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SEPTEMBER 13, 2020

New from Jenna Bush Hager
“As long as I’m alive, my grandparents will not be forgotten. . . . I hear their voices in the letters they
sent me and in my memories. They off er comfort, support, and guidance, and I will listen to them always.”
Available wherever
books are sold

TO SUBSCRIBE to the Book Review by mail, visit or call 1-800-631-2580
Book Review SEPTEMBER 13, 2020
10 Otherworldly
Science Fiction and Fantasy
Reviewed by Amal El-Mohtar
By Charlotte McConaghy
Reviewed by Michael Christie
By Lawrence Osborne
Reviewed by Louise Doughty
By Yaa Gyasi
Reviewed by Nell Freudenberger
By Ayad Akhtar
Reviewed by Hari Kunzru
By Salar Abdoh
Reviewed by Elliot Ackerman
By Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi
Reviewed by Khadija Abdalla Bajaber
20 ZO
By Xander Miller
Reviewed by Kawai Strong Washburn
By Susan Abulhawa
Reviewed by Laleh Khadivi
William Faulkner’s Civil War
By Michael Gorra
Reviewed by Ayana Mathis
26 The Shortlist
Trumped Up
Reviewed by Julian E. Zelizer
Children’s Books
By Jacqueline Woodson
Reviewed by Randal C. Archibold
By Bill Konigsberg
Reviewed by Katy Hershberger
1 Politics in Fiction
Compiled by John Williams
8 By the Book
Jane Fonda
21 Essay
The Man Who Loved Animals
By James Traub
27 Sketchbook
By Ebony Flowers
4 New & Noteworthy
6 Letters
23 Best-Seller Lists
23 Editors’ Choice
24 Inside the List
24 Paperback Row
“This is a compelling thriller that
has the rarest of qualities:
‘What ’s going to happen next?’”
—Steve Martin
”You Can Go Home Now is a timely
meditation on justice and retribution
that will long stay in the memory, in no small part due to its moral
—Criminal Element
”Elias writes convincingly in the voice of a deeply troubled female copand puts her in the crosshairs of the hot button issues of abortion and
domestic abuse. He takes you along the dark streets of revenge where
surprises lurk in every doorway.
An unputdownable pleasure for the literary mystery lover.”
—April Smith, author of Home Sweet Home
“This fine book’s melodrama is laced with humor and poignancy”
—Tom Nolan, T he Wall Steet Journal
“I am still reeling. The surprises, the descriptions, the characters,
the unexpected events, the
wow! The book is on a par with
The Girl on the Train and Gone Girl .”
—Iris Rainer Dart, author of Beaches

(Viking, $36.) The latest entry in Follett’s
Kingsbridge series, a prequel to his best-sell-
ing “The Pillars of the Earth,” weaves multi-
ple narrative strands into a story of Europe
just before the Middle Ages.
CUBED: THE PUZZLE OF US ALL, by Erno Rubik. (Flat-
iron, $25.99.) The inventor of the Rubik’s Cube
describes his creative process, which empha-
sizes perpetual curiosity and a willingness to
make mistakes, and recalls the unexpected
success of the toy he designed for his own
by Timothy Snyder. (Crown, paper, $12.)
After undergoing emergency surgery at the
end of last year, Snyder began to reflect on the
critical need for health — and health care — in
a free society, a lesson that holds new urgency
in the face of our current pandemic.
jneveld. Translated by Michele Hutchison.
(Graywolf, paper, $16.) Rijneveld’s debut nov-
el, which won the 2020 International Booker
Prize, centers on a dreamy girl growing up in
straitened circumstances on a Dutch farm.
by Richard Grant. (Simon & Schus-
ter, $26.) An entertaining tour of a complex
Mississippi town built on slavery and defined
today by a handful of eccentric characters.
Times are tough all around. So why not imagine
a world where a giant asteroid landed on the
Eastern United States in the 1950s, prompting
an earlier space race to get to the moon and
Mars much faster than we’ve managed in our
timeline? That’s what Mary Robinette Kowal
does in her “Lady Astronaut” series. Starting
THE CALCULATING STARS , which won a Hugo Award for science fic-
tion writing, the story is told through the eyes of Elma York, a pilot
and mathemagician who becomes the first of the “lady astro-
nauts.” Elma’s dry wit and assortment of talents help her tackle a
variety of problems: overcoming sexism in the astronaut corps;
contending with a bit of impostor syndrome; and, even fixing a
clog in the darned spaceship toilet. Kowal is an excellent writer —
she’s written for us in Science Times — and she researches the
heck out of the details, making her series both accessible to the
casual sci-fi reader and believable to the space enthusiast.
New & Noteworthy
With more than 600 photographs
— DAN W. LUFKIN , Founder, Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette
The acclaimed play, The Lehman Trilogy,
features Mayer Lehman, John Loeb’s great-grandfather.
Discover the remarkable history of the entire Lehman family
in John’s comprehensive and beautifully illustrated memoir.
View the exclusive footage of John’s extraordinary 75th birthday celebration at Blenheim Palace on the bonus
DVD, along with historic coverage of the event, and read
David Patrick Columbia’s review of the party on page 647.
For more details, go to
HARDCOVER $29.99 and EBOOK $8.99
available from AMAZON, BARNES & NOBLE, and APPLE BOOKS
Includes Bonus Video
See inside back cover
. .

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and a cover-up it surely was. It’s
unfortunate that his otherwise
superb review was marred by this
faulty misreading.

As a Vietnam veteran, retired
member of the United States
Army and a reader, I was truly
astonished by the breadth of
your “World War II at 75” Book
Review. It is so good, and I say this in possession of a bookcase
full of World War I and World
War II nonfiction. I think you
should prepare a hardcover
deluxe edition of it including
full-page photos. I’ll be first in
line to order it. Thanks for giving
me respite from the storm.

The Aug. 30 review of Chris
Wallace’s “Countdown 1945”
correctly notes that the United
States estimated an invasion of
Japan would result in the deaths
of 500,000 to one million Ameri-
cans. But he fails to note this: A
study done for Secretary of War
Henry Stimson’s staff estimated
that the invasion would also cost
five million to 10 million Japa-
nese fatalities. Additionally, Japanese military
directives ordered the execution
of all prisoners of war if Japan
was ever invaded. I suggest the
129,000 to 226,000 people killed
by dropping the atomic bombs on
Hiroshima and Nagasaki be
considered in this light. The
success of Little Boy may not
have been, as Truman said, “the
greatest thing in history,” but it
saved many more lives — Ameri-
can and Japanese — than it cost.

I was pleased to see an issue
devoted to World War II, but had
mixed feelings about the title,
“The Good War.” World War II was a good war
in the same sense as the Civil
War: It had to be fought, and the
“good guys” won. But the war
itself was horrendous. It killed
more than 60 million people —
the great majority civilians —
and institutionalized practices
(genocide, torture, strategic
bombing) that continue to plague
us today. In the victorious na-
tions, it contributed to a sense of
self-righteousness that makes
balanced debate difficult three
generations later. There are
better and worse wars, but there
aren’t any good ones.
ISBN 978-1-64313-466-6
“Johnson has
laid the healing tools in our hands,
and left instructions.
This is how it starts.”
— Cornelius Eady,
Finalist for the Pulitzer Prize
“Only a poet can see this
clearly, be this honest, and still hope this much.”
— Douglas A. Blackmon,
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize
Available Wherever Books and Ebooks Are Sold
Distributed by Simon & Schuster
“During an attempted
robbery of my jewelry
in 1991 at Los Angeles
International Airport, I
was stabbed and almost
died”. I needed six units
of blood to stabilize my
condition. Early success
in the diamond trade
fueled Bruner’s joy of
supporting charitable
causes and expanding
his fund as a prankster,
thrill-seeker, gambler,
treasure hunter, and
champion race car
driver. Bruner’s insatiable
appetite for high stakes
living saw him daring
highway patrolman to
catch him as he sped
down a California two-
highway at 160 MPH in his Ferrari. An ugly divorce inspired him
to pay his wife’s attorney by dumping 17,000 one-dollar bills on a
conference room table. When Bruner began to suffer the effects of
post-traumatic stress disorder he left California to seek a more peaceful
way of life in Idaho. Yet his compassion for others took him on another
journey in 2011 when he and his wife Nancy Del Colletti, founded a coed
dual diagnosis facility that provides treatment for people suffering from
drug, alcohol, and co-occurring psychological conditions. Rainbow’s End
Recovery Center.
The book is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
War and Remembrance
The Aug. 30 issue commemorat-
ing the 75th anniversary of
World War II’s end represents a
high point for the Book Review,
with many reviews I’ll hold on to
for future rereading.
The arguments about dropping
the atomic bombs on Japan
remain controversial. Unfortu-
nately, the positions both for and
against the bombing don’t often
consider what the facts were at
the time. Truman, although new
to the presidency, made the right
decision backed up by a war-
weary nation facing tremendous
additional casualties in the war
against Japan. Few of the American decision
makers could have pictured in
advance the total devastation,
and probably only considered the
bomb to be a usual weapon of
war. Criticism is not justified
when you were not there.

The Aug. 30 review by William
Langewiesche of Lesley M.M.
Blume’s “Fallout” was masterly,
until he asserted that there was —
to use his words — no “cover-up to
hide the realities of radiation
sickness from public knowledge.”
But that seems to go against what
Blume is saying. The reviewer
blames “authentic ignorance,
reflexive secrecy and incompetent
military spin” to excuse the mili-
tary. But he cannot have it both
ways. Those defects are exactly
what accounted for the cover-up,
The Politics of Fiction
Wednesday, September 16
at 4:30 p.m. E.T.
In the midst of a global
pandemic, a national strug-
gle toward racial justice and
a profoundly consequential
American election, this
moment can be difficult to
grasp. Can fiction help us
make sense of it all and
better understand what lies
ahead? Do fiction writers
have any responsibility to
grapple with current
The book critic Parul Sehgal
welcomes the Pulitzer-
winning playwright and
fiction writer Ayad Akhtar,
the novelist Marlon James
and others for an afternoon
of readings and conversa-
tion, exploring the intersec-
tion of fiction with our
current political realities.
For more information, visit
Gen. George C. Marshall surrounded by members of his staff in 1941.

What Happens to Numbers 1 to 10?
Let’s Have Fun Counting Numbers
Agnola Charles-Snowball
This book is about numbers and tells a story about friends who are
on their way to the zoo. There are many distractions and obstacles,
so will they ever get there?
$15.99 paperback
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A Less Than Perfect Life
Isabelle Olivia De Luca
This autobiography is a compelling recollection of Isabelle Olivia De
Luca’s trials, hardships, and endurance as she recalls childhood
till present.
$13.99 paperback
also available in ebook
The Universe Is In Us
Allan R. Rudison, Ph.D.
The essence of this book is a condensed “Bible of the Universe”
that tethers DARK MATTER and DARK ENERGY expansion of the
UNIVERSE to the brain-computer connection.
$22.99 paperback
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The Applicability of several Stress models and the
relation to Change- and Stress management in the
Working Situation
Elisabeth van der Gulik
Elisabeth van der Gulik offers a number of integrating practice
examples, in which stress models and its relation to change are tested.
$13.50 paperback
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The 2020 Guide to the Global Transformation
Arthur Jay Berman
Humankind, as a species, has reached the crossroad. This book
intends to detail the global situation in all its intricacies and
complexity and presents a roadmap or way out for humanity.
$13.99 paperback
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The Wild Child
Alexander Cogar
This is a fantasy action novel where a mercenary hunter joins forces
with living plant wolves and a titanic strength samurai to survive
against a dragon that embodies nature itself.
$18.99 paperback
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Caleb and Shallow
Susan Troutt
In this endearing story that warms the heart and tickles the funny
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they discover trust, friendship, and love.
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The Soul-Catcher’s Calling
Sponsored by Supreme Command
Nigel J. Jamieson, LLD (Otago)
For this world in turmoil,
The Soul Catcher’s Calling prophetically
encourages mankind’s deeper understanding of the 20/20 revelatory
vision required for this pivotal year of 2020 and far beyond.
$28.19 paperback
also available in hardcover & ebook
The Still Small Voice Within
Natalia Amuta Christos
Natalia Amuta Christos shares personal encounters with the Great
I Am, you are deeply loved, and God’s desire is for you to know
Him personally.
$17.99 paperback
also available in hardcover & ebook
I’m Doing Alright For An Old Lady
Diary Of The Youngest Member Of The Methusela Club!
Prayer warrior tells of the long and hard journey of a ministry that
crosses the paths of others and how those confrontations influence
how we are socialized and react to one another.
$15.99 paperback
also available in hardcover & ebook
My Journey Back to Heaven
Gabriel’s Story
C. L. Rugg
Archangel Gabriel becomes a human, with no memory of his past but
has angel powers. He must learn how to survive his dual nature and
recall his unknown previous life.
$28.99 paperback
also available in hardcover & ebook
The Project Manager’s Checklist for
Building Projects
Delivery Strategies & Processes
Mark Urizar
This guidebook shares effective project management through a
roadmap of checklists that covers both the project and design
management processes, and lists their many associated activities,
applicable to any building project.
$28.03 paperback
also available in ebook
Visit us on Facebook & Twitter Real Authors, Real Impact
Update your nightstand.

What books are on your night stand?
Well, we’re in a pandemic and I’m quar-
antined so it’s a stack: “Whose Water Is
It, Anyway? Taking Water Protection
Into Public Hands,” by Maude Barlow,
“Are Prisons Obsolete?” by Angela Y.
Davis, “Bowling Alone: The Collapse and
Revival of American Community,” by
Robert D. Putnam, and “Underland: A
Deep Time Journey,” by Robert Macfar-
What’s the last great book you read?
“The Overstory,” by Richard Powers.
Describe your ideal reading experience
(when, where, what, how).
My favorite is to read in restaurants
alone while I eat. At home, I have a stand
that holds the book and keeps pages open
on the kitchen counter so it’s easy to read
while eating. Now that I’m single, I read
in bed, mostly in the evening, but when I
was in my early teens my favorite place
to read was sitting in the branches of an
immense beech tree overlooking a very old graveyard. I like reading in grave-
yards leaning against old gravestones,
though I haven’t had many opportunities
of late.
Which writers — novelists, playwrights,
critics, journalists, poets — working
today do you admire most?
Ta-Nehisi Coates, Charles M. Blow, Frank
Bruni, Jane Mayer, Ann Patchett, Arund-
hati Roy, Mary Karr, Jared Diamond and
Jeremy O. Harris.
What character from literature would you
most like to play?
Nora in “A Doll’s House.” I did play her
once, but I didn’t dig deep enough.
Do you have any comfort reads?
Mary Oliver’s and Emily Dickinson’s
What’s the most interesting thing you
learned from a book recently?
That trees communicate with each other, alert each other to danger, and tend to
each other’s well-being. They can also
learn. I think of the Amazon as I write
this and my heart just breaks.
Which genres do you especially enjoy
reading? And which do you avoid?
I’m not interested in romance or scary
novels. I will occasionally read classics —
Dickens, Tolstoy, Proust — or terrific
contemporary novelists. But I mostly
read nonfiction books focusing on what-
ever topic I am trying to learn about.
Lately, I’m reading books about racism
by Black authors like Baldwin, Hurston,
Langston Hughes, Ta-Nehisi Coates,
Isabel Wilkerson and Ibram Kendi. I’ve
spent years reading books about Christi-
anity including about the Gnostic
Gospels. I’ve read scores of books about
childhood sexual abuse, everything writ-
ten by Alice Miller.
How do you organize your books?
Novels and poetry fall into two groups,
but all the nonfiction is organized by
topic. The largest sections in my library
are books by and about women, psychol-
ogy, religion, biographies, politics, eco-
nomics, labor and the environment.
What’s the best book you’ve ever re-
ceived as a gift?
“The Village of Ben Suc,” by Jonathan
Schell. A group of American soldiers who
had fought in V ietnam gave it to me. It
changed my life. I left my French hus-
band, moved back to the United States
and joined the anti-Vietnam War move-
What kind of reader were you as a child?
Which childhood books and authors stick
with you most?
I loved all the Nancy Drew mystery
books and the novels about horses like
“Black Beauty” and “The Black Stallion.”
But reading “Green Mansions” when I
was 12 was the most memorable. That’s
when I lost awareness of reading and
became the book.
Have you ever gotten in trouble for read-
ing a book?
No, but I locked myself in a closet to read
“The Amboy Dukes” when I was 11 be-
cause I was told there were sexy scenes
in it. When I look through it now I can’t
find any.
You’re organizing a literary dinner party.
Which three writers, dead or alive, do
you invite?
Shakespeare. I wouldn’t want to dilute
that experience with anyone else. Be-
sides, I couldn’t handle more than him.
Maybe not even him.
Jane Fonda
The actress and activist, whose new book about climate change is
‘What Can I Do?,’ likes ‘reading in graveyards leaning against old
gravestones, though I haven’t had many opportunities of late.’
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.
and Fast.
Together at Last.
The New York Times’s
5x5 mini crosswords are now available in two pocket-sized volumes.

