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BY THE BOOK John Cleese remembers a
splendid gift he received from Kevin Kline
‘LIFE OF A KLANSMAN’ Walter Isaacson
reviews Edward Ball’s latest
space — and how everything will end
WHAT A RELIEF it is when an author who has
written a masterpiece returns to prove the gift
intact. Was it ever in question for Elena Fer-
rante, the pseudonymous Italian author whose
four-volume novel known as the Neapolitan
quartet made her one of the most celebrated
writers alive? Maybe not, but success has a
way of spoiling things. Since the 2002 publica-
tion of “The Days of Abandonment” (translat-
ed into English by Ann Goldstein in 2005), Fer-
rante has been known for her portraits of in-
tense and intelligent women as they stare
down the ugly side of female experience: infi-
delity, reluctant motherhood and the push-and-
pull of competitive friendship.
In 2012, the first Neapolitan novel, “My Bril-
liant Friend,” made Ferrante a household
name. The series tells the story of two girls,
Lila and Lenù, equal in intellect but divided by
circumstance. Raised in the 1950s in the same
poor neighborhood on the outskirts of Naples,
the girls find their paths diverge early, when
Lenù is allowed to go to school past the fourth
grade and Lila is not. The following decades
bear out the consequences: Lila marries early,
is beaten by her husband, finds work in a fac-
tory and resides in the old neighborhood; Lenù
goes to college, marries well and becomes a
successful feminist author, all the while believ-
ing that Lila, not she, was the “brilliant” one.
The books were a literary achievement and an
By Dayna Tortorici
By Elena FerranteTranslated by Ann Goldstein
322 pp. Europa Editions. $26.

A sweeping story based on true events
that brings to life a trio of women’s lives in 19th century Australia
“Master storyteller Christina Baker Kline is at
her best in this epic yet intimate tale — a vivid and rewarding feat of both empathy and imagination.
I loved this book.”
bestselling author of
The Paris Wife
“Monumental ...
This episode in history gets a top-notch treatment
by Kline, one of our foremost historical novelists.”
—KIRKUS REVIEWS (starred review)
“Both uplifting and heartbreaking,
this beautifully written novel ... celebrates the
courage and resilience of both the first peoples and the settlers who came after, voluntarily or not.”
—LIBRARY JOURNAL (starred review)
“A tour de force of original thought, imagination and promise
.. .
Kline takes full advantage of fiction —
its freedom to create compelling characters who fully illuminate monumental events to make
history accessible and forever etched in our minds.”
—HOUSTON CHRONICLE CBakerKline @BakerKline Discover great authors, exclusive offers, and more at

TO SUBSCRIBE to the Book Review by mail, visit or call 1-800-631-2580
Book Review SEPTEMBER 6, 2020
Fiction & Poetry
By Elena Ferrante
Reviewed by Dayna Tortorici
10 Crime
Reviewed by Marilyn Stasio
By Byron Lane
Reviewed by Margo Rabb
Poems 2009-2019
By Heather McHugh
Reviewed by Sandra Simonds
By Emma Jane Unsworth
Reviewed by Kelly Conaboy
By Caoilinn Hughes
Reviewed by John Boyne
A Family History in White Supremacy
By Edward Ball
Reviewed by Walter Isaacson
American Women on the Front Lines of White
By Seyward Darby
Reviewed by Susan Neiman
Searching for Life on Another World
By Sarah Stewart Johnson
A Memoir
By Sara Seager
Reviewed by Anthony Doerr
(Astrophysically Speaking)
By Katie Mack
Reviewed by James Gleick
A Daughter’s Memoir
By Natasha Trethewey
Reviewed by Kiese Makeba Laymon
26 The Shortlist
North Korea
Reviewed by Gordon G. Chang
Children’s Books
By Daniel Nayeri
Reviewed by Arvin Ahmadi
Dream Like a Kid
By Mikaila Ulmer
Reviewed by Ron Lieber
8 By the Book
John Cleese
12 The Long View
The South’s Fight for White Supremacy
By Jon Meacham
17 Group Text
“Fifty Words for Rain,” by Asha Lemmie
Reviewed by Elisabeth Egan
27 Sketchbook
By Grant Snider
4 New & Noteworthy
6 Letters
6 From Our Archives
23 Best-Seller Lists
23 Editors’ Choice
24 Inside the List
24 Paperback Row

by Nancy Pearl
and Jeff Schwager. (HarperOne, $27.99.) In-
terviews with almost two dozen noted au-
thors about the books that have meant the
most to them over the years.
by Jamie K. McCallum. (Ba-
sic, $28.) This well-written study by a sociolo-
gist at Middlebury College explores the rea-
sons that Americans’ work hours have been
growing since the 1970s, including the gig
economy and the moribund labor movement.
SAVAGE KISS, by Roberto Saviano. Translated by
Antony Shugaar. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux,
$28.) After chronicling the Naples mob in his
acclaimed nonfiction account “Gomorrah,”
Saviano has mined the same vein in fiction;
this novel (a sequel to “The Piranhas”) opens
with a gunfight in a maternity ward.
by Reed Hastings and Erin Meyer
(Penguin Press, $28.) A Netflix co-founder
and a business professor outline the ways a
DVD subscription company adjusted to life in
the video streaming era.
by James Raven. (Oxford University, $39.95.)
Fourteen scholars trace books’ origins and
evolution, from clay tablet to digital text,
showing the form’s versatility and durability.
I picked up
MATING because it’s long. I’d been
craving something immersive, to draw me in
and force me to sit still. Norman Rush’s un-
named narrator — an American anthropologist
in Botswana, whose failed thesis propels her to
a series of romantic encounters — provides it.
Witty and incisive, she drops Latin at every
turn, and examines the practice of mating with precision. Nelson
Denoon, an acclaimed intellectual forming a utopia in the Kalaha-
ri, is the object of many of her observations: someone who chal-
lenges and excites her already impressive mind. “What beguiles
you toward intellectual love,” she tells us, “is the feeling of observ-
ing a mental searchlight lazily turning here and there and lighting
up certain parts of the landscape you thought might be dubious or
fraudulent but lacked the time or energy to investigate.” Is it too
much to say I’m in intellectual love with a novel? “The searchlight
confirms you,” Rush writes. And I am feeling confirmed.
New & Noteworthy
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“Whether you are renting or buying your fi rst home or have
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designer and  New York Times  bestselling author of  The New Bohemians

Diminished Capacity
A Novel Of Legal Suspense
Leighton Rockafellow
Up-and-coming lawyer Larry Ross takes just about any case that
walks through his door. In this first-rate legal thriller from Leighton
Rockafellow, intrigue, murder, and mystery combine to captivate you.
$16.95 paperback
also available in hardcover & ebook
From Us to Me
The Israeli Cinema between Nationalism andIndividualism,1964-1994
Dror Izhar
Offering an in-depth exploration of the work of several filmmakers,
this study considers the history and influence of Israeli cinema in the
second half of the twentieth century.
$20.99 paperback
Adventures of Buddy
A Collection of Short Stories
Linda Riddle
In this delightful children’s book, young readers are invited to follow
Adventures of Buddy , a smart pit bull dog who is full of mischief.
$19.99 paperback
also available in ebook
Tales of the Whispering Pines
J.T. Carruthers
This story is filled with romance and surprises as Chris realizes the
journey you take can lead you on a path you never thought was
possible—everlasting true love.
$19.99 paperback
also available in hardcover & ebook
Five substantial Steps and more...
For success in the world of sales
Faisal Bin Ali
Connect with people, establish yourself as a trusted adviser, and
help people achieve their goals with the steps in this guide to
succeeding in sales! Read on.
$26.82 paperback
also available in ebook
That They May Hear
Christine Dudley-Daniels
That They May Hear puts on the radar screen of our consciousness
a segment of the African American community that has been
completely ignored in our advancing struggle of human rights.
$14.99 paperback
also available in ebook
Omnia Vincit Amor
A Leap of Faith
A young man is struck by the beauty of a mysterious woman
he later found out is the daughter of his father’s friend. Will old
memories resurface?
$13.99 paperback
also available in ebook
Counting The Days
366 Days In Prison
Leslie Rutkin
Counting The Days is the true story about a cop, a romance, a
mistake, prison, survival and, finally, salvation during the corrupt
1970s in New York City.
$16.95 paperback
also available in hardcover & ebook
43 Year Old Female
Diane Mullen
Learn tips/tools to keep your life trajectory in check. This book aims
to give you a starting point for creating a new foundation in your
40s. Read on!
$13.99 paperback
also available in hardcover & ebook
Optimum SocietyWill it Happen One Day?
Optimum Society analyses the advantages and disadvantages of
free market capitalism and systems with major state intervention in
the economy. Desirable characteristics of an optimum society and
achieving it are discussed.
$13.99 paperback
also available in ebook
Trump 2020
Dr. Randy White
Dr. White highlights America at its tipping point in the history as
we see what deterioration of values had done and why it needs to
change its course of action.
$15.99 paperback
also available in ebook
Ruby’s Heart
Nikki Crawford
She’s an outcast in a world packed with humans. She’s used
to being lonely. What happens when a human walks into her
life and falls in love with her?
$20.99 paperback
also available in ebook
Visit us on Facebook & Twitter Real Authors, Real Impact
You won’t want to miss a word.

“saxophonely” is a word? Either
way, not a great look.

Please inform your readers at
the earliest convenient moment
what in God’s name a “saxo-
phonely” written book is. Is it
written with a saxophone? Or
possibly bya saxophone? Inquir-
ing minds want to know.
After reading Karan Mahajan’s
essay on “The Golden Notebook”
(Aug. 23), I got down on my
hands and knees to scour the
bottom shelf of my bookcase and
found a dusty 1971 copy of it that
I always meant to read, but never got around to it. Now I
have plenty of time to give to it,
and I appreciate the reminder.
Same for the essay on Carol
Shields (Aug. 23), whose books
I’ve always loved. And if I cannot
find “The Stone Diaries” in my
multi-stacked shelves, thank
heavens the New York Public
Library is open again! Please
continue to remind us of great
books and women authors of the
recent past.

I was a tad disappointed to read
Naomi Huffman’s piece on Carol
Shields and had to get to the final
paragraph before there was any
mention of “Unless.” The opening
of that story is just stunningly
haunting and beautiful. Go look
for it and see if you don’t think it
nails the state of our lives today
and probably for a good long
while, alas. I read the novel when
it was published and carry my
pane of glass every day. I did
read “The Stone Diaries,” but her
final work is the one I revisit and
pass on to others.
An essay on Aug. 23 about Doris
Lessing referred incorrectly to
“The Golden Notebook.” It was
Lessing’s sixth novel, not her
Here, as in her previous fiction,
Ms. Shields writes with an al-
most painfully attuned ear for
the nuances of language and the
way they at tach to feelings and
probe the most delicate layers of
human consciousness. Her
words ring like stones in a
brook, chilled and perfected; the
syntax rushes like water, tum-
bling with the slight forward tilt
that makes for narrative. The reader is caught in whirlpools
and eddies, swirled, then
launched farther downstream. The diaries leap from decade
to decade, tracing the stages of
Daisy’s life: her first, tragic
marriage to a boy from Bloom-
ington, her second marriage to
her old guardian, Barker, and
the birth of her children. The
fact that her life fits the familiar
contours is, somehow, refresh- ing; Daisy is Everywoman, and
her crises are the normal ones.
There is little in the way of
conventional plot here, but its
absence does nothing to dimin-
ish the narrative compulsion of
this novel. Carol Shields has
explored the mysteries of life
with abandon, taking unusual
risks along the way. “The Stone
Diaries” reminds us again why
literature matters.
From Our Archives
In 1994, Jay Parini wrote for the Book Review about Carol Shields’s
novel “The Stone Diaries,” the fictional autobiography of Daisy
Goodwill Flett as she navigates marriage and motherhood.
What to cook
for anyone, anytime.
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Sax Positive
I have just read Kurt Andersen’s
new book, “Evil Geniuses” (re-
view, Aug. 23). I am trying to
figure out what exactly is “saxo-
phonely” about it. I suspect that
were he alive, Adolphe Sax
would face the same quandary
and would further be dismayed
by your reviewer turning his
invention into a meaningless
adverb. I am also quite sure that
great saxophonists like Charlie
Parker, Gerry Mulligan and Stan
Getz would like to rise up from
their graves at this desecration
of their chosen instrument. An-
dersen’s book deserves a better

Was this a copy-editing failure?
Or does someone think that

Visit us on Facebook & Twitter Real Authors, Real Impact
Pick up something you can’t put down.
The Tree Frog Who Wanted to Fly
Mark Anderson
Tree Frog wanted to fly. However, the birds refuse to offer him
encouragement. Nevertheless, he tries to fly but his first flight doesn’t
end the way he (or the birds) expected.
$16.99 paperback
also available in ebook
Miracle of the Prayer Cloth
Amalie Sabali
Showcasing the power of prayers, this memoir tells how one couple’s
fierce faith in God and love for each other helped them overcome
significant challenges in their lives.
$13.99 paperback
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Conversations with Myself
Short Introspective Discussions About Life
Michael William Peterson
Explore the depths of different personalities that everyone has.
Reflect on men and women as well as the nature of war, the universe,
and happiness.
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Dino Vicelli Private Eye
in a World of Evils
Lori Weiner
Dino Vicelli, a cigar smoking Italian Greyhound, discovers the secrets
behind the racetrack, the sinister doctor that is trying to create a new
race that can be controlled by him.
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Proud To Be Ashamed
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A story about Jimmy’s life and bursting through the constraints in
place by others and proving that America’s limitations are non-existent
when faced by persistence.
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Listening to Our Students and Transcending K-12 to
Save Our Nation
Alec Ostrom, Brian Hack and Donald Prentice
Authors Alec Ostrom, Brian Hack and Don Prentice present a new
model of K-12 education to rescue our children and save our nation.
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The Poodle in the Puddle
Susan Marks Weiner
Samantha finds a wet, shivering poodle dog with no identification on
her way home from school. What do you think she does: keep the dog
or find the real owner?
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Naples, Florida, COVID-19 Terror Tale
E. E. Hunt
Four vacationing Americans are invited to enjoy a vacation in Naples
that will soon turn into a tough assignment involving a terror attack
and a pandemic. Read on!
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Dr. Widow
A Book of Two Journeys….. and How to Survive Them Both
Zarina Garrison
Two difficult journeys: the loss of a spouse and completing a PhD.
Discover how a woman survives it all, leading her to become a
relatively happy 30-something single mom, student, and widow.
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Work That Works Work That Wins
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given throughout the world at universities and industry forums that
remarkably impacted and significantly and powerfully helped
shape advertising.
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Reasoning —Born-Again Christian to Atheist
Terry Grant
Reasoning—Born-Again Christian to Atheist is the personal story of
Terry Grant’s transition from a Christian background to becoming a
congenial atheist through reasoning.
$10.99 paperback
also available in ebook
Inheritance of Crises and Dysfunction
James J. Maiwurm
A former government and legal professional undertakes a clandestine
mission for the new president to improve the diplomatic standing of
the US while serving the interests of small town America.
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also available in hardcover & ebook

