingrid Rojas Contreras

Ingrid Rojas Contreras' impressive first novel, Fruit of the Drunken Tree, takes place in 1990s Bogotá, Colombia, when Pablo Escobar held the country in a grip of terror. The novel is narrated mainly by 7-year-old Chula Santiago, who lives with her family in the comfort of a gated [...]

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Starred review
The story of a friendship that spans decades and continents, Frances de Pontes Peebles’ The Air You Breathe is the perfect poolside read. The novel is narrated by wealthy, elderly Dores, who recalls her childhood in the 1930s on a sugar plantation in Brazil and her strong connection with Graça. Dores works in the kitchen, while Graça, whose family owns the plantation, enjoys all the advantages money can provide. The two girls become close, develop a passion for music and move to Rio. Dores proves to be a gifted songwriter, while Graça is a singer of rare talent. Making herself over as Sofía Salvador, Graça becomes a samba queen of world renown. The novel charts the course of the two friends’ lives—years marked by competitiveness and jealousy, romantic affairs and mutual love. De Pontes Peebles moves skillfully through eras and settings, from Miami to Rio to Hollywood, capturing the essence of each. Fans of Elena Ferrante will find much to relish in this richly realized tale.

So Much Life Left Over by Louis de Berni`eres
De Bernières traces the lives of army pilot Daniel Pitt; Rosie, to whom he’s unhappily married; and his brother, Archie, who’s in love with Rosie, in this richly detailed historical novel set in the 1920s and ’30s.

A Terrible Country by Keith Gessen
New York City professor Andrei finds himself reassessing his life while attempting to get his bearings as he cares for his grandmother in Moscow.

The Reservoir Tapes by John McGregor
In this innovative novel, a reporter talks with the town’s inhabitants about the days leading up to a teenage girl’s disappearance. The process of grieving, the importance of storytelling and the bonds of community all come into play in McGregor’s poignant story.

Baby Teeth by Zoje Stage
Alex and Suzette have tested their 7-year-old, Hanna, for a range of disabilities, but in truth, Hanna enjoys causing Suzette grief by not speaking. The fraught relationship between mother and daughter takes a twisted turn in this disturbing novel.

Starred review
The story of a friendship that spans decades and continents, Frances de Pontes Peebles’ The Air You Breathe is the perfect poolside read. The novel is narrated by wealthy, elderly Dores, who recalls her childhood in the 1930s on a sugar plantation in Brazil and her strong connection with Graça. Dores works in the [...]

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The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai
A 2019 Pulitzer Prize finalist, Rebecca Makkai’s The Great Believers is a poignant novel of the AIDS epidemic that follows a Chicago-based group of friends who are contending with the rise of the disease in the 1980s. Yale Tishman is planning a major art show, but his success is overshadowed by the deaths that are sweeping through the gay community. As he weathers the loss of colleagues and companions, his closest confidante is Fiona, the sister of his late friend Nico. Thirty years later, Fiona is searching for her daughter, Claire, in Paris. Her relationship with Claire is a fraught one, and Fiona struggles to make sense of it while continuing to process the heartbreak of the epidemic. Makkai skillfully connects the plotlines of the past and present, exploring the fears and misconceptions connected to the epidemic and demonstrating their impact on her characters. Filled with larger-than-life personalities, Makkai’s wise and compassionate novel bears witness to an important era.

My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite
Ayoola has a habit of dispatching her boyfriends, and she relies on her sister, Korede, to help her tidy up after each murder. Braithwaite’s multilayered, darkly funny novel explores the power of desire and female agency.

Flights by Olga Tokarczuk
Tokarczuk, one of Poland’s most beloved writers, tackles identity, travel and the nature of home in these breathtaking short essays and stories.

Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy by Anne Boyd Rioux
Rioux provides insights into the life of Louisa May Alcott and the writing of Little Women, examining the novel’s enduring appeal and its contemporary significance.

The Shakespeare Requirement by Julie Schumacher
Schumacher’s satirical take on academia—its complexities and insular nature—feels spot on, and she offers an appealing protagonist in Jason Fitger, a long-suffering English professor.

The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai
A 2019 Pulitzer Prize finalist, Rebecca Makkai’s The Great Believers is a poignant novel of the AIDS epidemic that follows a Chicago-based group of friends who are contending with the rise of the disease in the 1980s. Yale Tishman is planning a major art show, but his success is [...]

They say it’s harder to make people laugh than it is to make them cry. Maybe this is why finding a book that makes you laugh—and we’re talking full-on guffaw here—is so difficult. We’ve done the hard work for you, so sit back and get ready to chuckle.

Priestdaddy

Usually when a poet pens a memoir, I buckle up for lyrical vignettes, a loose, dreamy structure and descriptions of open fields. But Patricia Lockwood isn’t your average poet, and Priestdaddy isn’t your average memoir. It’s as dense with bizarre observations about her father’s underwear as it is with beautiful turns of phrase about her father’s underwear. When Lockwood’s husband needed unexpected eye surgery, the pair returned to the Midwest to live with Lockwood’s parents in their rectory. Her father, you see, is a Catholic priest, despite his wife and five children. The rest of the book zigzags between this weird family reunion and Lockwood’s even weirder Catholic upbringing, filtered through the mind of someone who is herself breathtakingly weird. The resulting memoir is at once brilliant, irreverent, extraordinarily observed and precisely rendered.

