Body of Stars: A Novel

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Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Oloixarac, AlAmmar, Beard, and More

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Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from Pola Oloixarac, Layla AlAmmar, Jo Ann Beard, and more—that are publishing this week.
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Mona by Pola Oloixarac (translated by Adam Morris)

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Mona: “Argentinian writer Oloixarac (Dark Constellations) offers a smart, provocative take on contemporary literary culture. At the novel’s opening, Stanford doctoral candidate Mona, a deeply cynical Peruvian, wakes up on a train platform in Palo Alto, Calif., with her body badly bruised and no memory of how she came to be in such a state. She quickly cleans up so she can travel to Sweden for a conference where she’s been nominated for an award. At the event, speakers express anxiety about technology’s impact on literature, but far more interesting are Mona’s exchanges with fellow writers and her theory-infused interior monologues. Aware that being a Latina gives her a ‘chic sort of cultural capital’ with American universities, she reflects on the tendency of writers to play up ‘their own local colors.’ After Mona hooks up with another writer who notices her bruises, her memories of the injuries sustained back at Stanford start to return. While a sudden and not entirely successful swerve into fantasy makes for an abrupt ending, Mona’s spirited opining gives readers much to engage and argue with. The rich inner life of its namesake character propels this vibrant examination of the writing world.”
Silence Is a Sense by Layla AlAmmar

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Silence Is a Sense: “Alammar’s evocative second novel (after The Pact We Made) delves into the world of a traumatized, mute, and unnamed journalist who has escaped civil war in Syria for England. There, amid recollections of the violence, she occupies herself with her work as a journalist for an English magazine, and in spying on—and occasionally interacting with—neighbors in her apartment complex. The narrator, whose journalism is published under the pseudonym The Voiceless, muses about religious differences among Muslim people in Syria and her fellow immigrants. However, her editor, Josie, wants her to write more about herself to boost her audience. Though Josie initially understands the narrator’s perspective toward her fellow Muslims, she later insists the narrator is ‘glossing over the very real, unequivocal violence’ committed by extremists. Meanwhile, tensions grow at the narrator’s mosque, and a ‘Unity Feast’ is invaded by white supremacists who are angry at the presence of Muslims in the country. Though the pacing is slow, the conflicts over immigration and racism are brilliantly distilled, and they dovetail seamlessly with the narrator’s lyrical, increasingly defiant narration. Patient readers will find much to ponder.”
Body of Stars by Laura Maylene Walter

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Body of Stars: “In Walter’s uneven debut novel (after the collection Living Arrangements), she conjures a fabulist world in which female subjugation, gendered oppression, and rape culture are ever present. Celeste Morton is born like any other girl: with markings like constellations all over her body indicating what her future holds. As she reaches puberty, she comes into the so-called ‘changeling periods,’ a weeks-long phase in which young women are irresistible to men. If they’re not careful, they could be kidnapped and raped. Celeste’s brother, Miles, aspires to become a professional interpreter of girls’ markings, a practice forbidden to men, and uses Celeste as training, but over time, Celeste’s adult markings contradict Miles’s prophecies, which foretell Miles will die at 21. Then, Celeste is abducted by two men, and, after waking up in a hospital covered in bruises, she’s forced to enter a rehabilitation program. Meanwhile, Miles’s insistence on becoming an interpreter catches the conservative government’s attention. While the worldbuilding details are impressive, the critique of rape culture feels shallow and cursory, and the overly earnest characterizations don’t help. Readers might want to pass.”
Already Toast by Kate Washington

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Already Toast: “Washington chronicles in her wrenching debut the devastating ordeal of her husband being diagnosed with a rare form of lymphoma and the two years she spent, from 2016 to 2018, taking care of him during treatment. Her life became a blur of doctors’ appointments, battles with insurance companies, juggling dozens of prescriptions, and learning to administer IVs. The work was all-consuming and led to a strained marriage that ‘felt less like a ballast keeping me on an even keel and more like a weight so heavy it could sink me.’ After a stem-cell transplant, Washington writes, her husband saw a limited recovery but still lives with a chronically weakened immune system from chemotherapy. Her account ends with a persuasive plea for a federally funded caregiving stimulus plan, citing president-elect Joe Biden’s recent statement: ‘We’re trapped in a caregiving crisis, within an economic crisis, within a healthcare crisis.’ Throughout, Washington notes the gender disparity among caregivers; with three-quarters of caregivers being women, Washington writes, ‘There was an implication that the only point of me, as a human, and especially as a woman, was to care for another person. What about my own life? Didn’t I deserve care?’ Washington’s tale serves as both an evocative memoir and a strident call to action.”
Festival Days by Jo Ann Beard

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Festival Days: “This imaginative and precise collection shows Beard (The Boys of My Youth) at her best. The nine entries vary in scope and subject, but loss and melancholy bridge the collection. ‘Last Night’ captures her final moments with her beloved, terminally ill dog, and ‘Maybe It Happened’ reflects on the unreliability of human memory. The title essay interweaves Beard being left by her partner and her grief after the death of a friend: ‘In less than five minutes, we don’t have her anymore. She’s gone.’ Beard can evoke many emotions in a single stroke: ‘The Lab lived to be fifteen too. The marriage, fourteen,’ she writes of losing both a dog and a relationship. She’s also cunning with surprising metaphors and details, as in ‘Close,’ where she compares writing to sitting on a sled: writing a book is like ‘the snow has melted and there’s just grass and gravel. It takes a lot to get the sled moving, and then it goes only a few inches.’ These sharp essays cement Beard’s reputation as a master of the form.”

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