This week, a near masterpiece of a novel, strong short story collections, and engrossing histories. Plus: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's latest.
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Knopf) – Adichie’s new novel follows the lives of Nigeria’s postwar generation as they suffer endemic corruption and poverty under a military dictatorship. An unflinching but compassionate observer, Adichie writes a vibrant tale about love, betrayal, and destiny; about racism; and about a society in which honesty is extinct and cynicism is the national philosophy.
The Guns at Last Light: The War in Western Europe, 1944-1945: Volume Three of the Liberation Trilogy by Rick Atkinson (Holt) - Adding to the trunkful of extended WWII histories by the likes of Sir Max Hastings, Andrew Roberts, Martin Gilbert, John Keegan, and Norman Davies, Atkinson, winner of two Pulitzers, concludes his series on the war in Europe and North Africa with this superb work.
The Riddle of the Labyrinth: The Quest to Crack an Ancient Code by Margalit Fox (Ecco) - Linguist and New York Times senior writer Fox spins a fascinating yarn centered around an unlikely heroine: a devoted academic spinster who died before accomplishing her life’s mission of cracking an ancient script. Fox's deft explanations of the script-solving and the tireless work of Alice Kober (who worked at her kitchen table with over 150,000 cards) make for a great read.
Between My Father and the King: New and Uncollected Stories by Janet Frame (Counterpoint) - Acclaimed New Zealander Frame (1924–2004) left behind a legacy of exceptional writing, both fiction and nonfiction, and this new collection of 28 short stories that span her career (many of which have never been published) showcases her extraordinary gifts as an imaginative storyteller with a singular viewpoint. Frame grasps an image and the emotion behind it in a few spare words.
On Sal Mal Lane by Ru Freeman (Graywolf) - Political activist and journalist Freeman’s second novel is a borderline masterpiece set in early ’80s Colombo, Sri Lanka, at the start of the civil war between the Sinhalese government and Tamil Tigers. Sal Mal Lane, named for its trees, is home to Tamils, Sinhalese, and mixed-race Burgher families whose children, aware of what separates them, still enjoy a normal life, though Freeman never lets it be forgotten that tragedy looms. Check out our profile of Freeman.
Short Cuts: Artists in China by Thomas Fuesser (Skira) - In this stylishly designed book of photographs, German photographer Fuesser documents his interactions with Chinese artists since he first began photographing them in the 1990s, when the now-successful subjects of these 17 portraits were unknown. The journey through these photographs is thrilling.
The Savior Generals: How Five Commanders Saved Wars that Were Lost—from Ancient Greece to Iraq by Victor Davis Hanson (Bloomsbury) – Hanson begins with a deceptively simple question: “How are wars won or lost?” He cites familiar answers—technology, numbers, contingency—but he asserts that in desperate situations, human leadership still matters. To make his case, Hanson profiles five “savior generals” drawn from 2,500 years of conflict, including Themistocles, Belisarius, and Sherman.
School Spirits by Rachel Hawkins (Hyperion) - Fifteen-year-old Izzy Brannick comes from generations of monster hunters. Witches, vampires, faeries, werewolves—her forebears have dealt with them all, and mostly come out on top. But ever since Izzy’s older sister disappeared a year ago while confronting a coven of witches, Izzy and her mother have become the last of the Brannicks.
Original Skin by David Mark (Blue Rider) - Sophisticated plotting, in-depth characters, and sharp dialogue elevate British author Mark’s gritty second police procedural featuring Yorkshire Det. Sgt. Aector McAvoy. In the port city of Hull, a former industrial center on the decline, Det. Supt. Trish Pharaoh and her detectives look into the escalating attacks on Vietnamese cannabis farmers by brutal rival gangs.
All My Friends by Marie NDiaye, trans. from the French by Jordan Stump (Two Lines) - Inhabiting the tense, anxiety-riddled interstices where things fall apart, the five stories in this collection don't follow each other so much as collide like objects in a literary maelstrom, achieving a dizzying terminal velocity. NDiaye, who received France's most prestigious literary prize for Three Strong Women and may be that nation's most startling new literary voice, brings to life an electrifying rogue's gallery of social outcasts, disgruntled wives, and loony strivers.
Fools by Joan Silber (Norton) - This tightly constructed collection from Silber (Ideas of Heaven) shows her talents at their finest. The stories pivot nimbly from the foibles of young anarchists in Greenwich Village in the early 20th century, in “Fools,” to a spoiled young man’s comeuppance in Paris in the early ’60s, to a nonprofit development worker’s attempt to solicit money from a potential donor in the present.