New Books October 2018

Fiction

White Houses by Amy Bloom
Lorena Hickok meets Eleanor Roosevelt in 1932 while reporting on Franklin Roosevelt’s first presidential campaign. Having grown up worse than poor in South Dakota and reinvented herself as the most prominent woman reporter in America, “Hick,” as she’s known to her friends and admirers, is not quite instantly charmed by the idealistic, patrician Eleanor. But then, as her connection with the future first lady deepens into intimacy, what begins as a powerful passion matures into a lasting love, and a life that Hick never expected to have. She moves into the White House, where her status as “first friend” is an open secret, as are FDR’s own lovers. After she takes a job in the Roosevelt administration, promoting and protecting both Roosevelts, she comes to know Franklin not only as a great president but as a complicated rival and an irresistible friend, capable of changing lives even after his death. Through it all, even as Hick’s bond with Eleanor is tested by forces both extraordinary and common, and as she grows as a woman and a writer, she never loses sight of the love of her life.

From Washington, D.C. to Hyde Park, from a little white house on Long Island to an apartment on Manhattan’s Washington Square, Amy Bloom’s new novel moves elegantly through fascinating places and times, written in compelling prose and with emotional depth, wit, and acuity.

After the Party by Cressida Connolly
It is the summer of 1938 and Phyllis Forrester has returned to England after years abroad. Moving into her sister’s grand country house, she soon finds herself entangled in a new world of idealistic beliefs and seemingly innocent friendships. Fevered talk of another war infiltrates their small, privileged circle, giving way to a thrilling solution: a great and charismatic leader, who will restore England to its former glory.

At a party hosted by her new friends, Phyllis lets down her guard for a single moment, with devastating consequences. Years later, Phyllis, alone and embittered, recounts the dramatic events which led to her imprisonment and changed the course of her life forever.

Disoriental by Negar Djavadi
Kimiâ Sadr fled Iran at the age of ten in the company of her mother and sisters to join her father in France. Now twenty-five and facing the future she has built for herself as well as the prospect of a new generation, Kimiâ is inundated by her own memories and the stories of her ancestors, which come to her in unstoppable, uncontainable waves. In the waiting room of a Parisian fertility clinic, generations of flamboyant Sadrs return to her, including her formidable great-grandfather Montazemolmolk, with his harem of fifty-two wives, and her parents, Darius and Sara, stalwart opponents of each regime that befalls them.

In this high-spirited, kaleidoscopic story, key moments of Iranian history, politics, and culture punctuate stories of family drama and triumph. Yet it is Kimiâ herself––punk-rock aficionado, storyteller extraordinaire, a Scheherazade of our time, and above all a modern woman divided between family traditions and her own “disorientalization”––who forms the heart of this bestselling and beloved novel.

Bitter Orange by Claire Fuller
From the attic of a dilapidated English country house, she sees them – Cara first: dark and beautiful, clinging to a marble fountain of Cupid, and Peter, an Apollo. It is 1969 and they are spending the summer in the rooms below hers while Frances writes a report on the follies in the garden for the absent American owner. But she is distracted. Beneath a floorboard in her bathroom, she discovers a peephole which gives her access to her neighbours’ private lives.

To Frances’ surprise, Cara and Peter are keen to spend time with her. It is the first occasion that she has had anybody to call a friend, and before long they are spending every day together: eating lavish dinners, drinking bottle after bottle of wine, and smoking cigarettes till the ash piles up on the crumbling furniture. Frances is dazzled.

But as the hot summer rolls lazily on, it becomes clear that not everything is right between Cara and Peter. The stories that Cara tells don’t quite add up – and as Frances becomes increasingly entangled in the lives of the glamorous, hedonistic couple, the boundaries between truth and lies, right and wrong, begin to blur. Amid the decadence of that summer, a small crime brings on a bigger one: a crime so terrible that it will brand all their lives forever.

A Terrible Country by Keith Green
When Andrei Kaplan’s older brother Dima insists that Andrei return to Moscow to care for their ailing grandmother, Andrei must take stock of his life in New York. His girlfriend has stopped returning his text messages. His dissertation adviser is dubious about his job prospects. It’s the summer of 2008, and his bank account is running dangerously low. Perhaps a few months in Moscow are just what he needs. So Andrei sublets his room in Brooklyn, packs up his hockey stuff, and moves into the apartment that Stalin himself had given his grandmother, a woman who has outlived her husband and most of her friends. She survived the dark days of communism and witnessed Russia’s violent capitalist transformation, during which she lost her beloved dacha. She welcomes Andrei into her home, even if she can’t always remember who he is.

