‘Africaville’: Featured Fiction from Jeffrey Colvin

In today edition of featured fiction—curated by our own Carolyn Quimby—we present an excerpt from Jeffrey Colvin’s debut novel, Africaville, out today from Amistad.

The novel—named one of the Best Books to Read This Winter by Vogue—earned praise for Victor LaValle, who said: “Africaville turns history into an engaging family story, one that begins in Nova Scotia and then travels across North America. It’s a gripping and moving book. Jeffrey Colvin writes with such affection and authority. I thought of the fine work of Esi Edugyan and Edward P. Jones and E.L. Doctorow, too. He deserves to be counted in their number and this is an excellent debut.”

Dogtrot Fever
Nova Scotia, 1918 

Newborns are never afflicted with the malady. The swollen tongue, the reddish throat, the raw cough seem to afflict only babies older than six months. By the spring, in the village situated on a small knuckle-shaped peninsula just north of Halifax, all five of the stricken babies have now developed a high fever.

Having no luck with sweet milk and lemon bitter, worried mothers administer castor oil mixed with camphor, then a tea of beer’s root steeped with beech ash and clover. When desperate, they even place a few charms under the mattresses of the beds where the stricken babies lie crying.

Nothing works.

In mid-April, with three more babies now suffering from the malady, health department nurses visit the village, their faces frozen even before they have examined a single new case. Why our children? several mothers standing in the yard of one house want to know. Hadn’t Halifax already given enough babies in the fire that leveled ten square blocks of the city months before, when the munitions ship exploded in the harbor? Then again, those had been white babies. No colored babies had died in that explosion. Was it now Woods Bluff’s turn to lose infants? And if so, how many—five, ten, all twenty-two?

The following week, after two of the feverish babies die, the mothers turn to the grandmothers, though many are leery of this option. Already several grandmothers have suggested that since the home remedies haven’t worked, and since neither nurse nor doctor has useful medicines, the afflicted infants must be bad-luck babies.

It is an expression the mothers haven’t heard since they were children, though the fear of having a bad-luck baby has terrorized mothers on the bluff as far back as 1790. That was the year the first groups of cabins sprang up across the bluff, displacing the foxes, hare, and moose that ran through the thick Christmas ferns and sheep laurel. Back when no medicine could reinvigorate a baby whose body had begun to show the outline of bones, smothering was sometimes recommended. Take no action, and bad luck might infect the entire village. Best to end the child’s suffering midday, when injurious spirits would likely be bedside, feeding on the moisture of a weak baby’s last breaths.

Yet several mothers are unconvinced the deceased infants are bad-luck babies.

And even if the now-suffering babies are saddled with bad luck, who’s to say those old tales of smothering are true? Had anyone actually seen a mother place a blanket or pillow over a child’s face? And most important for these new cases: by what evidence will we make the diagnosis?

The grandmothers have ready answers. For several descendants of the Virginian who came up to Nova Scotia in 1772 as a messenger in the British army, a feverish baby had to be put to sleep if its father had recently had a limb severed above the knee or elbow. Death was also imminent if the baby’s fever came during the same month as the mother’s birthday. For the granddaughter of the Congolese woman who, in 1785, dressed as a man, sailed into Halifax Harbour on a ship out of Lisbon, Portugal, a feverish baby had to be smothered if the newborn was smaller than a man’s hand.

And for the largest group of grandmothers, those descended from the nearly two hundred Jamaicans who landed in Halifax Harbour in 1788 after being expelled by British soldiers from their island villages for fomenting rebellion, a feverish baby’s fate was sealed if the child coughed up blood during the same month a traveling man arrived on your stoop selling quill turpentine, goat leather, or gunpowder. Hadn’t such a vendor made the rounds in Woods Bluff the month before? Why continue to nurse such a child? Death already had a square toe on the baby’s throat. It was only a matter of days, a week maybe, if the baby were a girl.

The mothers nod as they listen to the explanations, but over the next weeks only one baby is smothered, although Lovee Mills denies doing it. Near the beginning of May, however, another mother on the bluff seriously considers taking the grandmothers’ advice about ending her baby’s suffering. Her afflicted child is the cousin of the first baby that developed the fever. Adding to the mother’s exasperation are the noisy groups of neighbors that have been gathering outside her home each day at sunset, a few of them knocking on the door and asking outright if the bad-luck baby had been relieved of its worldly suffering.

By now the malady has a name. It refers to the style of cabin where the woman and her extended family live. A dogtrot cabin’s construction— two rooms connected by a short breezeway in the middle—had confounded the villagers for years. Some suspected the man who built the cabin wanted a reminder of his home in Virginia. But a breezeway in a dwelling in Nova Scotia? Pure stupidity.

And now living in the cabin has caused two babies to get sick. Many blame the parents and the other members of the large extended family that lives there. Tight living made sense in 1782, they say, but this is 1918. If parents, grown children, and grandchildren are going to continue to jungle up in quarters that tight, what was the use of leaving prison? Even in the best families, sleeping foot to head too long breeds animosity. And if lies, jealousy, and ill will erupt easily in close quarters, why not a virulent fever?

“Will she do it?” someone in the crowd that has arrived at the dogtrot cabin this evening asks.

“If you mean smother the child, she had better,” another replies. “Or else one of us will.”

The cabin’s odd construction had also puzzled several of the rebellious Jamaicans who arrived in Halifax Harbour in 1788. Of course, by the time they first saw the odd dwelling, their minds had been addled by two years of confinement in the military prison on the western edge of Halifax. It took that long before Canadian military commanders believed they had sorted out which of the prisoners were combatants or abettors, and which were mere residents of the Jamaican villages torched by British soldiers.

The wait had been a horror in the cramped underground magazine and provisions spaces.

Eighty-two prisoners were moved to cells aboveground. From this group, squads of men were conscripted to repair damaged sections of the Citadel, help guard the city against French soldiers raiding its perimeter, and do road repair. One warm October day, a group of men on a road detail snuck off to walk the foot trails of Woods Bluff.

Most of the men had heard by then that the money being sent from London and Jamaica to house the prisoners had slowed to a trickle. With no firm offer yet from the government of Sierra Leone to accept them and their families, the men walked the trails looking for the cabin where military officials said a few families would soon be offered housing.

The first two families released from prison and driven by mule wagon out to the bluff never learned what happened to the family from Virginia that had lived there. But with the almanac predicting a heavy snowstorm within the week, they set about gathering dried grass and mud and fieldstones to repair the roof, chink the gaps in the logs, and mend the chimney. The men and women had their freedom. But they were facing a winter on their own in a cold, unfamiliar place. To them, this oddly built cabin seemed a present from God.

With the fever threatening another baby, villagers in 1918 have a different view of the dogtrot cabin. After hearing that the infant suffering inside the dwelling was not smothered but died on its own, they want nothing more to do with the cabin. Fearful that it is harboring bad air that might kill another baby, they chase out the families living there and set the cabin ablaze.

But what had their actions accomplished, the villagers wonder one afternoon in June, when word spreads that little Kath Ella Sebolt, who lives at 68 Dempsey Road, has developed the fever.

