Black Is the Body: Stories from My Grandmother's Time, My Mother's Time, and Mine

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Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Ruffin, Kim, Tshuma, and More

Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from the likes of Maurice Carlos Ruffin, Un-su Kim, Novuyo Rosa Tshuma, and more—that are publishing this week.

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We Cast a Shadow by Maurice Carlos Ruffin
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about We Cast a Shadow: “Ruffin’s brilliant, semisatirical debut stars an unnamed narrator who’s all but consumed by his blackness. Forced to become the ‘committed to diversity’ face of his law firm and the pawn of an insidious ad campaign headed by powerful, flirtatious shareholder Octavia Whitmore, the narrator suffers through one indignity after another. He endures a routinely racist police stop and learns that Octavia ‘fantasized about wearing blackface’ and then there’s the historical revisionism at the school his mixed-race teenage son Nigel attends, where teachers insist that ‘every schoolboy knows the Civil War didn’t start because of slavery.’ The narrator only wants Nigel to be spared the dread of being young and black in America. In fact, he’s been forcing Nigel to apply skin-lightening cream over the objections of his wife, Penny, and is planning to submit Nigel to an experimental plastic surgery procedure that he hopes will visibly erase his heritage and break the long chain of prisons, prejudice, and limited career options that characterize the narrator’s own forebears (his father is incarcerated, a fact that brings the narrator nothing but shame). And yet this is only the setup for a story that suddenly incorporates the violent interventions of a militarized cell of protesters, and hastens the narrator, Nigel, Penny, and Octavia toward a set of separate fates that are both harrowing and inevitable. Though Ruffin’s novel is in the vein of satires like Paul Beatty’s The Sellout and the film Get Out, it is more bracingly realistic in rendering the divisive policies of contemporary America, making for a singular and unforgettable work of political art.”

House of Stone by Novuyo Rosa Tshuma
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about House of Stone: “Set in 2007 Zimbabwe, Tshuma’s darkly humorous debut follows Zamani, a 20-something lodger who decides to integrate himself into the lives of his landlords after their teenage son, Bukhosi, vanishes while accompanying Zamani to an anti-Mugabe political rally. As parents Abednego and Agnes search for the teen and emotionally tailspin, Zamani begins calling the duo his surrogate parents and listens to their histories. After plying recovering alcoholic Abednego with booze and drugs over several nights, Zamani learns of the man’s first love, Thandi, as well as Abednego’s involvement in an unsolved murder. The lodger manipulates Agnes into talking, after a drunk Abednego beats her one evening, and hears of his surrogate mother’s own first love, a reverend, and of her arranged marriage to Abednego. Zamani strings his host family along by creating a fake Facebook account for Bukhosi and sending reassuring messages from the boy, all the while working to take Bukhosi’s place in the family’s home—his motivations for which are revealed late in the story. Though the tangents are sometimes overlong, Tshuma’s novel bounces through time and bursts with an epic’s worth of narratives. This is a clever, entertaining novel.”

The Plotters by Un-Su Kim
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Plotters: “Korean author Kim makes his U.S. debut with a powerful, surreal political thriller, in which assassination is a business ‘driven by market forces.’ The faceless plotters of the title employ hit men such as Reseng, an orphan found in a garbage can who was adopted by a man called Old Raccoon. The bookish Reseng grows up in Old Raccoon’s library—a place ‘crawling with assassins, hired guns and bounty hunters.’ In the first chapter, Reseng kills a retired general from the days of South Korea’s military junta after spending a sociable evening at the old man’s house. The complex plot, in which Reseng becomes involved with a more polished, CEO-like hit man named Hanja, builds to a highly cinematic and violent denouement. Most memorable, though, is the novel’s message about the insidiousness of unaccountable institutions, from those under the military junta to those that thrive in today’s economy. The consequence of the pervasive corruption is an air of existential despair. This strange, ambitious book will appeal equally to literary fiction readers.”

The End of Loneliness by Benedict Wells
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The End of Loneliness: “Wells’s satisfying first book to be translated into English hints at an answer to a struggle most people confront—being, or feeling, alone—but ultimately suggests there isn’t one. The story is the account of three siblings: Jules Moreau, the narrator, and his older siblings Liz and Marty. The trio lose their parents in a car accident when Jules is 11, and all move from Munich to boarding school. They grow apart; Marty throws himself into his studies, and Liz falls in with a fast crowd. Jules retreats into himself, until he meets Alva, another child dealing with family troubles of her own. Alva and Jules are inseparable for years; but when their friendship hints at becoming romantic, Alva balks for reasons even she can’t articulate, and they fall out of touch. Jules tells his story retrospectively, until his narration catches up to his present, in which he is drawn back into Alva’s complicated life when she unexpectedly answers an email of his and invites him to visit her. Touching and timeless, the story is expertly and evocatively rendered, in prose both beautiful and sparse enough to cut clearly to the question at the novel’s heart: how one copes with loss that isn’t—or doesn’t have to be—permanent.”


The Falconer by Dana Czapnik
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Falconer: “In her flawed first novel, Czapnik recreates the New York City of 1993 as seen through the eyes of Lucy Adler, an Upper West Side high school student who lives for basketball. Lucy is a member of her school’s girls’ basketball team and also plays pickup games in Riverside Park—where she is often the sole girl on the court—with her wealthy friend, Percy Abney, who seems oblivious to the fact that Lucy is in love with him. Also playing major roles in Lucy’s life are her best friend and teammate, Alexis Feliz, and two downtown female artists, Violet and Max, who share an apartment in SoHo and impart to Lucy important lessons about life, love, and art. Lucy spends most of the book wandering around Manhattan, giving her story a plotless feel. And Lucy and her friends sound way too mature and savvy for their teenage years. (Lucy, for instance, describes a character having a beard ‘that belongs on a Hasidic rabbi from Warsaw circa 1934.’) Despite a lived-in sense of place, this coming-of-age novel seems to be about jaded young characters who have already come of age, leaving them—and the reader—with little room for emotional development.”

Black Is the Body by Emily Bernard
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Black Is the Body: “Bernard, a University of Vermont professor of English and race and ethnic studies, intimately explores her life through the lens of race in this contemplative and compassionate collection of personal essays. As a Yale graduate student, Bernard was the victim of a mass stabbing, an event at the center of the book’s opening essay, ‘Beginnings,’ and her premise that writing about and remembering a traumatic past is a process ‘fundamental in black American experience.’ She aims to ‘contribute something to the American racial drama besides the enduring narrative of black innocence and white guilt,’ in essays that include ‘Teaching the N-Word’ and ‘Motherland,’ about adopting and raising two girls from Ethiopia with her white husband. Bernard’s voice throughout is personable yet incisive in exploring the lived reality of race. By examining her family’s Southern roots and her present life in Vermont, in ‘Interstates,’ she explores the differences and the bridge between white and black in her life. In ‘Black Is the Body,’ a beautiful reflection on racial difference and disparities, she acknowledges how race has informed ‘everything I do, and everything I write.’ Bernard’s wisdom and compassion radiate throughout this thoughtful collection.”

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