Andrei learns to navigate Putin’s Moscow, still the city of his birth, but with more expensive coffee. He looks after his elderly—but surprisingly sharp!—grandmother, finds a place to play hockey, a café to send emails, and eventually some friends, including a beautiful young activist named Yulia. Over the course of the year, his grandmother’s health declines and his feelings of dislocation from both Russia and America deepen. Andrei knows he must reckon with his future and make choices that will determine his life and fate. When he becomes entangled with a group of leftists, Andrei’s politics and his allegiances are tested, and he is forced to come to terms with the Russian society he was born into and the American one he has enjoyed since he was a kid.A wise, sensitive novel about Russia, exile, family, love, history and fate, A Terrible County asks what you owe the place you were born, and what it owes you. Writing with grace and humor, Keith Gessen gives us a brilliant and mature novel that is sure to mark him as one of the most talented novelists of his generation.

Swan Song by Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott
They told him everything. He told everyone else.

Over countless martini-soaked Manhattan lunches, they shared their deepest secrets and greatest fears. On exclusive yachts sailing the Mediterranean, on private jets streaming towards Jamaica, on Yucatán beaches in secluded bays, they gossiped about sex, power, money, love and fame. They never imagined he would betray them so absolutely.

In the autumn of 1975, after two decades of intimate friendships, Truman Capote detonated a literary grenade, forever rupturing the elite circle he’d worked so hard to infiltrate. Why did he do it, knowing what he stood to lose? Was it to punish them? To make them pay for their manners, money and celebrated names? Or did he simply refuse to believe that they could ever stop loving him? Whatever the motive, one thing remains indisputable: nine years after achieving wild success with In Cold Blood, Capote committed an act of professional and social suicide with his most lethal of weapons . . . Words.

A dazzling debut about the line between gossip and slander, self-creation and self-preservation, Swan Song is the tragic story of the literary icon of his age and the beautiful, wealthy, vulnerable women he called his Swans.

Territory of Light by Yuko Tsushima
It is Spring. A young woman, left by her husband, starts a new life in a Tokyo apartment. Territory of Light follows her over the course of a year, as she struggles to bring up her two-year-old daughter alone. Her new home is filled with light, streaming through the windows, so bright you have to squint, but she finds herself plummeting deeper into darkness; becoming unstable, untethered. As the months come and go, and the seasons turn, she must confront what she has lost and what she will become.

At once tender and lacerating, luminous and unsettling, Territory of Light is a novel of abandonment, desire and transformation. It was originally published in twelve parts in the Japanese literary monthly Gunzo, between 1978 and 1979, each chapter marking the months in real time.

 

Non-Fiction

Fascism: A Warning by Madeleine Albright
A Fascist, observes Madeleine Albright, “is someone who claims to speak for a whole nation or group, is utterly unconcerned with the rights of others, and is willing to use violence and whatever other means are necessary to achieve the goals he or she might have.”

The twentieth century was defined by the clash between democracy and Fascism, a struggle that created uncertainty about the survival of human freedom and left millions dead. Given the horrors of that experience, one might expect the world to reject the spiritual successors to Hitler and Mussolini should they arise in our era. In Fascism: A Warning, Madeleine Albright draws on her experiences as a child in war-torn Europe and her distinguished career as a diplomat to question that assumption.

Fascism, as she shows, not only endured through the twentieth century but now presents a more virulent threat to peace and justice than at any time since the end of World War II.  The momentum toward democracy that swept the world when the Berlin Wall fell has gone into reverse.  The United States, which historically championed the free world, is led by a president who exacerbates division and heaps scorn on democratic institutions.  In many countries, economic, technological, and cultural factors are weakening the political center and empowering the extremes of right and left.  Contemporary leaders such as Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-un are employing many of the tactics used by Fascists in the 1920s and 30s.

Fascism: A Warning is a book for our times that is relevant to all times.  Written  by someone who has not only studied history but helped to shape it, this call to arms teaches us the lessons we must understand and the questions we must answer if we are to save ourselves from repeating the tragic errors of the past.