By now seven babies have died.

Fearing her daughter might be the eighth child to die of the fever, Kath Ella Sebolt’s mother, Shirley, goes in search of the handmade dolls she had purchased the previous winter. All ten of the dolls made by the neighborhood leatherworker were imitations of the Lucky Beatrice doll that had been fought over by a platoon of fathers in a pistol-shooting contest at the most recent Pictou County Exposition. What can it hurt, Shirley Sebolt figures, to slide her daughter’s doll under the bed where her daughter suffers?

That evening Kath Ella’s fever breaks. The next morning Shirley carries the doll to a house down the road. The next afternoon, similar dolls are slipped under other beds all across the village.

“Could be the fever just tired itself out,” George Sebolt tells a neighbor visiting with the news that his previously ailing infant has sucked down a full bottle of milk. “And maybe the nurses are bringing better medicine.”

“No,” Shirley insists. “That lucky doll under the bed did the trick.”

© Africaville by Jeffrey Colvin Amistad Books/HarperOne

December Preview: The Millions Most Anticipated (This Month)

We wouldn’t dream of abandoning our vast semi–annual Most Anticipated Book Previews, but we thought a monthly reminder would be helpful (and give us a chance to note titles we missed the first time around).  Here’s what we’re looking out for this month—if you need more reading inspiration to close out 2019, check out our Second-Half Preview. Let us know what you’re looking forward to in the comments!

Want to know about the books you might have missed? Then go read our most recent book preview. Want to help The Millions keep churning out great books coverage? Then sign up to be a member today.

The Story of a Goat by Perumal Murugan (translated by N. Kalyan Raman): National Book Award nominee Murugan returns with an allegorical novel from the perspective of Poonachi, a helpless and rare black goat. When taken in by a poor farming family, Poonachi discovers the world is far more precious, uncertain, and dangerous than she could have ever dreamed. Kirkus’ starred review calls the novel “an affecting modern fable reflecting Murugan’s enchanting capacity to make a simple story resonate on many levels.” (Carolyn)

Dead Astronauts by Jeff VanderMeer: Not all writers can make you feel human emotions about ectoplasmic goo, but not all writers are Jeff VanderMeer. In his latest spin-off from Borne and The Strange Bird, VanderMeer again invites us to the hallucinatory ruins of an unnamed City, beshadowed by the all-powerful Company, and rife with all manners of mysterious characters. Fish, foxes, and madmen, Oh my. (Nick M.)

Migrating to Prison by César Cuauhtémoc García Hernández: García Hernández, a University of Denver law professor and immigration lawyer, offers a powerful critique of immigration dentention. In exploring the intersection of the immigration system and criminal justice, historian Aviva Chomsky says: “García Hernández brings a sharp legal eye to showing how our immigration system has become so twisted that we take for granted the outrageous.” (Carolyn)

Fish Soup by Margarita García Robayo (translated by Charlotte Coombe): García Robayo’s first English translation is comprised of two novellas—Waiting for a Hurricane and Sexual Education—and Worse Things, her Casa de las Américas Prize award-winning short story collection. Publishers Weekly’s starred review calls the collection a “gorgeous, blackly humorous” glimpse into the lives of Colombians home and abroad. (Carolyn)

Africaville by Jeffrey Colvin: In his long-awaited debut, Colvin’s triptych debut follows three generations of the Sebolt family from the 1930s through the 1980s. In a small Novia Scotia town settled by their freed ancestors, the Sebolts must contend with family history, racial discrimination, identity and the idea of home. Publishers Weekly called the debut “a penetrating, fresh look at the indomitable spirit of black pioneers and their descendants.” (Carolyn)

Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid: Reid’s debut novel follows the complicated relationship between Emira, a 25-year-old black babysitter, and Alix, her white employer. When Emira is accused of stealing the boy she nannies by a grocery store security guard, their lives are thrown into turmoil stoked by secrets, racism, and obsession. Kirkus’ starred review calls the novel “charming, challenging, and so interesting you can hardly put it down.” (Carolyn)

The Heart is a Full-Wild Beast by John L’Heureux: Compiled in the twilight of his life, the late writer’s posthumous collection features both new and previously published stories exploring tragedy, joy, doubt, and faith. Kirkus’ starred review calls the stories “moral tales full of love and irony written by a master.” (Carolyn)

A Year in Reading: 2019

Welcome to the 15th annual Year in Reading series at The Millions. When site founder C. Max Magee first put together his year-end reading reflections in the early 2000s, no one suspected that a blog post would eventually grow into a series that has featured hundreds of writers and readers: librarians, critics, bloggers, journalists, essayists, poets, and fiction writers ranging from just-starting-out to just-won-a-Pulitzer-Prize. What the participants have in common is that they are loving, devoted readers.
To celebrate its 15th year, this December’s series is, at 90-something contributors, the most crowded yet. As in every year, entries turn out not to be mere lists of books, but records of time passing–there were births and deaths, moves and separations and career changes. As in every year, some books pop up again and again in contributors’ collections of memorable reading experiences. And as in every year, we guarantee you will conclude the month with at least one book to add to your TBR pile. 
The names of our 2019 contributors will be unveiled throughout the month as entries are published (starting with our traditional opener from Languagehat’s Stephen Dodson later this morning). Bookmark this post, load up the main pagesubscribe to our RSS feed, or follow us on Facebook or Twitter to make sure you don’t miss an entry — we’ll run at least three per day for the next three weeks.
Stephen Dodson, proprietor of Languagehat.Ayşe Papatya Bucak, author of The Trojan War Museum and Other Stories.Shea Serrano, author of Movies (And Other Things)Dantiel W. Moniz, author of the forthcoming collection Milk Blood Heat.Andrea Long Chu, author of Females.De’Shawn Charles Winslow, author of In West Mills.Omar El Akkad, author of American War.Kali Fajardo-Anstine, author of Sabrina & Corina: StoriesAlexandra Kleeman, author of You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine.Isabella Hammad, author of The Parisian.Nayomi Munaweera, author of  What Lies Between Us.Marcos Gonsalez, author of the forthcoming memoir Pedro’s Theory.Max Porter, author of Lanny.Yan Lianke, author of The Explosion Chronicles.Lauren Michele Jackson, author of  White Negroes: When Cornrows Were in Vogue … and Other Thoughts on Cultural Appropriation.Catherine Lacey, author of the forthcoming novel Pew.Sonya Chung, staff writer for The Millions, author of The Loved Ones.Carolyn Quimby, associate editor for The Millions.Nick Ripatrazone, staff writer for The Millions, author of Longing for an Absent God.Garth Risk Hallberg, contributing editor for The Millions, author of  City on Fire.Jianan Qian, staff writer for The Millions.Nick Moran, special projects editor for The Millions.Kate Gavino, social media editor for The Millions, author of Last Night’s Reading and Sanpaku.Adam O’Fallon Price, staff writer for The Millions, author of  The Grand Tour and The Hotel Neversink.Merve Emre, author of The Personality Brokers.Rion Amilcar Scott, author of The World Doesn’t Require You.Devi S. Laskar, author of The Atlas of Reds and Blues.Jason R Jimenez, author of The Wolves.Iva Dixit, associate editor at The New York Times Magazine.Jennifer Croft, author of Homesick.Venita Blackburn, author of  Black Jesus and Other Superheroes.C Pam Zhang, author of How Much of These Hills Is Gold.Jedediah Britton-Purdy, author of This Land Is Our Land: The Struggle for a New Commonwealth.Julia Phillips, author of  Disappearing Earth.Osita Nwanevu, staff writer at The New Republic.Jennine Capó Crucet, author of  My Time Among the Whites: Notes from an Unfinished Education.
Do you love Year in Reading and the amazing books and arts content that The Millions produces year round? We are asking readers for support to ensure that The Millions can stay vibrant for years to come. Please click here to learn about several simple ways you can support The Millions now.
Don’t miss: A Year in Reading 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005


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Support The Millions Today

Dear Millions Readers:

It has been a year of change and growth for The Millions, but one thing that remains constant is the challenge of running and maintaining a culture-focused online magazine.

