Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from Diana Abu-Jaber, Peng Shepherd, Elena Ferrante, and more—that are publishing this week.
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Fencing with the King by Diana Abu-Jaber
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Fencing with the King: “Abu-Jaber (Crescent) places a family in the crosshairs of Jordanian political intrigue in this nicely layered story. In 1995, recently divorced poet Amani Hamdan encourages her father Gabe to accept an invitation to return to his native Jordan for a fencing demonstration alongside the king. Amani, intrigued to learn more about a mysterious poem written by her deceased grandmother, accompanies him on her first trip there. They stay with Gabe’s older brother, Hafez, an influential government official who has schemed to lure Gabe and recover an ancient knife from him that belonged to their late father. Hafez views Amani as a potential protege but is unsettled by her questions about the family’s past, and while he plots to claim a lucrative swath of land near the Israeli border, which is ripe for settlement by Palestinian refugees, Amani tries to locate the places mentioned in her grandmother’s poem. She also uncovers a lost relative and catches the eye of a fencing instructor. Their romance takes up a good chunk of the final act, but it’s less gripping than the plot involving Hafez. Still, Abu-Jaber ably captures the tenuous role of Jordan in the mid-1990s Middle East peace process while unearthing a family’s buried secrets. It adds up to an engrossing family drama.”
When I Sing, Mountains Dance by Irene Solà (translated by Mara Faye Lethem)
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about When I Sing, Mountains Dance: “Solà’s vivid and magical tale, winner of the European Union Prize, brings to life a small Pyrenees village. The story begins when a farmer is killed by a lightning strike during a storm, leaving his wife, Sió, a widowed mother to a daughter, Mia, and a two-month-old son, Hilari. When Mia grows up, she falls in love with Jaume, the son of ‘Giants,’ who are stigmatized for their size as well as lack of education and rough manner. After Jaume accidentally kills Hilari in a hunting accident, he’s jailed while he awaits his trial for murder, and Mia is left alone to live her life in the mountains with her dog. Woven throughout are the voices of a roe deer, witches, a bear (‘tremble in fear, men who killed us’), and Mia’s dog. The mountains are heard from as well, alongside geological sketches, creating a multilayered and lush array of perspectives (‘My slumber is so deep that it slips beneath the seas,’ says a mountain). In language at turns poetic and stark, Solà offers a fresh and mythic work that fully reckons with the beauty and savagery of a landscape. It’s a fine achievement.”
Chevy in the Hole by Kelsey Ronan
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Chevy in the Hole: “Ronan debuts with a tender and hardscrabble story of love and pain. After 26-year-old Gus Molloy is saved from an opioid overdose in 2014, he drifts through the factory ruins of Flint, Mich., with an aimless and heavy heart. Intrigued by a new project in town called Frontier Farms, he volunteers and meets Monae, who studies environmental science and dreams of making Flint better by turning empty lots into gardens. Braided with Gus and Monae’s burgeoning love story is the rough and tumble history of the city (a worker strike in 1937, the rise of the local music scene in 1953, Keith Moon crashing a car into the Holiday Inn in 1967) as told through the experiences of their ancestors—and the secrets they kept. As the couple dreams of a future together, the water crisis looms on the horizon. Ronan’s characters brim with resilience, and their survival reflects the highs and lows of the site referenced in the title, a Chevrolet factory left to ruin and later reclaimed as a park. Ronan ably humanizes a city known for the pity it’s elicited for many decades.”
The Cartographers by Peng Shepherd
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Cartographers: “Disgraced cartographer Nell Young, the protagonist of this extraordinary mystery from Shepherd (The Book of M), was fired by her father, Daniel Young, a cartographic scholar in the New York Public Library’s map division, after they argued over a map. Seven years later, Daniel dies in his office, apparently of natural causes. In a hidden compartment in his desk, Nell finds the map they argued over, a decades-old gas station road map of New York. She suspects the map is somehow related to his death, which she’s sure is a case of foul play. She seeks help from her ex, who now works for the tech giant Haberson, whose eccentric leader, William Haberson, wishes to map the entire world and all knowledge within it. Gradually, Nell connects with the talented cartographers who were friends of her father and long-dead mother years before. They tell her of their last summer together and warn her of the threat from a member of their group obsessed with Nell’s mother, who died in a house fire. Possessed of a questing intellect and a determined stubbornness, Nell proves smart enough to solve the various riddles she faces. Shepherd’s convincing blend of magic from old maps with the modern online world both delights and thrills.”
In the Margins by Elena Ferrante (translated by Ann Goldstein)
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about In the Margins: “Four essays illuminate the mind of Ferrante (The Lying Life of Adults) in this dazzling collection. In ‘Pain and Pen’ she recalls writing ‘neat’ and ‘orderly’ stories in elementary school notebooks, and explains that the ‘discordant clamor’ in her head led to her novels of ‘love and betrayal, dangerous investigations, horrific discoveries, corrupted youth, [and] miserable lives that have a stroke of luck.’ ‘Aquamarine’ explores the ‘passion for realism’ that she’s ‘stubbornly pursued since adolescence,’ and recounts the ‘small discoveries’ she found after drafting a cover letter for an ‘unsatisfying’ novel she wrote. ‘Histories, I’ sheds light on the particularly ‘arduous journey’ shared by women writers, and acknowledges how the craft of writing builds on the work of those who came before—Ferrante counts among her influences Ingeborg Bachmann, Emily Dickinson, María Guerra, and Gertrude Stein. In ‘Dante’s Rib,’ Ferrante responds to Dante’s work: ‘I loved and love Dante’s words but am exhausted by their force.’ The collection’s strength comes from Ferrante’s beautiful prose, as well as the fascinating look at where she finds inspiration. The author’s legions of fans are in for a treat.”