What’s the last great book you read?
Iain McGilchrist’s “The Master and His
Emissary.” The author taught English at
Oxford, decided one should not try to
explain poems, qualified as a doctor, then
as a psychiatrist, and then worked at
Johns Hopkins neuroimaging the brain.
Starting with the fact that our two hemi-
spheres are asymmetrical, he explores
how this affects our minds in every way,
and how the balance between our two
hemispheres has been lost. This book has, more than any others,
explained things I have been puzzled by
for decades, in particular the shortcom-
ings of pure intellectualism.
Describe your ideal reading experience
(when, where, what, how).
My ideal reading scenario is an armchair
in a cool room. Outside, sunshine and a
pool; inside, a herd of cats and an endless
flow of elderberry cordial; and opposite
me on the sofa, my wife, Fish, so that I
can look at her now and again. What kind of reader were you as a child?
Which childhood books and authors stick
with you most?
As a child I read mainly about animals
and cricket. I’ve always had an intense,
soppy relationship with furry creatures,
so I consumed the Doctor Doolittle books,
and Elleston Trevor’s “Deep Wood” and
“Badger’s Moon,” and Kenneth Gra-
hame’s “The Wind in the Willows” and
Percy FitzPatrick’s “Jock of the
Bushveld.” Then in my teens I read adventure
novels, probably to compensate for my
lack of boldness. I loved Conan Doyle’s
books about Brigadier Gerard, the Hora-
tio Hornblower stories, Alexandre Du-
mas’s swashbucklers, Rafael Sabatini’s
pirate romps, and John Buchan’s “The
Thirty-Nine Steps” and “Greenmantle”
and “The Three Hostages,” where muscu-
lar ex-public schoolboys could effortlessly
disguise themselves as skinny Lascar
carpet salesmen without any of the locals
noticing anything “a bit rum.” Finally, at about 16, Sherlock Holmes,
Father Brown, Agatha Christie and, sud-
denly, books about humanism!
You’ve narrated audiobook versions of
everything from Dante to Dr. Seuss. Does
performing a work aloud change your
perception of it?
I started in radio, and I have always
loved the medium. I think it’s the min-
imality of the technology. Just the micro-
phone and a non-squeaky chair. It’s all
down to the scripts and the performance,
with nobody coming to adjust the radio
mic in your tie-knot, or picking lint off
your own collar every other take. This
makes it the most intimate medium, both
for the listener and for the performer. So, recording a book is the next best
thing. The trouble is, I make it difficult for
myself, because I believe (on no particu-
larly good grounds) that I should not
sound as though I’m reading! I should
sound as though I’m telling a story to a
friend. This is much more demanding, because
I need a greater familiarity with the
words if I am to achieve real fluency. So, I’m slow! The only time I achieved
a quicker speed was reading my autobi-
ography, because I’d written it myself,
which nowadays is seldom the case with
autobiographies — a fact I was told by
people who should know. The only disappointing thing about
recording “So, Anyway . . . ” was that
everyone thought it was much funnier
than the book. I guess my timing is better
than the average reader is. And, certainly,
than most British book critics. (The Daily
Mail condemned my autobiography as
self-absorbed, so I shall write the next
volume about someone else.)
How do you organize your books?
I don’t. I have books scattered all over the
planet, like my ex-wives. When I die, I
shall have all the unread ones buried with
me. My grave will be called “Mount
What’s the best book you’ve ever re-
ceived as a gift?
A wrap present K evin Kline gave me:
“The Drunkard’s Walk,” by Leonard
Mlodinow. A wildly entertaining book
about probability, which left me ulti-
mately deflated by my complete igno-
rance of chance, or luck, and what an
astonishing huge part that plays in our
lives. Why was I not taught probability?
What do you plan to read next?
The next book I intend to read is Dominic
Cavendish’s “You, Too, Can Become a
Comedy Critic.”
John Cleese
The actor and screenwriter, whose new book is ‘Creativity,’ favored
books about animals as a child: ‘I’ve always had an intense, soppy rela-
tionship with furry creatures.’
An expanded version of this interview is
available at
By the Book
Independent publishers and
authors of not-so-independent
means receive special
discounted advertising rates
every Sunday in The New York
Times Book Review.
For more information,
please contact Mark Hiler
at (212) 556-8452.
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When Shadows Come Home
O. G. Diaz
One woman who has it all suddenly finds a new interest in her life —
a new love. Will she abandon her present status for what she now
perceives as true happiness?
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The Angel and the Rogue
Dorothy P. Acosta Hays
Captured by Maria’s father while his bride Gwendalynn Taylor is taken
hostage, Captain Black must now escape Del Rosa’s ship, rescue his
love, and win the Queen’s pardon.
$23.99 paperback
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Messages from God
John Kaufman
Life after death? Are you looking for some answers? This book of
poetic reflections and musings will have you looking at life, death,
and our soul’s connection to God, life, and the hereafter.
$13.99 paperback
also available in hardcover & ebook
Seattle’s Used Bookstores: 1999 and 2019
A Love Note to Book Culture and the Pre-Digital Age
Mary Brown
Seattle’s Used Bookstores: 1999 and 2019 is a collection of essays and
photographs celebrating independent used bookstores in Seattle just
before and twenty years after the city’s tech boom.
$19.99 paperback
also available in hardcover & ebook
Life for Booty
A Historical Novel
Gerald Clerie
Life for Booty recounts the story of an Irish family in its wanderings
through time and space, and the lasting impact it has left on the
bonds of its migrations.
$20.99 paperback
also available in hardcover & ebook
Chasing the Dream
Journey of A Poor Boy from Fiji
Mahesh P. Raj
This memoir shares the story of a man born in the Fiji Islands in
poverty and his determination and passion to make a better life.
$20.99 paperback
also available in hardcover & ebook
Ole Country Road Hopper Toad
Book II
Frances Caudill
A toad named Hopper Toad has an optimistic and adventurous
outlook on life. His best friends Rabbit, Squirrel, Skunk,
and Frog admire him. For more details about the book,
$14.99 paperback
also available in hardcover & ebook
Delbert C. Bear, Esq
Ran Toler
A teddy bear magically comes to life and becomes friends with a
little girl. Join the two in their wonderful adventures in this tale of
friendship and childhood.
$16.99 paperback
also available in ebook
Walking in the Gray
How to Succeed When the Rules Are Not Black and White
Rickey L. Jasper
This self-help guide offers you advice on how to succeed in life, the
workplace, school, marriage, and church by following rules that are
not written in black and white.
$28.99 paperback
also available in hardcover & ebook
Saving General Patton
Robert Corns
Inspired by events of the Second World War, this is the story of how
Rob, JJ, and their friend Hershey save the life of General George
Patton from an assassin.
$19.99 paperback
also available in hardcover & ebook
Peter Leibert
Jerome is a fictional tale of two corgis, based on the historical fact
of Jerome, a mysterious legless man found in 1863 on the beach in
Sandy Cove, Nova Scotia.
$15.99 paperback
also available in hardcover & ebook
Animated Stills
Poetic Pareidolia
Thomas G. Reischel
The arts of photography and poetry entwine Thomas G. Reischel’s
Animated Stills . In this collection, inanimate objects take on a visual
and a poetic form.
$38.99 paperback
978-1-7960-6126-0 also available in hardcover & ebook
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Your daily dose of “must read.”

victims who matter to Denise
Mina. In
land, 341 pp., $28),
these are drug
addicts, prostitutes and other
people who are barely missed and
rarely mourned. Margo Dunlop, a
doctor who was adopted as an
infant, discovers that back in
1989, her birth mother was one of
nine sex workers killed in Glas-
gow — and becomes determined
to put a face to the murderer.
Lurid newspaper accounts and a
popular true-crime book aren’t all
that helpful to her search, and
threatening letters hand-deliv-
ered in the dead of night to
frighten her away from her mis-
sion lend little encouragement. Mina tends to wrap her stories
around politically incisive sub-
plots. Here, it’s society’s indiffer-
ence to the sordid lives and lonely
deaths of people like Margo’s
mother. When Margo speculates
that youthful trauma and low
self-esteem must have driven her
mother to become a prostitute,
her aunt hoots in derision. “She
was poor,” she says. “It’s not a
mental illness, she didn’t have
secret daddy issues. . . . It’s about
money.” That no-nonsense voice, with
its unsparing intelligence and
utter lack of sentimentality, is
what makes Mina such a good
writer. Margo is too blandly
goody-good for my taste, but she
meets plenty of sharply defined
individuals who educate her
about what it means to be socially
marginalized. “When we get
killed they call us the ‘less dead,’ ”
one of them tells her. “Like we
were never really alive to begin

QUESTION: What’s “funnier than
cops, dumber than lawyers?”
Answer: “private investigators.”
That’s private-eye humor, cour-
tesy of T. Jefferson Parker, who
always gets his laughs. In
SHE VANISHED (Putnam, 338 pp.,
his San Diego sleuth, Roland
Ford, is hired by a state assem- blyman, Dalton Strait, to find his
missing wife. Given the occupa-
tional hazards of California poli-
tics, Natalie Strait may have been
kidnapped on partisan grounds.
But given her serious gambling
addiction, she may be hiding from
racketeer loan sharks — or may-
be she’s joined a gang of anar-
chists leaving bombs all over the
place. Natalie isn’t a very interesting
character until someone has the
good sense to shackle her to a
wall. But she got herself into this
mess, and she can get herself out
of it. Meanwhile, we’ll just hang
out under the big palapa hut at
Rancho de los Robles, the funky
motel that Ford owns and has
colonized with tenants like his
grandparents, Dick and Liz Ford,
Odile Sevigny, a psychic, and
somebody’s dog. Make room
under the palapa for one more.

SURPRISE ME! Is that too much to
ask of a whodunit? In lean times,
there’s always the option of pick-
ing up a classic mystery that’s
just been reissued, like either one
of these by Seishi Yokomizo. The
great Japanese crime writer, who
often gets compared to the Bel-
gian master Georges Simenon,
assigns his cases to a brilliant but
modest detective, Kosuke
Kindaichi, who uses his big brain
and native shrewdness to solve
insanely intricate puzzles that
leave everyone else baffled, in-
cluding the reader.
Vertigo, 189 pp., paper, $14.95),
originally published as a maga-
zine serial in 1946, is a classic
locked-room murder mystery, the
first in the Detective Kindaichi
series. Louise Heal Kawai’s trans-
lation respects the genre conven-
tions while observing the period
idiom: The story is set in a Japa-
nese village in 1937. “If you are the kind of reader
who enjoys reading between the
lines of a story, and recall the
particulars of the crime, you may
already be able to guess what I
am about to write next,”
Yokomizo intones at the outset.
Well, actually, no — despite a
passion for John Dickson Carr, I
am hopeless at second-guessing
the diabolical minds that devise
locked-room puzzlers. Here, the
premise alone is dazzling: A
young bride and groom repair to
the bridal chamber after their
wedding. The next morning they
are dead, hacked to bits in “a
tableau from hell.” But no one had
access to the room — and the
sword that did the deed is found
outside the house, buried in fresh,
unblemished snow. Yokomizo teases the reader
with a clear and not in the least
helpful list of characters, and also
supplies a meticulous illustration
of the murder scene and its imme-
diate surroundings. (That doesn’t
help much, either.) Despite his
benevolent assistance, the solu-
tion to this mystery came as a
complete surprise — exactly what
I asked for.
Vertigo, 317 pp., paper, $14.95),
translated by Yumiko Yamazaki,
finds Detective Kindaichi called
upon to solve a particularly grue-
some string of murders within the
rich but fractious Inugami clan.
Sahei Inugami, the eccentric
family patriarch, made a fortune
as the “Silk King of Japan,” but
his eccentric will inspires his
greedy heirs to devise some
bizarre methods for weeding out
their rivals. For the sake of fair
play, Kindaichi scrupulously
defines his methods of detection
and shares the logic of his reason-
ing. But Yokomizo has his fun,
and the diabolically twisted plot-
ting is top-notch.
Cracking an Impossible Case
MARILYN STASIO has covered crime
fiction for the Book Review since
1988. Her column appears twice a
“In an era when facts are too often
disdained and discarded, Paul Krugman
wields them like a rapier. A brilliant scholar
[whose] incisive columns are a beacon for anyone
who cares about public policy and progressive change.”
“The most celebrated economist
of his generation.” —The Economist
W. W. Norton & Company
Independent Publishers Since 1923 •

WHEN HIS MOTHER died in 2003, the writer
Edward Ball went to New Orleans, where
her family had lived for generations, to
bury her and sort through her belongings.
Among her papers were documents that
had been collected by her late aunt, includ-
ing tales about the man who was known in
the family as “our Klansman.” Ball had already written, in 1998, a
deeply reported National Book Award-
winning history, “Slaves in the Family,” for
which he tracked down descendants of
those who had once been enslaved by his
South Carolina ancestors on his father’s
side. In his new book, “Life of a Klansman,”
he follows a similar course, taking the
reader along with him on a journey of dis-
covery as he teases out facts, engages in
speculation and shares his emotions about
the sad saga of Constant Lecorgne, an un-
successful carpenter and embittered racist
who was a great-great-grandfather on his
mother’s side. The result is a haunting tapestry of in-
terwoven stories that inform us not just
about our past but about the resentment-
bred demons that are all too present in our
society today. “This is a family story,” he
writes. “Yet it is not a family story wrapped
in sugar, the way some people like to serve
them.” The family is not just his, it’s our na-
tion’s. Lecorgne, born in 1832, was raised in a
New Orleans that was, as it has been
throughout its history, very complex ra-
cially and ethnically. About a quarter of the
population were French-speaking whites,
a quarter were English-speaking whites, a
quarter were free mixed-race Creoles and
a quarter were slaves. The Lecorgnes were
in the first category, but they rented a
home from a free French-speaking woman
of color. Because he has few documents, Ball in-
dulges in a lot of surmises and specula-
tions, perhaps a bit too many for my taste.
He pictures the young boy Lecorgne walk-
ing with his family the four blocks to Congo
Square, where the slaves were allowed to
drum and dance on Sunday afternoons.
There is a sexual tension that the boy finds
both attractive and appalling. “I think I can
begin to see, in Congo Square, a script and
a stage, a place where Blackness and
whiteness meet,” Ball writes. “Complica-
tions ensue. They move apart. Eventually
the script calls for a crescendo. Blackness
and whiteness collide, and the ending, for our Klansman, is an explosion.”
Lecorgne is the unsuccessful and unpop-
ular middle child of a large family. He tries
to make a living as a carpenter, but he de-
scends into what is known in the local parl-
ance as petits blancs , the poor working-
class whites. Resentments accrue. When
he marries, his wife’s family gives him a
household slave as a dowry, but he has to
sell her for $500 to afford a home. The Civil War offers Lecorgne an outlet
for his resentments and a
chance to finally earn a little re-
spect from his family and neigh-
bors. But even there he fails. Af-
ter joining one of Louisiana’s mi-
litias as a captain, he is demoted
to a second lieutenant. On a train
trip to Virginia he gets into a me-
lee and, along with much of his
unit, is court-martialed. At a
public ceremony, he and his
comrades have one-half of their
scalps shaved and are
cashiered. Lecorgne heads back
to New Orleans in disgrace. Under Reconstruction, the
city becomes integrated. Blacks
can vote, testify against whites
in court and sit where they want
on the streetcars; a few even at-
tend integrated schools.
Lecorgne’s neighborhood in up-
town New Orleans, around
where Napoleon Avenue meets
the river (which is where I grew
up), becomes mixed, with Cre-
oles, Germans, Irish, Blacks and
mulattoes all living on the same
blocks. It’s nice to think what the
city, and our nation, might have
been had that progression con-
tinued. But among the whites,
especially the petits blancs, re-
sentments built. The clubhouses for resentful
poor whites are the neighbor-
hood firehouses. Lecorgne
joined one just off Napoleon Av-
enue, the Home Hook & Ladder
Company, housed in a Roman-
esque building with a first-floor
facade clad in stone and a sec-
ond in red brick. Its membership
suddenly swelled during Reconstruction
to 85 men, far more than were necessary to
fight off the neighborhood’s house fires. In-
stead, as Ball writes, “the firehouses play a
big part in the tale of the Ku-klux,” which is
what the loose-knit confederation of white
supremacist organizations came to be
called. Lecorgne was a minor player in this
movement. But for that reason his tale is
valuable, both for understanding his times
and for understanding our own; he allows
us a glimpse of who becomes one of the
mass of followers of racist movements, and
His one recorded inglorious moment
came in early 1873. With Black support, a Republican was elected governor, and the
local white militias took up arms to resist
his rule. Lecorgne and a group of armed
men gathered with the goal of taking over
their neighborhood police precinct station,
hoping it would spark a wider white upris-
ing. Although the newspapers referred to
them as “Ku-Kluxers,” the rebel raiders
most likely did not wear robes and hoods.
That practice was mainly for rural ma-
rauders. They were successful, but the fol-
lowing night the police staged a counter-
attack. As Lecorgne hid in a staircase, his
cousin was wounded and a friend was
killed. Lecorgne surrendered and was carried
away to the city jail. In the indictment,
which misspelled his name, he is accused
of treason and violating federal law for
having “unlawfully maliciously and
traitorously conspired” to attack state au-
thorities. But a local judge quickly dis- missed all the charges. That low point was
the high point of his life.
Near the end of his book, Ball makes a
fascinating digression. It involves a promi-
nent person of color who lived in New Or-
leans at the same time as Lecorgne. Louis
Charles Roudanez was a medical doctor,
trained in France and at Dartmouth, who
published The New Orleans Tribune, a
daily newspaper for the Black community.
An homme de couleur libre , Roudanez mar-
ried a free woman of color. While
researching his own family, Ball
decided to look for the descend-
ants of the Roudanez family.
He finds one of the physician-
publisher’s great-great-grand-
children, named Mark Roudané,
living in a leafy subdivision of St.
Paul, Minn. “He was raised
white, and he appears white,”
Ball writes of Roudané. “In mid-
dle age he learned that accord-
ing to the one-drop rule of black-
ness, he was not white.”
Roudané did not know the tale of
his father’s ancestors, or even
the Roudanez spelling of his
family name, until he stumbled
across some family documents
when he was 55. As happened
with Ball, the discovery of a bit
of family history leads Roudané
on a quest. “When my father
died, in 2005, I was going
through his papers and throw-
ing stuff away, and I found an un-
marked binder,” Roudané tells
Ball. It contained papers show-
ing how his father, who was des-
ignated as “colored” on his birth
certificate, had forsaken his dis-
tinguished roots, changed the
spelling of his name as a young
man, gone to Tulane by passing
as white and then moved to the
Midwest. Despite this history, or
perhaps because of it, he be-
came a resentful white racist.
“When it came to talking about
Black people,” Mark Roudané
told Ball, “all this venom would
come out. I thought, ‘Why is my
dad being ugly?’ I didn’t under-
stand it.” The interconnected strands of race and
history give Ball’s entrancing stories a
Faulknerian resonance. In Ball’s retelling
of his family saga, the sins and stains of the
past are still very much with us, not some-
thing we can dismiss by blaming them on
misguided ancestors who died long ago. “It
is not a distortion to say that Constant’s
rampage 150 years ago helps, in some im-
possible-to-measure way, to clear space for
the authority and comfort of whites living
now — not just for me and for his 50 or 60
descendants, but for whites in general,”
Ball writes. “I am an heir to Constant’s acts
of terror. I do not deny it, and the bitter
truth makes me sick at the stomach.”
Sins of Our Fathers
An author’s racist ancestor illuminates uncomfortable truths about America.
A Family History in White Supremacy
By Edward Ball
Illustrated. 395 pp. Farrar, Straus & Giroux. $28.
A Klansman photographed in 1871.
The interconnected strands of
race and history give Ball’s
stories a Faulknerian resonance.
WALTER ISAACSON is a professor of history at