Today, we’re asking our readers to support the site, not because we’re in financial trouble but because—to quote Millions founder Max Magee—“it is time for you and us to take our destiny into our own hands as much as is possible.”

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‘In the Country of Women’: Featured Nonfiction from Susan Straight

In our latest edition of featured nonfiction, we present an excerpt from National Book Award finalist Susan Straight’s new novel, In the Country of Women, out now from Catapult.

The book—which is part social history, part personal narrative—earned praise from The New York Times Book Review, with Kristal Brent Zook saying: “In the end, Straight’s book is about far more than a country of women. It’s an ode to the entire multiracial, transnational tribe she claims as her own…In fact, her words are for all those who now call her mother, aunt, cousin and sister, in the neighborhood where she has lived her entire life. And for all those who survived, so these women could live.”

                         Daisy Belle: Sunflower County, Mississippi, 1915

You so fine I might just have to kill you. Some other fool is gonna take you away, and I can’t have that. Family legend: This is what Daisy’s first husband said to her, holding the gun he kept on the small table beside their bed.

Alberta, my mother-in-law, told me the story of her own mother, Daisy, only once, and it was not until after I had my first daughter. Alberta was Daisy’s third daughter, named for Daisy’s sister. We were sitting knee to knee by the massive ochre-brick fireplace in the fall, when Gaila was four months old. In the living room that was never empty, we were alone that day at lunchtime, on my break from work, while I nursed the baby. Alberta was watching the damp black curls of my daughter, glistening with heat from the flames, her head lolling back and a drop of milk near the corner of her mouth as she fought sleep. Gaila, the fourth generation of descendants from Mary Thomas Ford, killed for secrets.

“My mother never had a home when she was little. Not after her mother died.”

She paused. My mother-in-law’s hands were elegant, her nails strong and oval and painted, her eyebrows vivid with pencil, her lips always defined with liner and lipstick. We were sitting in maroon leather club chairs whose arms were rolled and graceful, with brass rivets. Alberta said softly, “They were walking down a road. Her and her mother. Mary. She was holding her mother’s hand. My grandmother saw the car coming. She threw my mother out of the way, threw her up where no one could see her, and then the car ran her over.”

The driver was a young white man with another young white male passenger; the car plowed into Mary Thomas at great speed and then the driver swerved back onto the road and left her behind. Mary had three children – Daisy, 5, Arthur, 2, and Alberta, 1. It makes sense that only Daisy was walking with her, because the others were so young, but no one can say for certain. The three children had been given the surname of their father: Ford. But no one ever mentions him again, either.

This part stays the same, no matter who tells the story: it was dusk, and suddenly a car was speeding down the narrow dirt lane, raising dust, careening toward them, and Mary knew what was coming, and why, and she threw Daisy up onto the roadbank into the trees, or in the ditch into the weeds.

That day by the fire, Alberta said sadly, “My mother was so little. And after that, she went from pillar to post. Yes, she did. Pillar to post.”

Alberta held out her arms for the baby. I had to go back to work, and Alberta would hold her for hours while a procession of women came to visit and watch soap operas and share food and stories and rock this grandchild who was so loved that her cheeks would be red with kisses and lipstick when I came to retrieve her at 5.

I didn’t understand the phrase – pillar to post. Alberta watched my daughter relax back into sleep against her elbow, eyelids sliding shut. She said, “My mother never had a home. Not ’til she got here.”

Pillar to post: when someone has gone from a wealthy home, with pillars at the front, as grand embellishment, to a poorer house, with porch held up by simple wooden posts. But in Sunflower County, Daisy went from farmhouse to sharecropper cabin, wherever relatives would take care of her for a time. Alberta went to Mary’s sister Margaret, and Arthur went to an uncle. Daisy attended school until the fifth grade, as did Arthur.

That night, I lay awake thinking of the car speeding straight toward Daisy’s mother while her small daughter lay on the roadbank. I remember the Country Squire passing over me like a large animal. I remember the smell of damp asphalt against my cheek. I shivered, wondering what Daisy’s mother felt. She lay in soft Mississippi dirt. Did she die there, with her daughter afraid to come out from where she’d been thrown for safekeeping? Did Mary hear her child crying?

Did she crawl? Did Daisy see her mother’s eyes?

Years later, at family gatherings, other relatives would offer:

They were drunk and they killed her, but they were rich white boys and no one in that county was gonna prosecute them.

     They were sent to kill her because she knew things. About the rich white men around there. They didn’t want her to tell.

     They killed her because no one wanted her to say who were the fathers of those children. Daisy and Arthur and Alberta. Mary was the prettiest of all the girls. She was beautiful.

     There were only about six cars in the whole county – it was a poor place! The police knew whose car it was. Of course they did.

Imagine Daisy’s memory, of her small body being flung by her mother’s hands to safety, and where she landed, and how it felt. What she saw and heard after that. It’s beyond comprehension: did the men stop and look at Mary Thomas? Was Daisy so scared she knew to keep hidden in the trees or the weeds? Did she breathe? Did she hear her mother’s breath? Did she hear pain or crying? How long did she wait by the roadside, and who drove the next vehicle or wagon that came upon them, and what never left her memory?

Violence like that enters the blood. Changes the DNA. We know this now, from accounts of survivors of genocide, of the Holocaust, of war and torture and imprisonment. Reading historical narratives from the elderly people formerly enslaved in the American South, in places like Sunflower County, Mississippi, reminds us of how injury, rape, and psychological pain were endured, and interred, in the bones and brain.

Some Americans have tried to make slavery a single chapter in the nation’s history, a finite number of years that ceases influence at the end of the Civil War. Tell this to the family of Mary Thomas, and the thousands of other black men and women killed in carefully-planned acts of retribution or for casual sport – from the moment the Emancipation Proclamation was read, through the terrors of Reconstruction, to the countless lynchings between 1900-1950s, to the murders during the civil rights movement, to killings that happen right now. This moment.