Visit us on Facebook & Twitter Real Authors, Real Impact
Find your inspiration.
Airplane Stories and HistoriesNorman Currey
This historical piece chronicles two hundred years of aviation highlights
including the exploits of aviation pioneers. There is an extensive bibliography
provided for enthusiast.
$19.99 paperback
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xlibris. co
m Sojourn with HeidiHeidi Leitner Fearon
Come and Sojourne through Heidi Leitner Fearons lively story, offering
sailing enthusiasts a glimpse of live at sea, the fun and dangers associated
with offshore sailing.
$13.99 paperback
also available in hardcover & ebook
www .authorhouse
.c om
The Wishflower PrincessKathie Kalafatis
Princess Alexa, the daughter of Mother Nature, spreads hope through her
kingdom by blowing out the seeds from her wishflowers. One day, she starts
sneezing them away, and allhope is lost.
$21.99 paperback
also available in hardcover & ebook Thought and TimeA Unique Perception
Karur Rangan
The author explores the thought process. The instances of awareness are the
progression of time. Space is the overlay of perceptions.
$16.99 paperback
also available in hardcover & ebook
No One Has More Love Than This...Why We Remember
Warren Robinson
A compelling story of war that will make you laugh and cry as you journey
back in time to Vietnam War alongside the young men who fought and
many times died there.
$13.99 paperback
also available in hardcover & ebook Especially to Those Who SufferA Memoir of Truths and Miracles
Julija Rudolf
Especially to Those Who Suffer shares Julija Rudolfs story of how she
suffered crippling anxiety and how she finally gained self-awareness, leading
to peace of mind.
$13.99 paperback
also available in hardcover & ebook
TernionThe Keys of Legend
Michael Spires
A wolf from Blake’s dreams shows up one night and his life changed.
He must now learn how to use the power of Aura to fight and save
his hometown.
$16.99 paperback
also available in hardcover & ebook Waiting StillGod’s Glance
Marie Stevens
A book of imagery, gentle persuasion, inspiration, encouragement, new
life love and desire, not only in our own selves, but God Himself, expressed
through rhythm and rhyme, short prose and light art.
$20.99 paperback
also available in ebook
Eternal VigilanceGuarding Against The Predatory State
Ralph L. Bayrer
Eternal Vigilance draws on experience here and abroad to explain the
prerequisites for free, flourishing societies, especially necessary defenses
against universal human predatory behavior that exists even within
representative government.
$19.99 paperback
also available in hardcover & ebook Second ChancesVP Saxton
Two couples navigate the muddled direction of their relationships as the
past threatens the future and distance perhaps does not make the heart
grow fonder.
$20.69 paperback
also available in hardcover & ebook
Pursuit Of ParadiseThomas N. Smith
The author presents a novel of love and war, the story of his parents during
World War II. He vividly describes the harsh struggle for the liberation
of the Philippines.
$28.99 paperback
also available in hardcover & ebook
Lessons From TalesWhat We Can Learn From Short Stories And Jokes
Eric Wei
Discover a thing or two about human nature from this compliation of
180 meaningful short stories and jokes with underlying insights or lessons.
$13.27 paperback
also available in hardcover & ebook

THE DISCOURSE about reading fiction
during the pandemic has followed two
broad tracks: There are those who take
comfort in the activit y, and those who
have found reading impossibly difficult. I
belong to the latter c amp, but I’m all the
more excited to share the following books,
which, while very different in genre and
mode, shook me out of listless distraction
with their originality.
DANCE ON SATURDAY (Small Beer Press, 318
pp., paper, $17)
is Elwin Cotman’s third
collection of short fiction. We tend to call
fiction “short” when it’s not a novel, but
the six stories in “Dance on Saturday” are
long, deep and rich, each so thoroughly
engrossing and distinctive in its style that
I had to take long breaks between them.
The stories I enjoyed least (“Among the
Zoologists,” “The Son’s War”) tend to
favor accumulation and excess in a way
that made me feel like the butt of an ob-
scure joke, while the ones I loved (all the
rest) favor depth of feeling and character,
foreground care more than swagger.
Rooted in contemporary cityscapes and
mythic pasts, with af fects ranging from
melancholy optimism to humor to horror,
this collection is a sensuous, polyphonic
feast. The title piece — and the longest, ac-
counting for about a thir d of the book —
packs in a novel’s worth of complexity. In
modern-day Pittsburgh live immortal
beings called the Fruit, ancient creatures
who can replace their aging body parts
with everything from berries to can-
taloupe so long as they’ve grown it them-
selves. Millenniums ago the Fruit took on
the appearance of Black people; today
there are 14 of them left, all part of the congregation of the Fruit of Jehovah
Baptist Church, living among their human
brethren but under the auspices of a
mysterious Lord Decay. Focused on the
relationship between Teetee, a kind Fruit
elder, and Deja, a young mortal mother
and cancer survivor, the story is a micro-
cosm of intergenerational clashes and the
tension between desire for lineage and
resistance to it. In “Seven Watsons” — far and away my
favorite story — a young man called Flexo
speaks compassionately of life in the
scrutinized confinement of the Pittsburgh
Job Corps, and of how the arrival of seven
strange brothers transformed his life
there. There came a point in the story, a
hinge, where I suddenly felt the way I did
the first time I heard jazz harp, or quarter
tones from an Arabic maqam played on
violin: hearing new music on old instru-
ments and vice ve rsa, experiencing trans-
position as transformation. I still get
goose bumps recalling it. Karen Russell’s cover blurb praises
Cotman as “a synthesizer . . . of lewd
dialect and high lyricism.” I’ll speak in-
stead of Cotman’s high dialect and lewd
lyricism, of how his fashioning of charac-
ter voices is superbly disciplined, lit from
within, while his lyricism is the realm of
bawdy jokes and opacity, a kind of literary
trolling. “She was tall and wide like a
sonnet,” one character notes — and you’ll
just have to trust me on the contrast with
the bawdy bits, none of which my editor
will let me cite. The core of the book is a cleareyed
survey of the complexities of Black
American experience, distilled in a few
lines from the title story: “I hated the
powers for what they had done. But I
learned the pride. That I was of a people
who could take all the hate and poison of
this world, and laugh, and go dance on
pp., $28)
is Micaiah Johnson’s debut, but
that word is ut terly insufficient for the
blazing, relentless power of this book,
suggesting ballroom manners where it
should conjure comet tails. The multiverse is real, and Adam Bosch
has figured out how to move people
among 382 versions of Earth; his com-
pany, Eldridge, extracts information and
resources from those worlds. The only
catch: You can’t travel to an Earth on
which a version of you is still alive. The
only people who can become “traversers,”
then, are those whose existence is so
precarious that they’ve survived in just a
few worlds. “They needed trash people,”
says Cara, our protagonist, gripping my
heart and squeezing. In all the hundreds
of Earths Eldridge can access, Cara’s alive
in only eight.
Cara is a resident of Wiley City, a walled
compound in a postapocalyptic world
ground down by numerous wars. In the
comfort of its controlled atmosphere and
artificial sunlight, citizens and residents
enjoy the benefits of a robust social con-
tract, have access to housing and medi-
cine, and enjoy a prosperity bolstered by
resources stolen from alternate worlds.
Cara’s originally from Ashtown, beyond
Wiley City’s gates: a loosely knit commu-
nity of laborers, scavengers, religious
commune members and sex workers,
leading hardscrabble lives in an unforgiv-
ing desert ruled by an onyx-toothed Blood
Emperor and his runners. It takes 10
years of residency in Wiley City before
one can apply for citizenship; Cara’s been
there for six. But once Eldridge develops
the technology to extract information
across worlds remotely, traversers will be
obsolete and Cara will be banished back
to Ashtown. Unless she can make herself
indispensable first.
As a metaphor for neoliberal imperi-
alism, this tale is profoundly satisfying; as
a work of art, it’s even better. Cara is so
mesmerizing a character that I was help-
less before every twist and turn of plot,
riveted by her pain, love and secrets. The
book remained two steps ahead of my
imagination, rattling it out of complacency
and flooding it with color and heat. Everything is hard. The news vacillates
between horror novel and undisciplined
television drama from one hour to the
next. But “The Space Between Worlds”
and “Dance on Saturday” make me feel
profoundly grateful to exist in the same
world and at the same time as their au-
thors — to bear witness to the furious
compassion and generosity of their
Power and Passage
AMAL EL-MOHTAR is a Hugo Award-winning
writer and a co-author, with Max Gladstone,
of “This Is How You Lose the Time War.”
JING WEI 800.671.4332
Page reprints from
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polished, modern design.

