This week, Tolstoy, a supernatural treasure hunt, and a book that sold two million copies in South Korea.
The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly by Sun-Mi Hwang, trans. from the Korean by Chi-Yung Kim (Penguin) - The road of life is paved with hardships, even tragedy. Fate is implacable; we all must die. Yet it’s possible to achieve happiness, and to make a positive contribution to humanity, if one perseveres. This is the lesson of this simply told but absorbing fable, a two million–copy bestseller in South Korea, and a story that will appeal to readers of self-help. The protagonist is a philosophically restless hen who yearns to raise a chick, but her eggs are collected daily by the farmer’s wife.
Bosnia’s Million Bones: Solving the World’s Greatest Forensic Puzzle by Christian Jennings (Palgrave Macmillan) - With cold-blooded, deadly efficiency, Serbian troops brutalized Bosnia’s civilian population and left behind thousands of victims executed in the war-torn country during the 1990s. Attempts by crack forensics teams to identify the victims and bring their killers to justice form the core of this book by Jennings, a journalist and former communications staffer for the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP).
Renewable: The World-Changing Power of Alternative Energy by Jeremy Shere (St. Martin’s) - In this rigorous, impassioned, and nonpartisan study, science writer Shere blends first-person reportage and anecdotal history, bringing the state of renewable energy vibrantly alive. A quick glimpse of Henry Ford and Thomas Edison riding together in a Model T through the Florida Everglades in search of land to grow ethanol-producing crops gives way to Shere, standing in the pouring rain, looking over a field of swaying Chinese silver grass—the best choice to replace corn as the basis for ethanol.
The Death of Ivan Ilyich & Confession by Leo Tolstoy, trans. from the Russian by Peter Carson (Norton/Liveright) - This wonderful modern edition of Tolstoy’s “The Death of Ivan Ilyich” appears side by side with the autobiographical “Confession” in a new translation by Peter Carson—perhaps even more remarkable for having been completed as Carson, a famed editor and previous translator of works by Turgenev and Chekhov, was himself dying.
Capturing the Light: The Birth of Photography, a True Story of Genius and Rivalry by Roger Watson and Helen Rappaport (St. Martin’s) - On a hot August day in 1835 in the small village of Lacock, Wiltshire, British former parliamentarian, amateur scientist, and writer Henry Fox Talbot was experimenting with permanently capturing images from nature and created a small, delicate image of a latticed window—the first photographic negative. Little did he know that stage designer Louis Daguerre had been pursuing the same goal since the 1820s, and had begun collaborating with amateur scientist Nicephore Niépce to develop a photographic process. Here, historians Watson, curator of the Fox Talbot Museum, and Rappaport (The Last Days of the Romanovs) offer an energetically written and deftly paced history of photography’s origins.
The Land Across by Gene Wolfe (Tor) - An expedition to write a travel guide lands an American in a nightmare of mystery, espionage, and the supernatural. Grafton, arrested on arrival in an unnamed Eastern European country, is assigned to the custody of a private family. This leads to his involvement in a treasure hunt and a relationship with his married jailer, Martya, with cryptic encounters along the way.