Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Hemon, Guns, Harding, and More

January 24, 2023 | 14 books mentioned 5 min read

Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new release titles from Aleksandar Hemon, Priya GunsPaul Harding, and more—that are publishing this week.

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The World and All That It Holds by Aleksandar Hemon

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The World and All That It Holds: “Three-time NBCC finalist Hemon (The Lazarus Project) returns with a potent story of love, war, and displacement in the early 20th century. Rafael Pinto, a Bosnian Jew, returns from schooling in Vienna and takes over his recently deceased father’s apothecary in Sarajevo. After Pinto witnesses Franz Ferdinand’s assassination, he’s drafted into the army and falls in love with Osman Karišik, a fellow soldier, Muslim orphan, and prodigious storyteller. Soon, the two are captured by the Russians and imprisoned in Tashkent. There, Pinto is tormented by disease, starvation, and the random executions of inmates, especially after Osman is pulled from their cell. But as the war ends, Osman frees Pinto, and they’re helped in Tashkent by a Jewish doctor and his daughter, Klara. After a period of relative peace and happiness, the two friends’ lives become deeply entwined with Klara’s family. Then Bolsheviks sweep the country, and Pinto flees across central Asia during the early 1920s, making his way toward China while yearning for Osman and grappling with opium addiction. Hemon easily immerses readers in the characters’ various languages, particularly the Sarajevo ‘Spanjol’ dialect, and brings home via vivid daydreams Pinto’s anguish while separated from Osman. Readers will delight in this sweeping epic.”

Your Driver Is Waiting by Priya Guns

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Your Driver Is Waiting: “Guns’ sharp and bonkers debut reimagines Taxi Driver for the Uber era. Damani Krishanthan, 30, drives long hours for RideShare in an unnamed American city, where her low commission rate can’t cover her bills and rent on the apartment she shares with her recently widowed mother (the household has also lost the income of Damani’s father, who died while working a fast-food job). Damani grinds out her gig, fighting exhaustion and keeping weapons close at hand for protection; passes a steady stream of protesters carrying ‘FUCK-this signs’; and hangs out at an abandoned warehouse-cum-night club, the Doo Wop Club, where she commiserates with fellow gig workers. Things seem to brighten after she books a fare with Jolene, a wealthy white activist with whom she develops a whirlwind romance. But when Jolene accompanies Damani to the Doo Wop Club, an argument ensues as Damani challenges Jolene’s abstract anticapitalistic ideas about how to handle predatory companies like RideShare. The third act, featuring Damani sporting a mohawk à la Travis Bickle, leads to a somewhat overheated ending, but there’s plenty of rich commentary on gig work, race, and white privilege. This has plenty of bite.”

The Faraway World by Patricia Engel

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Faraway World: “Colombians and Colombian Americans experience the bittersweet vagaries of class, lies, and love in this engrossing collection from Engel (Infinite Country). In the suspenseful ‘Aida,’ Aida’s 16-year-old twin sister, Salma, disappears from their quiet N.Y.C. suburb, which the detective on the case describes reassuringly as the opposite of ‘some third world country.’ In the gritty ‘Fausto,’ a security guard entices his naive lover, Paz, into being a drug mule. The enthralling ‘The Book of Saints’ alternates perspectives to tell the story of a loveless marriage between a Colombian woman and a man from Manhattan who meets her online and who pays for her breast implants. In ‘Campoamor,’ set in Cuba, a bleak romantic triangle complicates the narrator’s effort to leave the country. In ‘Libelula,’ a Colombian immigrant takes a cleaning job with a wealthy Colombian family and moves into a studio share in Manhattan with another Colombian woman who works as a nanny; by the end, the story blooms into a seductive portrayal of infidelity. Engel’s alluring story lines and empathy for her characters make this a winner.”