HE HAD TRIED, and failed, once before. In 1859, the Virgin-
ian Edward Alfred Pollard, a journalist and Southern parti-
san, had published a defense of slavery, “Black Diamonds
Gathered in the Darkey Homes of the South.” Then came
the election of Abraham Lincoln, the Civil War, the Eman-
cipation Proclamation and the 13th Amendment, which
abolished the system of slavery Pollard had hoped to pre-
serve. After the Confederate surrender at Appomattox in
April 1865, he turned to a new project, publishing, in 1866, a
book titled
This effort would succeed where the first had fallen
short. Pollard’s framing of the “Lost Cause” was to long
endure, and it’s safe to say that no other American title of
1866 is shaping the nation in the way Pol-
lard’s is even now. “No one can read aright
the history of America,” Pollard wrote, “un-
less in the light of a North and a South.” For
all its bloodshed, he argued, the Civil War
“did not decide negro equality; it did not de-
cide negro suffrage; it did not decide State
Rights. . . . And these things which the war
did not decide, the Southern people will still
cling to, still claim and still assert them in
their rights and views.” Here, then, was the ur-text of the Lost
Cause, of the mythology of a South that be-
lieved its pro-slavery war aims were just, its
fate tragic and its white-supremacist world-
view worth defending. In our own time, the
debates over Confederate memorials and the
resistance in many quarters of white Amer-
ica, especially in the South, to address slav-
ery, segregation and systemic racism can in
part be understood by encounters with the
literature of the Lost Cause and the history of
the way many white Americans have chosen
to see the Civil War and its aftermath.
To Pollard, the Southern side had fought
nobly for noble ends. “The war has left the
South its own memories, its own heroes, its
own tears, its own dead,” he wrote. “Under
these traditions, sons will grow to manhood,
and lessons sink deep that are learned from
the lips of widowed mothers.” Pollard de-
clared that a “ ‘war of ideas,’ ” a new war that
“the South wants and insists upon perpetrat-
ing,” was now unfolding. And in many ways it unfolds still. The defiance of federal
will from Reconstruction to our own day, the insistence on
states’ rights in the face of the quest for racial justice and
the revanchist reverence for Confederate emblems and
figures are illuminated by engaging with the ethos of
which Pollard so effectively wrote. He enlarged on his the-
sis in “The Lost Cause Regained,” published in 1868. Pol-
lard wrote that he was “profoundly convinced that the true
cause fought for in the late war has not been ‘lost’ immeas-
urably or irrevocably, but is yet in a condition to be ‘re-
gained’ by the South on ultimate issues of the political con-
test.” The issue was no longer slavery, but white suprema-
cy, which Pollard described as the “true cause of the war”
and the “true hope of the South.” The Civil War, then, was to be fought perennially. De-
feats on the battlefield as well as the trials of the early Re-
construction period were cast as Christlike tribulations
that would lead to a resurrection of the old order. The
South, Pollard wrote, “must wear the crown of thorns be-
fore she can assume that of victory.” As the decades after the war went by, that post-bellum
victory seemed assured. In his essential book
, David W. Blight
detailed how a white narrative of the war took hold, North
and South, after Appomattox. As early as 1874 the histori-
an William Wells Brown had said, “There is a feeling all
over this country that the Negro has got about as much as
he ought to have.” Slavery and race were thus pushed to
the side in favor of a more comforting story of how valiant
brother had taken up arms against valiant brother. In this recasting of reality, the Civil War was a family
quarrel in which both sides were doing the best they could
according to their lights. Right and wrong did not enter
into it. White Americans chose to celebrate one another
without reference to the actual causes and implications of
the war. “The memory of slavery, emancipation and the
14th and 15th Amendments never fit well into a developing
narrative in which the Old and New South were romanti-
cized and welcomed back to a new nationalism,” Blight
wrote, “and in which devotion alone made everyone right,
and no one truly wrong, in the remembered Civil War.” To
recall that the war had been about what Lincoln had called
a “new birth of freedom” meant acknowledging the na-
tion’s failings on race. So white Americans decided to re-
call something else. Blight quoted a 1912 novel, “Cease Firing,” by the South-
ern author Mary Johnston. In the book’s closing pages, a
Confederate soldier observes, “I think that we were both
right and both wrong.” In such a view, it had all been a
struggle between two reasonable parties over the nature
of the Constitution; slavery was incidental. By minimizing
race in the story of the war, white Americans felt free to
minimize race not only in the past but in the present —
leading, as Blight wrote, to “the denigration of Black dig-
nity and the attempted erasure of emancipation from the
national narrative of what the war had been about.”
Yet the war, and much of the history of the nation before
and after, had been about race. A century after Appomat-
tox, in 1965, at a time when white Southerners were still deeply engaged in preserving Pollard’s
Lost Cause, the editors of Ebony magazine
published a special edition that became a
problem of race in America, insofar as that
problem is related to packets of melanin in
men’s skins, is a white problem,” not a
Black one, Lerone Bennett Jr., a historian
and senior editor at Ebony, wrote in the vol-
ume’s opening essay. “And in order to solve
that problem we must seek its source, not in
the Negro but in the white American (in the
process by which he was educated, in the
needs and complexes he expresses
through racism) and in the structure of the
white community (in the power arrange-
ments and the illicit uses of racism in the
scramble for scarce values: power, pres-
tige, income).” Contributors included Bennett, James
Baldwin, John O. Killens, Whitney Young,
Carl T. Rowan, Louis E. Lomax, Kenneth B.
Clark and Martin Luther King Jr. King’s
piece, “The Un-Christian Christian,” ar-
gued that white religious believers “too of-
ten . . . have responded to Christ emotion-
ally, but they have not responded to His
teachings morally.” As in the Lost Cause of
the South and the reunion narrative of the
whole nation, white Christianity of midcen-
tury America chose the comforting ele-
ments of history and theology rather than
the uncomfortable ones. Baldwin closes the book by imagining
the interior monologue of the white American who has
been raised on the false history of the Lost Cause. “Do not
blame me,” Baldwin wrote of the white “stammering” in
his conscience. “I was not there. I did not do it. My history
has nothing to do with Europe or the slave trade. Anyway,
it was yourchiefs who sold youto me. . . . But, on the same
day . . . in the most private chamber of his heart always, he,
the white man, remains proud of that history for which he
does not wish to pay, and from which, materially, he has
profited so much” — a history manipulated to make the
unspeakable palatable.
“A man is a man,” Baldwin wrote, “a woman is a woman,
and a child is a child. To deny these facts is to open the
doors on a chaos deeper and deadlier, and . . . more time-
less, more eternal, than the medieval vision of Hell.” Only
when Pollard’s Lost Cause is truly lost will the nation es-
cape those flames, and begin at last to glimpse the light.
JON MEACHAM is the author, most recently, of “His Truth Is
Marching On: John Lewis and the Power of Hope.”
A fugitive slave captured by his owner, 1850.
The South’s Fight for White Supremacy

better understand Black lives, it is crucial
to understand the people who don’t think
those lives matter — the white nationalists
whose support Donald Trump is ever more
openly seeking to win a continuation of his
presidency. The term “neo-Nazi” is euphe-
mistic: There’s nothing neo about people
who brandish the swastikas that are
banned in today’s Germany. We know that
at least 47 percent of white women voted
for Trump in 2016, and that it was more of-
ten the daughters than the sons of the Con-
federacy who organized to build those
monuments to Confederate heroes. Still,
it’s hard to wrap our heads around the idea
that women, traditionally expected to be
gentle and nurturing, could be driving en-
gines of white supremacist hatred. The
journalist Seyward Darby shows that this
is one more sexist assumption we ought to
discard. “Men like Josef Mengele and Mad-
ison Grant were the best-known purveyors
of racist science and policy at the height of
the eugenics movement’s popularity,” she
writes. “Women, though, were on the real
front lines, incorporating eugenics into the
fabric of everyday life.” After Trump’s election in 2016, Darby
spent several years trying to fathom what
moves women to support white suprema-
cy, the belief that America should remain a
predominantly white country governed by
white people. The result is the superbly
written “Sisters in Hate,” which under-
mines many common assumptions about
the far right.
Darby is a white Southerner, several of
whose “forebears fought on the wrong side
of the Civil War,” but in examining her sub-
jects, she never confuses empathy with un-
derstanding. While ruthless in her con-
demnation of racist ideology, she suggests
how that ideology becomes inseparable
from a person’s sense of herself, and
presents a strong case that comprehend-
ing this is crucial if we are to battle white
supremacy. Her focus on the lives of three
very different women makes her book as
readable as a good novel; skillfully com-
bined with history and analysis, her sub-
jects’ stories provide a better picture of the
forces driving white backlash than several
of the best sellers that attempted to do so in
the wake of Trump’s election. The three women at the center of “Sis- ters in Hate” were born in 1979, but that’s
about all they have in common. Corinna
Olsen, from Oregon, has worked as a porn
star, a bodybuilder and a professional em-
balmer. Ayla Stewart grew up in Las Ve-
gas, and before becoming known online as
“Wife with a Purpose,” a Christian stay-at-
home mother of six whose broadcasts
spew hatred toward anyone whose life
choices are different, she flirted with a fem-
inist version of New Age culture that in-
cluded pagan goddess worship and veg-
anism. Lana Lokteff, once a self-described
“grunge puppy” from the Pacific North-
west, now lives in Charleston, S.C., where
she and her Swedish husband run Red Ice,
a popular website and radio show that pro-
motes apocalyptic racist propaganda. In
emphasizing the specificity of their stories,
Darby also underscores that all three
women made choices. “It’s possible to ac-
knowledge the rampant, persistent sexism
of the far right while also giving women the
credit they deserve. . . . We risk stripping
them of responsibility when we suggest
that the harm they do is merely a way of
coping with their own oppression.”
As we learn more about them, we learn
how their choices evolved. Corinna left the
movement and even became an F.B.I. in-
former after realizing that a group she be-
longed to was planning to commit mass
murder. Ayla and Lana cooperated briefly
with Darby’s reporting before deciding she
was a leftist, feminist journalist who could- n’t be trusted to adequately portray their
continuing commitment to the white su-
premacist cause. In showing that white na-
tionalism is not monolithic, Darby stresses
its supporters’ agency — reminding us
that those supporters could always choose
to act differently, and sometimes do. What makes such different women vul-
nerable to the movement’s hateful propa-
ganda? Darby draws on familiar studies in
behavioral science that show the impor-
tance of repetition: The more you hear
something repeated with conviction, the
harder it is to believe it isn’t true. Smartly,
Darby also suggests that “life in contempo-
rary America may be enough to incline a
person toward conspiracism.” This was
true before the current administration.
Few Americans know that other wealthy
nations — not just Scandinavia! — take for
granted what Americans are lacking: uni-
versal health care, paid sick leave, parental
leave, guaranteed vacations and other
benefits regarded in this country as privi-
leges to be granted, or denied, at employ-
ers’ whims. Even though few Americans
know these benefits are elsewhere called
rights, their absence creates anxiety, so-
cial instability and a floating resentment
that can easily turn violent, especially in
places where any 18-year-old can buy an
assault weapon but not a bottle of beer. But Darby doesn’t succumb to the idea
that white nationalism is the product of
economic insecurity; the statistics are too clear. She quotes the political scientist Ash-
ley Jardina, who found that most white na-
tionalists “own houses, have average in-
comes similar to most whites in the United
States, are employed and identify as mid-
dle class.” (We’d prefer to believe that Na-
zism too was supported by poor and illiter-
ate masses, but a high percentage of Nazi
Party members in Germany had college
degrees.) While all three of Darby’s subjects were
influenced by the lies they ingested on
right-wing radio and websites, all three de-
nied they hated the Black people, Jews or Latinos regularly vilified on such sites.
Darby writes, “White nationalists are pos-
ing a challenge: If other groups can rally
around their history, why not white peo-
ple?” This is not a stupid question. Darby
answers it by saying it promotes a false
equivalence, “shorn of context, nuance and
power disparities. In theory, though, it’s
more effective from a P.R. standpoint than
lynchings, cross burnings and slur-filled
She is right, but why not turn to the uni-
versalism of fierce activists like Paul Robe-
son or Bob Moses, who risked their lives in
the struggle against racism, but never suc-
cumbed to the essentialist idea that we are
reducible to our ethnic origins? Universal-
ism has been stigmatized by many pro-
gressives today, who confuse it with the
false universalism that screams “All Lives
Matter.” But “All Lives Matter” invokes a
banal and abstract truth to obscure an em-
pirical and historical one: that people of
color are far more likely to become victims
of white violence long enshrined in custom
and law. This is completely different from a
universalism that acknowledges racist his-
tories and celebrates cultural difference
while affirming our common humanity. In
this critical moment of American history,
that’s a model we must take seriously. Darby writes that her years spent study-
ing white nationalism have inclined her to
pessimism, but her book ends on a hopeful
note. Corinna, who once sported swastika
armbands and Hitler tattoos, now wor-
ships in a mosque whose members are
mostly people of color, having converted to
Islam in 2018 and had her tattoos covered
up. The last time we see her, she is using
her bodybuilding skills to teach calisthen-
ics to women at the mosque who said they
would like to be healthier, but didn’t know
where to start. It’s a scene that calls to
mind a remark often repeated by the de-
fense attorney Bryan Stevenson, who cre-
ated the National Memorial for Peace and
Justice in Montgomery, Ala.: Each of us is
more than the worst thing we’ve ever
The Hate You Give
A portrait of the white nationalist movement through three very different women.
American Women on the
Front Lines of White Nationalism
By Seyward Darby
309 pp. Little, Brown & Company. $28.
‘Life in contemporary America
may be enough to incline a
person toward conspiracism.’
SUSAN NEIMAN is director of the Einstein For-
um in Germany and the author, most recently,
of “Learning From the Germans: Race and
the Memory of Evil.”
A woman displays a “white power” hand signal at a rally in Portland, Ore., in 2018.