By 1989, when Alberta told me that story, her mother, Daisy, had travelled through seven states to make sure Alberta’s childhood was rooted deeply and firmly in a radius of three miles, and we sat in the center of that radius. But Daisy’s odyssey had been long and dangerous, and at the end of it, she had four daughters, and endless secrets.

Daisy Belle Ford Morris Carter remains the mystery woman of our family. We still talk even now about how she never told anyone the identities of the fathers of her daughters. In a time when every pair of high heels chosen for the club, every new hairstyle or cup of coffee is documented in cell phone images with time, date, and exact street location, it seems astonishing that the phrase “she took that knowledge to the grave” could be true. Over six decades, Daisy never told anyone. Maybe those men were so dangerous she knew what she was doing.

And so, so my three daughters, I want to say that these women crossed thousands of miles of hardship so that when I was fourteen and your father was fifteen, he could walk two miles from his house to the end of my street — no one had cars, no one had any money for a date, we met only in parks — where he bounced a basketball in the playground of my elementary school. I walked there to meet him. We sat on the wooden bench against the chainlink fence that separated the playground from the railroad tracks twenty feet away. His shirt: white waffle-weave long underwear with the sleeves cut off for a tank top. I remember the smell of freshly-laundered cotton and Hai Karate even now. My shirt: a halter top I’d sewn from two red bandannas, from a pattern I found in Seventeen magazine. We talked for a long time in the darkness, played a few games of H-O-R-S-E (I wondered why it was always horse and never something more entertaining, like platypus or elephant or anaconda), and returned to the splintery bench. We kissed for the first time.

His arms were the color of palm bark – brown with a glossy red underneath — and his fingers so long and elegant that when he put my palm against his, my whole hand barely came to the middle knuckles. My arms should have been pale, but this was 1975 – girls rubbed Johnson’s baby oil onto their skin and lay at the beach or beside pools to get brown. I had the baby oil – but no beach or pool. I mowed lawns and lay in the bed of my dad’s truck while he drove us to the desert.

Your father pointed to the dark-brown dot on the skin below my collarbone. “What’s that?” he said quietly.

Was I supposed to say mole? Mole sounded terrible. A blind animal nosing out of the earth. I was so near-sighted I could barely see the playground, because I’d left my glasses at home. “Beauty mark?” I said.

He laughed. “That’s if you paint it on your face.”

“Who says?”

“All my aunts.”

I remember too the smell of sulfur in the rocks along the railroad tracks, and the pepper trees nearby with their spicy pink berries.

Thousands of miles of migration – from slave ships arrived to America, from boats leaving Europe after World War II, from indigenous peoples, enslaved peoples, hardened ranchwomen, and fierce mothers. The women moved ever west, fled men, met new men, made silent narrow-eyed decisions in the darkness, got on buses and in cars and walked for miles to survive. West until there was no more west.

We were born here, to more dreamers of the golden dream, the ones you never hear about. We moved through the streets of southern California, still with no money, but we had more than those women did when they were girls. We shared one burrito four ways, we rode eight to a car in a Dodge Dart or Ford pickup, we partied in the orange groves or in a field by the towering cement Lily Cup, where our friends’ parents worked at the plant making paper cups that Americans used to hold at the water cooler.

More than a year later, your father finally picked me up in the Batmobile, a 1961 Cadillac with vintage oxidized brown like faded coffee ground, with huge fins as if sharks would chaperone us down the street. The sound was like a freight train. Sitting in the passenger seat, I saw a dark stain along the inside of the door. It was cold, and I asked your father to roll up the window, but he didn’t want me to see the spiderweb cracks around the bullet hole in the glass. Some guy had been leaning against the car window when he was shot. The stains were reminders of his blood. General Sims II, your grandfather, had bought the car from under a pepper tree where it had sat since the murder, covered in California dust. Your father drove me a mile and a half, to General and Alberta’s house, and in the driveway Alberta held out her hand and said, Come and make you a plate, and my life changed.

That is how you, our three daughters, became California girls. Via the Batmobile. You are the apex of the dream, the future of America, and nearly every day of my life I imagine the women watching you, watching all of us as we raised you, hoping they — the ancestors — won’t be forgotten.

Copyright © 2019 by Susan Straight, from In the Country of Women. Excerpted by permission of Catapult.

November Preview: The Millions Most Anticipated (This Month)

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We wouldn’t dream of abandoning our vast semi–annual Most Anticipated Book Previews, but we thought a monthly reminder would be helpful (and give us a chance to note titles we missed the first time around).  Here’s what we’re looking out for this month—for more November titles, check out our Second-Half Preview. Let us know what you’re looking forward to in the comments!

Want to know about the books you might have missed? Then go read our most recent book preview. Want to help The Millions keep churning out great books coverage? Then sign up to be a member today.

The Revisioners by Margaret Wilkerson Sexton: Sexton’s first novel, A Kind of Freedom, was on the longlist for the 2017 National Book Award and appeared on a number of year-end best-of lists. The Revisioners, a multigenerational story focusing on black lives in America, begins in 1925, when farm owner Josephine enters into a reluctant, precarious relationship with her white neighbor, with disastrous results; nearly 100 years later, Josephine’s descendant, Ava, out of desperation, moves in with her unstable white grandmother. The novel explores the things that happen between; the jacket copy promises “a novel about the bonds between a mother and a child, the dangers that upend those bonds.” (Edan)

In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado: After the runaway and wholly deserved success of her magnificent short story collection, Her Body and Other Parties, Machado returns with a memoir chronicling an abusive relationship. Juxtaposing her personal experience with research and cultural representations of domestic abuse, the book defies all genre and structural expectations. Writer Alex Marzano-Lesnevich writes that Machado “has reimagined the memoir genre, creating a work of art both breathtakingly inventive and urgently true.” (Carolyn)

Space Invaders by Nona Fernández (translated by Natasha Wimmer): Chilean writer Nona Fernández is revered as one of the most important contemporary Latin-American writers, and her novel explores the experience of growing up in a dictatorship and trying to grapple with erasure and truth in adulthood. Daniel Alarcón writes, “Space Invaders is an absolute gem…Within the canon of literature chronicling Pinochet’s Chile, Nona Fernández’s Space Invaders is truly unique.” (Zoë)

The Book of Lost Saints by Daniel José Older: Spanning generations, Older’s latest tells the tale of a family split between New Jersey and Cuba, who grapple with the appearance of their vanished ancestor’s ghost. The ancestor, Marisol, went missing in the tumult of the Revolution, taking with her the family’s knowledge of their painful and complicated past. When Marisol visits her nephew, he starts to learn about her story, which hinges on “lost saints” who helped her while she was in prison. (Thom)

What Burns by Dale Peck: Dale Peck has published a dozen books—novels, an essay collection, a memoir, young-adult and children’s novels—and along the way he has won a Lamda Award, a Pushcart Prize, and two O. Henry Awards. Now Peck is out with something new: What Burns, his first collection of short fiction. Written over the course of a quarter-century, these stories are shot through with two threads that run through all of Peck’s writing: tenderness and violence. In “Not Even Camping Is Like Camping Anymore,” for instance, a teenaged boy must fend off the advances of a 5-year-old his mother babysits. And in “Bliss,” a young man befriends the convicted felon who murdered his mother when he was a child. Tenderness and violence, indeed. (Bill)