adult writer Charlotte McConaghy’s first
voyage into the warming waters of literary
eco-fiction, is a visceral and haunting novel
that opens with the lines “The animals are
dying. Soon we will be alone here.” It’s
telling that such an assertion is so readily
accepted by the reader — that the near-to-
tal collapse of animal life on the planet is
met with merely a solemn nod and an ea-
gerness to get on with the story. We meet Franny Stone, a detached and
mysteriously damaged woman who has
traveled to Greenland to electronically tag
what might be the last remaining colony of
arctic terns before they embark upon the
“longest natural migration of any living
creature,” a pole-to-pole quest that will
eventually land them in Antarctica. Seeking passage on a boat to follow the
birds on what could be their final migra-
tion, Franny encounters Ennis Malone, the
enigmatic and tight-lipped captain of the
Saghani, a purse seine herring boat. Some-
what implausibly, the captain agrees to
take Franny aboard, hoping that her
tracked terns will lead them to a hidden
jackpot of herring. No matter the out-
rageous fuel costs required to make such a
voyage. We’re afloat in the realm of meta-
phor here, so to sum up: We have a mercu-
rial and restless narrator signing on with a
menacing captain who is rarely seen above
deck. Ringing any bells? As well as a work
of first-rate climate fiction, “Migrations” is
also a clever reimagining of “Moby-Dick,”
that foundational text of humankind vs. na-
ture, of hubris vs. humility, with Franny
playing Ishmael, the famously morose sea-
farer whose damp and drizzly soul has gone full November. Sea yarns that serve
as voyages of self-discovery have been the
exclusive literary domain of men for far too
long, and McConaghy deserves extra cred-
it for sounding the oceanic depths of the fe-
male soul.
Once the ship is in motion, there are
some delightful flashes of camaraderie
among the crew, as Franny is shown the
ropes — and knots — of life on a purse
seiner, pitched and pestered by North At-
lantic storms. These workaday details are
expertly rendered: Franny’s hands bleed.
Her blisters pop. Decks are swabbed. Oc-
casionally McConaghy reaches back to
traumatic episodes in Franny’s troubled
past, unspooling the details of her life with
admirable artistry. She’s been to jail, and
the estranged husband she’s left in her
wake may not actually be alive. The real
mystery here is not some white whale but
Franny herself, with much of the novel’s
suspense driven by the patchiness of her
testimony. “Migrations” is not without flaws, how-
ever. As the crew nears their destination,
the plot gets jerky, at times leaning upon
melodrama, and the narrative’s previous
vagueness about this dystopian world
feels flimsy and concocted. At one point,
fishing is banned worldwide by a nameless
governmental body; at another, Franny is
pursued by a nameless sea police force.
Also, the notion that anyone in Newfound-
land is ever going to hold up a sign that
says “Justice for fish, death to fishermen,”
even after the global collapse of the world’s
sea life, is sheer fantasy.
Still, this novel’s prose soars with its
transporting descriptions of the planet’s
landscapes and their dwindling inhab-
itants, and contains many wonderful medi-
tations on our responsibilities to our
earthly housemates. “What happens when
the last of the terns die?” Franny muses.
“Nothing will ever be as brave again.” “Migrations” is a nervy and well-crafted
novel, one that linger s long after its voyage
is over. It’s a story about our mingling sor-
rows, both personal and global, and the
survivor’s guilt that will be left in their
Call Me Franny
A ‘Moby-Dick’ for our times.
By Charlotte McConaghy
256 pp. Flatiron Books. $26.99.
MICHAEL CHRISTIE’S most recent novel is
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SARAH MULLINS, an American woman
newly arrived in Bangkok, wakes in her
apartment at dawn. The first winds and
rains of a monsoon are sweeping in and
geckos hunt on the walls above her bed.
Later that morning, while taking a dip in
the communal swimming pool, she meets
Mali, a “Thai or Eurasian” woman about
her age, “30 more or less.” Befriended by
her and two other women in the complex —
Ximena, a Chilean chef, and Natalie, a
British hotel manager — Sarah seems
about to build a life for herself. But her new
friends, the staff in her apartment block
and Thai society as a whole all appear to
have other plans for her.
Like many of the characters in
Lawrence Osborne’s new novel, “The
Glass Kingdom,” Sarah is on the run. Her
back story of defrauding her employer, an
elderly author she once revered, is no more
than a device for getting her to Thailand
with a suitcase full of cash, which she
stashes in her closet and is then conven-
iently happy to tell people about. She’s also
the kind of person who will forget to lock
her door, even when she’s frightened, and
leaves a bloodied nightgown — evidence of
her complicity in a murder — in a washing
machine, “stupidly forgotten” for a whole
week. The point of view switches first to the se-
cretive Mali and then begins to roam from
one character to another, often in the same
scene. New perspectives and back stories
keep being introduced even toward the
end, when we would really just rather
know what is going to happen. This wandering viewpoint — which
seems too arbitrary to count as authorial
omniscience — is annoying, but as unrest
grows on the streets outside, and the char-
acters become trapped in the apartment
block, the novel begins to exert a sinister
pull. Gradually, it becomes apparent that
Sarah and her predicament have never
been the point. The clue is in the title: The
main character of “The Glass Kingdom” is
the glass Kingdom, the apartment com-
plex, with its yellow flowers in the lobby
denoting the owner’s loyalty to the authori-
ties, even as civil unrest leads to frequent
power cuts and the rainy season gathers
oppressive force. Before long, the army is
called out onto the streets of Bangkok, the
air-conditioning in the building malfunc-
tions and the wealthier residents flee in
droves. For Sarah, the Kingdom becomes
half refuge, half prison. It is at this point that the full force of Os-
borne’s acutely drawn but bleak and bitter
vision comes into play. When Sarah is
forced to descend the emergency stairwell
during a power cut, she picks her way
“slowly downward, feeling the walls with
her hands . . . her head beaten softly by
clouds of moths.” Later, when the security
guards have fled along with most of the
residents, packs of stray dogs enter the
building and begin to roam the pitch-black
corridors, sniffing at her door at night.
Osborne has often been compared to
Graham Greene, and it sometimes feels as
though he would be more comfortable set-
ting his books in the 1930s or ’40s, when
women were “girls” and the local inhab-
itants of an equatorial country were not to
be trusted. “The Glass Kingdom” seems to
be set some time after Thailand’s 2014 mili-
tary coup, although the exact year is never
stated. There are glancing references to
Facebook and Google, but even though the
main characters are international 30-
somethings nobody seems to check their
emails or social media; they hardly even
use their mobile phones.
WHERE OSBORNE IS ineluctably Greenian
is in his misanthropy. The Thai staff of the
Kingdom may veer toward stereotype, but
the disdain the foreigners show for them is
more than reciprocated. Goi, the apart- ment-block maid, observes that the ex-
pats, the farang,are like “monstrous chil-
dren” who are “always unhappy in petty
and enigmatic ways,” and the author saves
his most cutting satire for the revolting Ro-
land, Natalie’s husband, who visits local
drinking places for “a couple of Dalwhin-
nies at the bar and a pretty girl, a bout of
nothingness,” while being possessively
jealous of his wife’s female friends. The main plot of the book seems inciden-
tal to these character sketches. There’s the
murder, and some blackmail, but what
draws Osborne’s finest sentences is obser-
vation and atmosphere: “By sundown,
mist had curled around the tops of the tow-
ers and flashes of lightning took the form of
immense trees with dozens of branches
that reached down and momentarily
touched the earth.” Or: “On the matted and
long-abandoned cables that looped their
way across the surfaces of the shop-houses
a few birds sat morosely, as if waiting for
someone to make a mistake.” The author’s
exceptional descriptive skills fuel an over-
whelming sense of menace: It is no mean
feat to make the ending of a novel truly
shocking when the reader doesn’t particu-
larly like or believe in any of the charac-
ters. The conclusion may be nihilistic to the
point of sadism, but the next day you will
still be thinking of Sarah’s fate with hor-
Quiet American
A woman hides out in Bangkok amid civil unrest.
By Lawrence Osbourne
292 pp. Hogarth. $27.
LOUISE DOUGHTY’S most recent novel, “Black
Water,” was a New York Times Notable Book
in 2016. Download now at:
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A FAMILY IN ISOLATION is a kind of science
experiment. Gifty, the neuroscience grad-
uate student at Stanford who narrates Yaa
Gyasi’s second novel, “Transcendent
Kingdom,” compares her relationship with
her mother to the first bit of laboratory sci-
ence she remembers performing. Gifty
and her middle-school classmates sub-
merged an egg in various solutions, then
watched as it was denuded of its shell,
swelling and shriveling, changing shape
and color. Intended to demonstrate osmo-
sis, the experiment, Gifty reflects later,
suggested the central question about her
and her mother: “Are we going to be OK?” “I didn’t want to be thought of as a wom-
an in science, a Black woman in science,”
Gifty thinks early in the novel; she is no
more interested in the “immigrant cliché”
of the academically successful child whose
striving parents sweat blood for her suc-
cess than Gyasi is in a novel that pits the
home culture against the outside world to
see which one wins out. Instead, Gyasi
builds her characters scientifically, obser-
vation by observation, in the same way
that her narrator builds her Ph.D. thesis
experiment — a study of reward-seeking
behavior in mice that self-consciously mir-
rors her brother Nana’s struggle with opi-
oids. Gyasi sometimes reminds me of
other writers who’ve addressed the immi-
grant experience in America — Jhumpa
Lahiri and Yiyun Li in particular — but less
because of her themes than her meticulous
style, as when Gifty says of her lab part-
ner: “It embarrassed me to know that I
would have been embarrassed to talk
about Nana’s addiction with Han,” a sen-
tence whose awkwardness is in the service
of its emotional precision. Gyasi’s style here is especially striking
given the time-traveling fireworks of her
enormously successful debut, “Homego-
ing” (2016), an examination of the effects
of African, British and American slavery
on one Ghanaian family over three cen-
turies. Some readers of “Transcendent
Kingdom” may miss the romantic sweep of
that novel and the momentum Gyasi
achieved by leaping a generation and a
continent every few chapters. If “Homego-
ing” progressed in more or less linear fash-
ion, in this book narrative time is more rel-
ative; like one of those rubber balls at-
tached to a paddle, it rebounds between
Gifty’s childhood and her brother’s death
by overdose, her elite education and her
mother’s suicidal depressions. That
bouncing around also beautifully captures the rhythms of life with a depressive, the
way that the shadows of the past persist in
the present. While Gifty shares some biography with
Marjorie, a character in “Homegoing” —
both grow up in Huntsville, Ala., and en-
counter a “crazy” person on a trip to
Ghana — the picture of mental illness in
“Transcendent Kingdom” is darker and
more nuanced. Gifty, who prefers evidence
to anecdote, cites a study of schizophren-
ics in India, Ghana and California; while
the Indian and Ghanaian subjects hear be-
nevolent voices, sometimes those of
friends and family members, the Califor-
nian schizophrenics are “bom-
barded by harsh, hate-filled
voices, by violence, intrusion.”
It’s not, as Gifty’s mother sug-
gests, that mental illness is an
invention of the toxic West, but
that the way it’s experienced on
either side of the ocean is differ-
ent, depending on the surround-
ing culture.
Gifty arrives as an undergrad-
uate at Harvard, where the com-
bination of New England
weather and her grief over her
brother leads her to the universi-
ty’s mental health services, to re-
quest a lamp for treating season-
al depression. There’s no device
to combat the brutal frost of
American racism, though, and it
touches Gifty and her family ev-
erywhere they go. Her mother re-
fuses to acknowledge its effects
on her or her husband, but Gifty
knows “she’d seen how America
changed around big Black men.
She saw him try to shrink to size,
his long, proud back hunched as
he walked with my mother
through the Walmart, where he
was accused of stealing three
times in four months.”
Her father eventually abandons his fam-
ily to return to Ghana; her mother seeks
solace in religion, but doesn’t know enough
about the American South to choose a
Black evangelical church instead of a
white one. For Gifty it’s a “spiritual
wound” to worship with people who be-
lieve that Nana’s addiction is unsurprising
because “their kind does seem to have a
taste for drugs” (in fact, a doctor casually
prescribed OxyContin for a basketball in-
jury); that Nana had a chance at a bright
future only through sports; that if an Afri-
can village hasn’t received Christian
teachings, its residents are damned to hell.
There’s an agonizing fulcrum where you
imagine what a Black church might have
done for Gifty and her family, how the
story of their life in America might have
been different. As in the work of Chimamanda Ngozi
Adichie or the Ghanaian-American short-
story writer Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah,
the African immigrants in this novel exist at a certain remove from American racism,
victims but also outsiders, marveling at
the peculiar blindnesses of the locals. Even
as Gifty absorbs “that little throbbing
stone of self-hate that I carried around
with me to church, to school” — a brilliant
mirror image of the gold-flecked black
stone passed down through the genera-
tions in “Homegoing” — inside the house
some of her mother’s preserving distance
sustains her. In one of the novel’s most
beautiful scenes, Gifty’s mother puts on
makeup before going to one of several jobs.
“I’m pretty, right?” Gifty asks her. Her
mother pulls her in front of the mirror and
says in Twi: “Look what God made. Look
at what I made.” Finishing her makeup,
her mother kisses her reflection, then
leaves Gifty alone to kiss her own. The mo-
ment is emblematic of her mother’s fierce
love, which requires a corresponding step
toward self-love from her daughter. While her father flees the country in hu-
miliation, and her brother and mother take
more interior flights, Gifty responds to
America’s challenges with success, decid-
ing that “I would always have something
to prove and that nothing but blazing bril-
liance would be enough to prove it.” To her
classmates, professors and even her ro-
mantic partners, this dazzling perform-
ance is sometimes inscrutable; unfortu-
nately for the reader, Gyasi sometimes ob-
scures Gifty from us as well. When Gifty
has a romantic relationship with another
girl in college, she muses, “We had kissed
and a little more, but I couldn’t define it and
Anne didn’t care to.” It’s nice that a same-
sex relationship doesn’t occasion conflict
the way it once did in American fiction — but it’s hard to imagine that the child of
evangelical Ghanaian immigrants would-
n’t have at least some internal dialogue on
the subject, whether ambivalent or defi-
Gifty’s relationships with men are simi-
larly sketchy. The exception is the one with
her lab partner, Han, who comes alive
through small details, like the way his ears
redden every time he and Gifty talk about
anything more emotionally fraught than the
behavior of the mice in her experiment.
Men, though, are not the point. Although
Nana’s addiction is reflected in his sister’s
scientific work, it’s the rich portrait of their
mother — a woman who
pitches between stoicism and
intense vulnerability — that
constitutes the novel’s most re-
warding experiment. “A mat-
ter-of-fact kind of woman, not a
cruel woman, exactly, but
something quite close to cruel,”
Gifty calls her, and yet when
Nana refuses to get off the team
bus at a soccer game that their
mother has missed work and a
day’s pay to attend, she doesn’t
scold him, but quietly takes the
children home and boxes up the
expensive gear. Except when
Gifty refers to her mother as
“the Black Mamba” — in a
childhood journal where each
entry is addressed to God —
she remains unnamed, but she
is the book’s focus and heart.
For this reason, a short, infor-
mation-laden chapter that con-
cludes the novel felt unsatisfy-
ing, seeming to tie up the
strands of this fascinating
woman’s life too quickly. For most of the novel, Gyasi
refuses to give Gifty’s mother’s
depression a narrative arc, in-
stead showing us the never-ending wait-
ing that relatives of depressives are forced
to endure. Gifty’s mother appears in all her
complexity, her face turned to the wall,
“courting death, practicing for it, even,”
and at the same time as an unbending pro-
tector, washing the vomit off her detoxing
son in the bathtub, telling him that every-
thing will be all right. “Transcendent Kingdom” trades the
blazing brilliance of “Homegoing” for an-
other type of glory, more granular and dif-
ficult to name. In place of the lyricism of
her first novel, Gyasi gives us sentences
like this one, where the grace comes from
rhythm rather than melody: “I loved Ala-
bama in the evenings, when everything
got still and lazy and beautiful, when the
sky felt full, fat with bugs.” The transcend-
ent kingdom of this Ghanaian, Southern,
American novel is finally not a Christian or
a scientific one, but the one that two wom-
en create by surviving a hostile envi-
ronment, and maintaining their primal
connection to each other.
Piece of Mind
A young neuroscientist turns to the lab to understand her family’s pain.
By Yaa Gyasi
288 pp. Alfred A. Knopf. $27.95.
Yaa Gyasi
NELL FREUDENBERGER’S most recent novel is
“Lost and Wanted.”

IT WAS 1984 — in real life, not the book. My family and I
were living in West Berlin, where I was beginning to
write “The Handmaid’s Tale.” Berlin was iconic for me:
Having been born two months after the start of World
War II, I’d lived all my life in the long shadows it cast.
The Soviet Union and its satellites were still in place, and
showed no signs of vanishing: Every Sunday, the East
German Air Force made sonic booms, just to let us know
it was right next door. The Berlin Wall was still firmly
standing, and people were still being shot while trying to
escape. No one suspected that in a mere five years we’d
be buying fragments of it for souvenirs. We were in Berlin at the invitation of the D.A.A.D, an
academic exchange group that brought foreign artists
into West Berlin so that local artists would not feel so cut
off. West Berlin at that time was partly empty — young
men could avoid the draft there, but young families
hesitated to expose their children to the risks — so the
D.A.A.D had a range of rental apartments available for
their visiting artists. Ours had a large iron safe in the
living room. Who had lived here? I wondered. What had
they kept in that safe? What had become of them? I
didn’t have a good feeling about that. The echoes of
jackboots on the stairs were not audible, but they were
there. The D.A.A.D provided German lessons, so, as I had
some elementary German left over from high school and
college, I took them.
My teacher was a stickler who was worried about the
decline of the dative case, and who discouraged me from
using expressions I picked up on the street. But I wanted
to use expressions I picked up on the street. I copied
slang from ads, and read popular magazines. In aid of my German, I sought out a novel with short
sentences. This is how I came to read “Mephisto.” It
could not have been a more appropriate choice for the
book I was writing, and it chimes eerily with the times
we are living through now. “Mephisto” was written by Klaus Mann, the son of the
famous writer Thomas Mann, and was first published in
1936, when Hitler’s Third Reich had been in power for
three years and Klaus Mann was already in exile. It tells the story of an actor named Hendrik Höfgen,
who, having started out as a Brechtian radical socialist activist, changes course and rises to great heights in the
theater world of National Socialist Germany. But he rises
at a cost: As he scrambles up the ladder, Höfgen betrays
his former associates and renounces his Black lover,
while slipping on the required Nazi ideology like a cos-
Höfgen’s most acclaimed role — and yes, he’s talented
— is as the demon Mephistopheles in Goethe’s “Faust ,”
who persuades the hero to sell his soul in return for
worldly wealth, status and pleasure. In life, however,
Höfgen plays Faust, the weak, tempted one, while the
part of Mephistopheles is taken by the Nazi state and its
functionaries. Of course, Höfgen could have left — gone
into exile, as Klaus Mann did. But he was an actor, and
an actor without an audience is nothing.
In no political system do artists have real power. They
may have influence of a kind, but they don’t control the
purse strings or give the marching orders, and they’re
always at the mercy of prevailing winds. Patrons and
gatekeepers decide who’s hot and who’s not, who gets
the grants, and, in locked-tight regimes, even who gets
the theatrical roles. Is Höfgen only doing what he has to
in order to fully achieve his own greatness? Does art
justify everything? How much complicity in a criminal
regime, how much collaboration, how much failure to
speak up, before your soul is damned? These are the questions “Mephisto” raises. They were
both pertinent and prescient in 1936, and they’re still
with us today. Imagine an America in which an increas-
ingly ruthless authoritarian regime has laid its hands not
only on the judiciary and the environment and the Postal
Service, but on all media and all educational and artistic
institutions. Then imagine trying to function as an artist.
That’s the sort of world Höfgen is navigating. It’s difficult
to picture such a state of affairs coming to exist in Amer-
ica; but, after the last four years, it’s not impossible. Margaret Atwood is the author of more than 20 works of
fiction. Her latest novel, “The Testaments,” was recently
published in paperback. Her new collection of poems,
“Dearly,” will be published in November.
THE TITLE CHARACTER of Miguel Ángel Asturias’s novel
“El Señor Presidente” (1946) is a shameless egomaniac.
He’s vain, insecure and unpredictable, and he’s the com-
mander in chief. When a priest takes down a poster
announcing the birthday of the president’s mother, he
has the priest arrested. It’s an open secret that he keeps
assorted prostitutes as his mistresses. Asturias transformed Latin American literature when
he published this book. It helped spawn a new genre: the
“dictator novel.” The author’s use of extended dream
sequences and rich, figurative language inspired what
would become known many years later as magical real-
But what I find most compelling about “El Señor Pres-
idente” is how much it speaks to the here and now. We
live in an age of demagogues. We’ve seen how the whims
and fears of a leader, transformed into deeds by an army
of sycophants, can spread chaos through a nation’s insti-
tutions. Asturias saw this madness, too, and created art
from it. The country where the novel is set isn’t named, but
most of the book unfolds in a place recognizable as Gua-
Politics in Fiction /Stories of Then That Still Stand Up Now /Compiled by John Williams
Inevitably, 2020 has been a year filled to the brim
with books about politics — and not just in nonfic-
tion. Novelists are as focused on the state of the
world as any journalist or Washington insider. We
decided to ask four accomplished writers to re-
visit a favorite political novel from the past —
telling us why they admire it, and why it remains
relevant and timely (or timeless, if you prefer).
Klaus Mann, serving in the U.S. Army in Italy in 1944.

