Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Knausgaard, Doerr, and More

September 28, 2021 | 4 books mentioned 5 min read

Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from Karl Ove Knausgaard, Anthony Doerr, and more—that are publishing this week.

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The Morning Star by Karl Ove Knausgaard (translated by Martin Aitken)

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Morning Star: “Knausgaard’s first traditional novel since the 2008 translation of A Time for Everything offers a dark and enthralling story of the appearance of a new star. The action, which verges on horror, teems with brutalized people and animals behaving unpredictably. Arne, a teacher with a drinking problem whose bipolar wife, Tova, often disappears on long walks, observes a horde of crabs crossing the road toward the glare of the star. He and eight other narrators alternately react to the astrological event—and yet the turbulence of their home lives overrides their capacity to grasp its shocking effects. Among the players are Kathrine, a Church of Norway priest who is struggling with her marriage; Solveig, a nurse who recognizes a patient from when she was young; Jonnstein, a caustic reporter who gets a tip on a serial killer after committing adultery; and Egil, who is connected to many of the threads, and whose interpolated essay provides a dose of philosophy and one of the strongest narrative beats. Knausgaard wheels wildly and successfully through various forms. His focus on the beauty and terror of the mundane will resonate with fans of My Struggle as they traverse this marvelous, hectic terrain. For the author, it’s a marvelous new leap.

Chronicles from the Happiest People on Earth by Wole Soyinka

coverHere’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Chronicles from the Happiest People on Earth: “Nobel Prize winner Soyinka’s first novel in almost 50 years (after the essay collection Beyond Aesthetics) delivers a sharp-edged satire of his native Nigeria. The tone is set early, as an omniscient narrator caustically refers to the country as the home of ‘the Happiest People in the World,’ a status bolstered by a Nigerian governor’s creation of ‘a Ministry of Happiness,’ to be led by the governor’s spouse. Soyinka presents a dizzying array of characters and plotlines to bolster the notion that his country’s ‘success’ is a facade built on corruption and lies. This is perhaps best illustrated by the story line involving Dr. Kighare Menka, a surgeon particularly adept at treating the victims of terror attacks. Menka’s approached by representatives of Primary Resources Management, dedicated to combating waste by maximizing ‘human resources.’ Menka learns that behind the slogans is a business plan to obtain body parts for an affluent clientele, and that he’s viewed as a steady source for the limbs and organs the venture needs. Soyinka injects suspense as well with a whodunit plot. Those with a solid grounding in current Nigerian politics are most likely to pick up on allusions to events and personalities that will elude the lay reader. Still, the imaginatively satirical treatment of serious issues makes this engaging on multiple levels.”

A Calling for Charlie Barnes by Joshua Ferris

coverHere’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about A Calling for Charlie Barnes: “NBA and Booker finalist Ferris (To Rise Again at a Decent Hour) returns with a compassionate metafictional portrait of a flawed father and his crumbling notion of the America dream. Jake Barnes, the sincere but unreliable narrator, sets out to recount the life of his dad, Charlie Barnes, aka ‘Steady Boy,’ a corporate gadfly and small business schemer who never made it through college. After multiple marriages, a few kids, and countless failed ideas for making it big—clowns and weedkiller, flying toupees—Steady Boy is working from his basement when he’s diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Jake takes it upon himself to gather his older brother Jerry and his resentful half sister Marcy, both of whom believe Steady Boy is a fraud. Ferris makes the quotidian sing, such as Jake’s description of a ‘thundering, brain-clearing sneeze’ while Steady Boy retrieves the morning paper from the curb. Ferris also flirts with a cheesy happy ending, until it becomes likely that this, too, is a fraud, prompting readers to wonder if Ferris is toying with them via Jake, who channels his namesake from The Sun Also Rises, he of the Lost Generation who no longer believes in anything. Despite the heavy subject matter, the story is often quite funny, and the themes at its core are those that will forever preoccupy humankind: purpose and death, but, mostly, love. Of Ferris’s work, this is the big kahuna.”

Things Are Against Us by Lucy Ellmann

coverHere’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Things Are Against Us: “In this offbeat essay collection, novelist Ellmann (Ducks, Newburyport) addresses complex systemic ills alongside petty grievances in an acerbic and hilarious litany of complaints. The title essay features a tirade against ‘things’ that are constantly being lost or broken or otherwise creating a nuisance, and is punctuated with the personified hijinks of various objects: ‘Rugs grab you and knock you over whenever they can. Needles prick you. They sit in the sewing box waiting patiently to prick you some day.’ Several essays contend with sexism, including ‘Three Strikes,’ which calls for women to institute a sex and work strike until the demand of ‘female supremacy’ is met (Ellmann draws from historical examples to prove its efficacy along the way). Elsewhere, Ellmann rails against air travel, bras, and electricity. Readers of Ducks, Newburyport will be familiar with her expansive writing style, which here manifests as a plethora of footnotes, some of which point to sources for further reading or illustrate the author’s points, while others are tangents on ancillary topics (such as the ‘spiraling vaginas’ of fruit flies) and can occasionally be disorienting. Nevertheless, fans of feminist satire will delight in these rants and ruminations.”

Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr

coverHere’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Cloud Cuckoo Land: “Pulitzer winner Doerr (All the Light We Cannot See) returns with a deeply affecting epic of a long-lost book from ancient Greece. In the mid-22nd century, Konstance, 14, copies an English translation of Cloud Cuckoo Land by Antonius Diogenes with her food printer’s Nourish powder while aboard the Argos, an ark-like spaceship destined for a habitable planet. She found the book in the Argos’s library, and was already familiar with Diogenes’s story of a shepherd named Aethon and his search for a book that told of all the world’s unknown lands, because her father told it to her while they tended the Argos’s farm. Her father’s connection to the Diogenes book is gradually revealed, but first Doerr takes the reader farther back in time. In chapters set in and around Constantinople leading up to the 1453 siege, two 13-year-old children, Anna and Omeir, converge while fleeing the city, and Omeir helps Anna protect a codex of Cloud Cuckoo Land she discovered in a monastery. Then, in 2020 Lakeport, Idaho, translator Zeno Ninis collaborates with a group of young children on a stage production of Cloud Cuckoo Land at the library, where a teenage ecoterrorist has planted a bomb meant to target the neighboring real estate office. Doerr seamlessly shuffles each of these narratives in vignettes that keep the action in full flow and the reader turning the pages. The descriptions of Constantinople, Idaho, and the Argos are each distinct and fully realized, and the protagonists of each are united by a determination to survive and a hunger for stories, which in Doerr’s universe provide the greatest nourishment. This is a marvel.”

is a staff writer for The Millions. He lives in New York.