—Christy, Associate Editor


The Wednesday Wars

I’ve never laughed harder at a book than I did at The Wednesday Wars, Gary D. Schmidt’s 2008 Newbery Honor-winning tale of seventh grader Holling Hoodhood, set in the late 1960s. In one chapter, Holling’s teacher, Mrs. Baker, assigns The Tempest. Holling is so impressed by Caliban’s “cuss words” that he decides to memorize them. He employs them in situations ranging from the cafeteria, where he deems his bologna sandwich “strange stuff,” to chorus, where he retorts, “Blind mole, a wicked dew from unwholesome fen drop you” after getting teased for singing soprano, to an encounter with his older sister. “A southwest blow on ye and blister you all o’er,” he tells her. Holling doesn’t mind that he doesn’t know exactly what he’s saying: “It’s all in the delivery anyway.”

—Stephanie, Associate Editor


The Sellout

There’s dark humor, and then there’s black hole-dark humor, and from that deep, crushing vacuum comes the biggest joke of all, a “post-racial” America. Paul Beatty’s Booker Prize winner is perhaps the greatest satirical novel of our lifetime, if not the greatest ever. The absurdity is beyond anything you’ve ever read; the wordplay is the cleverest, and Beatty’s irreverence the farthest star from political correctness. After the death of his father, our farmer hero, whose name is Me, finds himself as a crisis interventionist for the Black residents of Dickens, a town on the outskirts of Los Angeles that has been erased from the map. Despite Me’s protestations, an old Dickens resident (and former “Little Rascals” star) begs to be Me’s slave, punishments and all, and all he wants for his birthday is resegregation. Laugh to keep from crying, or cry to keep from laughing.

—Cat, Deputy Editor


China Rich Girlfriend

Kevin Kwan’s frothy novels of Asia’s ultrarich would just be compendiums of designer labels and other assorted decadences if not for his willingness to lovingly mock the society he invites the reader into. This is perfectly encapsulated by Colette Bing, a bundle of nervous energy swaddled in haute couture who darts through the second book of Kwan’s Crazy Rich Asians series, China Rich Girlfriend. Colette is on a relentless quest to perfect every aspect of her existence. She named her dogs after Kate and Pippa Middleton and has the uniquely chaotic attitude of a person who has never encountered a problem she couldn’t buy her way out of. Kwan revels in her precisely orchestrated decadence and lampoons her absurdity in equal measure, creating a character you’ll love as much as laugh at.

—Savanna, Associate Editor


When in French

Think David Sedaris meets Jhumpa Lahiri, and you’ve got the gist of this smart, hilarious and tender memoir from New Yorker writer Lauren Collins. How did a woman from Wilmington, North Carolina, end up married to a Frenchman “who used Chanel deodorant and believed it to be a consensus view that Napoleon had lost at Waterloo because of the rain”? The story of their romance and Collins’ journey to fluency in French sits companionably alongside a thoughtful inquiry into the history of language. Pairing these two elements gives Collins’ experience universal resonance and intellectual weight, but there’s also a laugh on nearly every page as she recounts various linguistic misadventures, like informing her mother-in-law that she has given birth to a Nespresso machine. Lovers of language, romance and fish-out-of-water comedies shouldn’t miss it.

—Trisha, Publisher

They say it’s harder to make people laugh than it is to make them cry. Maybe this is why finding a book that makes you laugh—and we’re talking full-on guffaw here—is so difficult. We’ve done the hard work for you, so sit back and get ready to chuckle.

Priestdaddy

Usually when a poet pens a memoir, [...]

Review by

In the opening chapters of Dave Eggers’ latest chilling novel, we get a glimpse at a dystopian future in which privacy is a thing of the past and humankind is completely in the thrall of technology. True connection and meaningful communication are withering away. Even the secretary of state tweets dancing rainbow emoji from the official U.S. Department of State account.

At the center of this new world order is the Every, a megacorporation that has acquired Amazon, all the major search engines and social media platforms, and thousands of other companies. Enter Delaney Wells, a young idealist (is there any other kind?) whose parents lost their small-town Idaho store to the Every and now must work for the Every’s Whole Foods-esque grocery service. Delaney believes the Every is “not only a monopoly but also the most reckless and dangerous corporate entity ever conjured—and an existential threat to all that was untamed and interesting about the human species.”

Delaney’s goal is to tear down the Every from the inside. She gets a job at its headquarters and enters an otherworldly corporate culture where everyone dresses the same, steals each others’ ideas and pledges cultlike allegiance to the Every. Delaney begins proposing increasingly outlandish ideas: How about an app that listens to your conversations, tracks the participants’ vital signs and assesses the quality of the interaction? Or artificial intelligence that measures art so we no longer need to decide for ourselves whether “The Last Supper” is beautiful? Or an app called HappyNow? that tells you whether you’re happy with your recent purchases?

To Delaney’s horror, the more ridiculous her pitches, the more enthusiasm they generate, both within the Every and among consumers. She realizes her plan to turn public opinion against the monolithic company has just one flaw: Consumers no longer care about privacy or free will.

Eggers has long established his almost supernatural storytelling skills, and this new book is positively mesmerizing and wholly original. The Every, a companion book to The Circle, will likely scare the bejesus out of readers. The vivid future he depicts feels fantastical but just realistic enough to make you want to unplug your smart speaker and toss your fitness watch.

Unplug your Alexa and toss your Apple Watch. The Every, a companion book to The Circle, will likely scare the bejesus out of you.

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