White Negroes: When Cornrows Were in Vogue … and Other Thoughts on Cultural Appropriation by Lauren Michele Jackson: Scholar and writer Lauren Michele Jackson, who has written many incisive essays on popular culture and race for Vulture and elsewhere, now publishes her first book, an in-depth exploration of the way white America continues to steal from black people, a practice that, Jackson argues, increases inequality. Eve Ewing says of the book: “We’ve needed this book for years, and yet somehow it’s right on time.” (Lydia)

Vernon Subutex 1 by Virginie Despentes (translated by Frank Wynne): A writer and director dubbed the “wild child of French literature” by The Guardian, Despentes has been a fixture on the French, and global, arts scene since her provocative debut, Baise-Moi. Translated by Frank Wynne, this first in a trilogy of novels introduces us to Vernon Subutex, a louche antihero who, after his Parisian record shop closes, goes on an epic couch-surfing, drug-fueled bender. Out of money and on the streets, his one possession is a set of VHS tapes shot by a famous, recently deceased rock star that everyone wants to get their hands on. (Matt)

The Fugitivities by Jesse McCarthy: The debut novel from McCarthy, Harvard professor and author of essays destined to be taught in classrooms for years to come (among them “Notes on Trap”), The Fugitivities takes place in Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Brazil, with Parisian interludes. The novel explores the collision of a teacher in crisis with a basketball coach yearning for a lost love, carrying the former on a journey that will change everything. Of The Fugitivities, Namwali Serpell writes “In exquisite, often ecstatic, prose, McCarthy gives us a portrait of the artist as a young black man—or rather, as a set of young black men, brothers and friends and rivals.” (Lydia)

Jakarta by Rodrigo Márquez Tizano (translated by Thomas Bunstead): A man and his lover are trapped in a room while a plague ravages the city in this “portrait of a fallen society that exudes both rage and resignation.” Tizano fashions an original, astonishing, and terrifyingly unhinged dystopia in this, his debut novel. Thomas Bunstead adds to an impressive resumé with a seamlessly literary and peppery translation from the Spanish. (Il’ja)

Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo: Joint winner of the 2019 Booker Prize and first black woman to receive the award, Evaristo’s eighth novel follows the lives of 12 black British people—predominately, thought not entirely, women—from different classes and identities. The Booker judges called the novel “a must-read about modern Britain and womanhood” that “deserves to be read aloud and to be performed and celebrated in all kinds of media.” (Carolyn)

Essays One by Lydia Davis: In the first half of a two-volume collection, Davis gathers a collection of nonfiction writing from the last five decades. The famed short story writer’s essays about reading and writing explore her artistic influences, literary criticism, and even annotations of her own work—which offers a rare deep dive into her craft. Publishers Weekly’s starred review says readers “should take the opportunity to learn from a legend.” (Carolyn)

The Worst Kind of Want by Liska Jacobs: Pricilla (Cilla) Messing has spent her life caring for others so she expects more of the same when she’s called to Rome to babysit her out-of-control teenage niece. Instead, while falling under the spell of scenic Italy and a forbidden flirtation, Cilla’s erratic behavior jeopardizes her future. Publishers Weekly wrote that the “intoxicating” novel is “a love letter to Italy and an evocative study of grief and desire.” (Carolyn)

The Witches are Coming by Lindy West: In a follow-up to her bestselling memoir Shrill, West’s new essay collection—complete with a title playing on the idea of “witch hunt”—explores our current cultural moment. Whether it’s #MeToo, misogyny in the Trump era, or how the media covers serial killers, West’s writing is biting, funny, and whip smart. “Satirical, raw, and unapologetically real, West delivers the bittersweet truths on contemporary living,” says Kirkus. (Carolyn)

On Swift Horses by Shannon Pufahl: Purahl’s debut novel set in the 1950s follows Muriel, a 21-year-old newlywed who has moved from rural Kansas to San Diego with her husband, Lee. Listless and restless, Muriel sets off to find the brother-in-law she harbors deep affection for. Kirkus’ starred review says, “the book is filled with such rhythmically lovely, splendidly evocative, and masterfully precise descriptions.” (Carolyn)

The Innocents by Michael Crummey: Finalist for the 2019 Giller Prize, Crummey’s latest novel follows two recently-orphaned siblings as they navigate the brutal conditions of 19th-century Newfoundland. About The Innocents, Smith Henderson writes, “what makes this story timeless is Crummey’s rich depiction of the human heart in extremis, the unflagging beat of life in a world that is too much to bear.” (Carolyn)

The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern: Eight years after The Night Circus became a literary and book club sensation, Morgenstern returns with her much anticipated sophomore novel, which has received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, Booklist, and Library Journal. Steeped in her signature fantastical style, the novel follows a graduate student who stumbles upon a mysterious book that leads him to a subterranean library called the Harbor on the Starless Sea—and that’s just the beginning of the tale. (Carolyn)

All Blood Runs Red by Phil Keith and Tom Clavin: This new biography excavates the fascinating untold and nearly lost story of Eugene Bullard, a globally famous boxer, the first African-American fighter pilot, a WWII French spy, and nearly everything in between. In a starred review which calls the book “dazzling,” Publishers Weekly writes, “This may be a biography, but it reads like a novel.” (Carolyn)

‘Ordinary Girls’: Featured Nonfiction by Jaquira Díaz

In today’s edition of featured nonfiction—curated by our own Carolyn Quimby—we present an excerpt from Jaquira Díaz’s memoir, Ordinary Girls, out today from Algonquin Books.

Here’s what our own Nick Moran had to say about the book in the Second Half Preview:
In her debut memoir, Jaquira Díaz mines her experiences growing up in Puerto Rico and Miami, grappling with traumas both personal and international, and over time converts them into something approaching hope and self-assurance. For years, Díaz has dazzled in shorter formats—stories, essays, etc.—and her entrée into longer lengths is very welcome.
Beach City 
I.
One August afternoon, the year we started high school, I met Cheito. I was coming back from the beach with Boogie, walking barefoot on the scorching sidewalk because someone had stolen all my shit while I was in the water, including my chancletas. Boogie still had her sandals, her towel, her lipstick half melted in her backpack. But I had nothing except my shorts and bikini top—what I’d been wearing while swimming. I was trying to look cool while tiptoeing my ass all the way home when a blue Datsun stopped across the street. 
“You need a ride?” the driver called out. 

Boogie smiled. “It’s your lucky day, girl.” 

I checked out the car, the Puerto Rican flag hanging from the car’s mirror, counted two boys. I looked down at my burning feet. “Fuck it.” 

We crossed the street, and the boy riding shotgun moved to the back. Before Boogie could slide in and take his place, the driver pointed at me, looked me in the eyes. “Sit up front with me,” he said.

Boogie sat in the back with his friend. I sat up front, checking him out. He had a dark tan, a low fade, hazel eyes that looked almost green in the sunlight. He kept smiling at me, confident—he was fine and he knew it. I was suspicious of his every move. I didn’t smile back. “I’m going to Ninth and West Avenue,” I said. 