IN 2013 , the House Committee on Science,
Space and Technology asked three promi-
nent scientists whether life — aliens, if you
wish — exists beyond Earth. “Do the math,” said Sara Seager, an as-
trophysicist from M.I.T. Ralph Hall, a 90-year-old congressman
from Texas, said he couldn’t do the math;
that was the problem. The math actually isn’t all that compli-
cated. The universe brims with galaxies, a
couple hundred billion at least, and each of
those galaxies brims with billions of stars.
Planets — called exoplanets — orbit most
of those stars. As of this writing, we have
confirmed the existence of 4,197, but as-
tronomers detect another exoplanet seem-
ingly every few days. Some are gigantic
and insanely hot; some have big puffy at-
mospheres; some climb up over and slip
under their stars in polar orbits; some
have “years” that last only days. The universe overflows with worlds. In
our galaxy alone, there are probably about
40 billion planets that could support life. To
assume that ours is the only one that hosts
living things seems a tad self-absorbed,
doesn’t it? Congressman Hall asked, “Is there life
out there?”
“Yes,” said Mary Voytek, an astrobiolo-
gist at NASA. “Yes,” said Steven Dick, a science histo-
rian at the Library of Congress. “Yes,” said Seager.
Aliens might not be little green people, of
course: They might be based on silicon or
ammonia, rather than carbon; they might
use cosmic rays as an energy source; they
might be ghostly microbes paddling
around sulfuric pools. As Seager urges in
her stark, bewitching new memoir, “The
Smallest Lights in the Universe,” we have
to shake loose “of our Earth-based biases
— our ‘terracentrism,’ . . . that peculiar
blindness born of being human.” Or as the Georgetown planetary scien-
tist Sarah Stewart Johnson puts it in her
own lovely memoir, “The Sirens of Mars:
Searching for Life on Another World,” “It’s
one of our biggest intellectual and practical
challenges — like trying to imagine a color
we’ve never seen.” In “The Smallest Lights,” Seager begins
with her almost feral childhood in Toronto,
roving streets and tending younger sib-
lings, often alone, by her own admission,
“small and silent” and “wired a little differ-
ently.” At 15 she wandered into a Univer-
sity of Toronto presentation about a super-
nova and “sat enthralled in the pin-drop
quiet, ravished by an amazing tale of dis-
covery.” She promptly threw herself into
advanced math and canoeing with equal
gusto, fell in love with a paddling partner
named Mike, attended graduate school at
Harvard, was awarded a position at the In-
stitute for Advanced Study in Princeton,
N.J., and developed a new technique for
detecting exoplanets and analyzing their
atmospheres. Tenured at M.I.T. by the time
she was 36, she commenced a lifelong hunt
for a second Earth. Then Mike got sick and died, and Seager,
now a widowed mother of two, came un-
glued. The merciless seesaw of her grief
makes for harrowing reading. “Hour by
hour,” she writes, “I felt either broken or
bulletproof.” In time, a group of six other
widows, meeting every other Friday,
“moving from house to house like emo-
tional squatters,” gradually helped Seager
return to the world. The second half of her story gleams with
insights into what it means to lose a part-
ner in midlife, and just as the widows
helped Seager feel less alone, her story is
sure to help any readers grappling with a
similar loss. “When you lose someone,” she
writes, “you don’t lose them all at once, and
their dying doesn’t stop with their death.
You lose them a thousand times in a thou-
sand ways. You say a thousand goodbyes.
You hold a thousand funerals.”
Johnson’s “The Sirens of Mars” oscil-
lates between a history of Mars science
and an account of the author’s own journey
as a planetary scientist seeking sparks of
life in the immensity. She presents efficient
thumbnails of astronomers like Percival
Lowell, who popularized the idea of visible
“canals” on Mars as evidence of an alien
civilization; Carl Sagan, who suggested
that big, turtlelike organisms “are not only
possible on Mars; they may be favored”;
and Maria Zuber, the only woman among
the 87 investigators on the 1996 Mars
Global Surveyor science team. Along the
way, you come to appreciate the astonish-
ing ingenuity required to safely send
rovers the size of Mini Coopers several
hundred million kilometers through a
frozen vacuum, land them on another plan-
et and drive them around by remote con-
Most compelling are Johnson’s memo-
ries of formative moments, as a young girl
prowling roadcuts for fossils with her fa-
ther, as a wide-eyed graduate student en-
tering the Jet Propulsion Laboratory for
the first time (“It felt holy to be in those
rooms”) and as an awed young scientist in
Copenhagen holding in her hands bacterial
cells 20,000 times older than she is. John- son remembers feeling odd when, as a col-
lege sophomore, she attended a lecture by
Zuber. “My back straightened as it be-
came clear what I was responding to,”
she writes. “It was the first time I’d
ever heard a woman give a
planetary science talk.”
If Johnson’s prose swirls
with lyrical wonder, as
varied and multihued
as the apricot deserts, butterscotch skies
and blue sunsets of
Mars, Seager’s is
rawer and starker,
full of blues and
blacks, written in
the ink of grief,
suffering, heal-
ing and — ulti-
mately — clarity.
In Seager’s
hands you’re as
apt to learn about
“a special body
bag that’s de-
signed to slide
down stairs” as
about storm-
wracked rogue exo-
planets where it rains
molten iron. Both books beautifully
dramatize the emotional pre-
carity of having one’s career
pinned to the fate of space hard-
ware. Both address the challenges of
being female physical scientists in a male-
dominated field, and both convey the
struggle of operating in the vast scales of
the universe at work, then commuting
home to operate in the humbler scales of
the domestic sphere. “I was constantly
torn in two, always some form of dis-
tracted,” Seager writes. Johnson, after
spending her workday tending to a Mars
rover millions of kilometers away, hurries
to pick up her kids at preschool. “It feels
almost impossible to leave,” she says, “one
love tearing me from another.”
Spoiler alert: Neither book ends with the
exultant discovery of extraterrestrial life.
In Johnson’s final pages you find yourself
spiraling through Herodotus and Euclid;
in Seager’s you watch her learn how to love
again. But these are not disappointments
— on the contrary, their testimonies are re-
minders that we are all just part of a contin-
uum of investigation that extends back
through the Enlightenment to Ibn al-
Haytham, Aryabhata, and Aristotle, hu-
man links in centuries-long chains of ques-
tions. Both writers exemplify the humanity of
science: Seager and Johnson laugh,
grieve, hope, fail, try, fail and try again.
“We started from almost nothing,” John-
son writes about Mars, though she could
be talking about pretty much every human
endeavor. “We’ve gone careening down
blind alleys and taken countless wrong turns, yet
somehow, mi-
raculously, the pas-
sion, ingenuity and
persistence we have
brought to the enterprise
have moved us toward a
truer understanding of an-
other world.” Why keep searching for life
elsewhere when we some-
times seem to have a hard
time appreciating it in our
own backyard? What
does it say about us? “It says we’re curious,”
Seager writes. “It says
we’re hopeful. It says
we’re capable of won-
der and wonderful
things.” However fleeting
our individual lives
might be, it’s comforting
to imagine that we
Earthlings might not be
utterly alone in the immensity
of time and space. Do the math. Life
may be more resilient and pervasive
than we think. How lucky we are to be
here long enough to appreciate that.
Galaxies Far, Far Away
A planetary scientist and an astrophysicist describe the challenges of working in male-dominated fields.
Searching for Life on Another World
By Sarah Stewart Johnson
288 pp. Crown. $28.99.
A Memoir
By Sara Seager
320 pp. Crown. $28.
ANTHONY DOERR’S most recent novel is “All the
Light We Cannot See.”

NOT TO GIVE ANYTHING away, but “in about
five billion years, the sun will swell to its
red giant phase, engulf the orbit of Mer-
cury and perhaps Venus, and leave the
Earth a charred, lifeless, magma-covered
rock.” That’s how Katie Mack starts her
story. It’s downhill from there. Many books have been written about
our cosmic origins: the creation of the uni-
verse 13.8 billion years ago; the Big Bang and all that followed. The denouement,
presumably tens of billions of years away, r emains comparatively myste-
rious. How does it all end? For that
matter, does it all end, or can we keep
on in our merry way indefinitely? In
“The End of Everything: (Astro- physically Speaking),” Mack, a the-oretical cosmologist at North Car-
olina State University, attempts to answer what might seem the most
remote of scientific questions. “Some say the world will end
in fire, / Some say in ice.” She
gives Robert Frost his due. She doesn’t bother with T. S. Eliot: “not with a bang but a whim-
per.” Traditional speculation about the end
times, the end of days, comes from reli-
gion, where it is called eschatology. Apoca-
lypse, doomsday, Judgment Day — all this,
for theologians, provides a way of thinking
about the meaning or purpose of exist-
ence. Our destiny, if only we could know it,
might provide some reason for why we’re
here. Does the arc of the moral universe bend
toward justice? Does it bend anywhere at
all? When Martin Luther King Jr. said it
did, he was paraphrasing the 19 th-century
abolitionist minister Theodore Parker,
who also said: “My eye reaches but little
ways. I cannot calculate the curve and
complete the figure by the experience of
The eye of astrophysics reaches a great
deal farther now. Cosmologists calculate
the curve and complete the figure by em-
ploying a potent arsenal of instruments and methodologies. Optical, ra-
dio, X-ray and gamma ray telescopes on mountain-
tops and in space, un- derground neutrinodetectors and gravi-
tational- wave ob-
servatories extend our sight to the
edges of the universe. But
what that re- ally means isthat they ex-
tend our sight into
the past. This is
the most
basic fact of
taken for
granted, and
Mack explains
it elegantly.
Telescope users
have a window
into time. Light
travels at finite
speed, so everything
comes to us with its
own time delay. We see
the sun not as it is now but as it was eight minutes ago. All we can
know of a galaxy 10 billion light-years
away is what it looked like 10 billion years
ago, when the universe was young. “We
can look even farther back,” she writes,
“and see matter swirling into supermas-
sive black holes in a universe less than 500
million years old, when starlight had only
just begun to penetrate the darkness be-
tween galaxies.” “The End of Everything” is a pleasure.
Mack’s style is personal and often funny as
she guides us along a cosmic timeline stud-
ded with scientific esoterica and mystery.
Most of what astronomers know comes not
from seeing but from deduction — com-
plex ladders of logic, building upon one an-
other. Black holes were first inferred and
then understood in more and more detail
and now can just barely be said to have
been “seen.” Two of the most crucial com-
ponents of the current picture of the uni-
verse, dark matter and dark energy, are
so-called precisely because they are invisi-
ble. Scientists say they can see the Big
Bang, and they can, in a way, but what they
mean is that they can detect via radio tele-
scopes a faint micr owave radiation coming
from all directions in space — the remnant
of a time when the entire universe was a
fast-growing fireball. Astrophysicists’ techniques for looking
backward through the eons can let them
peer into the future, too. The equations of
physics run forward as well as back. A pic-
ture begins to emerge of the far-future evo-
lution of the universe — more than one pic-
ture, painted in broad strokes by cosmolo-
gists with conflicting theories. Mack or-
ganizes the current thinking into a handful
of scenarios, some more plausible than
One is the “Big Crunch.” We know the
universe has been expanding since the Big
Bang. That is to say, space itselfis expand-
ing: Galaxies, stars and all other things in
the cosmos move farther and farther
apart. It’s possible that the expansion will
eventually slow, stop and reverse itself,
like a ball thrown up in the air that then
comes back down. And then? Catastrophe.
High-energy particle jets and radiation
from stars condense and ignite a confla-
gration. “Nuclear explosions tear through
stellar atmospheres, ripping apart the
stars and filling space with hot plasma,”
Mack says. “At this point, things are really
very bad.” You can tell she’s enjoying this.
Alternatively, the expansion keeps on
going until everything attenuates and
fades into nothingness. This cosmic
endgame is the one known as “heat death.”
You’ve heard of entropy: the inexorable
tendency toward disorder described by
the second law of thermodynamics. It’s en-
tropy that does us in. This scenario is “a
slow and agonizing one,” Mack says,
“marked by increasing isolation, inexora-
ble decay and an eons-long fade into dark-
ness.” Everything tends toward equilib-
rium, and equilibrium means death. Stars burn out, galaxies fade into darkness, even
black holes evaporate. This notion has
been with us since the development of
thermodynamics in the 19 th century. H. G.
Wells visualized it this way in “The Time
Machine”: “It would be hard to convey the
stillness of it. . . . The darkness thickened.
. . . All else was rayless obscurity. . . . A hor-
ror of this great darkness came on me.”
Other possibilities involve dark energy,
a still poorly understood business that
seems to be the dominant component of
our universe. A dark-energy apocalypse
could “tear apart the very fabric of reality,
rendering any thinking creatures in the
cosmos helpless as they watch their uni-
verse being ripped open around them,”
Mack says. Some paths to destruction
arise from theories that involve parallel
universes lurking in extra dimensions. A
so-called “ekpyrotic” scenario imagines
collisions of “branes,” three-dimensional
universes ordinarily invisible to one an-
other. At the fringes, the cosmological the-
ories with the best jargon and cleverest
names are often the most speculative. Forty years ago, when much of this sci-
ence was new, the physicist Freeman
Dyson complained that some of his col-
leagues felt it was “disreputable” to study
our universe’s destiny. He urged them to
do it anyway. “If our analysis of the long-
range future leads us to raise questions re-
lated to the ultimate meaning and purpose
of life,” he wrote, “then let us examine
these questions boldly and without embar-
rassment.” This might seem like the wrong time for
a book peering billions of years into the fu-
ture to examine the ultimate doom and de-
struction. We have doom and destruction
of our own to worry about, arriving faster
and faster. These days many people wake
up wondering if we’ll make it past Novem-
ber. Plague is rampant. The Arctic Circle is
on fire. Still, I found it helpful — not re-
assuring, certainly, but mind-expanding —
to be reminded of our place in a vast cos-
mos. Mack puts it this way: “When we ask
the question, ‘Can this all really go on for-
ever?,’ we are implicitly validating our
own existence, extending it indefinitely
into the future, taking stock and examin-
ing our legacy.”
It seems safe to say, though, that any
meaning and purpose will have to be found
in ourselves, not in the stars. The cosmic
end times will bring no day of judgment, no
redemption. All we can expect is the total
obliteration of whatever universe remains
and any intelligence that still abides
A look at the ultimate doom and destruction of our universe. It’s not pretty.
(Astrophysically Speaking)
By Katie Mack
226 pp. Scribner. $26.
‘Nuclear explosions tear through
stellar atmospheres, ripping
apart the stars.’
JAMES GLEICK is the author of “The
Information: A History, a Theory, a
Flood” and “Time Travel: A History.”

