Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from the likes of Akwaeke Emezi, Lucy Ellmann, Ady Barkan, Emma Donoghue, Margaret Atwood, and more—that are publishing this week.
Pet by Akwaeke Emezi
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Pet: “Carnegie Medal–nominee Emezi (Freshwater for adults) makes their young adult debut in this story of a transgender, selectively nonverbal girl named Jam, and the monster that finds its way into their universe. Jam’s hometown, Lucille, is portrayed as a utopia—a world that is post-bigotry and -violence, where ‘angels’ named after those in religious texts have eradicated ‘monsters.’ But after Jam accidentaly bleeds onto her artist mother’s painting, the image—a figure with ram’s horns, metallic feathers, and metal claws—pulls itself out of the canvas. Pet, as it tells Jam to call it, has come to her realm to hunt a human monster––one that threatens peace in the home of Jam’s best friend, Redemption. Together, Jam, Pet, and Redemption embark on a quest to discover the crime and vanquish the monster. Jam’s language is alternatingly voiced and signed, the latter conveyed in italic text, and Igbo phrases pepper the family’s loving interactions. Emezi’s direct but tacit story of injustice, unconditional acceptance, and the evil perpetuated by humankind forms a compelling, nuanced tale that fans of speculative horror will quickly devour.”
Indelible In The Hippocampus edited by Shelly Oria
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Indelible In The Hippocampus: “Editor Oria (New York 1, Tel Aviv 0) compiles fiction, personal essays, and poetry from 21 female writers on the subjects of sexual assault, harassment, and other dehumanizing consequences of patriarchy, in order to bring #MeToo from screen to page and showcase voices less likely to be heard in mainstream media, including those of women of color, queer women, and trans women. The results are bracing and urgent. Kaitlyn Greenidge considers the question of who has the right to hear the story of her assault. Courtney Zoffness explores the implications of a student’s overtly sexualizing behavior, noting, ‘It didn’t matter that I had ten years on Charlie, or more degrees, or the power to fail him. He still felt compelled to exert sexual power.’ In a darkly comical standout piece of fiction, Elissa Schappell imagines an email exchange between a writer submitting the story of her rape for publication and a magazine editor, whose increasingly absurd and offensive notes culminate in a disclosure that, if the writer doesn’t meet the deadline, ‘We’re going to be forced to swap in a photo spread of Woody Allen’s greatest hits.’ The collection is far from an endless parade of suffering; the writers offer a sense of communal feeling, bravery, and triumph. It’s well worth readers’ time.”
Gun Island by Amitav Ghosh
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Gun Island: “Ghosh’s latest (after Flood of Fire) is an intellectual romp that traces Bengali folklore, modern human trafficking, and the devastating effects of climate change across generations and countries. Dinanath Datta, who goes by the more Americanized Deen, is an antiques and rare-books dealer in Brooklyn. While in Calcutta, Deen encounters the tale of the Bonduki Sadagar, or the gun merchant, a localized riff on the familiar Bengali tale of a merchant and Manasa Devi, the goddess of snakes and poisonous creatures. Intrigued, Deen pays a visit to the Sundarbans, the borderlands from which the myth originated. At the shrine said to be protected by Manasa Devi, Deen encounters a snake that bites one of the young men with him, with nonfatal but mystical consequences. Shaken, but convinced that it was just a freak coincidence, the rationalist Deen returns to America, where his trip still haunts him. A tumultuous year and a half later, under the patronage of his dear friend Cinta, a glamorous Italian academic, Deen arrives in Venice for the book’s second half, where he befriends the local Bengali community and further uncovers the tale of the Bonduki Sadagar as he is drawn into relief efforts for the refugee crisis. Ghosh writes with deep intelligence and illuminating clarity about complex issues. This ambitious novel memorably draws connections among history, politics, and mythology.”
Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellmann
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Ducks, Newburyport: “This shaggy stream-of-consciousness monologue from Ellmann (Sweet Desserts) confronts the currents of contemporary America. On the surface it’s a story of domestic life, as the unnamed female narrator puts it: ‘my life’s all shopping, chopping, slicing, splicing, spilling.’ Her husband, Leo, is a civil engineer; they have ‘four greedy, grouchy, unmanageable kids’; she bakes and sells pies; and nothing more eventful happens than when she gets a flat tire while making a pie delivery. Yet plot is secondary to this book’s true subject: the narrator’s consciousness. Written in rambling hundred-page sentences, whose clauses each begin with ‘the fact that…,’ readers are privy to intimate facts (‘the fact that I don’t think I really started to live until Leo loved me’), mundane facts (‘the fact that ‘fridge’ has a D in it, but ‘refrigerator’ doesn’t’), facts thought of in the shower (‘the fact that every murderer must have a barber’), and flights of associative thinking (‘Jake’s baby potty, Howard Hughes’s milk bottles of pee, opioid crisis, red tide’). Interspersed throughout is the story of a lion mother, separated from her cubs and ceaselessly searching for them. This jumble of cascading thoughts provides a remarkable portrait of a woman in contemporary America contemplating her own life and society’s storm clouds, such as the Flint water crisis, gun violence, and the Trump presidency. The narrator is a fiercely protective mother trying to raise her children the only way she knows how, in a rapidly changing and hostile environment. Ellmann’s work is challenging but undoubtedly brilliant.”
Unseen Poems by Rumi (translated by Brad Gooch and Maryam Mortaz)
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Unseen Poems: “With millions of copies of the 13th-century Sufi mystic poet’s work sold worldwide, this new book containing many first-time translations will find a ready audience. While the love poems resemble the erotic verse popularized by previous editors (‘Again my eyes saw what no eyes have seen./ Again my master returned ecstatic and drunk’), several new poems stand out in their foregrounding of Rumi’s religious descent. ‘Why make a quibla of these questions and answers?/ Ask instead, the lesson of the silent ones, where is it?’ one of the book’s many ghazals proposes, referring to the direction Muslims face in prayer. The Koran figures throughout: ‘Let me swear an oath on Osman’s holy book,/ The pearl of that beloved, gleaming in Damascus,’ reminding contemporary readers of the centrality of Islam to Rumi’s worldview, even if, finally, what Gooch calls a ‘religion of love’ carries the day: ‘Someone is snipped away, and I am sewn to another,/ Stitched together, forever, seamlessly.’ Offering new insight into the poet’s spiritual life, these poems prove a valuable addition to Rumi’s oeuvre.”
Eyes to the Wind by Ady Barkan
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Eyes to the Wind: “Activist Barkan relates in this candid memoir how, after receiving a terminal illness diagnosis at age 32, he had to negotiate his failing body as his political star rose. In 2016, Barkan was diagnosed with ALS and given three to four years to live. Fueled by anger over his ‘outrageous’ situation, he sought to leave a legacy for his baby son and wife. A lawyer at the Center for Popular Democracy, Barkan initially resumed work on Fed Up, a campaign to encourage the Federal Reserve to enact policies beneficial to working-class Americans, but soon pivoted to health care, ‘bird-dogging’ members of Congress in visits to the Capitol. Barkan was wheelchair-bound by spring 2018 yet he embarked on a six-week cross-country tour in support of Democrats in the midterm elections (a sincere conversation with Arizona senator Jeff Flake about how a GOP tax plan would affect Medicare was captured in a video that went viral), ultimately sharing the stage with Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez and Bernie Sanders. Throughout, Barkan weaves tales of law school and clerkships with insights into community organizing (a national movement led by a single person could ‘never approach the transformative political power that would be unleased by genuine mass movement of organized working-class people’). Barkan’s powerful narrative gives great insight into the nuts and bolts of political activism at work.”
Akin by Emma Donoghue
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Akin: “Donoghue’s underwhelming latest features a troubled doppelgänger of the sweet naïf from her best-known novel, Room, a foul-mouthed 11-year-old named Michael, whose great-uncle Noah takes him to the French Riviera to save him from the foster care system after Michael’s father dies of an apparent overdose and his mother, who is in prison, is unable to care for him. In the present day, Noah, having discovered some photographs taken by his mother during the two years she spent in Vichy France, and wishing to discover their significance, travels to Nice with Michael in tow. Dialogue between the two predominates as they wander about the city, constantly squabbling along predictably generational lines, searching for clues about whether Noah’s mother was a Nazi collaborator or part of the Resistance. The reader is soon exasperated with Noah’s own collaboration with the author, who won’t let him solve the mystery without Michael’s age-appropriate technological savvy. This work seems like a pale redux of Room, with its depiction of the wonder of a sheltered boy supplanted by the cynicism of a damaged one, whose voice doesn’t always ring true. The gap between Michael’s view of the world and the reader’s feels less charged than it should be, though the book makes up for it to some degree with a very satisfying denouement. This is a minor work in Donoghue’s astounding oeuvre.”
Also on shelves this week: The Testaments by Margaret Atwood.