temala City, where Asturias was born and raised. The
dictator isn’t named either, but he is based on a real
person: Manuel Estrada Cabrera, Guatemala’s president
for the first two decades of the 20th century. Most of “El Señor Presidente” unfolds from the point
of view of one of the president’s minions, the handsome
fixer known as Miguel Cara de Ángel, or Angel Face, in
the archaic English translation from 1963. Angel Face is
“as beautiful and as wicked as Satan.” The president
asks him to neutralize a general who is an incipient
political rival. But then Angel Face falls in love with the
general’s daughter.
To feel worthy of love, Angel Face performs a good
deed: He rescues the life of another army officer the
president wants dead. Then he gives the officer some
friendly advice about how to stay alive in a dictatorship.
“Try and find a way of getting on the right side of the
president,” he counsels. The best way to gain the presi-
dent’s good will is to break the law on his behalf. “Com-
mit a public outrage on defenseless people,” Angel Face
says. Show the public “the superiority of force. . . . Get
rich at the expense of the nation.” In real life, Estrada Cabrera modernized Guatemala
by opening it to U.S. capital. The president lined his
pockets in the process, and helped create the culture of
venality that has plagued Guatemala ever since. As a
young man, Asturias saw how Estrada Cabrera ruled
Guatemala with ever-increasing doses of cynicism and
sadism. In “El Señor Presidente,” the regime’s prisons
are hell on earth; those awaiting execution are kept in a
lightless cell where they are forced to stand in their own
excrement. For generations before and after the novel was pub-
lished, Guatemala’s idealists went into exile; or they
stayed home and were murdered. As Asturias writes:
“The men of this town who desired their country’s good
are far away no w: some of them begging outside houses in a foreign land, others rotting in a common grave.”
In today’s Guatemala, criminal gangs have privatized
violence and corruption: Just like the dictators, they’ve
left a trail of mutilated corpses and a terrified populace
in their wake. Guatemalans migr ate away from their
country, in part, to escape the collapse of the rule of law.
They suffer existential torments not in the dungeons
depicted in “El Señor Presidente,” but in desert holding
cells on the U.S.-Mexico border.
My parents left Guatemala in the early 1960s. I was
born in Los Angeles. When Asturias won the Nobel Prize
in Literature in 1967, I was about to start elementary
school in East Hollywood. The Nobel was a source of
great pride for my Guatemalan expatriate parents, who
purchased several of his books; these were the first
novels I ever laid eyes on.
In a family that was a generation removed from illiter-
acy, Asturias’s books and his Nobel stood for our right as guatemaltecos to claim to be people of letters. Owning
copies of “El Papa Verde,” “Hombres de Maíz” and other
books from Asturias’s oeuvre was an act of cultural
preservation. Today, I read Asturias with the eyes of a novelist. I see
a writer using every tool at his disposal to make us feel
how one man can inflict a daily assault on the collective
psyche of a people.
In “El Señor Presidente,” Asturias shows us how a
writer can vanquish the darkest and most omnipotent
leader. He exposes the lies of a strongman and shrinks
him into the artist’s own pliable creation. The novelist
condemns the “great leader” to a terrible fate: spending
eternity as a character trapped between the covers of a
Héctor Tobar’s latest novel is “The Last Great Road
Bum.” He is a contributing writer for The Times’s opinion
IN THE SUMMER of 1975, Gore Vidal was completing
“1876,” what would be the third novel in his seven-vol-
ume “Narratives of Empire.” He asserted, in the book’s
afterword, that “1876 was probably the low point in our
republic’s history” — quite a claim from a writer who
regarded most of the republic’s points as being close to
rock bottom, and whose readers had just lived through
Watergate. His novel allowed Americans to view their
bicentennial through the commemorative year of a cen-
tury before; present-day readers, six years away from
the semiquincentennial of the republic (if we can keep
it), can discern some of their own grotesque times
through the author’s vision of 1876. Vidal’s narrator is the fictional Charles Schermerhorn
Schuyler, a widower and “very old,” he tells us, at the
age of 62. An illegitimate son of Aaron Burr (the hero of
Vidal’s previous volume in the series), Schuyler is a
diplomat long since turned writer who has spent the last
40 years in Europe. He is now returning to the States
with his daughter — a titled, 35-year-old widow named
Emma — because they’ve gone broke in the speculative
“Panic of ’73.”
Beset with heart, lung and mobility problems, Schuy-
ler must hustle like a man decades younger. Just being
“the New York press’s perennial authority on European
matters” will no longer be enough to keep him afloat. He
now needs to chase after the big stories of his native
land, from the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition to the
scandals of the Grant administration to the presidential
hopes of New York’s surprisingly honest Democratic
governor, Samuel J. Tilden. If Schuyler succeeds —
pleasing editors and Tilden’s own circle with his com-
mentaries — he may wind up not only financially re-
vived but as ambassador to France. If a year in the
States also helps to find a proper new husband for
Miguel Ángel Asturias in 1967, the year he won the Nobel Prize in Literature. Gore Vidal in 1973.

Emma, his happiness will be complete. The real purpose of Schuyler’s fictional existence is to
serve as Vidal’s eyes and ears, to noticethe cultural
changes that would strike a man who can remember
shaking Andrew Jackson’s hand in his youth. He’s aghast
over the girth and beardedness and nasality of voice that
has befallen the Yankee male. Even that subspecies’
potency has been sapped — “something tragical,” an
Irish prostitute tells Schuyler — by the economic panic.
Urchins swarm the sidewalks of New York, and dogfight-
ing is a “new, dreadful, illegal sport.” The citizenry guz-
zles “razzle-dazzle” cocktails, and munches a new snack
called popcorn. The protocol affectations of Mrs. Astor’s
dinner parties bore Schuyler, but recent polyglot waves
of immigration display to him a “new world, more like a
city from the ‘Arabian Nights’ than that small staid Eng-
lish-Dutch town or village of my youth.” Washington’s rapid modernizations include the finally
completed Capitol, “floating like a dream carved in
whitest soap.” Inside it, Schuyler finds “the old red hang-
ings and tobacco-stained rugs have been replaced by a
delicate gray décor with hints here and there of imperial
gilt” — ornamental foreshadowings of Vidal’s preoccupa-
tion with empire. But in “1876,” the theme is corruption,
the kind facilitated by the Senate cloakroom’s informal-
ity: “the practical tribune of the people prefers making
himself easily accessible to those who want to give him
money.” The political class, more awash in cologne than
soap, literally smells bad, and it howls whenever anyone
is honest enough to notice its hands in the till. “God save
us!” cries Mrs. Puss Belknap, the thieving wife of the
thieving secretary of war. Vidal speedily animates a whole gallery of political
figures — the “plumed Knight,” James G. Blaine; the
charmingly venal Chester Arthur; the nobly dyspeptic
Tilden — as they prepare for what will be the wildly
disputed election to choose Grant’s successor. The con-
test’s defining elements — the implacable partisan di-
vide; the electorate’s inability to become aroused against
plunder; racial division and anti-immigrant sentiment;
the ineffectuality of “the better sort of Republicans” —
will hurl readers, allegorically, smack into the present.
What citizens of our gerontocracy won’t recognize is the
general youthfulness of the novel’s key political figures. Schuyler shares Vidal’s taste for aphorism and para-
dox (“like most people who hate everyone, he desper-
ately needs company”), and seems vulnerable to the
idea that there is no history except for “fictions of vary-
ing degrees of plausibility.” And yet, Schuyler’s self-
induced pep, his need to be back on the make in his 60s,
gives his voice a verve that the later Vidal, compulsively
world-weary and mandarin, would sometimes lack when
writing in the third person. Vidal’s dark wit almost single-handedly awakened the
American historical novel from its costumed midcentury
slumbers, but his Schuyler is also capable of a Dickensi-
an warmth. When he greets the impending birth of a
child with a kind of shudder — “Poor boy! What a world
to come into!” — he is expressing the dread that every
era somehow believes is unique to itself, but which his-
torical fiction consolingly shows was ever thus.
Thomas Mallon has written 10 novels, including “Land-
fall,” “Finale” and “Watergate,” as well as several works
of nonfiction and essays.
LAST MARCH, during the first weeks of the pandemic, I
began pulling old novels down from the shelves, hoping
to find the comfort or momentary escape they once
delivered. When I opened Robert Penn Warren’s Pulitzer
Prize-winning “All the King’s Men” around Super Tues-
day, I assumed it would offer a consoling picture of a
demagogue’s demise but not much more. Then the world
changed, and so did the novel. Context is all, or at least a lot. Sure, the book’s central
character, Willie Stark, has come to signify chicanery,
political bossdom and populism run amok. Sure, it’s the
story of a charismatic politician in a Southern state
(resembling Louisiana) who rises to power after learn-
ing he’d been taken for a fool. Lackeys of the former
governor, Joe Harrison, persuaded Willie to run for
office, assuming he will split the “hick” vote with Har-
rison’s rival and allow Harrison to waltz to re-election. Known as “Cousin Willie from the country,” Stark is so
shaken when he learns of the scheme that he gets drunk
for the first time. The self-taught and somewhat naïve,
even idealistic, county treasurer who had studied his
secondhand law books — and Emerson and Macaulay
and Shakespeare — in front of a rusty old stove at the
family farm then reaches deep and finds his calling.
Appealing to the resentments of his poor white constitu-
ency, he rallies crowd after crowd almost to madness.
Pretty soon, he’s sitting in the governor’s mansion. Willie Stark has gotten really good at beating corrupt
politicians at their own game. In his state, machine
politics has replaced the illusory rectitude of old boy
aristocrats, but Willie is neither an aristocrat nor a ma-
chine pol; he’s a solo act. He’s also an authoritarian
grandstander who uses all the means at his disposal,
whether court-packing or blackmail. “There’s always
something,” he tells his expert dirt-digger, Jack Burden, who narrates the novel.
Yet Willie sincerely wants to bring roads and schools
to his state, to tax the rich and to create a more equitable
social structure. Unfortunately, though, he thinks only he
can deliver the goods, and that how he chooses to do it
doesn’t matter. He believes he embodies the people’s
will. “Your need is my justice,” he shouts to them. He’s
their ruthless, energetic “Willie.” But what surprised me most on rereading the novel
was that a hospital — a hospital — lay at its center.
When the basically unsympathetic but complex Gover-
nor Stark escapes impeachment ( impeachment), he
promises a roaring crowd that he’s going to build a big,
beautiful, free hospital to ease pain and sickness. “You
shall not be deprived of hope,” he tells them. Willie’s
dream is not a dream of meretricious beauty, like Jay
Gatsby’s. It’s a dream of health care as a basic human
right. Before that hospital goes up, Willie is fatally shot by
the priggish and somewhat self-deluded romantic who
happens to be the famous physician picked to run the
place. “It might have been all different, Jack,” a dying
Willie tells the narrator. “You got to believe that.” Maybe so; maybe he’d have built his beautiful hospital
just the way he said he wanted, without graft or sin. I
like to think so. But maybe he’d build it however he
could, simply to get it done. As it is, we’re left with the
slightly portentous narrator, who bears the novel’s “bur-
den,” having finally discovered that we’re all connected,
for better and worse: “The world is like an enormous
spider web and if you touch it, however lightly, at any
point, the vibration ripples to the remotest perimeter,” he
says. “It does not matter whether or not you meant to
brush the web of things.” We’re all connected, yes, and in
connection lies responsibility. Willie Stark may finally
grasp that. But frankly, I don’t care who builds that hos-
pital: Just build it.
Brenda Wineapple is the author of several works of his-
tory and literary biography, most recently “The Impeach-
ers: The Trial of Andrew Johnson and the Dream of a
Just Nation.”
Robert Penn Warren in 1946.

THE CITY OF Abbottabad, in the former
North-West Frontier Province of Pakistan,
was named after James Abbott, a 19 th-cen-
tury British Army officer and player in the
“Great Game,” the power struggle in Cen-
tral Asia between the British and Russian
Empires. Today it’s perhaps best known as
the garrison town that sheltered Osama
bin Laden before he was discovered and
summarily executed by American Special
Forces in 2011. When the narrator of Ayad
Akhtar’s moving and confrontational nov-
el “Homeland Elegies” goes there with his
father in 2008 to visit relatives, he gets a
lecture from his uncle about the tactical
genius of 9/11, and his vision of a Muslim
community based on principles espoused
by the Prophet Muhammad and his com-
panions, one that “does not bifurcate its
military and political aspirations.”
The narrator, like Akhtar, is an Ameri-
can-born dramatist, whose own politics
have been formed by a childhood in subur-
ban Milwaukee and a liberal arts educa-
tion. While he disagrees with his uncle, sit-
ting in the man’s Raj-era bungalow with
William Morris wallpaper, the narrator
finds it easiest to listen without giving an
opinion. His father, a staunch American
patriot and future Trump voter, is enraged.
“Trust me,” he snaps on the taxi ride home,
“you don’t have a clue how terrible your
life would have been if I’d stayed here.”
The political complexities of Abbottabad
are inseparable from the tensions within
the narrator’s family, and this fraught visit
is just one of a cascade of scenes and
stories that vibrate with the stressful con-
tradictions of an American Muslim life.
Like Akhtar’s dramas (“Disgraced,” “The
Invisible Hand”), “Homeland Elegies”
deals in ambiguities that were beyond the
pale of public discourse in the years after
9/11. The many unacknowledged failures
of American policy and the coarsening of
popular attitudes form the matrix in which
Akhtar’s stories grow. He has an unerring
sense for the sore spots, the bitter truths
that have emerged from this history.
At one point, the narrator identifies as
part of the “Muslim world,” noting that
“despite our ill usage at the hands of the
American empire, the defiling of America-
as-symbol enacted on that fateful Tuesday
in September would only bring home anew
to all the profundity of that symbol’s
power.” Then, in the same paragraph, he
switches, to “speak as an American” of
how “the world looked to us . . . to uphold a
holy image, or as holy as it gets in this age
of enlightenment.” The paradox is that only people who see the United States as
“the earthly garden, the abundant idyll”
would have such a jealous compulsion to
destroy it. On either side of the ideological
one-way mirror, the spectacle of American
exceptionalism mesmerizes.
“Homeland Elegies” is presented as a
novel, Akhtar’s second, but often reads like
a series of personal essays, each one illus-
trating yet another intriguing facet of the
narrator’s prismatic identity. Like all aut-
ofiction, it induces the slightly prurient
frisson of “truthiness,” the genre’s signa-
ture affect. The narrator, like Akhtar, has
won a Pulitzer Prize for drama. What other
parts are “true”? The syphilis? The sud-
den windfall from shady investments? We
are given a portrait of a writer in the round,
a sophisticated observer who is also a
newly minted member of the cultural elite,
a little dazzled by the bright lights but ea-
ger to heap his plate at the sexual and fi-
nancial buffet. For a while, he hobnobs
with celebrities and billionaires, imagin-
ing that he is “penning a coruscating cata-
log of the new aristocracy.” Eventually he
realizes that he is nothing more than a “ne-
oliberal courtier.”
The narrator finds himself thinking of
Walt Whitman, and in particular the poet’s
claims to be able to express through his
“simple separate person” some kind of col-
lective American experience. “My tongue,
too, is homegrown,” Akhtar writes, “every
atom of this blood formed of this soil, this
air. But these multitudes will not be my
own.” “Homeland Elegies” is about being
denied membership to the Whitmanian
crowd, a wound inflicted by 9/11 that has been painful for many American Muslims,
particularly those who feel “at home,” or
assumed they were, or aspired to be. The
elegies of Akhtar’s title are sung for a
dream of national belonging that has only
receded since 2001.
one of fragmentation. Akhtar tells stories
that fracture and ramify and negate.
Sometimes they’re comic, like the visit to
an absurd Sufi ceremony led by an Austri-
an heiress. Sometimes they’re wrench-
ingly tragic. The narrator’s 9/11 tale is one
of abjection: He wets himself in terror af-
ter being harassed by an Islamophobic
man as he waits to give blood at St. Vin-
cent’s Hospital in the West Village. To pro-
tect himself from further attacks, he steals
a crucifix pendant from a Salvation Army
store and wears it for several months, a
camouflage that carries more than a tint of
cultural shame. His Pakistani-American
girlfriend is shocked when he confesses,
years later. She could never wear a cross.
“We bought flags,” she says. The book’s most memorable creation
(or re-creation) is the narrator’s father, a
larger-than-life figure whose most cher-
ished memory is of the time he spent as
Donald Trump’s doctor. He is a “great fan
of America” who keeps a copy of “The Art
of the Deal” in the living room, “an imam’s
son whose only sacred names . . . were
those of the big California cabernets he
adored.” The family fortunes rise and fall
as he wastes the money he makes as a car-
diologist on Trumpian real estate schem-
ing. Finally, after a series of personal and professional disasters, his bluster fades,
and his son concludes that “he thinks he’s
American, but what that really means is
that he still wantsto be American. He still
doesn’t really feel like one.” Akhtar arranges people and situations
with a dramatist’s care to expose the fault
lines where community or communication
cracks. Sometimes, the pieces seem al-
most too carefully arranged. A Pennsylva-
nia state trooper stops the narrator and
engages him in a probing conversation
about Lawrence Wright’s “The Looming
Tower.” A cosmopolitan aunt, a university
teacher of critical theory who makes her
young nephew read Fanon and Edward
Said, draws the line at “The Satanic
The unease reaches a high pitch with the
narrator’s trip to Los Angeles to take
meetings after he wins the Pulitzer. A
Black Republican film agent explains what
he considers to be the fundamentally Jew-
ish character of Hollywood, “founded by
families from New York’s garment dis-
trict,” who value “novelty, ephemerality,
single use, mass production.” The agent
tells the narrator that if he wants to get
hired, he needs, as a Muslim, to “find ways
to let them know up front that you’re not
coming for them. . . . Israel, the rest of it.”
The narrator splutters that “my favorite
writers are all Jewish.” The absurdity of
this, essentially a version of “Some of my
best friends are Black,” is like that of a
punchline in a brilliant but queasy racial
farce, one written to make the audience
look away , and wonder when they’ll be
able to leave the theater.
Where We Belong
A novel of multitudes considers the contradictions of being an American Muslim after 9/11.
By Ayad Akhtar
343 pp. Little, Brown & Company. $28.
HARI KUNZRU’S latest novel is “Red Pill.”