“No problem.” He was quiet for a minute, then said, “My name’s Cheito, by the way.” 

“Jaqui,” I said, “and that’s Boogie.” I had already decided that I wouldn’t make conversation with them, but giving them our names didn’t seem like a big deal. 

“Where you from?” he asked. 

“Make a left on Fifth Street,” I said. 

He approached the light on Fifth. I sat back and ignored his question. 

“Why you gotta be so rude, girl?” Boogie said. “She’s Puerto Rican, and I’m Cuban.” 

“I was born in Caguas,” Cheito said to me, “and my mom’s family’s from San Lorenzo. What about you? Were you born on the island?” 

“En Humacao.” 

“Oh! So you like Tito Rojas? He’s from Humacao.” He turned up the volume on his radio, which was playing Tito Rojas’s “Condéname a tu amor.” 

I smiled. “I love him. And Pedro Conga. But not a lot of people know about Pedro.” 

He looked sideways at me. “You dance salsa?” 

“Claro que si. It’s in the contract.” 

Boogie tapped my seat. “What do you mean? What contract?” 

Cheito looked back at her. “You don’t know about that. You’re Cuban.” 

I smiled at him, then turned to her. “The Boricua Contract.” 

She rolled her eyes. “Dumbass.” 

Cheito and I both laughed, and he headed north on West Avenue toward my building, the windows down, the wind slapping at my face and hair. 

When we pulled up to Southgate Towers a minute later, I opened the door, got out of the car quickly. 

“Hold up!” Cheito said. “Can I call you?” 

I shut the door, then leaned down and looked into the car. He seemed friendly enough. He’d given us a ride. He handed me a Taco Bell napkin, and I scribbled my phone number on it. 

He shook his head. “Que mala,” he said. “I can’t believe you were just gonna walk away without giving me your number.” 

I handed it to him. “How do you know it’s not fake?” 

In the backseat, Boogie was still talking to his friend. 

“I’m a call you and find out,” Cheito said. 

He called two days later and we talked for hours. We talked about Puerto Rico, about Puerto Rican food, Puerto Rican music. He told me about growing up in Hialeah and summers in Caguas and San Lorenzo. I told him about Humacao, Fajardo, Luquillo, about Miami Beach. We both raved about our abuelas, who’d raised us. We shared stories about our fathers, both mujeriegos, all the women they’d betrayed. We compared stories about our mothers, both of them hurt by the men they’d married. We played our favorite songs for each other. We listened to each other breathing on the line when we ran out of shit to talk about. At around 3:00 a.m., we started falling asleep on the line, but didn’t get off until the sun rose, then agreed to talk again the next day. 

The next day he picked me up and we went to the beach by the Fontainebleau Hilton. We swam in the ocean together, diving headfirst into the waves, racing each other underwater. He never let me win. When I got tired, he let me hang onto his shoulders. 

In the water, he picked me up, lifted me until he was looking up at me, and I wrapped my legs around his waist. He was strong, I realized, much stronger than I’d thought. From the muscles in his arms, shoulders, and back, I could tell he lifted weights. He was two years older than me, and six feet tall, and didn’t seem like a boy, but he also wasn’t a man. He was funny as hell, and always asked what I wanted, and I liked every single thing about him. In the water, with my legs wrapped around his waist, I kissed him. Just a quick, soft kiss on the lips. 

We’d kiss again when he dropped me off that night. I’d take my time reaching for the door handle, and then he’d lean over, ask, “Can I kiss you good night?” 

I’d ride the elevator all the way up to our apartment on the eighth floor, the taste of his kiss on my lips, and I would know, don’t ask me how, that some day I would marry that boy.

Published courtesy of Algonquin Books.

October Preview: The Millions Most Anticipated (This Month)

We wouldn’t dream of abandoning our vast semi–annual Most Anticipated Book Previews, but we thought a monthly reminder would be helpful (and give us a chance to note titles we missed the first time around).  Here’s what we’re looking out for this month—for more October titles, check out our Second-Half Preview. Let us know what you’re looking forward to in the comments!

Want to know about the books you might have missed? Then go read our most recent book preview. Want to help The Millions keep churning out great books coverage? Then sign up to be a member today.

Find Me by André Aciman: In a most-anticipated list, Aciman’s Find Me may be the most anticipated of all. Set decades after Oliver and Elio first meet in Call Me by Your Name, this novel follows Elio’s father Samuel, who while traveling to Rome to visit his son meets a young woman who changes his life; Elio, a classical pianist who moves to Paris; and Oliver, a New England college professor and family man who yearns to return to Italy. I’m aching to read this and I know I’ll be aching while reading it too. (Carolyn)

The Topeka School by Ben Lerner: The pre-pub blurbs for Lerner’s third novel are ecstatic, with his publisher calling it a breakthrough and Claudia Rankinedescribing it as “a powerful allegory of our troubled present.” Set in late 1990s Kansas, it centers on a lefty family in a red state. The mother is a famous feminist author; the father, a psychiatrist who specializes in “lost boys.” Their son, Adam Gordon, is a debate champion who unwittingly brings one of his father’s troubled patients into his friend group, to disastrous effect. (Hannah)

Grand Union by Zadie Smith: Grand Union is the first short story collection of Zadie Smith, the award-winning author of White Teeth and The Autograph Man, among others. Ten unpublished new stories will be put alongside with ten of her much-applauded pieces from The New Yorker and elsewhere. Everything, however familiar or small it may seem in daily life, glows in Smith’s brilliant observation. Grand Union is a wonderful meditation on time and place, past and future, identity and the possibility of rebirth. (Jianan Qian)

How We Fight for Our Lives by Saeed Jones: A 2014 NBCC finalist for his poetry collection Prelude to Bruise, How We Fight for Our Lives tells Jones’ coming-of-age as a black gay boy and man in the South via prose-poetry vignettes. From the publisher: “Blending poetry and prose, Jones has developed a style that is equal parts sensual, beautiful, and powerful—a voice that’s by turns a river, a blues, and a nightscape set ablaze.” (Sonya)

Your House Will Pay by Steph Cha: Your House Will Pay is a propulsive and well-plotted novel set in Los Angeles where crime and tension are at an all-time high. In Cha’s narrative that explores race, class, and community in Los Angeles, her characters must confront their histories and truth. Catherine Chungdescribes Your House Will Pay as “a devastating exploration of grief, shame, and deeply buried truths.” (Zoë)

 

Ordinary Girls by Jaquira Díaz: In her debut memoir, Jaquira Díaz mines her experiences growing up in Puerto Rico and Miami, grappling with traumas both personal and international, and over time converts them into something approaching hope and self-assurance. For years, Díaz has dazzled in shorter formats—stories, essays, etc.—and her entrée into longer lengths is very welcome. (Nick M.)