IN THE EPIGRAPH to “A Star Is Bored,” By-
ron Lane’s wildly funny and irreverent de-
but novel, the author embellishes a boiler-
plate disclaimer: “This is a work of fiction.
. . . Any resemblance to reality is purely co-
incidental, including names, places, weap-
ons and sexual acts.” Lane was a personal
assistant to the actress and writer Carrie
Fisher, and her fictional doppelgänger in
this novel is 56-year-old Kathi Kannon,
who starred as Priestess Talara in the film
“Nova Quest.” Kathi is mystifying, mad-
dening and captivating, and her relation-
ship with Charlie Besson, her 29-year-old
assistant, is essentially a love story — ex-
cept instead of the traditional Hollywood
romance, it features two largehearted,
misfit souls forming an unusual friendship. When we meet Charlie, his “life feels like
rot.” He loathes his job as a graveyard-shift
writer for a TV news station, and he strug-
gles with what his therapist labels “pas-
sive suicidal behavior” — self-destructive
drinking, marijuana use and unsafe sex.
He’s never been in a serious relationship,
and he continues to mourn his mother, who
died suddenly when he was 12. His hopes
for his future rise when an acquaintance
arranges the interview with Kathi, “her-
oine of film, television, maybe my life.”
When Charlie was a boy, his mother gave
him a beloved Priestess Talara action fig-
ure, which his abusive, homophobic father
took away. “H e thought female action fig-
ures were the reason I ‘ran like a girl,’ ”
Charlie says. His father terrorized him for
being gay, and his father’s “masculine
voice is still screaming at me, in my head
. . . even while here, auditioning for a new
role in Hollywood’s royal court.”
Their meeting calls to mind falling down
the rabbit hole into Wonderland. Nearly
every sentence Kathi utters is darkly
comic, even when she tries to remember
Charlie’s name. He reminds her it starts
with a “C,” and so she guesses — and lands
on a lewd word for a type of penile jewelry
that can’t be printed here. This becomes
his sobriquet. (By the way, if penis jokes
don’t make you crack a tiny smile, then it’s
likely this novel isn’t for you.) Kathi’s estate is a character in itself: “It
looks like a carnival. It looks like an acid
trip. It looks like heaven.” Her yard is filled
with painted tree trunks, smutty man-
nequins and dollhouses with lights on “for
what could very well be lucky, magical,
tiny people who get to live there.” The in- side of her home is a riot of color and eccen-
tric décor, including a moose head who
“once saw Jack Nicholson nude.” Celebrity
names are sprinkled through the novel,
from Kathi impersonating Marcia Gay
Harden to asking Bradley Cooper, “What’s
a guy like you doing in a gal like me?” As Kathi’s assistant, Charlie administers
a daily allotment of pills to treat her bipolar
disorder, along with Coke Zero and Weight
Busters cereal, yet he’s baffled by what his
other responsibilities are until he meets
another Hollywood assistant, who ex-
plains, “These jobs are about being ... be-
ing there for them.” Charlie writes his own
Assistant Bible and learns to be present for
Kathi in every way, answering her texts at
all hours, including such questions as,
“Why do I take the pink pill the shape of a
testicle?” When Kathi has a manic episode,
Charlie stops her from walking into traffic. Kathi becomes a mother figure to Char-
lie — shopping for him, offering guidance,
causing him to feel that “someone, finally,
sees me, or at least sees my potential.”
When they check into a motel, she intro-
duces Charlie to a clerk as her stepson.
not only weariness, but a yearning to be
distracted from the pain of life. Kathi asks,
“What is the meaning of it all?” Charlie
isn’t sure. His therapist tells him, “It’s a
friendly universe” — though his traumatic
upbringing and Kathi’s struggles seem to
indicate otherwise.
Lane’s sentences are sometimes over-
done: “I have to let Mom go and orient to a
new North Star. I have to look forward. I
have to believe Mom would want it that
way. I have to look to Kathi Kannon.” He’s at his best when he allows his quirky char-
acters to take over, especially when he de-
scribes Kathi and Charlie’s extensive trav-
They transport their Wonderland with
them, transforming hotel rooms with
Christmas lights, glitter and colorful
scarves. Their most affecting trip is an im-
promptu expedition to Yellowknife, Cana-
da, to see the northern lights. Kathi has
long used the alias “Aurora Borealis” at ho-
tels; when the pair finally witness the phe-
nomenon, they hold hands. Lane writes:
“Those dreaded screen savers will have
you believe the lights are always crystal
clear and sharp, making a smooth zigzag
across the sky in green and yellow and blue
and purple. But in real life, it’s different. It’s
a little more like a haze or a fog.” Kathi ad-
mits to Charlie, “I want to be this forever.”
In her novel “Postcards From the Edge,”
Carrie Fisher wrote, “You can’t find any
true closeness in Hollywood because ev-
erybody does the fake closeness so well.”
Yet here it is on the page: Charlie’s foggy
friendship with Kathi defies convention,
and Lane’s writing lifts the novel far above
its gossamer Hollywood setting, suffusing
his portrait of Kathi with a complex sensi-
tivity. In a hotel room in Japan, Kathi
reaches out to him: “Her grip tightens and
mine does, too, me clinging to my star, on
our cloud of hotel bedding.” Bound by their
sadness, Kathi and Charlie navigate the
world. At the end of the novel, I felt a deep sense
of grief for Carrie Fisher, who died in 2016.
This story made me long for a universe in
which Charlie and Kathi could be action
figures themselves: icons whose sensitiv-
ity is a superpower that can save us.
The Force Is With Them
In this debut novel, a movie star and her assistant face the world together.
By Byron Lane
352 pp. Henry Holt & Company. $26.99.
MARGO RABB is the author of the novels “Kiss-
ing in America” and “Cures for Heartbreak.”
Her new novel, “Lucy Clark Will Not Apolo-
gize,” will be published in May 2021.
Taste the
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in a family of long-distance cyclists,
I’ve always been envious of the red-faced exhilaration of a
loved one returning from a workout. Luckily, novels like
Asha Lemmie’s propulsive debut allow me to experience
the high of the endurance athlete — consumed by a far-
flung odyssey, coming up only for a sip of water (or leftover
potato salad). I inhaled
pp., $26)
in one day; I had no choice.
“Do not question. Do not fight. Do not resist,” Noriko
Kamiza’s mother tells her when she stops their car across
the street from an imposing walled estate in Kyoto. Noriko
steps onto the pavement, clutching her suitcase, noticing
for the first time that her mother doesn’t have any luggage.
Lemmie writes, “She could not so much as blink as she
watched the car speed down the street, around the corner
and out of sight.” Nori is only 8 years old, but she under-
stands that her mother is gone for good. If you are a “Flowers in the Attic” enthusiast, this story
may give you a sense of déjà vu. There’s the unfamiliar
ancestral home, the abusive grandmother who locks Nori
away in a garret and the clueless grandfather who must
not be disturbed. But, while V.C. Andrews’s Dollenganger
siblings had each other for company (ahem), Nori is alone. Three times a week, the girl gets lessons in reading,
writing, math and history. She endures painful daily
scrubs with bleach and “the finest magic bath soap,” ad-
ministered by a maid at the bidding of Nori’s grandmother,
Lady Yuko, who wants to erase evidence of her married
daughter’s affair with an African-American soldier. (The
two met in 1939, when he was on leave in Japan.) The
Kamiza family has ties to the emperor: Lady Yuko is his
cousin, her husband is the emperor’s adviser. Nori’s skin
color — and her existence — are a threat to their imperial
status. For better or for worse, time moves at warp speed in
Lemmie’s world: 30 pages later, we’ve leapfrogged over
three years. Suddenly, Nori learns that she has a half
brother, Akira, who is about to move into the grim mansion
following the death of his father. He becomes Nori’s cham-
pion, insisting that she be allowed outside, introducing her
to music and serving as her first real friend. Scenes where
the siblings are together are among the most moving in
this emotionally draining (in a good way) novel, but they
still bring with them a sense of foreboding. Are we sup-
posed to trust Akira? Is he a stand-up guy or his grand-
mother’s pawn? The answer becomes clear when Lady Yuko sells Nori to a man who takes her to an
okiya, where she will live among
geisha until she is sold to the highest bidder. Here, the per-
spective shifts so we see Nori through the eyes of Kiyomi,
the madam who runs the place: “Even if she is coming
apart at the seams, she will not show it to me.” This is what
we have come to expect from our unflappable heroine. I don’t want to spoil the suspense, so I’ll just say that
Nori lives many lives in this riveting, occasionally melo-
dramatic, always entertaining novel. She is both a pris-
oner and a woman of the world — finding her way from
Kyoto to Tokyo to Paris and London, quietly unsinkable
and fiercely loyal to her few allies. Nori always feels
slightly out of reach, as if Lemmie never allows you to look
her straight in the eye; that’s part of the allure here. The
other part is the satisfaction of watching a determined per-
son make her way to the top of a mountain alone. “Fifty
Words for Grit” might not have the same ring as “Fifty
Words for Rain,” but it would have been an apt title for this
tale of adventure and survival.
Group Text /‘Fifty Words for Rain,’ by Asha Lemmie /By Elisabeth Egan
This book will give you 50 reasons to cancel your day.
In Kyoto in 1948, a mother
makes her daughter promise
to be obedient, then abandons her with grandparents she
doesn’t know. For the next 20
years, the girl saves herself by
breaking that promise again and again.
Sweeping story of a dysfunc-
tional family? Check. Interest-
ing window into life in postwar Japan? Check. Resilient, mys- terious, resourceful survivor
who blooms where she’s planted? Sold.
ELISABETH EGAN is an editor at the Book Review and the author of “A Window Opens.”
How do Nori’s friendships change her? How do they save her, even the ones that are fleeting?
What were your thoughts on the different viewpoints throughout the book? Did you have any trouble figuring out whose eyes you were looking through, and did you want to see through Nori’s?
When Lemmie introduced a long-lost diary to the mix, were you intrigued? Skeptical? Did its contents help you understand or forgive the person who wrote it?
WHITE OLEANDER, by Janet Fitch. A teenager endures a series of abu-
sive foster homes after her charismatic mother is sent to jail for
murder. This story takes place in Los Angeles 50 years after “Fifty
Words for Rain,” but Fitch’s twisty melodrama contains a familiar
sense of longing for a person just out of reach.
THE NAMESAKE, by Jhumpa Lahiri. If you’re interested in characters
who straddle two worlds, Lahiri’s novel is required reading — in
fact, it’s the keystone of the syllabus. Meet Gogol Ganguli, the
American-born son of Indian immigrants, and weep and cheer for
him as he, like Nori, tries to juggle two identities.
To join the conversation about ‘Fifty Words for Rain,’ go to our
Instagram, @NYTBooks.
Welcome to Group Text, a monthly column for readers
and book clubs about the novels, memoirs and short-
story collections that make you want to talk, ask ques-
tions, and dwell in another world for a little bit longer.

“ALL ART IS A KIND of confession, more or
less oblique,” James Baldwin wrote in 1960.
“All artists, if they are to survive, are
forced, at last, to tell the whole story; to
vomit the anguish up.” After reading
Natasha Trethewey’s memoir, “Memorial
Drive,” I was stuck on how to balance Bald-
win’s nuanced take on art and anguish with
something the scholar Imani Perry, herself
the author of a breath-filled memoir ad-
dressed to her sons, told me: “You never
tell all the secrets when you’re trying to get
free.” “Memorial Drive” is, among so
many other wondrous things, an ex-
ploration of a Black mother and
daughter trying to get free in a land
that conflates survival with freedom
and womanhood with girlhood. It is
also the story of Trethewey’s life be-
fore and after the day in 1985 when
her mother was murdered by her ex-
husband, Trethewey’s former step-
father, in the parking lot of her apart-
ment complex on Atlanta’s Memorial
Drive. A book that makes a reader feel as
much as “Memorial Drive” does can-
not be written without an absolute
mastery of varied modes of dis-
course. Trethewey, a Pulitzer Prize-
winning poet, deploys scenes of in-
ventiveness and sensuality (“she
mistook the plants that had come to
mean the backbending labor of
slaves and sharecroppers for the
flowers that symbolize honor and remem-
brance, the swords of gladiators, tall bor-
ders of pleasure gardens”), grinding action
verbs and alliteration (“great locomotives
lurching at the railroad switch”). There is
comedic play where we expect sorrowful
melodrama. There is languish where we
expect deliverance. There is also docu-
mentary evidence from her mother’s case
file, including transcripts of telephone con-
versations between her mother, Gwen, and
her ex-stepfather, Joel, in the days before
her death. In one of the book’s most devastating
and artful chapters, Trethewey makes an
unexpected but wholly necessary switch
to the second person. A fifth grader, young
Tasha has overheard Joel beating Gwen.
At school, the teacher in whom she con-
fides does nothing. Then Tasha hears
Gwen attempt to use her daughter’s
awareness of the violence to get Joel to
stop. “You are ashamed,” Trethewey writes,
“and you don’t know why. The need in the
voice of your powerful, lovely mother is
teaching you something about the world of
men and women, of dominance and sub-
mission. . . . You hear her desperate hope
that his knowing you know, knowing you
listen, will put an end to the abuse. As if the
fact that you are a child, that you are only in
the fifth grade, will change anything at all.
And now you know that there is nothing
you can do.”
After Joel breaks into Tasha’s diary, the
“you” whom she addresses changes: “You
stupid [expletive],” she writes. “Do you
think I don’t know what you’re doing? You
wouldn’t know I thought of you like this if
you weren’t reading my diary.” Trethewey calls this her first act of re-
sistance, and in doing it she inadvertently
makes the stepfather who will eventually
murder her mother her “first audience.” Joel feels the force of Tasha’s words.
When she comes home from school after
joining the staff of the literary journal, an-
nouncing giddily, “I’m going to be a writ-
er!” Joel shrugs and tells her she is “not
gonna do any of that.” Along with Tasha herself, we are
stunned at Gwen’s response: “She. Will do.
WHATEVER. She wants.” Tasha watches
her mother’s face at dinner that night,
imagining the inevitable bruises, “calculat-
ing the price she’ll keep paying” to save
her daughter. The morning of the murder, the police
enter into evidence a handwritten docu-
ment on a yellow legal pad. Trethewey
writes that it took 25 years before she
willed herself to read her mother’s words.
We read these italicized pages almost im- mediately after those describing her moth-
er’s vows to protect Tasha from Joel.
Gwen’s words are haunted and haunting:
“ He told me he would be nice and let me
choose the way I wanted to die.”
WHAT HAPPENS IN most riveting literature
is seldom located solely in plot. I’ve not
read an American memoir where more
happens in the assemblage of language
than “Memorial Drive.” Trethewey’s sub-
text has subtext, much of it gendered,
raced, playful and sincerely placed in the
lush literary distance between Mississippi
— where she spent her early, happy child-
hood in her mother’s hometown,
tenderly evoked here — and Memori-
al Drive in Atlanta.
Trethewey’s memoir is not the
hardest book I have ever read. The
poetry holding the prose together, the
innovativeness of the composition,
make such a claim impossible. “Me-
morial Drive” is, however, the hard-
est book I could imagine writing.
“When I finally sit down to write the
part of our story I’ve most needed to
avoid,” Trethewey says toward the
end, “when I force myself at last to
read the evidence, all of it — the tran-
scripts, witness accounts, the autop-
sy and official reports, the A.D.A.’s
statement, indications of police indif-
ference — I collapse on the floor,
keening as though I had just learned
of my mother’s death.” We cannot simply watch what
could be seen as traumatic spectacle
— what Baldwin called “anguish” —
not if we want, as Imani Perry says,
“to get free.” We owe more to our-
selves, and more to Trethewey’s mas-
terpiece. There is a deeply Southern
echo in these pages that offers us the
opportunity to do more than marvel,
more than pander to pathos, more than
pity Tasha, the child, and admire Natasha
Trethewey, the writer. “Memorial Drive” forces the reader to
think about how the sublime Southern
conjurers of words, spaces, sounds and
patterns protect themselves from trauma
when trauma may be, in part, what
nudged them down the dusty road to po-
etic mastery. I closed “Memorial Drive”
asking myself how one psychologically
survives the secrets we hide from our-
selves when our freedom depends not
simply on extraction, but on the oblitera-
tion of cliché — the lazy reader’s and lazy
memory’s truth. The more virtuosic our ability to use
language to probe, the harder it becomes
to protect ourselves from the secrets bur-
ied in our — and our nation’s — marrow.
This is the conundrum and the blessing of
the poet. This is the conundrum and bless-
ing of “Memorial Drive.” How do you not
vomit up all the anguish when artfully
vomiting up all the anguish is one way of
getting free?
Her Legacy
A prizewinning poet evokes her childhood and confronts her mother’s murder.
A Daughter’s Memoir
By Natasha Trethewey
211 pp. Ecco. $27.99.
Natasha Trethewey
KIESE MAKEBA LAYMON is the author of “Heavy:
An American Memoir.” 800.671.4332
Page reprints from
the Store frame the most significant news in a
polished, modern design.

WITH ITS IRREVERENCE for what’s trend-
ing, Heather McHugh’s work fits into a
longstanding tradition in American poetry,
the tradition of not pledging allegiance to
any particular aesthetic flag. Her noncon-
formist style tempts critics to place her in
categories where she doesn’t belong —
she’s no dull neo-formalist, though she
takes pleasure transliterating Shake-
speare’s sonnets, delights in reworking
phrases from Yeats. “Muddy Matterhorn,” the poet’s ninth
book of poetry and first book in over a dec-
ade, sends us wheeling through a vortex of
strangeness (“Absurd / We should ap-
proach the heavens / With a yardstick”)
where high and low interchange in Dickin-
son-like reversals. Her words swerve side-
ways (“neurochemistries are al-
tered / Ampersands”) and her thoughts
proceed in sphinxlike complexity. When
what’s in fashion for poets is to embrace
straightforward narrative, she says no
thank you : “Really it’s ourselves, unknow-
able, / Ourselves we’re most / Blindsided
by.” Readers familiar with the poet’s oeuvre
will immediately recognize her appetite
for getting the most word bang for word
buck. A word like “foot” (the word is used
several times in the book to connote the
base of things) can signify the foot of the
body, the poetic foot, or the foot that keeps
musical time. In this collection, though, her
unusual impulses with language channel a
deep sense of loss. The oddly placed ac-
knowledgments section, which comes at
the beginning of the book, sends “Muddy
Matterhorn” on its thematic course: “Ten
years on: divorce, retirement, several
moves, a house fire in a snowstorm, losses
among friends — and now I’m on the upper
side of 70.” Nice things in these poems get muddied.
An anagram of one of Yeats’s titles, “A
Dream of a Blessed Spirit,” comes down to
earth in the form of “A Sad Midlife’s Base
Report.” Likewise, “the great song” re-
emerges as “anger gets hot.” Robert Hass
has said that for McHugh “wit is a form of
spiritual survival,” yet this book isn’t afraid
to get its hands dirty. Throughout “Muddy
Matterhorn,” witty elevation is set against
baser pleasures. “Intrans,” for example,
basks in racy innuendo. The poem begins,
“Material for mezzo-masochist: Iron
lady / Of the hot bath. Frigging object, ba-
nal item / All the awfuller for being so / In- toxicating,” and goes on from there. She
makes no apologies. “Holiness,” she says,
was never on her “bucket list.”
McHugh knows that eccentricity can
make for great storytelling — better even if
it’s infused with irony. Take, for example,
“Stick,” a poem about Jean-Baptiste Lully,
the 17th-century inventor of the conduc-
tor’s baton. Lully stabbed himself in the toe
with his own invention while conducting
the “Te Deum” and consequently died of
gangrene: “High-handedness is
what / The mass holds dear, but poets
love / Your sacrificial foot.” This is a poem
from the collection (there are several) in
which an obscure anecdote is used for di-
dactic purposes. The “conducted sacrifice”
becomes an allegory about obsession and
its costs. The conductor is so immersed in
what he’s doing that he hits upon some-
thing unintended: his toe. The wound
opens, the point of pain spreads and, in
turn, overtakes the body. One of the
lessons (“We owe you extra-dearly for the
pointer”) is that the wounds we ignore,
both physical and emotional, are the ones
that can turn deadly. Bringing her off-kilter sensibility to en-
vironmental crisis, she recounts yet an-
other story of ironic sacrifice. Scientists
dredging for clams off the coast of Iceland
were researching how climate change was
affecting them. The shell rings of one of the
clams they dissected revealed that it might
have been 700 years old. “In other words,”
McHugh writes, “they learned they’d
killed / the oldest animal on earth.” In an-
other poem, one city breaks up with an-
other because it “became / A cleanup site,”
which is to say, a dump. Only in this book
will you find a palindrome (“dog-god”)
asking another palindrome an existential
question: “Do geese see god?” McHugh has earned multiple awards for
her work, including the MacArthur fellow-
ship, which she won in 2009. She used the
grant to set up a nonprofit organization
called Caregifted, which gives time and
space to caregivers of the severely dis- abled. Her experiences with disability,
death and disease become frequent sub-
jects in the book. With titles like “Shape Up,
Says Doctor Death” and “Everybody Has a
Fatal Disease,” not to mention the darkly
comical portmanteau word “cremain-
dered,” she exhibits gallows humor. Puns
overflow (“life/death: / are you in-
sured? / It’s mutual”) in an attempt to cap-
ture life’s dwindling. Sometimes the sur-
plus can feel distracting, but she also ap-
proaches these issues with mordant, femi-
nist wit and moving sentiment. In a poem
about a friend with cancer she writes,
“once my friend had been informed / her
tumors would be Terminal, / her husband
up and took / a trip to Paris, with a pal.”
One terminal (the tumor) leads to another
(the airport). During the friend’s last
chemo treatment, right before she dies,
she tells McHugh, “Now I’ve felt every-
thing feelable.”
What I admire most about this collection
is that McHugh demonstrates her genius
with language in a non-elitist way. She is
relatable, never writing from the lofty
heights of the mountain, but walking
alongside us, inviting us to play, to puzzle
out the strangeness of language with her.
“Marriages of words,” McHugh says, con-
sist of “Remarking something measure-
less.” Words both comment on (remark)
and revise (re-mark) our understanding of
the world. In creating a kind of word turbu-
lence, trembles in the fabric of language,
she shakes us into a new zone of attention.
Unwilling to offer up clichéd ideas about
anything (“my calling’s / doubt; my idea
of a curse / is certainty”), McHugh invites
us to question what we think we know; her
poems teach us to look again and beckon
us to find the enigmatic wisdom in the
messy highs and lows of living. “Seeing
isn’t believing,” she said in a 2005 inter-
view with Matthea Harvey, “seeing is reg-
istering the unbelievable — which is ev-
erywhere. And so words fail us; just ex-
actly how and when and where they do is
dazzling evidence.”
Do Geese See God?
Heather McHugh’s poems embrace wordplay in the service of philosophical inquiry.
Poems 2009-2019
By Heather McHugh
107 pp. Copper Canyon Press. Paper, $17. CHLOE SCHEFFE
SANDRA SIMONDS is the author of seven poetry
collections, most recently “Atopia.”
Join us every month as
we choose a book to read
together as a nation. Tune
in to PBS NewsHour to
watch an interview with
the authors.
Find reading worth talking
about — join the club.
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club from PBS
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The New York