IN JULY, at his memorial service at Ebene-
zer Baptist Church in Atlanta, the Hon-
orable John Lewis was eulogized by three
presidents. The sitting president was not
among them. His absence was yet another
assertion of the anti-Black hostility and
xenophobia fouling the polity with re-
newed vigor. We lament the current social
climate as though it were anomalous, an
outbreak of pestilence, when in reality
these iniquities reverberate through our
American centuries. We need a prophet —
a voice to call up the nation’s oldest stories,
a reckoning with what wasso that we
might understand what is. In “The Saddest
Words: William Faulkner’s Civil War,” part
literary biography, part Civil War history,
Michael Gorra presents a cogent case for
Faulkner as one such prophet. Gorra’s premise is this: Through the
spectacular specificity of Faulkner’s nov-
els set in his invented Yoknapatawpha
County, he “tells about the South,” as he
wrote in “Absalom, Absalom!” — from the
King Cotton years of slavery, through the
Civil War and into the 20th century. In so
doing, Faulkner tells America. Faulkner’s
work, Gorra writes, “contains the richest
gallery of characters in all of American lit-
erature, and in his handling of time and
consciousness Faulkner stands as one of
his century’s most restless experi-
menters.” The magnitude of Faulkner’s
subject matter is matched only by the im-
mensity of his gifts. It bears mentioning here that I come to
Gorra’s book with certain biases. I am a
novelist tasked with reviewing a scholarly
analysis of a novelist’s work. This is akin to
asking the electrician to take a look at the
plumbing. Scholars and novelists have fun-
damental differences about how to under-
stand works of fiction. The best fiction is, to
some degree, ineffable — no matter how
deeply she digs, the reader of a masterly
work cannot precisely explain what she
has experienced. Faulkner’s is among the
most masterly work American literature
has produced. My allegiances lie with the
mysteries, and I bristle a bit at analysis
that breaks the spell, so to speak. Through the ineffable, through his re-
lentless drive to describe what cannot be
said directly, Faulkner plunges us into the
harrowing canyons of the nation’s past.
Toni Morrison, his fellow Nobel laureate,
wrote that she read Faulkner to “find out about this country and that artistic articu-
lation of its past that was not available in
history, which is what art and fiction can do
but history sometimes refuses to do.” In
spending relatively little time with the lit-
erary aspects of Faulkner’s novels — the
astounding characterization, his brilliance
with metaphor and his dazzling descrip-
tions of perception and physicality —
Gorra misses an opportunity to tell a fuller
story of the sublime interplay of aesthetics
and theme in Faulkner’s work. This is dou-
bly unfortunate because Gorra writes so
beautifully when he turns his attention to
Faulkner’s artistry, as in this description of
“Absalom, Absalom!”: “This prose has
that same overheated fecundity, its modifi-
ers piled recklessly, rank with too much
But these are relatively small com-
plaints. Gorra’s well-conceived, exhaus-
tively researched book probes history’s re-
fusals. He begins with “Intruder in the
Dust” and one character’s striking reverie
about the moments before the ill-fated
charge that led to the Confederate defeat at
Gettysburg. Faulkner writes, “For every
Southern boy” there is a fantasy about the
instant before loss became inevitable, the
“still not yet” when “it’s all in the balance.”
This fixation on the horizon of defeat,
Gorra maintains, is part of the collective
delusion the South called the Lost Cause. The noble suffering of genteel Southern la-
dies, the Confederacy led by “gallant men
of principle,” slavery as a necessary and
essentially benign institution — these ele-
ments distort into a mythologized South-
ern history, what Gorra describes as a
“Valhalla” that “snapped the threads of
time itself, so reluctant has their society
been to accept that war’s verdict.”
That verdict, of course, was the end of
slavery, mourned and avenged ever after.
Faulkner did not shrink from this reality.
As Gorra writes, “Few historians and
fewer novelists of his day saw the hobbling
vainglorious past so clearly, and few of
them made slavery so central to their ac-
counts of the war.” Those vainglorious
texts include “The Clansman” (1905),
chock-full of Negro rapists, pure white
women and a heroic Ku Klux Klan — and
the inspiration for the film “The Birth of a
Nation” (1915). In the years after, antebel-
lum fairy tales proliferated, works like
“Gone With the Wind,” with its hoop skirts
and happy darkies. By the time of that nov- el’s publication in the 1930s, North and
South alike had recast the war as a battle
over states’ rights, clearing a path for
white supremacy to gallop forward into
Jim Crow and beyond. In his urgency to make the case for
Faulkner’s merits, however, Gorra over-
corrects with regard to his faults. What to
do about the Faulkner who famously said
of the civil rights struggle: “Go slow now.”
And worse: “If it came to fighting I’d fight
for Mississippi against the United States
even if it meant going out into the streets
and shooting Negroes.” Gorra isn’t an apol-
ogist, but he does go to great lengths to
avoid saying the obvious. He mentions
Faulkner’s infamous alcoholism as a factor
that may have influenced his more incendi-
ary comments. Of Faulkner’s often lacking
depictions of Black characters, Gorra
writes, “Still that absence isn’t precisely a
lacuna, a hole in his thinking. . . . Once
again we need to ask what Faulkner isn’t
writing here. We need to read for the un-
spoken, for the stories that peep around
the edges of the ones he’s chosen to tell.”
The thing is, I don’t expect Faulkner to
properly inhabit Blackness. His triumph is
his inhabitation of whiteness, his searing
articulations of its ruination, brutality and
Gorra mounts a further defense by sepa-
rating the man from the writing, as though
the writing “made him better than he was;
it made the books better than the man.” But
that’s a dodge — and, most significantly,
it’s not the point. Of course William Faulk-
ner, Mississippi-born in 1897, great-grand-
son of a slave-owning Confederate colonel,
was a racist. But in Faulkner, as is the case
in all of America, racism is not the conclu-
sion to any argument. It does not preclude
further discussion; it demands it. Gorra is right when he claims “much can
and must be said about Faulkner’s limita-
tions, and yet no white writer in our litera-
ture thought longer and harder about that
problem, the one that the Civil War’s after-
math had set in place.” Faulkner could en-
gage these subjects with such bold bril-
liance precisely because he was — geo-
graphically, historically, racially — in the
maw of the beast. This tangle aside, Gorra’s book is rich in
insight. In its final chapters, Gorra com-
pares America’s monuments to the Con-
federacy with Germany’s memorials to the
Holocaust. It would be unthinkable to most
Americans if such memorials celebrated
the Third Reich, yet monuments to the
Confederacy and its legacy of slavery are
ubiquitous — their presence tolerated, in
some cases revered, until very recently;
still more evidence that the past is with us
as it was in Faulkner’s time, poisoning our
generations like radioactivity in the soil.
Gorra’s book, as he writes in his preface, is
“an act of citizenship,” timely and essential
as we confront, once again, the question of
who is a citizen and who among us should
enjoy its privileges.
Faulkner’s Forever War
The trauma of slavery and America’s troubled racial past live on in the author’s work.
William Faulkner’s Civil War
By Michael Gorra
406 pp. Liveright Publishing. $29.95.
William Faulkner in the 1950s.
‘Few historians and fewer
novelists of his day saw the
hobbling vainglorious past so
AYANA MATHIS, a 2020-21 American Academy in
Berlin Prize fellow, is the author of “The
Twelve Tribes of Hattie.”

“WE ARE NOT provided with wisdom,” Mar-
cel Proust wrote in “Remembrance of
Things Past,” “we must discover it for our-
selves, after a journey through the wilder-
ness which no one else can take for us.” In
Salar Abdoh’s latest novel, “Out of
Mesopotamia,” the journey leads to the
most recent wars in Iraq and Syria. Saleh,
the protagonist, is a journalist embedded
with the Iranian-backed militias that have
fought against the Islamic State for the bet-
ter part of a decade. Early on in his story,
which toggles between the battlefield and
the home front, Saleh finds a volume of
Proust’s masterwork, left by a fighter in a
ruined building. This text underpins Ab- doh’s novel, which is as much a meditation
on time and memory as it is a book about
war. Like Proust’s literary devices, the mod-
ern battlefield has collapsed traditional ex-
periences of time; now, fighters dodge bul-
lets one minute while texting their loved
ones the next, and the metric of a success-
ful suicide attack is measured by how
many likes its video gets on Facebook. This is a new, disorienting conception of war,
one that Saleh must navigate as he travels
between the front lines and his home in
Tehran, where he attends literary events,
art show openings and meetings for a tele-
vision show he is writing about a heroic
sniper based on a dead friend. Always, the
battlefield beckons, and he struggles to ex-
ist between these disparate realities. “I do
not know in how many worlds a person can
live simultaneously,” Saleh wonders, “be-
fore they lose themselves completely.”
Dogged by his handler from state securi-
ty, unscrupulous art dealers and the wom-
an who broke his heart, Saleh ultimately
finds the battlefield a respite from life’s
mundane demands. In this, he isn’t alone:
Among the militias is an international co-
terie of clerics and fighters lured to the
front because “the war wasfresh. It made
everything else irrelevant.” To make sense of his own life, Saleh
aligns himself with two divergent yet inter-
related forces: war and art. His sojourns to
battle are punctuated by a religious pil-
grimage to the holy city of Samarra with
Miss Homa, an elderly artist whose work
finds value only in her twilight years. The trips frame the novel’s larger questions
about the meaning of life and its interrela-
tionship with martyrdom and death. These
themes sound weighty, but the novel car-
ries them lightly. Abdoh skillfully captures
combat’s intrinsic absurdity. He sketches a
particularly colorful Frenchman, Claude
Richard, whom his comrades give the nom
de guerre Abu Faranci (Father of the
French), and who seeks martyrdom in Syr-
ia after a contentious divorce. His fate, like
war, is both affecting and ridiculous.
For many Americans, the conflicts in
Syria and Iraq have become abstractions,
separated from our lives by geographic as
well as psychic boundaries. Abdoh col-
lapses these boundaries, presenting a dis-
jointed reality in which war and everyday
life are inextricably entwined. The result,
Saleh asserts late in the novel, is that “the
transience of it all made us mad men.” This
discovery of collective madness seems
closest to the achieved wisdom Proust al-
luded to, attained only after a long journey
through the wilderness. The novel arrives
at that wisdom by shining a brilliant, fe-
verish light on the nature of not only mod-
ern war but all war, and even of life itself.
The Battlefield Beckons
In this novel, a journalist aligns himself with two divergent forces: war and art.
By Salar Abdoh
237 pp. Akashic Books. $26.95.
ELLIOT ACKERMAN is the author of several
books, most recently the novel “Red Dress in
Black and White” and the forthcoming “2034.”
PROVIDED LOVE IN heartwarming excess
by her family, Kirabo enjoys a happy rural
childhood in the Ugandan village of Nat-
tetta — yet she cannot shake her sense of
longing for a mother she doesn’t know.
Kirabo’s loneliness is further complicated
by a new discovery; she possesses a rebel-
lious “second self” that does “mad things”
and flies out of her body in episodes of un-
controllable deviance.
Connecting this development to her
mother’s absence, Kirabo seeks answers
from a local witch, Nsuuta. Kirabo is lucky,
the witch insists, because the second self is
the nature of the “first woman,” which
most women no longer possess.
Nsuuta lures Kirabo with the promise of
finding her mother, teaching her about the
rebellious start of all women and the power of myths. What ensues in Jennifer Nansub-
uga Makumbi’s novel is a richly complex
journey into girlhood and womanhood, set
against the backdrop of a changing nation,
suffused with glimpses of Uganda’s own
second self — the traditions before Christi-
anity, before colonialism, before Idi Amin
and many of the “befores” that time has
subdued but not quite erased. While reconciling her family’s expecta-
tions with her desire to find her mother,
Kirabo also confronts the idea of being a
woman. Makumbi introduces readers to
the Indigenous feminism rising out of the
experiences of mwenkanonkano , a Ugan-
dan movement predating Western femi-
nism. This coming-of-age story also explores
how women make other women suffer. We
see feminism splinter along class, urban
and rural lines, along differences of tribe
and race. These sometimes uncomfortable
awak enings are woven into Kirabo’s own
without becoming dull anthropology or
heartless manifesto. Makumbi neither
preaches nor condescends, but success-
fully captures the reader’s imagination.
”A Girl Is a Body of Water” is about the
necessity of examining old myths and the
urgency of creating new ones. Makumbi
does not allow the reader to think of the myth without also considering the myth-
maker. Her powerful novel dwells in the
universe of power as it relates to love and
The cast of witches, harlots, husband
stealers, baby killers, flawed feminists and
bossy sisters is so fully constructed, each
one feels alive — even if they are villains,
poor allies and perhaps poorer
friends. Even in anger and
harshness, cruelty and affec-
tion, hatefulness and long-
ing, there’s something ap-
pealing about these char-
acters. Furthermore, the
radical empathy of Kirabo,
even in her pettiness, is
contagious. One instance
that comes to mind is when
Kirabo reunites with a charac-
ter with whom she has a com-
plicated friendship: “This was
no longer the innocent beauty
of childhood; this was sharp
and malignant. You saw it for the first time,
you looked away. Then you stole small se-
cret glances until you got used to it. It was
the kind of beauty that made you hate a girl
who had done nothing to you.” Kirabo feels
this envy, fears that her friend sees it and
tries valiantly to be glad to see her again. Ugandan myth is prevalent in this novel,
but readers need no prior knowledge to un-
derstand it or be strongly affected by it.
The dialogue has Ugandan nuances — for
instance, one letter exclaims, “These news
are so burning it is a surprise the paper is
not on fire.” The cadences train you to fol-
low along; it’s impossible to imagine this book without them. Readers havethe pleasure of watching Kirabo
evolve from childhood cle- verness to cunning and wis-dom, her awareness of her-
self and her place in the world increasing all the
while. Makumbi’s voice
evolves organically, seam-
lessly, as her character ma-
tures. The reader cannot escape
the intimacy of this story.
Makumbi’s prose is irresist-
ible and poignant, with re-
markable wit, heart and
charm — poetic and nuanced, brilliant and
sly, openhearted and cunning, balancing
discordant truths in wise ruminations. “A
Girl Is a Body of Water” rewards the
reader with one of the most outstanding
heroines and the incredible honor of jour-
neying by her side.
Motherless Daughter
A Ugandan girl learns to make her own way in the world.
By Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi
560 pp. Tin House Books. $27.95.
KHADIJA ABDALLA BAJABER is a poet and nov-
elist, and the first winner of the Graywolf
Press Africa Prize.
Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi

WHEN WE SPEAK of a world, we are often
speaking of both the most intimate of hu-
man interiors and the land and nations that
surround it: our ribcages and throats and
dreams, yes, but also our neighborhoods,
our hillsides, our harbors ending in seas.
Considered in this light, is there anything
capable of surviving the apocalyptic
wreckage of a world? It’s one of the central
questions in “Zo,” the debut novel by Xan-
der Miller. And while Miller seeks the an-
swer in a situation whose narratives are so
familiar as to feel quotidian — romantic
love, desperate to cross socioeconomic
class — the novel’s setting, Haiti, may yet
have something surprisingly new to say. We meet the novel’s namesake as a 5-
year-old orphan in a humble coastal vil-
lage, from which he quickly decamps as a
young adult, on a string of throwaway jobs
that help establish the tone and terms of
his world — including, apparently, a cen-
tral concern with the carnal. There are at
least three sex scenes in the first 20 pages,
more than one of his partners of advanced
age. But then he meets Anaya, a dazzling
young woman who hails from a privileged
upbringing and will become the focus of
the rest of Zo’s life. The real strength of this opening section
lies not in the interiority of the characters
or the chance of a surprise plot twist. In-
stead, interest and momentum emerge
from the specificity of place Miller estab-
lishes around us: the daily rhythms of
Haiti, the stark demands of a life lived amid
capricious, grinding poverty, and the mar-
velous, salty exchanges that occur along-
side it all: “I was hoping you’d be the one to
help,” Anaya says, as she’s building a
makeshift children’s clinic. He asks her
why, “because you’ve seen me naked?”
She grins at him: “Because I’ve seen how
well you carry furniture into the grass.” Still, the novel’s arc is largely familiar:
Boy meets girl, boy pursues girl, boy en-
counters the apparently insurmountable
gulf of their class differences. The charac-
ters deepen some, but not in ways that
truly drive the plot. Passion — almost en-
tirely physical, it’s worth noting — yet wins
the day. Anaya’s father intervenes, of
course, and we wonder how the lovers will
triumph; only once they do, the pace starts
to flag. The novel’s perspective often ap-
pears troublingly traditional and mascu-
line, Zo’s lovesick ambitions rendered in
colonialist terms: “Zo looked on that city
like the first conquistadores looked upon
the New World. To sack it, to burn it, to de- stroy every last soul, would be nothing in
pursuit of the treasure and the dream.” But then there is a schism. A disaster oc-
curs, truly harrowing in the scale and se-
verity of its damage. Everything appears
lost. Here the language is particularly ar-
resting, its power at once direct and name-
less; as elsewhere in the novel, Miller’s
writing manages to be both passionate and
economical, and when dialogue and physi-
cal scenes pop, they pop off. If the notes of
drama here are occasionally struck too
hard — in this scene’s climax, Zo is momen-
tarily toosuperhuman — it’s nevertheless
effective. What’s more important is what we see
on the other side. Witness the ambivalence
with which many Haitians might experi-
ence the arrival of the West in moments of
crisis: “Their conversation was full of ac-
ronyms,” Anaya and her fellow nursing
graduates think. “M.S.F., W.F.P., UNICEF,
DINEPA, M.D.M., I.O.M., U.S.A.I.D. The
country had been overrun by international
aid organizations, and what the girls
wanted to know most of all was who paid
best.” The survivor’s calculus is frank,
even as we witness those same nurses
muscling their way through spartan uni-
versity conditions, knowingly graduating
into the teeth of the disaster’s wreckage.. If
anyone’s going to get Haiti through this,
Miller seems to be saying, it will be
Haitians themselves. The novel’s final third carries some of
the bleakest moments of the entire story,
full of emotional self-immolation and
death. For a while, one wonders if the con-
clusion will be as bad as it seems, but
thankfully this isn’t that sort of novel. In
the end there’s much that satisfies, not the
least of which is bearing witness to tender-
ness and heroism, the depths of loneliness
and peaks of romance — and, perhaps
most important, the courage of an entire
Boy Meets World
Impossible love in a disaster-stricken Haiti.
By Xander Miller
327 pp. Alfred A. Knopf. $26.95.
EXHAUSTED WRITERS sometimes try to sim-
plify their trade by boiling all stories down to
only two essential trajectories: Someone
comes to town, or someone moves away
Susan Abulhawa’s third novel, “Against the
Loveless World,” disproves this reductive hy-
perbole, artfully looping together comings
and goings, entrances and exoduses, burials
and birthdays in a humming narrative of hu-
man movement.
Nahr, the novel’s middle-aged narrator, is a
daughter of migration. A Palestinian who has
never known Palestine, she recalls her com-
ing-of-age in Kuwait with her exiled mother,
brother and snippy grandmother. She has no
interest in the traumas of her ancestry, and is
instead enamored of all things Kuwaiti. “It
was my home,” she says of her adoptive
country, “and I was a loyal subject of the roy-
als. I lined up every day of school with the
other students to sing the national anthem.
. . . I even taught m yself to speak their dialect
and could dance Khaleeji ‘better than their
best.’ That’s what someone told me.”
Snubbed in her youth by an Independence
Day dance troupe because “such an honor
should be reserved for Kuwaiti kids,” Nahr
doesn’t flinch, or feel offended as her mother
does — “for her, everything came down to be-
ing Palestinian, and the whole world was out
to get us.”
Instead the young Nahr seeks belonging
elsewhere, breaking rules and expecta-
tions as she goes. She “back-talks” and
steals, is promiscuous and unapologetical-
ly grounded in her body. Her premature
marriage to a Palestinian war hero, the re-
sult of her sexual curiosity, is believable in
both its hope and desperation. Abandoned
and confused, Nahr cedes control of her
sexuality to Um Buraq, a worldly Kuwaiti
woman who sends her to work as a high-
end prostitute. Initially appalled by the job require-
ments, Nahr is intrigued by the power of
her earnings, and soon it is she who pays
her family’s bills, her brother’s school fees.
When she is gang-raped on the eve of Sad-
dam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait, she
leaves sex work and becomes involved
with an Iraqi soldier. “I wasn’t yet ready to
give up on men,” she thinks. “Part of me
wanted to know if men could be good.”
A rebellious spirit pr opels this story of
statelessness, but the unburdened tone can
also come off as unrealistic. Soon after the
Kuwaiti police torture her brother (they
consider Palestinians Hussein’s collabora-
tors), the family flees to Jordan, where
Nahr runs a successful beauty business out of their living room. Fr
om there, though, it’s
back to Palestine to f inalize her divorce and
fall in love again, this time with her hand-
some former brother-in-law, Bilal, a resist-
ance fighter. Following a period of action-
and romance-laced sequences of arrests
and homecomings, weapons smuggling
and lockdowns, Nahr is caught and sen-
tenced to solitary confinement in an Israeli
prison she calls “the Cube.” There she re-
serves her spirit for reliving the past, for
dancing and taking showers under a show-
erhead she names Attar. Known for her beautiful and urgent
chronicling of the Palestinian struggle in
fiction and poetry, Abulhawa skillfully situ-
ates Nahr in a life of friendship and family
that is consistently upset by geopolitical
changes and a volatile police state. In this
sense, Nahr is a 21st-century everywoman,
strong in her ow n mind but angry about
how little control she has over her own life.
Given the persistent at tacks on her self-de-
termination, it is easy to understand Nahr’s
commitment to justice at any cost. But it’s
less easy to feelit. Her toughness and sass
are rarely counterbalanced with moments
of vulnerability, or grief. The self-reflection
in the novel often comes from the head
rather than the heart, unidimensional inte-
rior monologues fleck ed with facts that
serve more as platforms to explain the
plight of Palestinian r efugees, sex workers,
liberation fighters. Nahr encounters so
many tragedies that she can at times come
off as a composite of women and the issues
that plague them in this region, the novel
too rarely pausing in her moments of weak-
ness and exhaustion that might have dis-
tinguished her, illuminated the cost of pas-
sion for the powerless.
Those forced to le ave the places of their
birth to live elsewhere then have to tell
stories to the people they encounter there.
Not all communities are willing to listen to
these messy narrativ es of displacement. In
our current climate of isolationism, the trans-
national storyteller must do more than enter-
tain — she must educate. In response to this
demand, Abulhawa has created a spirited
protagonist who lives invisibly and in opposi-
tion to her “loveless world,” telling her own
story on her own terms lest either her com-
ings or goings be forgotten.
Seeking Refuge
A Palestinian-born prisoner reflects on a life of exile.
By Susan Abulhawa
366 pp. Atria. $27.
LALEH KHADIVI teaches creative writing at the
University of San Francisco, and is the author,
most recently, of “A Good Country.”
Susan Abulhawa
“Sharks in the Time of Saviors.”
Xander Miller
Miller’s writing is passionate;
when dialogue and physical
scenes pop, they pop off.

the hero of Hugh Lofting’s children’s
series about an English country doctor who learned to
speak the language of animals, turns 100 this year. My
own acquaintance with the doctor dates back to 1963,
when, at age 9, I triumphantly completed “The Voyages
of Doctor Dolittle,” my first big book, weighing in at 364
pages — a jumbo size for any work for children. I caught
up with the doctor again this spring, when school went
virtual. I had been reading high-minded founding father
biographies to third graders at the Academy of the City,
a charter school in Queens, where I serve on the board. I
felt that the kids needed an escape from a reality turned
dismal, and I thought of the good doctor and his talking
parrot, dog, pig, monkey and pushmi-pullyu. We finished the first book in the series, “The Story of
Doctor Dolittle.” Say what you will about Zoom, but I can
report that the kids were transfixed. Their questions
hinted at their degree of imaginative immersion: “How
did the monkeys get back to the ground after they made
the bridge with their arms?” “Does the pushmi-pullyu
actually have two heads?” “The Story of Doctor Dolittle” appeared in 1920, and
was republished almost annually thereafter, as were
many of the 11 other books in the series. In a preface to
the 1922 edition, the novelist Hugh Walpole called the
book “a work of genius” and “the first real children’s
classic since ‘Alice.’ ” Yet almost everyone knows about
Alice, and Pooh, and Peter Rabbit. If it weren’t for the
movie versions — first starring Rex Harrison, then Ed-
die Murphy and, this past winter, Robert Downey Jr. —
Doctor Dolittle’s name might be remembered no better
than Walpole’s own. I didn’t read Lofting’s books to my
son; most of you probably didn’t either. The doctor’s
centennial has gone unnoticed. What happened? No one could say that the books have grown quaint or
stale; just ask my third graders. Nor was Walpole in-
dulging in hyperbole. Doctor Dolittle is a wonderful
creation: a Victorian eccentric from the pages of Dick-
ens; a perpetual bachelor who drives conventional hu-
mans from his life but is much loved by the poor and the
marginal; a gentleman whose exquisite politesse never
falters, even before sharks and pirates; a peace-loving
naturalist prepared to wage war to defend his friends
from evil depredations. Only by the standards of the
world of grown-ups does he “do little.” Lofting can hit many registers, but he saves the lyrical
for the animals themselves, who experience life as fully
as we do, though you’d never know it if you can’t under-
stand them. Here is Clippa, a fidgit — a small fish — who
has been imprisoned in an aquarium along with her
brother, and who mourns her vanished life with a depth
of feeling unknown to the Little Mermaid and her
friends: “To chase the shrimps on a summer evening,
when the sky is red and the light’s all pink within the
foam! To lie on the top, in the doldrums’ noonday calm,
and warm your tummy in the tropic sun! To wander
hand in hand once more through the giant seaweed
forests of the Indian Ocean, seeking the delicious eggs of
the pop-pop!” And then the poor thing collapses in sobs.
Lofting really was a genius of children’s literature. But
he was also a product of the British Empire. When Doc-
tor Dolittle goes to Africa to cure the monkeys, he stum-
bles into the Kingdom of Jolliginki. Prince Bumpo, the heir to the throne, is a mooncalf who mistakes fairy tales
for real life, speaks in Elizabethan periphrasis and mur-
murs to himself: “If only I were a whiteprince!” In the
pencil sketches with which Lofting illustrates his texts,
Prince Bumpo looks like the missing link between man
and ape. Lofting’s biographer, Gary D. Schmidt, defen-
sively notes that Doctor Dolittle himself rarely utters a
bigoted word. But the doctor is only a character; the
narrator and the illustrator are none other than our
author. While Lofting never fails to give his Africans a
measure of nobility, he is also quite certain of their sav-
agery. The edition I read was probably published in 1950,
three years after Lofting’s death. By the 1970s, he had
gone into eclipse. Over the years, new editions appeared
that attempted to address the racism, including one in
1988 from which all pictures of Prince Bumpo and his
parents had been removed, along with all references to
their skin color, not to mention their wish to change it.
“If this verbal and visual caution occasionally seems
almost craven,” a reviewer for The New York Times
Book Review wrote, the blind spots for which it sought to
compensate were real. Lofting’s own story is almost as remarkable as the
doctor’s. Though we might imagine a donnish Lewis
Carroll or C. S. Lewis as the author of such twee fables,
Lofting was a wanderer and an adventurer, a civil engi-
neer who prospected for gold in Canada and built rail-
roads in Nigeria and Cuba before settling in the United
States and starting a family in 1912. When the war broke
out he returned to England to enlist, and was sent to the
trenches in France and Flanders. His children begged
for letters, with drawings. Lofting would not relate the
unspeakable truth. He had observed, as he wrote many
years later, that the animals serving alongside the sol-
diers had, like them, become “fatalists,” trudging into the
same hail of artillery fire. But when a horse was
wounded, it wasn’t sent to the dispensary; it was dis-
patched with a bullet. This was cruel. Lofting imagined that we would spare animals if only we could see inside
them, as we can our fellow humans. And so he wrote
letters home about talking animals. These letters formed
the basis of “The Story of Doctor Dolittle.” Because he doesunderstand animals, Doctor Dolittle
comes to recognize their astonishing gifts of smell, sight,
hearing. The animals are the books’ heroes every bit as
much as the doctor himself; it is they who miraculously
find lost and starving men or turn back a marauding
tribe. The doctor loves them as they deserve to be loved,
and protects them from abuse, just as his creator
dreamed of doing — for all that he internalized the racist
human hierarchy of his day. In “The Voyages of Doctor
Dolittle,” the doctor offers to step into a bullring and
outperform a great matador, on the condition that the
local authorities agree to end bullfighting forever should
he win. Of course they accept the lunatic wager. The
good doctor arranges everything with the bulls before-
hand: They charge straight at him before dropping to
the ground in front of him or letting him perform acro-
batics on their horns. The great matador gnashes his
teeth while the señoritasthrow flowers and jewels at the
doctor’s feet. Even the very young reader will not miss the moral
anger beneath the whimsy. Lofting was no Kipling. The
experience of the trenches turned him against war and
the glorification of combat, including in children’s books.
In 1942 he risked his reputation by publishing “Victory
for the Slain,” an epic poem deploring the war in which
England was already enmeshed. He aspired to be a
novelist, a journalist, a moralizing essayist; owing to the
peculiar bent of his genius, he was to achieve all that
through the fidgit — and, of course, the portly gentleman
in the waistcoat and battered top hat. Unlike his creator, Doctor Dolittle is, in fact, a man for
our time. When he finds the citizens of the Monkey King-
dom suffering from an infectious virus, he spends three
days and three nights vaccinating the healthy and places
the sick in quarantine for 14 days. They all recover.
Essay /The Man Who Loved Animals /By James Traub
Doctor Dolittle is 100 years old. His talking creatures still have much to say.
JAMES TRAUB is writing a biography of Hubert Humphrey. Hugh Lofting