Things We Didn’t Talk About When I Was a Girl by Jeannie Vanasco: The CDC estimates 1 in 5 women in the U.S. are raped in their lifetimes, but concealed in those conservative, anonymized figures is the mind-bending enormity of 33,000,000 individual women and their stories. In her latest memoir, Jeannie Vanasco shares hers. Remarkably, Vanasco interviews the former friend who raped her 15 years ago, interweaving their discussions with conversations involving her close friends and peers to produce an investigation of trauma, its effects, and the ways they affect us all. “Courageous” is an inadequate word to describe this project, let alone Vanasco herself. (Nick M.)

False Bingo by Jac Jemc: The unsettling horror that made Jac Jemc’s The Grip of It such an unnerving read has mutated into an uneasiness that infiltrates the everyday lives depicted in False Bingo, Jemc’s second book of short stories. Jemc’s characters are misfits and dislocated, and their encounters often cross the line where fear becomes reality. There’s a father with dementia who develops an online shopping addiction and an outcast mulling over regret as he taxidermies animals. In essence False Bingo is a “collection of realist fables exploring how conflicting moralities can coexist: the good, the bad, the indecipherable.” (Anne)

Holding On To Nothing by Elizabeth Chiles Shelburne: This debut novel set in the mountains and hollows of Eastern Tennessee will charm you with its warmth and love for its characters, a cast that includes a dog named Crystal Gale. (Which has to be one of the best pet names in fiction.) The novel centers on Lucy Kilgore, a young woman who was planning to leave small town Tennessee but instead ends up getting shotgun-married to Jeptha Taylor, a bluegrass musician with a drinking problem. With too little money and too much alcohol in their lives, their little family is doomed from the start, but Lucy can’t help trying to hold everyone together. (Hannah)

Celestial Bodies by Jokha Alharthi (translated by Marilyn Booth): Alharthi’s novel, which won the 2019 Man Booker International Prize, is the first by an Omani woman to be translated into English. Following the lives of three sisters and their families, the novel examines a rapidly changing Omani culture through their familial sagas, dramas, loves, and losses. Publishers Weekly’s starred review called it an “ambitious, intense novel” that “rewards readers willing to assemble the pieces of Alharthi’s puzzle into a whole.” (Carolyn)

Frankissstein by Jeanette Winterson: Longlisted for the 2019 Booker Prize, Winterson’s latest novel follows a fictionalized Mary Shelley as she creates Frankenstein, or rather Winterson’s reimagining of it. In modern-day, Brexit Britain, Ry Shelley—a transgender doctor—falls in love with a professor specializing in AI. There’s also sex dolls and a cryogenics facility of dozens of bodies—medically dead but not gone yet. The novel questions what is means to be human—then, now, and in the future. With starred reviews from both Kirkus and Publishers Weekly, the former called the novel “beguiling, disturbing, and full of wonders.” (Carolyn)

Eat Joy edited by Natalie Eve Garrett (illustrated by Meryl Rowin): Writer and author Garrett has gathered 31 illustrated essays about comfort food from some of the finest writers working today—including Edwidge Danticat, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Anthony Doerr,  Carmen Maria Machado, and Alexander Chee among others. About the collection, writer Kiese Laymon says: “This is the first collection that ever made me want to sensually eat, cook, write, and thank all the wonderful makers of the most memorable memories in my life.” (Carolyn)

Wild Game by Adrienne Brodeur: In the summer of her fourteenth year, Brodeur, former editor at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and current Executive Director at Aspen Words, is woken by her mother—brimming and joyful—and told a secret: she’s been kissed by a man who is not her husband. The secret becomes the foundation of their warped relationship as Brodeur becomes her mother’s most trusted friend and expected facilitator of her extramarital affair. This graceful and heartbreaking memoir explores complicity, forgiveness, and complex familial relationships. “This layered narrative of deceit, denial, and disillusionment is a surefire bestseller,” writes Publishers Weekly.  (Carolyn)

Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout: In a follow-up to her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Olive Kitteridge, Strout returns with 13 interconnected stories about Olive, her neighbors, and her hometown of Crosby, Maine. Receiving starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Kirkus, the latter writes: “Beautifully written and alive with compassion, at times almost unbearably poignant.” (Carolyn)

Burn It Down edited by Lily Dancyger: “Throughout history, angry women have been called harpies, bitches, witches, and whores,” so begins the introduction of Dancyger’s anthology on women’s anger. The twenty-two essay collections includes works by Leslie Jamison, Melissa Febos, Evette Dionne, and Rowan Hisayo Buchanan among others. Exploring anger from a multitude of perspectives, the essays show the varying ways anger manifests in our lives—and gives it a place to take up space and have a voice. (Carolyn)

Exquisite Mariposa by Fiona Alison Duncan: Duncan’s metafictional debut follows a fictional Fiona Alison Duncan as she navigates her new life in Los Angeles—and consumed by her journey into “the Real,” an almost unattainable state of consciousness. Kirkus’ starred review writes: “The novel is highbrow and lowbrow; about everything and nothing; and wholly of this particular cultural moment—in a good way.” (Carolyn) 
 

September Preview: The Millions Most Anticipated (This Month)

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We wouldn’t dream of abandoning our vast semi–annual Most Anticipated Book Previews, but we thought a monthly reminder would be helpful (and give us a chance to note titles we missed the first time around).  Here’s what we’re looking out for this month—for more September titles, check out our Second-Half Preview. Let us know what you’re looking forward to in the comments!

Want to know about the books you might have missed? Then go read our most recent book preview. Want to help The Millions keep churning out great books coverage? Then sign up to be a member today.

The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates: One of America’s most incisive voices on race and history turns to fiction with a story of a young enslaved man who escapes bondage for the North. Early readers marvel at how Coates manages to interweave a deeply researched portrait of the all-too-real horrors of Southern slavery with sly touches of magical realism. (Michael)

All This Could Be Yours by Jami Attenberg: Emma Cline pinpoints Attenberg’s strength, that she writes about death, family, sex, love, with, “a keen sense of what, despite all the sadness and secrets, keeps people connected.” The critically acclaimed and bestselling author’s seventh novel follows the tangled relationship of a family in crisis as they gather together in a sweltering and lush New Orleans. Their father, a power-hungry real estate developer, is dying. Told by alternating narrators, the story is anchored by daughter Alex, who unearths the secrets of who her father is and what he did. This book is, Zachary Lazar says, “another marvel of intelligence, humor, and soul.” (Claire)

Make it Scream Make it Burn by Leslie Jamison: Jamison (The Empathy Exams) credits the poet William Carlos Williams with a sentence that inspired her title: “What the artist does applies to everything, every day, everywhere to quicken and elucidate, to fortify and enlarge the life about him and make it eloquent—to make it scream.” To fortify and enlarge the world through eloquence—apt descriptions of Jamison’s new collection, which begins with the story of 52 blue, “the loneliest whale in the world,” whose existence “suggests not just one single whale as metaphor for loneliness, but the metaphor itself as salve for loneliness”—and ends with “The Quickening,” an essay addressed to her daughter: “Eating was fully permitted now that I was doing it for someone else. I had never eaten like this, as I ate for you.” Another wonderful book from this gifted writer. (Nick R.)