international sensation, translated into
dozens of languages. The condition of pos-
sibility behind them, like all Ferrante’s
novels, was the privacy afforded by her
pen name. On the occasion of the English-language
publication of the final book in the series,
“The Story of the Lost Child,” in 2015, Fer-
rante told Vanity Fair that, through her
pseudonym, “I have gained a space of my
own, a space that is free, where I feel active
and present. To relinquish it would be very
painful.” She hasn’t relinquished that
freedom, but events of the past five
years have put it under strain. An ad-
aptation of “My Brilliant Friend” for
HBO has amplified Ferrante’s celeb-
rity; in 2016, a journalist, tracing the
finances of her publisher, claimed to
unmask her identity. Since then she has published three
books — a children’s book called
“The Beach at Night” and two col-
lections of previously published non-
fiction, “Frantumaglia” and “Inci-
dental Inv entions,” which felt minor
compared with her novels, less po-
tent. It was distressing to imagine
the cause. Had fame ruined fiction
writing for Ferrante? Could we
blame her if it had?
“The Lying Life of Adults,” Fer-
rante’s first novel in five years, puts
such worries to rest. The story, trans-
lated once again by the nimble and
attentive Goldstein, begins in the
early 1990s with Giovanna Trada, the
12-year-old daughter of two well-
mannered, middle-class Neapoli-
tans, who is dismayed to find herself
changed. Where she once was beau-
tiful, quick and adored by her father,
she is now misshapen, slow and —
grave fate for a daughter of teachers
— struggling in school. One evening
she overhears her parents dis-
cussing her. Her mother ascribes her
bad grades to “the changes of early
adolescence,” but her father cuts her off.
“Adolescence has nothing to do with it,” he
says in dialect, “she’s getting the face of
Vittoria.” With those words a heavy curtain drops
on the idyll of Giovanna’s childhood. Gio-
vanna’s estranged Aunt Vittoria, like Don
Achille in “My Brilliant Friend,” is less a
person than “a childhood bogeyman, a
lean, demonic silhouette.” Giovanna has
never met her; the woman’s face has been
blacked out with marker in every old photo
in the house. All Giovanna knows about
her aunt is what her parents have let on:
that she’s a woman in whom “ugliness and
spite were combined to perfection,” whom
her mother detests “the way you detest a lizard that runs up your bare leg.” To have
the face of Vittoria, she understands, is to
be ugly beyond redemption. Her parents
try to reassure her that the comparison
was harmless, a playful family locution,
but Giovanna isn’t convinced. The only
thing that will console her is meeting her
aunt herself, in that poor, unfamiliar part of
Naples where her father grew up. To her
surprise, he allows it. He only asks that she
not listen to her aunt — to “put wax in my
ears like Odysseus” — since Vittoria will
try to turn her against him. Vittoria is as warned: rude, bitter, larger
than life, an immature woman with weak
boundaries who is eager to corrupt her
niece and win her allegiance. She is also
surprisingly beautiful, and warm, and the
only adult in Giovanna’s life to speak
frankly. She bad-mouths Giovanna’s father,
teases the girl for how she’s dressed
(“Look how ridiculous you are, all in pink,
pink shoes, pink jacket, pink barrette”)
and recalls her affair with a married man
— the origin of the family rift — with ex-
hilarating candor. “Oh what a story,” Gio-
vanna thinks, “oh to learn to speak like
that, outside of every convention of my
house.” They bond, and Vittoria instructs
her to watch her parents carefully. Gio-
vanna looks. Vittoria says look closer:
“She said I had blinders like a horse, I
looked but didn’t see things that could dis-
turb me. Look, look, look, she hammered into me.” Just as she fixes her eyes on her
parents with more focus and intensity than
ever, their marriage begins to crumble. The next few years chronicle Giovanna’s
attempt to make sense of herself in the af-
termath. With the new, ungainly body
that’s come into her possession, she moves
between the Naples of her parents and that
of her aunt — ditching class, dressing in
black (“my eyes were black, my lips, every
item of clothing was black”), and perfect-
ing that posture of superiority and bore-
dom that American parents call “an atti-
tude.” An uncontrollable meanness seems
to be growing inside her. She worries for
the fate of her soul. Is she bound to turn out
like Vittoria? How much of character is
mutable? How much is fixed? She would
ask her parents for guidance, only they are
more lost than she is. She observes their
mistakes, their constant crying, and
searches for “meanings to get around that
impression of scant intelligence in people
who had so much of it.” She concludes that
the body, “agitated by the life that writhes
within, consuming it, does stupid things
that it shouldn’t do.” Adolescence remains rich territory for
Ferrante. Here as in her past work, she
captures the interior states of young peo-
ple with an unflinching psychological hon-
esty that is striking in its vividness and
depth. We share in Giovanna’s embarrass-
ments, the tortured logic of her self-sooth-
ing, her temptations and decisions that ac-
crete into something like experience. How
easy it is, in retrospect, to have belittled
those years of our lives — how much hard-
er to recall, with the full strength of the lim-
bic system, the feelings of privation and
loss that attended our departures from
childhood. Ferrante’s genius is to
stay with the discomfort. With the
same propulsive, episodic style she
perfected in the Neapolitan quartet,
she traces how it is that the con-
sciousness of a girl at 12 becomes
that of a young woman at 16.
Ferrante’s dedicated readers will
recognize elements of earlier novels.
Mirrors, dolls, sensitivity to odor, dia-
lect as a suppressed class vestige, ed-
ucation as a means of social mobility,
the academic conference as a site of
infidelity, a woman who threatens to
stab someone and does it — all re-
appear in “The Lying Life of Adults.”
So does the frame narrative of a
woman writing, who wonders if her
story is a story at all or “merely a
snarled confusion of suffering, with-
out redemption.” The change in peri-
od makes all the difference. Setting
Giovanna’s coming-of-age in the
early 1990s, Ferrante slyly asks how
decades of feminism and reaction
have changed the world since the
Neapolitan novels’ Lila and Lenù
were teenagers. For Giovanna and her peers, there
is less physical violence and more
freedom of movement, less homo-
phobia and more negative body im-
age. (This is the era of “Reviving
Ophelia.”) There is also more humor
to be found, at least in Giovanna’s
perfect Gen X deadpan. But the deep
structure of psychic life is the same: Love
stands at the center of women’s lives more
than it should; ambition is tangled up in
sex; desire doesn’t so much blind the char-
acters as hijack their powers of judgment
and conscript them into its service. Gio-
vanna marvels at “what power men have,
even the most small-minded, even over
courageous and violent women like my
aunt.” Her mother may be a teacher who
got married in a cream-colored suit instead
of a white dress, but she still labors over
the plots of the romance novels she proof-
reads with more devotion than the enter-
prise requires. When Giovanna claims, at
the novel’s perhaps too-abrupt end, that
she will become an adult “as no one ever
had before,” we sense, with a pang, that she
will be more like her mother than she
Woman Kind
DAYNA TORTORICI is a writer and the co-editor
of n+1 magazine.
Giovanna worries for the fate of
her soul. How much of
character is mutable? How
much is fixed?

JENNY MCCLAIN HAS to deal with reality.
She and her hotshot photographer boy-
friend have broken up, and the trouble is
she knows that confessing this to her boss
at the women’s website the Foof will lower
her social capital, placing her job as a col-
umnist at risk. And this isn’t even the 35-
year-old’s only concern; she also has
roommates, an overbearing mother and
Kelly, the best friend who is at this moment
refusing to help her deal with the real task
at hand: posting a photo of her croissant to
Instagram. The image has already been perfectly fil-
tered and given a white frame (“for art”),
now all Jenny needs is the caption. She
considers “CROISSANT, WOO! #CROIS-
SANT” — but it’s not quite right. She tests
out a few others. “CROISSANT! #CROIS- SANT”; or maybe “CROISSANT.” Or just
“CROISSANT,” without the period. Which
one, she must decide, best telegraphs the
way she wants her feelings about the crois-
sant to be perceived? It is a paradox of social media that al-
though we are inundated constantly with
the thoughts and opinions and activities of
everyone we’ve ever known, we can never
unequivocally know why. What a person is
thinking, why they said what they did, why
they chose that exact punctuation, what
their hope was for this small bit of output.
Emma Jane Unsworth’s new novel,
“Grown Ups,” grants you exactly that voy-
euristic look into the hideous machinations
of the social media unseen. And it is deeply
unsettling. The comedic novel, which truly is funny,
is less of an escape than it is a set of “Clock-
work Orange” metal eye clamps, forcing
you to examine, in paragraphs and para-
graphs of hand-wringing over exclamation
points and emoji choices and the exact
right timing of a fav, your own deeply un-
healthy relationship with social media. Oh
god , you think, as Jenny scrolls through
her Instagram obsession Suzy Brambles’s
list of followers, again, to make sure she is
still among them. Is this what I’m like?
The novel is structured, too, to suit the internet-addled mind. It unfolds in bright,
punchy bursts of often nonlinear storytell-
ing, interspersed with text messages and
email drafts, dialogues and monologues. It
whooshes your attention along with the
strength of a constantly updating feed.
When Jenny loses sight of responding to a
desperate text from Kelly in a blur of
checking and updating and checking and
updating, one in a series of thoughtless ac-
tions chipping away at their already fragile
friendship, you’re taken along, too, in the distraction. What were we talking about
again? Oh, nevermind. “Grown Ups” succeeds in not just accu-
rately portraying this modern obsession,
but in tenderly revealing what might be
driving it. It is as much about the online
sphere — how relationships are made and
broken and forgotten there — as it is about
those things that live wholly outside of it:
our bodies, grief, what it is to be a mother,
what it is to be a friend. Jenny’s online life
and real life are at odds with each other,
fighting for domination, but the scrolling is
not without reason. Scenes from the past
delicately show she wasn’t always so con-
sumed, and in the present you’re eventu-
ally able to predict when she’ll retreat into
her obsession. Her use ebbs and flows with
life, and the lack of it.
The book will likely leave you as ex-
hausted with social media as a nightlong
Twitter binge, which is an odd feeling to be
left with after reading a novel. But it’s also
not a wholly unuseful one, particularly if
the lingering bad taste keeps you, even
briefly, from looking at your phone. By
delving into the complicated psyche of a
woman we might call “very online,”
“Grown Ups” shows us there is hope to be
found. Just maybe not in the place we’re
constantly looking.
Addicted to Likes
A novel that forces you to rethink your own unhealthy obsession with social media.
By Emma Jane Unsworth
Pages. Publisher. Price.
KELLY CONABOY is a writer at large at The Cut.
Her debut book, “The Particulars of Peter,”
will be published in December.
THE MILLENNIAL PROWL of the Celtic Tiger
across Ireland, its appetite for greedy in-
vestors, and its subsequent capture and
demise, may have caused indescribable
suffering but, like any catastrophe, it has
spawned some notable fiction. Novelists
like Paul Murray, Claire Kilroy and Donal
Ryan have examined the mentality of a na-
tion that allowed avarice to flourish so un-
The Tiger roars again in Caoilinn
Hughes’s second novel, set in Roscommon
soon after the crash, through the voice of
Doharty Black. Doharty is the younger of
two farm sons, whose family has been hit
hard by both the financial downturn and
illness. The novel opens with the death of the family patriarch, the “Chief,” a fairly
benign presence in a story that, in less
original hands, might have offered us an-
other Bull McCabe lording over his family
with cruelty and violence. Two more mis-
fortunes follow quickly: the collapse of the
country, when the life savings of tens of
thousands disappear, and the brutal
slaughter of a flock of sheep, recounted with menacing delight.
The effect of the recession on everyday
people is of ongoing concern to Hughes —
it was a central feature of her debut, “Or-
chid and the Wasp” — but whereas the her-
oine of that novel left her homeland behind
in search of a new life, Doharty and his
brother, Cormac, are firmly rooted in the
soil of the west. They were unwilling to de-
part while their father still had breath in
his body but anxious about the responsibil-
ities that would come their way when, as
their mother puts it, he’s “six feet out of
earshot.” Doharty makes for a lively presence on
the page, although his arrogance and con-
ceit find him walking a fine line between
likably brazen and downright obnoxious.
At war with his older brother since early
childhood, he seeks ways to undermine
Cormac, cuckolding him without remorse
and justifying his various misdeeds by ad-
mitting that “I might dream of him drown-
ing in a slurry pit, but I do notdream of
pushing him in.” Some of the best moments in the novel
come from minor characters or those just
passing briefly through the pages. In a ter- rific confessional scene, Hughes subverts
the roles of priest and penitent with a reve-
lation that would be worthy of a novel in
itself, while a brief, affecting reunion be-
tween Cormac and a barman speaks of a
life lived without ambition. The novel is occasionally marred, how-
ever, by a narrative tone so extreme in its
Irishness that it begins to grate. Phrases
such as “So I suggest we go and whet the
backs of our throats with the black stuff, if
not the brown stuff, if not the clear stuff al-
together” or “I’ll just take a splash to keep
myself honest, in lieu of the women!” come
across as more Hollywood-Oirish than the
real thing, and Doharty’s cadence can
weave an unsteady path from authentic
and youthful to clichéd and middle-aged.
Such complaints, however, will be less ir-
ritating to an international audience and
don’t detract from Hughes’s ability to in-
habit her story fully. There’s a darkness to
this novel that makes it worthy of attention
and the juxtaposition of isolation with ec-
centricity works well. If Hughes leaves the
subject of the recession behind her, it will
be interesting to see where her obvious
gifts will take her next.
Betting the Farm
A rural Irish family struggles in the wake of financial disaster.
By Caoilinn Hughes
198 pp. Oneworld. $24.95.
JOHN BOYNE’S new novel, “A Traveler at the
Gates of Wisdom,” was published in August.

