The Burning Girl – Claire Messud

The Burning girl - Claire MessudMessud wrote the very excellent The Woman Upstairs, about the relationships of a mature woman. In this new novel, Messud has turned her perceptive gaze to a coming-of-age story of two girls, best friends since nursery school whose lives begin to diverge in middle school. What does friendship entail? What stories do we create for others and for ourselves? This is a beautifully poignant book.

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Homegoing – Yaa Gyasi

Homegoing - Yaa GyasiTwo parallel lineage stories of two African half-sisters (who never meet). One storyline is Ghana, the other a slave story that leads to America. There is impressive historical detail, especially when describing the Ghana experience of collusion in the trafficking of slaves. The book is Michener-like in using storylines of successive generations, and yes, there is a useful family tree included in the text.

The Underground Railroad – Colson Whitehead

The Underground Railroad - Colson WhiteheadA powerful book about the cruelty of American slavery. The horrible physical abuses are terrible to read, but the psychological abuses are equally horrific. The White belief tin the inherent savagery of African slaves led to eugenics experiments. A slave catcher who refers to his quarry as “it” rather than “s/he”. This is a disturbing but important book to read.

Faithful – Alice Hoffman

Faithful - Alice Hoffman.jpgA contemporary story about survivor guilt, and ultimately redemption because of a mother’s unconditional love (and many rescue dogs). Sometimes the story descends dangerously close to soap-opera but this is an enjoyable and worthwhile read. Hoffman’s writings are very diverse and dependable, so I faithfully read all her books.

Hunger – Roxane Gay

Hunger - Roxane GayPreviously, I used the words “brutally honest and uncomfortably candid” to describe Camilla Gibbs’s memoir This Is Happy, and the same descriptors can be applied emphatically to this memoir by Roxane Gay. Gay is subjected to a brutal sexual assault at age 12; she discusses being both a survivor and a victim. There are two dramatic aspects to the aftermath: her silence and her reaction to eat, to become become fat and undesirable in order to be safe. Gay vividly describes living in a wildly undisciplined body as she becomes categorized as morbidly obese. The cruelty of pubic opinion of her appearance (i.e. fat shaming) is tragic. Her own analysis of her psychology is self-loathing. This is a deeply personal memoir that is often disturbing but occasionally comic as she describes how much she hates exercise. An amazing story.

The Historian – Elizabeth Kostova

The Historian - Elizabeth KostovaThis fascinating book has a Dan Brown-like plot (but with much better writing). Academics search for clues to find missing persons and to research Vlad Dracula’s life (is he still living?). This research is conducted in medieval libraries (yay!) with much travel: Oxford, Istanbul, Budapest and Bulgaria. Actions happen in three times: the 1930s, 1950s and 1970s, often with parallel stories so the complex plot with much historical detail requires the full attention of readers. This is a really enjoyable read; thanks Steph, for this recommendation.

The Golem and the Jinni – Helene Wecker

The Golem and the Jinni - Helene WeckerA second recommendation from Steph, so thanks again. This book is another example of a remarkable first novel, notable both for its imagination and context. A golem is created from clay and brought to life by her master who then promptly dies, leaving her adrift in New York. A jinni is accidentally released from a copper container. Much of this book is about alienation – how to fit into a human population. And the context is glorious: New York in 1899 with detailed descriptions of Little Syria and the Jewish enclave with some fantastic trips to Central Park. And yes, there is a wicked villain! This is a very entertaining book.