Afterlives by Abdulrazak Gurnah (Riverhead). A (perhaps surprisingly) beautiful historical novel by the 2021 Nobel laureate, a British author of Tanzanian birth. Gurnah writes in English, of course, …
Afterlives by Abdulrazak Gurnah (Riverhead). A (perhaps surprisingly) beautiful historical novel by the 2021 Nobel laureate, a British author of Tanzanian birth. Gurnah writes in English, of course, with a clarity that can strike an American reader as just faintly exotic; it’s rather as if he were speaking carefully, determined to be fully understood by a person for whom English might be a new language. Tanganyika (as it was known then) was a German colony early in the last century, and the Germans were singularly cruel occupiers, present in this novel rather as perpetually terrible weather might be. But the reader is confident that we’re learning important things about those before us, making lives worth living in what we know is actively, but perhaps not only, brutal oppression. This is not a violent book; I meant it when I said it’s beautiful, amazingly so in such a setting, and it’s inspiring to know, intimately, humans finding friendship and love in a setting so alive with threats if violence.
Traitor’s Dance by Jeff Abbott (Grand Central). Abbott’s first Sam Capra novel in six years! It’s been ten years in Capra’s life, though, and he’s now the widowed father of a 13-year-old boy who figures strongly in a suspenseful subplot of his own in this new, full-energy and full-ingenuity thriller. Sam still owns his around-the-world chain of bars that provide cover for his tendency to undertake far-flung errands for his actual employers, a supersecret espionage agency. His relationship with his son has emotional weight; the boy is beginning to wonder seriously about what exactly happened to his mother. This may be (hard to be certain of so subjective a judgment after these years of absence) may be, I was about to say, even better than the earlier novels, which the column was by no means alone in raving about.
The Winners by Fredrik Backman (Atria). Backman is Swedish, beautifully translated by one Neil Smith. I don’t recognize that name (because, why would I?) but he deserves more prominent credit than he’s given, here. Backman is a great storyteller, “speaking” (as it seems) with never a false note in English. These two most recent novels (the first the column covered was Anxious People, two years ago) really could be American, middle western, small-town novels (well, except that the big high-school sports rivalry isn’t football or basketball but hockey). This is the climactic novel of a trilogy; familiarity with the first two certainly isn’t required to enjoy this (very big) book, but if you start here, you’ll probably find yourself bugging your librarian for those first two: Beartown and Us Against You.
The Family Remains by Lisa Jewell (Atria). A direct sequel to her bestselling The Family Upstairs, the first of her terrific thrillers that the column noticed (and raved about). The most complex of them that we’ve seen and the least tightly knit; so, one might say, giving us more room to think, to catch our breath.
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