22 SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 6, 2020 +
stories involved great warriors and kings,
the heroes of ancient Persia. Many came
from the “Shahnameh,” an epic Persian
poem that weaves the history of Iran like a
colorful tapestry. In “Everything Sad Is
Untrue,” Daniel Nayeri weaves an equally
rich history of his family’s journey from
Iran to America. In this epic tale, our hero
is Khosrou, a 12-year-old boy named after a
real king. His battle? Fifth grade. Khosrou
lives in Oklahoma, having fled Iran with
his sister and his mother, whom the secret
police threatened for practicing Christian-
ity. Khosrou’s father stayed behind.
In Oklahoma, things aren’t great for
Khosrou. His father is just a voice on the
phone; his mother, who was a doctor in Iran, has to work different jobs to make
ends meet; his classmates shoot paper
clips at his neck.
But in Mrs. Miller’s class, Khosrou is a
storyteller. He has a treasure chest of
memories and family myths. His assign-
ment is to tell them. In the stories he
weaves, Khosrou’s family is not poor but
had their land stolen generations ago, and
his dad is still with him. Khosrou spins
these tales like a modern-day Schehera-
zade: He understands the manipulative
nature of storytelling, how he can use it to
string his classmates along. To survive. “Everything Sad Is Untrue” is a love let-
ter to storytelling. Some of its most authen-
tic and clever moments are when Khos-
rou’s classmates interrupt his stories.
They ask what the bathrooms in Iran look
like, or how the toilets work. (You squat.)
They even hurry him along. “Get to the
point,” they say in the middle of a particu-
larly long-winded tale. Khosrou’s teacher chimes in, too; she
tells him he’s “lost the plot,” or he’s “not al-
lowed to write about poop for class assign-
ments anymore.” (He’s a modern-day
Scheherazade, but he’s still a 12-year-old
boy.) Khosrou’s stories are a mix of epic
and everyday, and you get the sense that
he’s telling certain ones to avoid real vul- nerability. “Fine,” he concedes when Mrs.
Miller calls him out on another poop story,
“I’ll write the emotional parts.”
This is not your typical novel. There’s lit-
tle in the way of plot; there aren’t even
chapters. But that’s the point: It’s a mish-
mash. As Nayeri writes, “A patchwork
story is the shame of a refugee.” Stick with
Khosrou, though, and you’ll be rewarded.
The reward is empathy. Early on, Khos-
rou tells the reader, “The quick version of
this story is useless. Let’s agree to have a
complicated conversation.” “Everything
Sad” invites us not just to seeanother per-
spective but to live in it. It’s openhearted
storytelling when we need it most, an anti-
dote to our divided times. Nayeri pours an ocean of humanity onto
these pages. Even the mythical characters
benefit from Khosrou’s empathy. He tells
the tale of Khosrou and Shirin, a well-
known tragic romance in which the lovers
commit murder to be together. But then
Khosrou (our narrator, not the king)
wisely points out that two famous Persian
poets tell the story differently. In one ver-
sion, Shirin is a “jealous maniac.” In the
other, she’s “too pure for this world, and too
sad.” In his version, she’s a mix. For a novel chock-full of lessons, “Every-
thing Sad” hardly feels didactic. Many of the book’s most moving moments are net-
ted with humor, irreverence, all the light-
hearted fun you’d expect from a 12-year-
old boy. And Khosrou is self-aware. He ac-
knowledges from the very first line that his
tales are only as true as his (and history’s)
memory. Myths and legends change over
time. He’s achingly honest about that with
his readers. Or is it his listeners? I can
imagine young people begging to read
these stories aloud to their friends, their
“Everything Sad” is a modern master-
piece — as epic as the “Iliad” and “Shah-
nameh,” and as heartwarming as “Char-
lotte’s Web.” It’s for the kids at the lunch
table; the heroes of tomorrow, just looking
to survive the battle of adolescence.
An Iranian Boy’s Epic Tale
A modern-day Scheherazade uses storytelling to survive the fifth grade.
(A True Story)
By Daniel Nayeri
368 pp. Levine Querido. $17.99.
(Ages 10 and up)
ARVIN AHMADI’S new novel, “How It All Blew
Up,” will be published later this month.
A LITTLE MORE than halfway through “Bee
Fearless,” the 10-year-old C.E.O. Mikaila Ul-
mer has her first encounter with a fancy ad-
vertising agency. Its experts love the mis-
sion of her lemonade business and wonder if
they can help. She takes the meeting, and a
designer lets her in on a secret: “It’s not the
product you sell but the story you tell.” And
so we get this rarest of book breeds: the mid-
dle grade start-up memoir, by a teenager.
Any C.E.O. book ought to do two things.
First, it should be a rip-roaring tale of how
the author did it, warts and all. The origin story of Ulmer’s company be-
gins with bee stings, after which her par- ents encourage her to learn about the in-
sects rather than fear them. The bees are
in danger, it turns out, as is a large amount
of our food supply if conditions worsen and
they no longer pollinate en masse.
So the 4-year-old sets up a lemonade
stand outside her house in Austin, Texas.
She sweetens her lemonade with honey,
since bees make it and it’s healthy. She
serves it with a side of education on all
things apian. The first batch of lemonade is
awful, but a series of sticky experiments
yields something better — unique even, af-
ter she gets the idea, from her great-grand-
mother’s recipe, to add flaxseed. Best of all,
it’s a product with a purpose, since she do-
nates money to bee-related organizations. People around Austin notice. The owner
of a pizza place offers to sell the beverage if
she bottles it. Then the head of the local
Black Chamber of Commerce urges her to
audition for the TV series “Shark Tank.”
You can guess what happens next, if you
don’t already know. Ulmer gets on the
show, goes to Hollywood and one of the
sharks bites. She leaves town with a
$60,000 investment, and by the end of the
book Me & the Bees Lemonade is in more
than 1,500 stores. So we have our good yarn. The second
task is harder — for anyone, let alone a
teenager selling her story to other kids:
How do you leave people believing that
they too could pull something like this off ? As with any child prodigy, readers will
wonder about the stage parents. Ulmer
doesn’t sugarcoat. Both her parents have
business degrees. Her father worked at
Dell; her mother owned a marketing firm.
Eventually her mom joins Me & the Bees
full time. A group of current and former
N.F.L. players invests $810,000 in the com-
pany, and increased scale enables it to
lower the shelf price to $2.99 per 12-ounce
bottle. But we don’t learn how much money Ulmer is taking out for herself or her col-
lege fund. Nor do we learn how much has
gone to the bees. Private companies have
no obligation to report such figures, but au-
thors ought to give a little more up.
Like many founders’ stories, Ulmer’s
book is meant partly as self-help. Here she
delivers. Bless her for stressing the impor-
tance of thank-you notes. She also writes
often and well about connecting with
strangers over a brief transaction. Selling
remains one of the most underappreciated
and under-taught life skills; many grown-
ups never learn the art of the pitch.
Remembering names is crucial, too.
When Ulmer goes to the White House for
the Kids’ State Dinner, Michelle Obama
sees her and says, “Oh, Mikaila! I know
you! Come here,” before acknowledging
her work. “I noted it,” Ulmer writes. “ Make
people feel special and comfortable.” Near the book’s end, Ulmer describes
telling a group of girls in South Africa to
“imagine what it would feel like” to buy
things they want without having to ask
others for help. Parents who recall their
own first childhood purchase probably re-
member the tingle they felt in that moment
— and want it for their own kids, too.
Catching the Buzz
At 15, a C.E.O. looks back at her successful lemonade business, which was inspired by bees.
Dream Like a Kid
By Mikaila Ulmer with Brin Stevens
240 pp. Putnam. $17.99.
(Ages 10 to 16)
RON LIEBER is the Your Money columnist for
The Times. His new book, “The Price You Pay
for College,” will be published in January.

The Hiroshima Cover-Up and the Report-
er Who Revealed It to the World, by Lesley M. M.
Blume. (Simon & Schuster, $27.)
For months after the
bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Americans
were told little about the devastating effects on
survivors. Blume’s magisterial account of how John
Hersey broke the story in The New Yorker is also a
warning about the ever-present dangers of nuclear
POLAND 1939: The Outbreak of World War II, by
Roger Moorhouse. (Basic Books, $32.) This exem-
plary military history shows why Poland’s choice to
resist the invading Germans was a decision of
world-historical significance that shaped the future
course of the war.
LAST MISSION TO TOKYO: The Extraordinary Story
of the Doolittle Raiders and Their Final Fight for
Justice, by Michel Paradis. (Simon & Schuster, $28.)
Paradis examines the difficult issue of wartime
justice by looking at the Japanese trial of American
fliers who were captured following the 1942 Doolittle
WE GERMANS, by Alexander Starritt. (Little, Brown,
$27.) “I wasn’t a Nazi,” says the narrator of Star-
ritt’s novel as he recalls his years as a German
soldier on the Eastern Front in a letter to his grand-
son. His story unspools like a roll of film, rich with
sensory detail and unsparing in its depictions of
HITLER: Downfall 1939-1945, by Volker Ullrich.
Translated by Jefferson Chase. (Knopf, $40.) This
second volume of a comprehensive biography of
Hitler thoroughly recounts the dramatic events of
World War II, the Holocaust and the defeat of Nazi
LITTLE SCRATCH, by Rebecca Watson. (Doubleday,
$23.95.) Profundities leap out from the business of
an ordinary day in this experimental novel, told in
helixes of text meant to immerse the reader in the
protagonist’s thoughts. The joys and disappoint-
ments of text messages, the depressive signifiers of
corporate life and a deep trauma at the story’s core
make for moving and richly layered reading —
adventurous typography notwithstanding.
TWILIGHT OF THE GODS: War in the Western Pa-
cific, 1944-1945, by Ian W. Toll. (Norton, $40.) The
third volume of Toll’s outstanding trilogy of the war
against Japan demonstrates that by 1944 the out-
come of the conflict, despite a huge cost in lives, was
never in doubt.
THE NAZI MENACE: Hitler, Churchill, Roosevelt,
Stalin, and the Road to War, by Benjamin Carter
Hett. (Holt, $29.99.)
Hett’s fast-moving history puts
Hitler at the center of the story of World War II,
explaining that he not only desired war but actually
lusted for it.
THE GREAT SECRET: The Classified World War II
Disaster That Launched the War on Cancer, by
Jennet Conant. (Norton, $27.95.)
In a history that
reads like a novel, Conant connects the 1943 bomb-
ing by the Nazis of an American ship containing
banned mustard gas to the development of chemo-
therapy as a cancer treatment.
Editors’ Choice / Staff Picks From the Book Review
The full reviews of these and other recent books
are online:
The New York Times best sellers are compiled and archived by the best-sellers-lists desk of the New York Times news department, and are separate from the editorial, culture, advertising and business sides of The New York Times Company. Rankings
reflect unit sales reported on a confidential basis by vendors offering a wide range of general interest titles published in th e United States . ONLINE: For complete lists and a full explanation of our methodology, visit
1 1 ROYAL, by Danielle Steel. (Delacorte) In 1943, the 17-year-old Princess Charlotte
assumes a new identity in the country and falls in love.
2 1 102 WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING, by Delia Owens. (Putnam) A young woman who survived
alone in the marsh becomes a murder suspect.
3 1 THE JACKAL, by J. R. Ward. (Gallery) In the Black Dagger Brotherhood world, Nyx
searches for her sister in a lost prison camp and meets a man known as the Jackal.
4 5 12 THE VANISHING HALF, by Brit Bennett. (Riverhead) The lives of twin sisters who run away
from a Southern Black community at age 16 diverge as one returns and the other takes
on a different racial identity but their fates intertwine.
5 6 12 THE GUEST LIST, by Lucy Foley. (Morrow) A wedding between a TV star and a magazine
publisher on an island off the coast of Ireland turns deadly.
6 10 8 THEN SHE WAS GONE, by Lisa Jewell. (Atria) Ten years after her daughter disappears, a
woman tries to get her life in order but remains haunted by unanswered questions.
7 7 10 28 SUMMERS, by Elin Hilderbrand. (Little, Brown) A relationship that started in 1993
between Mallory Blessing and Jake McCloud comes to light.
8 12 31 AMERICAN DIRT, by Jeanine Cummins. (Flatiron) A bookseller flees Mexico for the United
States with her son while pursued by the head of a drug cartel.
9 13 80 LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE, by Celeste Ng. (Penguin Press) An artist upends a quiet
town outside Cleveland.
10 3 2 THE MIDWIFE MURDERS, by James Patterson and Richard DiLallo. (Grand Central) A
single mom teams up with an N.Y.P.D. detective to solve a case involving misdeeds at a
university hospital.
1 5 24 UNTAMED, by Glennon Doyle. (Dial) The activist and public speaker describes her journey
of listening to her inner voice.
2 1 3 LIVE FREE OR DIE, by Sean Hannity. (Threshold Editions) The Fox News host offers his
assessment on what is at stake in the 2020 election.
3 4 3 CASTE, by Isabel Wilkerson. (Random House) The Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist
examines aspects of caste systems and reveals a rigid hierarchy in America today.
4 39 JUST MERCY, by Bryan Stevenson. (Spiegel & Grau) A law professor and MacArthur grant
recipient’s memoir of his decades of work to free innocent people condemned to death.
5 2 6 TOO MUCH AND NEVER ENOUGH, by Mary L. Trump. (Simon & Schuster) The clinical
psychologist gives her assessment of events and patterns inside her family and how they
shaped President Trump.
6 6 17 HOW TO BE AN ANTIRACIST, by Ibram X. Kendi. (One World) A primer for creating a more
just and equitable society through identifying and opposing racism.
7 7 22 WHITE FRAGILITY, by Robin DiAngelo. (Beacon Press) Historical and cultural analyses on
what causes defensive moves by white people and how this inhibits cross-racial dialogue.
8 1 LIVE IN LOVE, by Lauren Akins with Mark Dagostino. (Ballantine) The wife of the country
music singer Thomas Rhett describes her mission work and life in the spotlight.
9 85 BECOMING, by Michelle Obama. (Crown) The former first lady describes how she
balanced work, family and her husband’s political ascent.
10 3 THE ANSWER IS ..., by Alex Trebek. (Simon & Schuster) Who is the Canadian-American
game show host whose pronunciation of the word “genre” has been shared widely on
social media?
Fiction Nonfiction
Best Sellers
For the complete best-seller lists, visit