The Guest Lecture by Martin Riker

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Guest Lecture: “Riker (Samuel Johnson’s Eternal Return) spins a brilliant and innovative exploration of modern economic history in the form of a late-night waking dream. Abigail, a feminist economist who has recently been denied tenure, lies awake in a hotel room while the rest of her family sleeps. As she battles insomnia and anxiety over the lecture she’s scheduled to give the next day on John Maynard Keynes and utopia, she attempts to practice using a rhetorical strategy in which she assigns segments of her speech to rooms of her house. Keynes then shows up in her imaginary house with a ‘worried grandpa look,’ and proceeds to give her a tour, sprinkling nuggets of his ideas and biographical details, ‘like pixie dust’ in his words, in the various rooms. But Abby drifts away from her lecture and into the terrain of memory, priority, and stresses about her world, as well as the world at large—’You are not entirely powerless. But mostly, yes, you are powerless,’ Abby reminds herself. Distinguishing between Keynes’s ‘two kinds of needs,’ food and shelter versus ‘wants masquerading as needs,’ Abby’s metaphysical wanderings swell to a scorching condemnation of modern life and an empathetic celebration of its meaningful moments. It’s a transporting, clever, and inspired work of fiction.”

After Sappho by Selby Wynn Schwartz

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about After Sappho: “Schwartz’s brilliant debut novel (after the critical study The Bodies of Others: Drag Dances and Their Afterlives) recreates the lives of feminists in the early 20th century. The collective first-person ‘we’ narrator—a Greek chorus devoted to the female poet Sappho—weaves the stories of writers, painters, and performers who, like Sappho, are attracted to women and are determined to become their authentic selves through art. Many of the threads revolve around Lina Poletti, who thrives in her classical studies in Bologna despite Italian laws restricting the rights of women. She writes poetry and plays about women, and has romances with another writer, Sibilla Aleramo, who’d been forced to marry the rapist who got her pregnant; and the stage actor Eleonora Duse, best known for her portrayal of Nora in A Doll’s House. They, along with expat American writer Natalie Barney, poet Renée Vivien, and painter Romaine Brooks, carve out a place in European society during a time when lesbianism is ignored, not criminalized. Then comes WWI: Brooks and others drive ambulances at the front, Virginia Woolf begins writing about Cassandra, and Poletti writes war poems. At the war’s end, a British parliamentarian accuses an actor of lesbianism in the press, thus placing women’s sexuality under intense public scrutiny. As the chorus narrates, ‘we were plunged back into a history we had barely survived the first time.’ Schwartz’s account of what happens next as the central characters resist oppression speaks volumes on their efforts, and she contributes her own work of art with this irresistible narrative. Schwartz breathes an astonishing sense of life into her timeless characters.”

This Other Eden by Paul Harding

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about This Other Eden: “Pulitzer winner Harding (Tinkers) suffuses deep feeling into this understated yet wrenching story inspired by an isolated mixed-raced community’s forced resettlement in 1912 Maine. Formerly enslaved Benjamin Honey and his Irish-born wife Patience settled Apple Island more than a century earlier. Now, the hardscrabble community includes gender-bending and incestuous siblings Theophilus and Candace Lark and their four, mentally disabled children; a Civil War veteran named Zachary Hand to God Proverbs, who lives in a hollow tree; Irish sisters Iris and Violet McDermott, who raise three orphaned Penobscot children; and the Honeys’ descendants. Christian missionary and retired schoolteacher Matthew Diamond has spent the past five years visiting the island during the summer to teach the community’s children. A deeply prejudiced man, he prays for the strength to overcome his ‘visceral, involuntary repulsion’ to Black people, and is continually shocked at the children’s quick minds as well as Ethan Honey’s talent for drawing. With eugenics on the rise, the state sets in motion a plan to clear the island and Diamond contrives to send Ethan to a colleague in Massachusetts, where he can pass as white and study art. Harding’s close-third narration gives shape and weight to the community members’ complicated feelings about their displacement, while his magisterial prose captures a sense of place (‘the island a granite pebble in the frigid Atlantic shallows’). It’s a remarkable achievement.”

Also out this week: Hanging Out by Sheila Liming and Judas Goat by Gabrielle Bates.

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