The Dutch House by Ann Patchett: Patchett, who has long straddled the line between literary cred and pop bestsellerdom, follows up her prize-winning 2016 novel Commonwealth with another epic family saga, in this case kicked off by a real estate magnate’s purchase of a lavish suburban estate outside Philadelphia after World War II. Running from the late 1940s to the early 2000s, the novel is billed as “the story of a paradise lost, a tour de force that digs deeply into questions of inheritance, love and forgiveness.” (Michael)

The Testaments by Margaret Atwood: The much-anticipated follow up to The Handmaid’s Tale, this sequel takes place 15 years after the van door slammed on Offred and we were left wondering what was next—freedom, prison or death? The story is told by three female narrators from Gilead. In a note to readers, Atwood says two things influenced the writing of this novel. First, all the questions she’s been asked by readers about Gilead and, second, she adds ominously, “the world we’ve been living in.” (Claire)

Furnace of This World: Or, 36 Observations About Goodness by Ed Simon: Simon, a staff writer at The Millions known for his deep dives into literary and intellectual history, meditates on the nature of goodness across 36 learned, suggestive observations. He calls this project “an artifact of things I’ve lost, things I’ve loved, things I’ve feared, things I’ve prayed for,” and presents it as “the moral equivalent of a Wunderkammer—a ‘Wonder Cabinet’— that is a strange collection of occurrences, theories, philosophies, narratives, and fictions.” This curious object is well worth a look inside. (Matt)

Dominicana by Angie Cruz: Life changes drastically for 15-year-old Ana, when she is uprooted from the Dominican countryside to New York City’s Washington Heights. An arranged marriage allows her, along with her entire family, to emigrate to America, and Ana is desperate to escape. As she opposes and embraces certain aspects of her new home, she makes difficult decisions between her duty to her family and her own heart. This exciting tale of immigration, love, and independence has been praised by the likes of Sandra Cisneros and Cristina Garcia, making it one of the most anticipated coming-of-age stories of the year. (Kate Gavino)

Quichotte by Salman Rushdie: Quichotte, a middle-aged salesman obsessed with television, falls head over heels for a TV star. Despite the impossible love, he sets off on a roadtrip across the US to prove himself worthy of her hand. Meanwhile, his creator, a middle-aged mediocre thriller writer, has to meet his own crisis in life. Rushdie’s new novel is Don Quixote for our time, a smart satire of every aspect of the contemporary culture. Witty, profound, tender, this love story shows a fiction master at his brilliant best. (Jianan Qian)

Cantoras by Carolina De Robertis: In 1977 Uruguay, a military dictatorship crushes dissent and punishes homosexuality, but five queer women manage to find each other and a village on the beach where they’re safe and free, if only for a week at a time. The five call themselves cantoras, women who sing, and for the next three decades their friendships, beach-side refuge, and cantoras identities help the women find the strength to live openly and defiantly, to revolutionary effect. (Kaulie)

The Shadow King by Maaza Mengiste: Mengiste’s debut novel, Beneath the Lion’s Gaze, chronicled the life of a family during the chaotic last days of Emperor Haile Selassie’s rule. The figure of Selassie looms over her second novel, The Shadow King, as well, this time in the 1930s as an orphaned servant Hirut is caught in the clash between the emperor’s troops and Mussolini’s fascist invaders. Mengiste’s work bookends this historic era of Ethiopian life, capturing all the damage and hope of war, with prose Salman Rushdie describes as “brilliant… lyrically lifting history towards myth.” (Adam P.)

Pet by Akwaeke Emezi: Emezi’s debut YA novel (following their much-loved Freshwater) sets out to answer a question that plagues every child at some point: Are monsters real, and if they are, do they want to hurt me? The children of the city of Lucille are taught that monsters are imaginary, but when protagonist Jam sees a creature emerge from the previously dead landscape of her mother’s painting, she’s forced to reconsider everything she knows about the world. Soon after, she learns that monsters are targeting her best friend Redemption, which leads her to wonder: How do you stop them if no one believes they exist? (Thom)

Baron Wenckheim’s Homecoming by László Krasznahorkai (translated by Ottilie Mulzet): Winner of the 2015 Man Booker International Prize, Krasznahorkai (The World Goes On) returns with a novel about Baron Béla Wenckheim, who leaves exile in Buenos Aires, to return to his Hungarian hometown where controversy, gossip, and scheming abount. Publishers Weekly starred review writes: “Apocalyptic, visionary, and mad, it flies off the page and stays lodged intractably wherever it lands.” (Carolyn)

Indelible In The Hippocampus edited by Shelly Oria: Featuring poetry, fiction, and essays, Oria’s (New York 1, Tel Aviv 0) intersectional anthology provides personal accounts of sexual assault, harassment, and gendered violence from (mostly) marginalized voices. The collection includes 23 writers including Kaitlyn Greenidge, Melissa Febos, Paisley Rekdal, and Samantha Hunt. Kirkus’s starred review says the anthology includes “not just candid and clear revelations of abuse, but powerful demands for justice. (Carolyn)

The Grammarians by Cathleen Schine: Schine’s latest follows identical redheaded twins, Laurel and Daphne Wolfe, who are obsessed with language and words. As they grow up in 1980s Manhattan, their relationship becomes strained before ultimately coming to a head as they war over a family heirloom: a copy of  Merriam Webster’s New International Dictionary, Second Edition. A starred Kirkus review called it an “impossibly endearing and clever novel” that “sets off a depth charge of emotion and meaning.” (Carolyn)

When Death Takes Something from You Give It Back by Naja Marie Aidt (translated by Denise Newman): In 2015, Aidt’s son died tragically; this book was born out of that tragedy. Using various genres and forms, Aidt’s slim memoir attempts to explore her grief, which is all-consuming. In a starred review, Kirkus called the memoir “a stirring, inventive masterpiece of heartbreak.” (Carolyn)

The Ungrateful Refugee by Dina Nayeri: Author Nayeri explores what it means to be a refugee in her first work of nonfiction. Nayeri, who was granted asylum in the United States as a child, juxtaposes her personal experience and the stories of current day refugees and asylum seekers to explore the refugee experience. She dispels myths, addresses well-intentioned yet flawed arguments (like “good” immigrants), and how much refugees give up in exchange for safety. Kirkus’s starred review calls the book “a unique, deeply thought-out refugee saga perfect for our moment.” (Carolyn)

My Time Among the Whites by Jennine Capó Crucet: Award-winning author Crucet makes her nonfiction debut with an essay collection about race, identity, and being a first-generation American through the personal and political. Alexander Chee writes: “Crucet is an essential truth-teller, the whisper in your ear you should listen to, wise and funny as she tries to save your life—and this book is a triumph.” (Carolyn)

The Nobody People by Bob Proehl: Proehl (A Hundred Thousand Worlds) returns with the first of a two-book literary science fiction series. When a group of ordinary people with extraordinary abilities (think the X-Men) emerge, they find themselves at odds with a society unwilling to accept them. After one of their own causes a mass casualty event, they must fight together or risk extinction. Booklist says: “Much like the X-Men comics, Proehl masterfully uses science fiction as a lens to examine social inequality and human evil. (Carolyn)