Alameddine, Picoult, & Ali Smith Helping Public Libraries | Barbara's Picks, Oct. 2016, Pt. 4

Alameddine, Rabih. The Angel of History. Atlantic Monthly. Oct. 2016. 320p. ISBN 9780802125767. $26. LITERARY FICTION Named a National Book Award, National Book Critics Circle Award, and PEN Open Book alameddineAward finalist and a best book by over half a dozen venues, Alameddine’s An Unnecessary Woman features an older Beiruti woman whose life is refracted through literature. This darkly funny follow-up features the Yemeni-born poet Jacob, who wrestles with Satan and Death itself in the waiting room of a psychiatric clinic. Raised first by his mother in an Egyptian whorehouse and then by his gilded father, Jacob is a poet who came of age as a gay Arab man in AIDS-ravaged San Francisco. A seductive Satan keeps reminding Jacob of past sorrows, while Death insists he has no reason to keep living. At least Jacob has 14 saints on his side. With a ten-city tour to Boston, New York, Washington, DC, Miami, Chicago, San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, Toronto, and Vancouver; look for a big push at BEA. Keneally, Thomas. Napoleon's Last Island. Atria. Oct. 2016. 384p. ISBN 9781501128424. $28; ebk. ISBN 9781501128448. LITERARY/HISTORICAL FICTION Keneally will always be identified first with Schindler’s List, but he’s written 32 novels before this current offering, including the recent New York Times best-selling The Daughters of Mars. In keeping with his frequent martial theme, this novel focuses on Napoleon’s last years on the island of Saint Helena, where he was banished after losing the Battle of Waterloo. There, he befriends an energetic British girl named Betsy Balcombe with whose family he lives while his own accommodations are being constructed. To say that this changed life for all involved would be an understatement. Big reading and a big book-club pitch. Lasdun, James. The Fall Guy. Norton. Oct. 2016. 224p. ISBN 9780393292329. $25.95; ebk. ISBN 9780393292336. LITERARY FICTION As evidenced by novels like Seven Lies, an Economist Book of the Year that was long-listed for lasdunthe Man Booker Prize, and the multi-best-booked It's Beginning To Hurt: Stories, Lasdun is an acute and elegant observer of human behavior. Here he has lots to observe, with wealthy, conscientious banker Charlie inviting troubled cousin Matthew for a stay with him and his wife at their lovely mountaintop home. Issues of guilt and betrayal soon start to simmer, rising to a full boil as a fourth character arrives. Throughout, Lasdun investigates who’s really to blame in the morally complex web he’s woven. Comparisons range promisingly from Ian McEwan’s Black Dogs for the psychological suspense to Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies for its scenes from a marriage to Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl for the unreliable narrator. Picoult, Jodi. Small Great Things. Ballantine. Oct. 2016. 480p. ISBN 9780345544957. $28.99. ebk. ISBN 9780345544964. CD/downloadable: Random Audio. WOMEN’S FICTION Picoult, who boasts eight consecutive No. 1 New York Times best sellers (and her last title, Leaving Time, significantly grew her sales), has a way of turning social issues into strong commercial fiction. Here, parents at a hospital to have a baby insist that one of the nurses be reassigned; they are white supremacists, and Ruth is black. The hospital complies, but Ruth is the only nurse available when the baby goes into cardiac arrest, and her caution about rushing to the baby's aid leads to tragedy—and a trial. What’s crucial is the unfolding of a deeper understanding between Ruth and her (white) public defender, who’s initially reluctant to make race an issue. Sounds like a great book-club book; with a 15-city tour. Smith, Ali. Public Library and Other Stories. Anchor. Oct. 2016. 240p. ISBN 9781101973042. pap. $16; ebk. ISBN 9781101973059. Downloadable: Random Audio. SHORT STORIES Smith has been thrice short-listed for the Man Booker Prize, and her recent How to be both won smithalithe Costa Novel Award, the Baileys Women’s Prize, the Goldsmiths Prize, and the Saltire Literary Book of the Year Award. Who better to write a book that offers 12 gemlike stories celebrating books—and, more significantly, that figured in a UK campaign to protest the cuts or closures threatening 500 British libraries? (See “In Solidarity: Standing with UK Libraries.”) The stories range from a scholar chatting with her dead father about Wilfred Owen to a woman whose dreams seemingly take place in a 1960s novel; interlacing them are 12 conversations with noted authors discussing the essential role that libraries have played in their lives. The British edition has received rave reviews, and Smith is writing a special introduction for the U.S. edition. Willner, Nina. Forty Autumns: A Family's Story of Courage and Survival on Both Sides of the Iron Curtain. Morrow. Oct. 2016. 384p. ISBN 9780062410313. $27.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062410337. HISTORY/MEMOIR Willner became the first female U.S. Army intelligence officer to lead sensitive intelligence operations in East Germany during the Cold War, but here she gives us a much bigger story. When the Iron Curtin slammed down, her mother, Hanna, escaped from East to West Germany and eventually came to America, leaving behind her family—including Willner’s grandmother Oma, aunt Heidi, and cousin Cordula, an East German Olympic athlete. Here, Willner shows us oppressive Communist East Germany, where she ran risky operations, and celebrates the reunion of all five women when the wall finally fell. With a 150,000-copy first printing.  

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