ZACHARIAH JOHNSON JR. (ZJ) is living a 12-
year-old boy’s dream: His father is a star
professional football player, he lives in a
comfortable home in the suburbs with a
half basketball court upstairs, he has a trio
of friends who always show up at the right
times and his budding songwriting talent
seems destined to take him far. He is also living a nightmare.
Jacqueline Woodson’s new novel, “Be-
fore the Ever After,” is not a work of horror
(despite the haunting title), but a creeping,
invisible force is upending ZJ’s world and
slowly stealing away his father — known
as “Zachariah 44,” for his jersey number —
before his and his mother’s eyes. The father’s hands have begun to trem-
ble uncontrollably. He stares vacantly. He forgets basic things, most achingly the
name of the son who bears, and at times is
burdened by, his name. He’s prone to angry
outbursts, to the point that ZJ’s friends no
longer want to come by the house.
He is suffering the effects of a degenera-
tive brain disease that, while not named,
bears a strong resemblance to chronic
traumatic encephalopathy, or C.T.E., which
has been found in scores of former N.F.L.
players. Until 2016, the league for years de-
nied any connection between brain trauma
on the field and hundreds of players’ crip-
pling neurological ailments and, in many
cases, deaths.
“My dad probably holds the Football
Hall of Fame record for the most concus-
sions,” ZJ says, relating how his mother
has grown bitter about the game. “Even
with a helmet on.” Although you can envision fretful par-
ents handing this book to young boys ea-
ger to play, it’s not a stern lecture. It’s an
elegiac meditation on loss and longing told,
like Woodson’s seminal memoir, “Brown
Girl Dreaming,” mostly in verse. This approach, and Woodson’s evocative
language (“the night is so dark, it looks like
a black wall”), helps pull us through the
foreboding and gives us much to contem- plate; leitmotifs such as trees and song
deepen the story and provoke reflection on
childhood, change and remembrance. The story is set in 1999-2000, when the
cost of brain injury in the sport was just
starting to come to light. The uncertainty
over what has happened, and what might
be coming, bewilders ZJ and his mother.
“Sitting there with my mom and my dad
snoring on the couch and the doctors
knowing but not knowing,” he says, “I feel
like someone’s holding us, keeping us from
getting back to where we were before and
keeping us from the next place too.” This is largely a father-son tale, leaving
ZJ’s mother in the background, revealed in
the occasional tender scene — Zachariah
44 drapes his arms around her in a moment
of clarity — but mostly in quiet anguish. “I think they’re not telling the whole
truth,” ZJ overhears his mother telling a
friend. “Too many of them —” ZJ is so disillusioned that he gives away
one of his father’s coveted footballs to his
friend Everett, in a scene that reminds us
of the staying power of the sport: “Ever-
ett’s eyes get wide. This is Zachariah 44’s
ball? I nod. For real?”
ZJ finds solace in the music, literal and
symbolic, that he and his father have made together. “Until the doctors figure out
what’s wrong, this is what I have for him,”
ZJ says. “My music, our songs.” Woodson has said she seeks to instill op-
timism and hope. ZJ’s patient and support-
ive mother and his group of friends who
are always buoying him up serve that pur-
pose here. Yet at times this striving for
hope feels strained, given a condition that
so often offers no Hail Mary. ZJ may not
fully realize it, but we all know what’s com-
ing. The nightmarish, seemingly irrevers-
ible decline of the once mighty and strong
has broken the hearts and wills of football
families. A lyrical portrayal of a player’s
fade and a boy coming to terms with it
doesn’t change that.
A Son’s Future, a Father’s Final Down
By Jacqueline Woodson
176 pp. Nancy Paulsen Books. $17.99.
(Ages 10 to 12)
RANDAL C. ARCHIBOLD is the sports editor of The
AARON AND TILLIE have never met, but
they have a lot in common. Both attend pri-
vate Manhattan high schools. Both are per-
formers. Both have one supportive and one
checked-out parent. And both are prepar-
ing to jump from the George Washington
Here’s where the plot of Bill Konigs-
berg’s “The Bridge” diverges into four pos-
sible timelines. In Chapter 1A, Tillie jumps
and Aaron doesn’t. Shaken by what he has
witnessed, Aaron goes home to his father, a
banker-turned-social worker who readily
shares feelings with his son. White and half
Jewish, Aaron fantasizes about having a
boyfriend and becoming a beloved singer-
songwriter, and was crushed when no one responded to his latest video online. After a
catatonic episode in school the next day, he
starts to take medication and the clouds
begin to lift, until he swings into mania. In Chapter 1B, Tillie watches Aaron
jump and leaves the bridge traumatized
but safe. Adopted as a baby from Korea,
Tillie wonders if she really fits in with her
white family. Two weeks earlier, she per-
formed a monologue at the school talent
show about losing her virginity and feeling
used by her ex-boyfriend, Amir. Her father
was humiliated by her public vulnerability
and her former best friend Molly made a
parody video. Through Tillie’s eyes, we see
the achingly real devolution of her rela-
tionships with Molly and her father. The next chapters detail the empty
spaces left if both teens jump. The lovers
who go unmet. The book that goes unwrit-
ten. Their families’ unending grief. This
section feels gimmicky — holograms in the
future seem out of sync with the realism of
the rest of the book — but it’s necessary to
show that the world is not better off with-
out Tillie and Aaron. Still, there is darkness
here: By the end of this sequence, readers
are left with the impression that everyone,
eventually, is forgotten. In the final chapters, Tillie and Aaron
climb down from the bridge together,
though their lives aren’t immediately
saved. Konigsberg’s depiction of depres-
sion is nuanced and authentic. He doesn’t
shy away from the pain of mental illness.
While there is hope, there are no easy fixes. The supporting characters have their
own identity crises. Amir is Iranian and
terrified to come out as gay. Molly doesn’t
want her popular friends to know she’s se-
cretly an obsessed fantasy-novel cos-
player — a tired trope that feels vapid in
comparison with Tillie’s anguish. Few young adult novels highlight adult
perspectives, but the parents here are fully realized people. The scenes of their grief
are particularly wrenching, all the more so
because of the unique closeness of Aaron
and his dad and Tillie and her mom. They
struggle with guilt, even while their peers
insist the deaths are not their fault. In an author’s note, Konigsberg de-
scribes being admonished a few years
back for speaking about suicide to young
people. It remains his belief that we must
talk about it more, not less, to prevent it.
Inspired by his own suicide attempt at
age 27 and his “gratitude” that he got “a
second chance at life,” Konigsberg’s novel,
at its heart, is about finding a way through
the worst moments, with treatment and
support systems. The plot itself could be
seen as a model for readers who are strug-
gling: Characters witness suicide, then de-
cide to live. Aaron and Tillie wonder about the es-
cape, but also about the pain and the possi-
ble nothingness afterward. “The Bridge”
shows the positive reality of their material
existence, and of their rich connections to
those around them, even to people they
don’t know — even perhaps to the readers
of this book, which wouldn’t be in their
hands if Konigsberg hadn’t lived.
Two Suicidal Teens, Four Possible Paths
By Bill Konigsberg
400 pp. Scholastic. $18.99.
(Ages 14 to 18)
KATY HERSHBERGER is the young adult editor at
School Library Journal.
Children’s Books

by Elena Ferrante. Translat-
ed by Ann Goldstein. (Europa, $26.) The author of the
extraordinary Neapolitan quartet returns after five
years to prove her gift is intact. In this novel set in
1990s Naples, an adolescent girl bonds with her
blunt, larger-than-life aunt, who is estranged from
the family. Once again, Ferrante captures the psy-
chology of young people with unflinching honesty.
LIFE OF A KLANSMAN: A Family History in White
Supremacy, by Edward Ball. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux,
Ball, who for a previous book tracked down
descendants of slaves owned by his father’s side of
the family, here investigates a militantly racist
ancestor on his mother’s side, reminding us that this
ugly family history is also that of our country.
SISTERS IN HATE: American Women on the Front
Lines of White Nationalism, by Seyward Darby.
(Little, Brown, $28.)
Darby, a journalist, spent several
years among women drawn to white supremacy.
Her book, a closely observed portrait of three such
women, avoids reductive theories to show the
movement in its disturbing diversity.
THE SIRENS OF MARS: Searching for Life on An-
other World, by Sarah Stewart Johnson. (Crown,
Johnson, a Georgetown planetary scientist,
oscillates between a history of Mars science and an
account of her own journey seeking sparks of life in
the immensity. In prose that swirls with lyrical
wonder, she recalls formative moments in her life
and career.
by Sara Seager. (Crown, $28.) Is there life on other
planets? Is there life after the death of a spouse? In
a memoir that manages to be as informative as it is
moving, an astrophysicist who was widowed young,
and whose career has centered on the search for
another Earth, tackles big questions.
THE END OF EVERYTHING: (Astrophysically Speak-
ing), by Katie Mack. (Scribner, $26.) Many books have
been written about the creation of the universe 13.8
billion years ago. But Mack, a theoretical cosmolo-
gist, is interested in how it all ends. She guides us
along a cosmic timeline studded with scientific
esoterica and mystery.
FIFTY WORDS FOR RAIN, by Asha Lemmie. (Dutton,
$26.) In Kyoto in 1948, a mother makes her daugh-
ter promise to be obedient and then abandons her
with grandparents she doesn’t know. Lemmie’s
sweeping novel tells the story of how this resource-
ful survivor spends the next 20 years breaking her
promise to her mother again and again.
MEMORIAL DRIVE: A Daughter’s Memoir, by Natasha
Trethewey. (Ecco, $27.99.) At the center of
Trethewey’s memoir is the wrenching story of her
mother’s murder, by her ex-husband, in 1985. But
this haunting elegy by the Pulitzer Prize-winning
poet is also a work of great beauty and tenderness,
an atmospheric evocation of innocence and loss.
MUDDY MATTERHORN: Poems 2009-2019, by
Heather McHugh. (Copper Canyon, paper, $17.) In
creating a kind of word turbulence and refusing any
fixed certainties (“my calling’s / doubt”), McHugh
invites us to question what we think we know.
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 THICK AS THIEVES, by Sandra Brown. (Grand Central) Arden Maxwell returns home to
uncover the truth about her father’s involvement in a heist that went wrong 20 years ago.
2 1 SQUEEZE ME, by Carl Hiaasen. (Knopf) A dead dowager, hungry pythons and occupants
of the winter White House shake up the Palm Beach charity ball season.
3 4 13 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 2 103 WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING, by Delia Owens. (Putnam) In a quiet town on the North
Carolina coast in 1969, a young woman who survived alone in the marsh becomes a
murder suspect.
5 1 EMERALD BLAZE, by Ilona Andrews. (Avon) The latest installment in the Hidden Legacy
series. Catalina Baylor overcomes heartbreak to team up with Alessandro Sagredo.
6 5 13 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.
7 1 SOMEONE TO ROMANCE, by Mary Balogh. (Berkley) The seventh book in the Westcott
series. Gabriel Thorne’s intention to wed Lady Jessica Archer misses its mark at first.
8 1 2 ROYAL, by Danielle Steel. (Delacorte) In 1943, the 17-year-old Princess Charlotte
assumes a new identity in the country and falls in love.
9 8 32 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.
10 6 9 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.
1 1 HIS TRUTH IS MARCHING ON, by Jon Meacham. (Random House) The Pulitzer Prize-
winning biographer creates a portrait of R epresentative John Lewis, the late civil rights
leader and congressman for Georgia’s Fifth Congressional District.
2 1 HOAX, by Brian Stelter. (One Signal/Atria) The CNN anchor examines the inner workings
of Fox News and its relationship with President Trump.
3 3 4 CASTE, by Isabel Wilkerson. (Random House) The Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist
reveals a rigid hierarchy in America today.
4 1 25 UNTAMED, by Glennon Doyle. (Dial) The activist and public speaker describes her journey
of listening to her inner voice.
5 2 4 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.
6 5 7 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.
7 7 23 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 6 18 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.
9 70 BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME, by Ta-Nehisi Coates. (Spiegel & Grau) A meditation on
race in America as well as a personal story, framed as a letter to the author’s teenage son.
10 12 125 EDUCATED, by Tara Westover. (Random House) The daughter of survivalists, who is kept
out of school, educates herself enough to leave home for university.
Fiction Nonfiction
Best Sellers
For the complete best-seller lists, visit