Diary of an Intrepid Author Jeff
Kinney is the rare writer who speaks of
his work in the collective voice — for
instance, “We realized in the spring that
having a book out in the height of a pandemic might not
be the best thing so we
decided to delay it.”
But last month the
“Diary of a Wimpy
Kid” creator was on
his own when he em-
barked on a nine-day
tour to promote his
new novel, “Rowley
Jefferson’s Awesome
Friendly Adventure,”
now at No. 1 on the
children’s middle grade hardcover list.
Equipped with a Wimpy Kid mask and
an extra-long grabber for passing copies
to customers, he drove an orange cargo
van (“a futuristic ice-cream truck”) from
Pennsylvania to Vermont, braving
storms and downed trees along the way.
Kinney says the road trip reminded
him of his early days as an author, be-
fore he started traveling in souped-up
tour vans, accompanied by a team of
helpers: “There was something elemen-
tal about getting behind the wheel and
driving myself. I was taken aback by
how enthusiastic the participants were.
Cars full of parents and kids would pull
up, ecstatic to have something to do,
something that wasn’t canceled.” Of course, it wasn’t all scenic views
and adoring crowds. Kinney’s exhaust
pipe hit the ground during a flash flood
in Philadelphia, so he consulted
YouTube, got on his back in a hotel park-
ing lot, slid underneath the van and
fixed it. “I’ll go on record,” he laughs.
“I’m the least handy guy. I have a pian-
ist’s hands.” In addition to visiting bookstores,
Kinney made house calls to bereaved
families and children of frontline work-
ers. He says, “That was really the most
rewarding part. It was fun to pull up in a
neighborhood in this really brightly
decorated van, and sometimes neighbor-
hood kids would run alongside it. Some-
times kids didn’t know this was happen-
ing — their parents had kept it as a
surprise — so I’d tell them, ‘This is what
happens if you read a book. The author
will come to your house.’ ” Luckily for his devoted fans, Kinney is
hard at work on his next book, which
comes out this fall. In the meantime, he
has advice for kids on the threshold of a
new school year: “You have to go into
this season with a sense of humor be-
cause we’re stuck in this situation that
has an ending; it’s just unclear when
that ending will be. 2021’s going to be a
lot better than 2020, that’s for sure.
Enjoy your time with your family. Enjoy
this weird situation if you can. Once the
world opens up again, it’s going to be an
awful lot of fun.”
‘I’m the least
handy guy. I
have a pian-
ist’s hands.’
STATE: A Team, a Triumph, a
Transformation, by Melissa Isaac-
son. (Agate, 320 pp., $17.)
ing to our reviewer, Juliet Macur,
the “most engaging character” in
this sports journalist’s memoir
about playing on her (state-cham-
pionship-winning) high school
basketball team in the late 1970s,
thanks to Title IX, is the team’s first
coach. A supportive gym teacher
“seemingly stuck” on feminine
sterotypes, she directed her play-
ers on the bench to sip water out of
Dixie cups rather than drink from
bottles like the boys.
THE TRAVELERS, by Regina Porter.
(Hogarth, 320 pp., $17.) Our re-
viewer, Elisabeth Egan, called this
novel about two families — “white
and Black, scattered across the
North and the South” — a “poetic,
spare, sometimes funny tale of
ordinary people pining for mean-
ingful connections.”
BERLIN, by Jason Lutes. (Drawn &
Quarterly, 580 pp., $39.95.) The
“magic” of this graphic novel
“opus,” 20 years in the making,
about the fall of the Weimar Repub-
lic, is the way the American author
“conjures” an era and a place “so
remote from him.” In its last pages,
after fascism takes hold, the book
“pitches” forward through time “as
though to meet us” — Ed Park, one
of our Graphic Content columnists,
marveled — with “an ending so
electrifying that I gasped.”
SUPPER CLUB, by Lara Williams.
(Putnam, 320 pp., $17.) In this
“tart” debut novel, two femaie
friends start a secret club for
“hungry” women and host “baccha-
nals” that serve as “reprieves”
from their subordinate everyday
lives. As a writer, Williams “shines”
in the kitchen, our reviewer, An-
drea Long Chu, declared. “The food
in this book eats you.”
ON FIRE: The (Burning) Case for a
Green New Deal, by Naomi Klein.
(Simon & Schuster, 336 pp., $18.)
Updated with a foreword on cli-
mate change in the age of Covid-19,
the Canadian journalist and activ-
ist’s book, while flawed — our
reviewer, Jeffrey Goodell, wrote —
makes “a strong case” for the
Green New Deal as our best hope
to inspire people to get involved.
THE UNDYING: Pain, Vulnerability,
Mortality, Medicine, Art, Time,
Dreams, Data, Exhaustion, Can-
cer, and Care, by Anne Boyer.
(Picador, 320 pp., $18.)
This Pulitz-
er Prize-winning takedown of the
“respectability politics” around
breast cancer is an “extraordinary
and furious” book, in the Times
critic Jennifer Szalai’s words. It
doesn’t just “unfasten” the pink
ribbon’s “dainty loop”; it “feeds it
through a shredder and lights it on
fire, incinerating its remains.”
WEEK Nonfiction THIS
1 1 103 WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING, by Delia Owens. (Putnam) In
a quiet town on the North Carolina coast in 1969, a woman
who survived alone in the marsh becomes a murder suspect.
2 1 ROYAL, by Danielle Steel. (Delacorte) In 1943, the 17-year-
old Princess Charlotte assumes a new identity in the country
and falls in love.
3 2 12 THE VANISHING HALF, by Brit Bennett. (Riverhead) The
lives of twin sisters who run away from a Southern Black
community at age 16 diverge as one returns and the other
takes on a different racial identity but their fates intertwine.
4 8 12 THE GUEST LIST, by Lucy Foley. (Morrow) A wedding
between a TV star and a magazine publisher on an island off
the coast of Ireland turns deadly.
5 7 10 28 SUMMERS, by Elin Hilderbrand. (Little, Brown) A
relationship that started in 1993 between Mallory Blessing
and Jake McCloud comes to light while she is on her
deathbed and his wife runs for president.
6 5 6 THE ORDER, by Daniel Silva. (Harper) The 20th book in the
Gabriel Allon series.
7 10 31 AMERICAN DIRT, by Jeanine Cummins. (Flatiron) A
bookseller flees Mexico for the United States with her son
while pursued by the head of a drug cartel.
8 1 THE JACKAL, by J. R. Ward. (Gallery) In the Black Dagger
Brotherhood world, Nyx searches for her sister in a lost
prison camp and meets a man known as the Jackal.
9 4 4 1ST CASE, by James Patterson and Chris Tebbetts. (Little,
Brown) After getting kicked out of M.I.T., Angela Hoot
interns with the F.B.I. and tracks the murderous siblings
known as the Poet and the Engineer.
10 11 7 MEXICAN GOTHIC, by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. (Del Rey) In
1950s Mexico, a debutante travels to a distant mansion
where family secrets of a faded mining empire have been
kept hidden.
1 6 24 UNTAMED, by Glennon Doyle. (Dial) The activist and public
speaker describes her journey of listening to her inner voice.
2 1 3 LIVE FREE OR DIE, by Sean Hannity. (Threshold Editions)
The Fox News host offers his assessment on what is at stake
in the 2020 election. (
3 3 3 CASTE, by Isabel Wilkerson. (Random House) The Pulitzer
Prize-winning journalist examines aspects of caste systems
across civilizations and reveals a rigid hierarchy in America
4 2 6 TOO MUCH AND NEVER ENOUGH, by Mary L. Trump. (Simon
& Schuster) The clinical psychologist gives her assessment
of events and patterns inside her family and how they
shaped President Trump.
5 5 25 HOW TO BE AN ANTIRACIST, by Ibram X. Kendi. (One World)
A primer for creating a more just and equitable society
through identifying and opposing racism.
6 1 LIVE IN LOVE, by Lauren Akins with Mark Dagostino.
(Ballantine) The wife of the country music singer Thomas
Rhett describes her mission work and life in the spotlight. (
7 8 5 THE ANSWER IS ..., by Alex Trebek. (Simon & Schuster)
Who is the Canadian-American game show host whose
pronunciation of the word “genre” has been shared widely on
social media?
8 9 89 BECOMING, by Michelle Obama. (Crown) The former first
lady describes how she balanced work, family and her
husband’s political ascent.
9 11 99 BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME, by Ta-Nehisi Coates.
(One World) A meditation on race in America as well as a
personal story, framed as a letter to the author’s teenage
10 10 131 EDUCATED, by Tara Westover. (Random House) The
daughter of survivalists, who is kept out of school, educates
herself enough to leave home for university.
An asterisk (*) indicates that a book’s sales are barely distinguishable from those of the book above. A dagger (†) indicates t hat some bookstores report receiving bulk orders.

ADVENTURE, by Jeff Kinney. (Amulet) Roland
and Garg the Barbarian embark on a quest to save
Roland’s mom. (Ages 8 to 12)
2 16 THE ONE AND ONLY BOB, by Katherine Applegate.
Illustrated by Patricia Castelao. (HarperCollins)
Bob sets out on a dangerous journey in search of
his long-lost sister. (Ages 8 to 12)
3 262 WONDER, by R. J. Palacio. (Knopf) A boy with a
facial deformity starts school. (Ages 8 to 12)
4 10 8 REFUGEE, by Alan Gratz. (Scholastic) Three
children look for safe haven. (Ages 9 to 12)
Kinney. (Amulet) Rowley Jefferson writes his own
diary. (Ages 8 to 12)
6 43 LITTLE LEADERS, by Vashti Harrison. (Little,
Brown) Biographies of 40 African-American women
who made a difference. (Ages 8 to 12)
7 1 FINISH THE FIGHT!, by Veronica Chambers
and the staff of The New York Times. (Versify)
Commemorating the 100th anniversary of the
ratification of the 19th Amendment. (Ages 8 to 12)
8 71 THE COMPLETE COOKBOOK FOR YOUNG CHEFS, by America’s Test Kitchen Kids. (Sourcebooks
Jabberwocky) Over 100 kid-tested recipes. (Ages
8 and up)
9 42 A WOLF CALLED WANDER, by Rosanne Parry.
Illustrated by Mónica Armiño. (Greenwillow) Swift
embarks on a perilous journey. (Ages 8 to 12)
Tui T. Sutherland. (Scholastic) Fighting for survival
of the human race against dragons. (Ages 8 to 12)
1 22 STAMPED, by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi.
(Little, Brown) An exploration of racism and anti-
racism in America. (Ages 13 to 17)
2 182 THE HATE U GIVE, by Angie Thomas. (Balzer +
Bray) A 16-year-old girl sees a police officer kill her
friend. (Ages 14 and up)
KYOSHI, by F. C. Yee with Michael Dante DiMartino.
(Amulet) Kyoshi flees with her friend Rangi after
she discovers her airbending powers. (Ages 13 to
4 135 ONE OF US IS LYING, by Karen M. McManus.
(Delacorte) For five students, a detour into
detention ends in murder. (Ages 14 and up)
5 7 HAWK, by James Patterson. ( jimmy patterson) Ten
years after Maximum Ride, a new hero emerges in
a postapocalyptic New York City. (Ages 12 to 18)
6 25 CHAIN OF GOLD, by Cassandra Clare. (Margaret
K. McElderry) Cordelia battles demons in a
quarantined London. (Ages 14 to 17)
7 16 CLAP WHEN YOU LAND, by Elizabeth Acevedo.
(Quill Tree) Two sisters meet when their father dies
in a plane crash. (Ages 14 to 17)
8 83 FIVE FEET APART, by Rachael Lippincott with Mikki
Daughtry and Tobias Iaconis. (Simon & Schuster)
Stella and Will are in love from afar. (Ages 12 to 17)
9 16 THE BETROTHED, by Kiera Cass. (HarperTeen)
Lady Hollis Brite and King Jameson are set to be
married. (Ages 13 to 17)
10 1 RAYBEARER, by Jordan Ifueko. (Amulet) A child
is raised to serve on a council to advise the crown
prince and then assassinate him. (Ages 12 to 17)
Middle Grade Hardcover Young Adult Hardcover THIS
Picture book rankings include hardcover sales only. Series rankings include all print and e-book sales.
1 2 I PROMISE, by LeBron James. Illustrated by Nina
Mata. (HarperCollins) An inspirational poem for
children by the NBA superstar. (Ages 4 to 8)
2 24 THE DAY YOU BEGIN, by Jacqueline Woodson.
Illustrated by Rafael López. (Nancy Paulsen)
Children embrace their differences. (Ages 5 to 8)
Willems. (Hyperion) Pigeon deals with the anxieties
of going to school for the first time. (Ages 3 to 5)
4 19 I AM ENOUGH, by Grace Byers. Illustrated
by Keturah A. Bobo. (Balzer + Bray) A poetic
affirmation of self-esteem. (Ages 4 to 8)
5 17 3 THE BOOK WITH NO PICTURES, by B. J. Novak.
(Dial) Silly songs and sound effects. (Ages 4 to 8)
6 21 ALL ARE WELCOME, by Alexandra Penfold and
Suzanne Kaufman. (Knopf) A celebration of
inclusivity and diversity at a school. (Ages 4 to 8)
7 84 WAITING IS NOT EASY!, by Mo Willems. (Hyperion)
Impatient Gerald has to wait for Piggie’s promised
surprise. (Ages 2 to 7)
8 12 THE WORLD NEEDS MORE PURPLE PEOPLE, by Kristen Bell and Benjamin Hart. Illustrated by
Daniel Wiseman. (Random House) Embracing the
things that bring us together. (Ages 3 to 7)
Higgins. (Disney-Hyperion) Penelope Rex must
control her urge to eat the children in her class.
(Ages 3 to 5)
10 2 KAMALA AND MAYA’S BIG IDEA, by Meena Harris.
Illustrated by Ana Ramírez González. (Balzer + Bray)
Two sisters turn their empty apartment courtyard
into a playground! (Ages 4 to 8)
1 229 THE TWILIGHT SAGA, by Stephenie Meyer. (Little,
Brown) Vampires and werewolves and their
intrigues in high school. (Ages 12 and up)
2 24 4 THE HUNGER GAMES, by Suzanne Collins.
(Scholastic) In a dystopia, a girl fights for survival
on live TV. (Ages 12 and up)
3 156 DOG MAN, by Dav Pilkey. (Scholastic) A dog’s head
is combined with a policeman’s body to create this
hybrid supercop hound. (Ages 7 to 9)
4 92 THE BAD GUYS, by Aaron Blabey. (Scholastic)
Tough animals in suits take on some real villains.
(Ages 7 to 10)
5 596 HARRY POTTER, by J. K. Rowling. (Scholastic) A
wizard hones his conjuring skills in the service of
fighting evil. (Ages 10 and up)
6 597 DIARY OF A WIMPY KID, written and illustrated by
Jeff Kinney. (Amulet) The travails and challenges of
adolescence. (Ages 9 to 12)
Riordan. (Disney-Hyperion) A boy battles
mythological monsters. (Ages 9 to 12)
Illustrated by Raina Telgemeier and Gale Galligan.
(Scholastic) Kristy, Mary Anne, Claudia, Stacey,
and Dawn are The Baby-sitters Club. (Ages 8 to 12)
9 236 CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS, written and illustrated by
Dav Pilkey. (Scholastic) Boys and their principal
fight evil. (Ages 7 to 10)
10 44 THE LAST KIDS ON EARTH, by Max Brallier.
Illustrated by Douglas Holgate. (Viking) Jack and
his friends fight for their lives through the zombie
apocalypse. (Ages 8 to 12)
ON LIST Picture Books Series
A 50-year collection of his most
iconic and beloved photographs

A Former CIA Officer’s Insights Into North Korea’s
Enigmatic Young Dictator
By Jung H. Pak
336 pp. Ballantine. $28.
“How could a 20-something with no known
experience in governing a country, much
less a nuclear-armed nation with a mori-
bund economy under the tightening noose of
sanctions, possibly survive?” That is the
question asked by Pak, a former C.I.A. offi-
cer who tells us how Kim Jong-un surprised
just about everyone by subduing domestic rivals and
keeping foreign adversaries at bay. Since the sudden death of his predecessor and father
in December 2011, Kim has not only held onto power but
has also changed the direction of the regime, created a
fearsome arsenal of nuclear weapons and ballistic mis-
siles, and dazzled the international community with
diplomatic flair.
How did he accomplish so much? Not by being timid,
Pak explains. It was with swagger. And ruthlessness. Kim
is fond of the brazen move and has made plenty of them,
some murderous. He has purged more than 340 senior
regime figures since late 2013, executing many.
Yet perhaps Kim has now reached the end of the line.
Pak perceptively recognizes Kim’s limitations, compar-
ing him to Icarus “flying too close to the sun” by “mak-
ing promises that he can’t fulfill.” At some point, Kim will
have to deliver on those promises. As Pak notes, the
North’s jangmadang — market generation — is demand-
ing prosperity, regime officials are demanding the con-
tinuation of privileges and the United States is demand-
ing disarmament. Washington must do more than just disarm Kim. “We
have to shape and constrain his ambitions and illusions,”
Pak writes. If Washington policymakers are to accom-
plish that, they will have to adopt new tactics as the old
ones have obviously not been working.
Pak’s important discussion of policy, unfortunately,
sticks to conventional approaches. For instance, she
ignores pressuring China, the North’s primary backer,
which is the one tactic that might actually convince Kim
he has no choice but to deal with the international com-
munity in good faith.
As Pak tells us, Kim is bold. Washington must be as
Life and Death in a Hidden War, Korea 1950-1953
By Charles J. Hanley
528 pp. PublicAffairs. $35.
In 1950 Kim Il-sung assured Stalin that his
planned attack on South Korea would lead to
total victory in 72 hours. The fighting in fact
lasted 1,129 days and resulted in a loss of
territory for the once-confident suryong, or
Great Leader, of the Democratic People’s
Republic of Korea.
In unforgettable fashion, Hanley, a Pulitzer Prize win-
ner, tells the story of the Korean War, one of the most
savage conflicts in history, through eyewitness accounts
of 20 people, most of them victims. An estimated three
million died during the three years of fighting, about
two-thirds of them civilians. “I firmly believe Korea is as
close to hell as anyone can get!” said one American
infantryman who had been haunted by his role in the
mass slaughter of refugees at Nogun-ri. Park Sun-yong, clinging to her Bible and wounded in
the arm and torso, was one who survived the Nogun-ri
massacre. Her two toddlers, a boy and a girl, were killed.
“What have we done to deserve this?” she asks. North
Koreans had infiltrated columns of fleeing South Kore-
ans, and G.I.s, following orders, were indiscriminately
shooting at the panicked crowds, even when they posed
no threat.
As Hanley tells us, Korean farmers reported seeing
“ghost flames” or “spirit fires” over the fields where
people perished. Phosphorous from rotting bones, mixed
with rain, can shimmer in moonlight, but according to
local lore, a ball of light, hon bul, leaves the body upon
In Korea, two mighty coalitions were locked in “the
Cold War’s first armed collision.” The fighting stopped in
1953 with only an armistice, not a peace treaty. And as
we see through the anguish of its survivors, the “hidden
war” is still not over.
Survival and Deterrence in North Korea
By Ankit Panda
416 pp. Oxford University. $27.95.
With determination and deceit, three gener-
ations of the Kim family of North Korea
have built an arsenal of nuclear weapons
and the ballistic missiles to deliver them. In
November 2017 Kim Jong-un declared that
his regime had “finally realized the great
historic cause of completing the state nucle-
ar force.”
The boast, as this book details, capped a program
spanning perhaps as many as six decades. It’s not clear
that the North has the heat shielding necessary to pro-
tect a payload re-entering the atmosphere — but it none-
theless appears that Kim can now detonate a thermonu-
clear device over any portion of the United States.
If deterrence fails, there is not much America can do.
Washington has perhaps the world’s most sophisticated
missile defense system, but the North Koreans can over-
whelm American defenses with sheer numbers of weap-
ons. And they have been practicing to perfect this tactic. Panda, a noted international security analyst, dis-
cusses each step the North Korean regime took to build
its stockpile, integrating his narrative with accounts of
the diplomatic strategies successive American adminis-
trations adopted first to prevent the North from weap-
onizing the atom and then to slow progress once the
Kims had succeeded. The most important part of this book is a discussion of
how Kim Jong-un controls his arsenal. Every nuclear-
armed state — there are thought to be nine of them —
must design a command and control system that solves
the “always-never dilemma,” which assures that a lead-
er’s order to launch a weapon will always be obeyed and
that there will never be an unauthorized launch.
Kim in May reappeared in public after a puzzling
three-week absence, sporting a small scar suggesting
cardiac surgery. This incident highlights the criticality of
C2, as command and control is known. Even though Kim
was apparently not in a coma or vegetative state, as
some believed at the time, the world should nonetheless
be asking: Who in North Korea can send its fearsome
weapons hurtling into the sky?
GORDON G. CHANG is the author of “Nuclear Showdown: North Korea Takes On the World.”
The Shortlist /North Korea /By Gordon G. Chang

GRANT SNIDER is a cartoonist, author and illustrator. His most recent book is “I Will Judge You by Your Bookshelf.”
Sketchbook /By Grant Snider

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