Ma’am Darling: 99 Glimpses of Princess Margaret by Craig Brown
She made John Lennon blush and Marlon Brando tongue-tied. She iced out Princess Diana and humiliated Elizabeth Taylor. Andy Warhol photographed her. Jack Nicholson offered her cocaine. Gore Vidal revered her. Francis Bacon heckled her. Peter Sellers was madly in love with her. For Pablo Picasso, she was the object of sexual fantasy.

Princess Margaret aroused passion and indignation in equal measures. To her friends, she was witty and regal. To her enemies, she was rude and demanding. In her 1950s heyday, she was seen as one of the most glamorous and desirable women in the world. By the time of her death in 2002, she had come to personify disappointment. One friend said he had never known an unhappier woman. The tale of Princess Margaret is Cinderella in reverse: hope dashed, happiness mislaid, life mishandled.

Such an enigmatic and divisive figure demands a reckoning that is far from the usual fare. Combining interviews, parodies, dreams, parallel lives, diaries, announcements, lists, catalogues, and essays, Craig Brown’s Ninety-Nine Glimpses of Princess Margaret is a kaleidoscopic experiment in biography and a witty meditation on fame and art, snobbery and deference, bohemia and high society.

The Billionaire Raj: A Journey Through India’s New Gilded Age by James Crabtree
A colorful and revealing portrait of the rise of India’s new billionaire class in a radically unequal society. India is the world’s largest democracy, with more than one billion people and an economy expanding faster than China’s. But the rewards of this growth have been far from evenly shared, and the country’s top 1% now own nearly 60% of its wealth. In megacities like Mumbai, where half the population live in slums, the extraordinary riches of India’s new dynasties echo the Vanderbilts and Rockefellers of America’s Gilded Age, funneling profits from huge conglomerates into lifestyles of conspicuous consumption.

James Crabtree’s The Billionaire Raj takes readers on a personal journey to meet these reclusive billionaires, fugitive tycoons, and shadowy political power brokers. From the sky terrace of the world’s most expensive home to impoverished villages and mass political rallies, Crabtree dramatizes the battle between crony capitalists and economic reformers, revealing a tense struggle between equality and privilege playing out against a combustible backdrop of aspiration, class, and caste.

The Billionaire Raj is a vivid account of a divided society on the cusp of transformation—and a struggle that will shape not just India’s future, but the world’s.

Nine Lives: My Time As MI6’s Top Spy Inside al-Qaeda by Aimen Dean
As one of al-Qaeda’s most respected scholars and bomb-makers, Aimen Dean rubbed shoulders with the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks and swore allegiance to Osama bin Laden himself.

As a double agent working for MI6, he foiled numerous attacks on civilians, brushing with death so often that his handlers began to call him their spy with nine lives.

This is the story of how a young Muslim, determined to defend his faith, found himself fighting on the wrong side and the fateful decision he made to work for his sworn enemy. Through a life undercover spanning some of the most lethal conflicts of the past fifty years, from Bosnia to Syria, we discover what it’s like to be at the heart of the global jihad, and what it will take to stop it once and for all.

Our Towns: A 100,000-Mile Journey into the Heart of America by James Fallows
A vivid, surprising portrait of the civic and economic reinvention taking place in America, town by town and generally out of view of the national media. A realistically positive and provocative view of the country between its coasts.

For the last five years, James and Deborah Fallows have been traveling across America in a single-engine prop airplane. Visiting dozens of towns, they have met hundreds of civic leaders, workers, immigrants, educators, environmentalists, artists, public servants, librarians, business people, city planners, students, and entrepreneurs to take the pulse and understand the prospects of places that usually draw notice only after a disaster or during a political campaign.

The America they saw is acutely conscious of its problems—from economic dislocation to the opioid scourge—but itis also crafting solutions, with a practical-minded determination at dramatic odds with the bitter paralysis of national politics. At times of dysfunction on a national level, reform possibilities have often arisen from the local level. The Fallowses describe America in the middle of one of these creative waves. Their view of the country is as complex and contradictory as America itself, but it also reflects the energy, the generosity and compassion, the dreams, and the determination of many who are in the midst of making things better. Our Towns is the story of their journey—and an account of a country busy remaking itself.