Century Club A book that stays on
the best-seller list for 100 weeks is as
deserving of respect and admiration as a
human being who makes it to triple
digits. On the current hardcover fiction and nonfiction lists,
only two titles have
reached this impres-
sive milestone —
“Where the Crawdads
Sing,” by Delia Owens
(104 weeks), and
“Educated,” by Tara
Westover (132 weeks). Now we welcome a
new book to the crew:
“Between the World
and Me,” by Ta-Nehisi
Coates. It came out in
2015, but the subject is
as relevant today as it was then. “ ‘Be-
tween the World and Me’ is a searing
meditation on what it means to be Black
in America today,” Michiko Kakutani
wrote in The Times. “It takes the form of
a letter from Mr. Coates to his 14-year-
old son, Samori, and speaks of the perils
of living in a country where unarmed
Black men and boys — Michael Brown,
Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Walter L. Scott,
Freddie Gray — are dying at the hands
of police officers, an America where just
last month nine Black worshipers were
shot and killed in a Charleston, S.C.,
church by a young white man with ap-
parent links to white supremacist
groups online.”
Samori is now an adult, so of course
father-son conversations have evolved
over the years. Coates says, “His mind
has matured and he’s reading more and
seeing more.” Has this now-veteran best-selling
author grown accustomed to the success
of “Between the World and Me”? “Hell
no,” Coates says, laughing. “I think of
my books the same way people think
about their kids. When you have a 20-
year-old, the kid goes out into the world
and people tell you how nice — in my
case — a young man you raised. How
confident and strong and beautiful and
kind and intelligent. All the great things
they do. And it’s surreal to hear because
when you see the kid, all you see is the
work you put in, all the struggle and all
the fight to get the kid where you
wanted the kid to be. When I see ‘Be-
tween the World and Me,’ I see the four
times I rewrote it. I see the memories of,
‘does this actually amount to a book?’
All these words you put on a page, is this
actually a book? Is there a spine to it, is
it a real thing? It is amazing to me that
this has gone as far as it did. It feels
surreal.” He adds, “Maybe there are writers
somewhere who feel like they have a
formula for getting masses of people to
want to hear what they have to say. I am
not that writer.”
‘I think of my
books the
same way
people think
about their
Wear Matters, by Dana Thomas.
(Penguin, 320 pp., $18.)
faulting “fast fashion” (discount
brands’ accelerated production of
runway-show knockoffs) for eco-
nomic, human rights and climate
crises worldwide, a veteran style
writer introduces us to the vision-
aries who are attempting to trans-
form the industry “from an urban
nightmare,” as our reviewer, Ta-
tiana Schlossberg, put it, “into a
shining city on a hill.”
THE GLASS WOMAN, by Caroline Lea.
(Harper Perennial, 400 pp., $16.99.)
Our reviewer, Emma L. McAleavy,
called this novel about a young
woman in 17th-century Iceland who
becomes convinced that the attic of
her mysterious new husband’s
remote seaside home is haunted —
“perhaps by his former wife, who
may or may not still be living” —
“devastating and revelatory.”
Wilson. (Ecco, 288 pp., $16.99.) This
“wholly original,” “unassuming
bombshell of a novel” — in the
words of our reviewer, Taffy
Brodesser-Akner — “appears” to
be about the friendship of its two
main characters, Lillian and Madi-
son, whose lives have taken very
different paths. But Madison’s twin
stepkids, who “catch fire sponta-
neously when they experience
intense emotions,” personify its
“brilliance” and its tender wit.
TIGHTROPE: Americans Reaching
for Hope, by Nicholas D. Kristof and
Sheryl WuDunn. (Vintage, 320 pp.,
The first married couple to
receive a Pulitzer Prize for journal-
ism reveals the structural causes of
so-called personal failures among
the working poor in Kristof’s home-
town of Yamhill, Ore., where the
Times columnist tended sheep on a
small family farm.
SONTAG: Her Life and Work, by
Benjamin Moser. (Ecco, 832 pp.,
The author of this “skilled,
lively, prodigiously researched”
biography of the inimitable cultural
icon Susan Sontag, which won the
Pulitzer Prize, “writes vividly of a
woman of parts determined to
leave a mark on her time,” our
reviewer, Vivian Gornick, ob-
served, “and makes us feel viscer-
ally how large those parts were —
the arrogance, the anxiety, the
RED AT THE BONE, by Jacqueline
Woodson. (Riverhead, 224 pp., $16.)
This “profoundly moving” novel by
a National Book Award winner,
about two black families who come
together when a high school girl
becomes pregnant, contains “ur-
gent, vital insights into questions of
class, gender, race, history, queer-
ness and sex in America,” accord-
ing to our reviewer, R. O. Kwon.
WEEK Nonfiction THIS
1 1 10 4 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 3 13 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.
3 1 THICK AS THIEVES, by Sandra Brown. (Grand Central) Arden
Maxwell returns home to uncover the truth about her father’s
involvement in a heist that went wrong 20 years ago.
4 1 SQUEEZE ME, by Carl Hiaasen. (Knopf) A dead dowager,
hungry pythons and occupants of the winter White House
shake up the Palm Beach charity ball season.
5 2 2 ROYAL, by Danielle Steel. (Delacorte) In 1943, the 17-year-
old Princess Charlotte assumes a new identity in the country
and falls in love.
6 4 13 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.
7 7 32 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 5 11 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.
9 9 5 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 1 THE EXILES, by Christina Baker Kline. (Custom House)
Three young women are sent to the fledgling British penal
colony of Australia in the 1840s.
1 1 HIS TRUTH IS MARCHING ON, by Jon Meacham. (Random
House) The Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer creates a
portrait of Representative John Lewis, the late civil rights
leader and congressman for Georgia’s Fifth Congressional
2 2 4 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 4 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 1 25 UNTAMED, by Glennon Doyle. (Dial) The activist and public
speaker describes her journey of listening to her inner voice.
5 4 7 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 1 HOAX, by Brian Stelter. (One Signal/Atria) The CNN anchor
and chief media correspondent examines the inner workings
of Fox News and its relationship with President Trump.
7 5 26 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.
8 9 10 0 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 son.
9 10 132 EDUCATED, by Tara Westover. (Random House) The
daughter of survivalists, who is kept out of school, educates
herself enough to leave home for university.
10 11 9 BLITZ, by David Horowitz. (Humanix) The author of “Big
Agenda” explains why he thinks President Trump will be
re-elected. (
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.

1 2 THE SANDMAN, by Neil Gaiman and Dirk Maggs.
(Audible Originals) Lord Morpheus confronts an
array of fictional and historical characters. Read by
Riz Ahmed, Kat Dennings, Taron Egerton, James
McAvoy, Samantha Morton, et al. 10 hours, 54
minutes unabridged.
2 3 THE GUEST LIST, by Lucy Foley. (HarperAudio)
A wedding between a TV star and a magazine
publisher on an island off the coast of Ireland turns
deadly. Read by Jot Davies, Chloe Massey, Olivia
Dowd, et al. 9 hours, 54 minutes unabridged.
3 24 WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING, by Delia Owens.
(Penguin Audio) A young woman who survived
alone in the marsh becomes a murder suspect.
Read by Cassandra Campbell. 12 hours, 12
minutes unabridged.
4 3 THE VANISHING HALF, by Brit Bennett. (Penguin
Audio) The lives of twin sisters who run away from
a Southern Black community at age 16 diverge but
their fates intertwine. Read by Shayna Small. 11
hours, 34 minutes unabridged.
5 1 CRITICAL MASS, by Craig Alanson. (Podium) The
10th book in the Expeditionary Force series. Read
by R. C. Bray. 19 hours, 25 minutes unabridged.
6 1 THE SILENT WIFE, by Karin Slaughter. (Blackstone)
The 10th book in the Will Trent series. Read by
Kathleen Early. 18 hours, 33 minutes unabridged.
7 2 PRETTY THINGS, by Janelle Brown. (Random
House Audio) The daughter of a con artist and an
heiress team up to pull off a big deceit. Read by
Julia Whelan, Lauren Fortgang and Hillary Huber.
16 hours, 6 minutes unabridged.
8 8 AMERICAN DIRT, by Jeanine Cummins. (Macmillan
Audio) A bookseller flees Mexico for the United
States with her son while pursued by the head of a
drug cartel. Read by Yareli Arizmendi. 16 hours, 54
minutes unabridged.
9 19 THE SILENT PATIENT, by Alex Michaelides.
(Macmillan Audio) A famous painter stops
speaking after shooting her husband. Read by Jack
Hawkins and Louise Brealey. 8 hours, 43 minutes
10 11 THE DUTCH HOUSE, by Ann Patchett.
(HarperAudio) A sibling relationship is impacted
when the family goes from poverty to wealth and
back again over the course of many decades. Read
by Tom Hanks. 9 hours, 53 minutes unabridged.
11 3 THE SUMMER HOUSE, by James Patterson and
Brendan DuBois. (Hachette Audio) Jeremiah Cook,
a veteran and former N.Y.P.D. cop, investigates a
mass murder. Read by Ari Fliakos. 10 hours, 19
minutes unabridged.
12 9 THE GIVER OF STARS, by Jojo Moyes. (Penguin
Audio) In Depression-era Kentucky, five women
refuse to be cowed by men or convention as they
deliver books. Read by Julia Whelan. 13 hours, 52
minutes unabridged.
13 1 A PRIVATE CATHEDRAL, by James Lee Burke.
(Simon & Schuster Audio) The 23rd book in the
Dave Robicheaux series. Read by Will Patton. 11
hours, 30 minutes unabridged.
14 3 28 SUMMERS, by Elin Hilderbrand. (Hachette
Audio) 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. Read by Erin Bennett. 15 hours, 26
minutes unabridged.
15 2 THE THINGS WE CANNOT SAY, by Kelly Rimmer.
(Harlequin Audio) During World War II, a 15-year-
old girl’s engagement is imperiled by the Nazi
occupation of her village. Read by Ann Marie
Gideon and Nancy Peterson. 13 hours, 42 minutes
1 1 CASTE, by Isabel Wilkerson. (Penguin Audio) The
Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist examines aspects
of caste systems across civilizations and reveals
a rigid hierarchy in America today. Read by Robin
Miles. 14 hours, 26 minutes unabridged.
Trump. (Simon & Schuster Audio) The clinical
psychologist gives her assessment of events and
patterns inside her family and how they shaped
President Trump. Read by the author. 7 hours, 5
minutes unabridged.
3 6 UNTAMED, by Glennon Doyle. (Random House
Audio) The activist and public speaker describes
her journey of listening to her inner voice. Read by
the author. 8 hours, 22 minutes unabridged.
4 1 LIVE FREE OR DIE, by Sean Hannity. (Simon &
Schuster Audio) The Fox News host offers his
assessment on what is at stake in the 2020
election. Read by the author. 11 hours, 10 minutes
5 22 BECOMING, by Michelle Obama. (Random House
Audio) The former first lady describes how she
balanced work, family and her husband’s political
ascent. Read by the author. 19 hours, 3 minutes
6 5 HOW TO BE AN ANTIRACIST, by Ibram X. Kendi.
(Random House Audio) A primer for creating a
more just and equitable society through identifying
and opposing racism. Read by the author. 10 hours,
43 minutes unabridged.
7 2 BREATH, by James Nestor. (Penguin Audio) A
re-examination of a basic biological function and
a look at the science behind ancient breathing
practices. Read by the author. 7 hours, 18 minutes
8 4 WHITE FRAGILITY, by Robin DiAngelo. (Beacon)
Historical and cultural analyses on what causes
defensive moves by white people and how this
inhibits cross-racial dialogue. Read by Amy Landon.
6 hours, 21 minutes unabridged.
Gladwell. (Hachette Audio) Famous examples
of miscommunication serve as the backdrop to
explain potential conflicts. Read by the author. 8
hours, 42 minutes unabridged.
10 1 FINDING FREEDOM, by Omid Scobie and Carolyn
Durand. (HarperAudio) The Duke and Duchess of
Sussex’s journey from courtship to their decision
to step away from their royal lives. Read by Omid
Scobie. 10 hours, 29 minutes unabridged.
11 31 BORN A CRIME, by Trevor Noah. (Audible Studios)
A memoir about growing up in South Africa by the
host of “The Daily Show.” Read by the author. 8
hours, 50 minutes unabridged.
12 5 EMPIRE OF THE SUMMER MOON, by S. C. Gwynne.
(Simon & Schuster Audio) The story of Quanah
Parker, the last chief of the Comanches. Read by
David Drummond. 15 hours, 3 minutes unabridged.
13 2 THE TRUTHS WE HOLD, by Kamala Harris. (Penguin
Audio) A memoir by the daughter of immigrants
who is now a California senator and the 2020
Democratic candidate for vice president. Read by
the author. 9 hours, 26 minutes unabridged.
14 1 IT WAS ALL A LIE, by Stuart Stevens. (Random
House Audio) The former political campaign
strategist evaluates the changes within the
Republican Party in the last half-century. Read by
Dan John Miller. 5 hours, 37 minutes unabridged.
15 1 HOAX, by Brian Stelter. (Simon & Schuster Audio)
The CNN anchor and chief media correspondent
examines the inner workings of Fox News and its
relationship with President Trump. Read by the
author. 12 hours, 42 minutes unabridged.
Audio Fiction Audio Nonfiction THIS
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A visual celebration of the history-making women of the 116th Congress

Donald Trump’s Fight for Presidential Power
By John Yoo
320 pp. All Points. $29.99.
“Defender in Chief” lays out Yoo’s conserva-
tive case for an extraordinarily strong presi-
dent, virtually unchecked by Congress.
Readers familiar with Yoo (he served in the
George W. Bush administration and has
written extensively about presidential
power) won’t be surprised by the arguments
found in this book, except for the fact that here he de-
picts President Donald Trump as an ardent defender of
his originalist vision of the Constitution. Yoo, who didn’t
support Trump for president in 2016, now concludes that
“Trump campaigns like a populist but governs like a
constitutional conservative.”
This dense treatise makes clear how many actions can
be justified by proponents of unitary executive power —
a theory of constitutional law that claims presidents
control the entire executive branch and have virtually
unchecked powers in the realm of national security. With
this analytical framework, Yoo can legitimize almost
everything Trump has done. The president’s brazen use
of foreign policy for his own self-interest with regard to
Ukraine makes constitutional sense, as does the paper-
thin firewall separating his global real estate company
from his political authority. Somehow, Trump fits neatly
into the original vision of founders who feared corrupt
and centralized power.
Often, Yoo’s academic veneer falls away. At the same
time that he lambastes Democratic opposition to the
nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, he
breezes over Senator Mitch McConnell’s refusal to con-
sider President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee Mer-
rick Garland.
Yoo is most convincing when he argues that Congress
was complicit in expanding presidential power. It is true
that partisan considerations have led congressional
Republicans to support Trump’s flexing his muscle while
Democrats have often been afraid to take tougher stands
against this run away administration.
Yoo makes clear that when one accepts a theory of
presidential power as grandiose as his, almost anything
— from the George W. Bush administration’s use of “en-
hanced interrogation” to Trump’s institution-breaking
behavior — becomes permissible.
From Reagan to Trump — A Front-Row Seat
to a Political Revolution
By Gerald F. Seib
304 pp. Random House. $28.
In a well-written if familiar account, Seib, a
veteran Wall Street Journal reporter, pro-
vides a history of the conservative move-
ment from Ronald Reagan to Donald Trump.
Seeking to make sense of Trumpism, he
begins by conveying the atmosphere of the
Reagan era, tracing the multifaceted politi-
cal coalition that Reagan stitched together in 1980 as
well as the ideology that guided his years in the White
Seib argues that the Reagan coalition remained intact
through the mid-1990s. Things started to shift when
Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich introduced America
to his blistering style of partisanship: “The face and tone
of conservative leadership had shifted from the sunny,
optimistic and gentle approach of Ronald Reagan to the
much harsher, angrier and more pugilistic approach of
Newt Gingrich.” But the real trouble, according to Seib,
began when Reagan’s coalition was supplanted by nation-
alist, populist forces that capitalized on middle-class inse-
curities. The fringe seized control, starting with the vice-
presidential nomination of the Alaska governor Sarah
Palin in 2008 and moving to the Tea Party victories in the
2010 midterm elections.
Seib’s history echoes the outlook of the #NeverTrump
movement. If the origins of conservatism were relatively
pristine, then there can be a version of Republicanism
that doesn’t tolerate a president tweeting out videos of a
supporter yelling “white power!” at protesters.
But Seib plays down what was there all along. The
decision to stir a white backlash dates back at least to
Richard Nixon’s 1968 “law and order” campaign. The
role of reactionary populism, including nativism and
anti-Semitism, was always relevant, even if past poli-
ticians used dog whistles instead of bullhorns. Gingrich
popularized his smashmouth partisan playbook in the
1980s right in front of the television cameras for all to
see. In other words, Donald Trump makes sense because
of the history of the Republican Party rather than in
spite of it.
How the Republican Party Became Donald Trump
By Stuart Stevens
256 pp. Knopf. $26.95.
In “It Was All a Lie,” Stevens, a political
consultant, admits there is nothing new
under the Republican sun. In his bare-knuck-
les account, Stevens confesses to the reader
that the entire apparatus of his Republican
Party is built on a pack of lies. President
Trump isn’t a “freak product of the system,”
he writes, but a “logical conclusion of what the Republi-
can Party became over the last 50 or so years.” This reckoning inspired Stevens to publish this blister-
ing, tell-all history. Viciousness and hypocrisy are every-
where in his story. Stevens’s troubling chapter about
racism shows clearly how party operatives have capital-
ized on white resentment for decades. When Lee At-
water admitted in 1981 that Republicans were just using
code words to keep talking about race, he was finally
being honest. The Republicans whom Stevens worked
with championed “family values” while living Hustler
magazine lifestyles. Fiscal conservatism? Republicans
never cared about balanced budgets — unless a Demo-
crat was in the White House. The one-time “party of
Lincoln,” Stevens explains, is now beholden to a Fox
News propaganda network and powerful interest
groups. His power-hungry party, Stevens says, is willing
to sacrifice the integrity of vital democratic institutions. Although this book will be a hard read for any commit-
ted conservatives, they would do well to ponder it. We
see how the modern Republican Party wasn’t “taken
over” by Donald Trump. Rather, the party created him.
And regardless of what happens in November, it won’t
look very different unless there are fundamental
changes to the coalition that brought conservatism into
the halls of power in 1980.
JULIAN E. ZELIZER, a political historian at Princeton University, is the author of “Burning Down the House: Newt Gingrich, the Fall of a Speaker, and the Rise of the New Republican Party.”
The Shortlist /Trumped Up /By Julian E. Zelizer

As school returns, in one form or another, a memory of when summer reading could win you a trophy.
EBONY FLOWERS is the author of the graphic novel “Hot Comb” and the upcoming “Baltimore Brownfield.”
Sketchbook /Battle of the Books /By Ebony Flowers

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