The Dragonfly Sea: A novel

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Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Day, Würger, Owuor, and More

Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from the likes of Kate Hope Day, Takis Würger, Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor, and more—that are publishing this week.

Want to learn more about upcoming titles? 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.

If, Then by Kate Hope Day

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about If, Then: “The lives of three neighboring families in Clearing, Ore., become inexorably entwined in Day’s captivating debut novel of parallel worlds. Dr. Ginny McDonnell, a surgeon, feels disconnected from her son, Noah, and her husband, Mark, a behavioral ecologist convinced that nearby Broken Mountain, a volcano, isn’t quite as dormant as many believe. Realtor Samara Mehta is still reeling from her mother’s death on the operating table and blames the surgeon, Ginny. Cass Stuart is taking a break from earning her PhD in metaphysics to care for her baby girl but longs to continue her research on the theory of everything and the possibility of a multiverse. Cass, Ginny, and Mark start to glimpse different versions of themselves and Samara of her mother, preceded by a bad taste and a trembling under their feet, while Broken Mountain awakens nearby. Often, Day seamlessly slips readers in and out of realities with little warning, and the scenes in which characters observe and, at times, interact with, their alternate realities are intimate, eerie, and startling, such as Mark’s encounters with the wild, disheveled man he dubs “Other Mark.” Effortlessly meshing the dreamlike and the realistic, Day’s well-crafted mix of literary and speculative fiction is an enthralling meditation on the interconnectedness of all things.”

The Club by Takis Würger (translated by Charlotte Collins)

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Club: “Würger’s chilling if obvious debut opens as Hans Stichler, an orphaned German 19-year-old, is contacted by his English aunt, Alexandra Birk. She teaches art history at Cambridge and says that she can get him accepted into St. John’s College, but there’s a catch: she wants him to infiltrate a Cambridge institution known as the Pitt Club, which is 200 years old and whose members past and present are generations of the English establishment. To help him, Aunt Alex introduces Hans to one of her PhD students, Charlotte, whose father, financier Sir Angus Farewell, is a former member of the club. Charlotte arranges a dinner with Hans and her father, so the latter can nominate the former to the club. Despite Charlotte’s initial reservations about Hans, they are soon an item. A boxer for the school’s highly competitive varsity team, Hans is asked to join the Butterflies, a secret subset of the Pitt Club. Delving into the real purpose of this club-within-a-club, Hans finds sinister links to Charlotte, Aunt Alex, and Angus on the way to a dramatic and inevitable ending. Though it moves at a good pace, the novel is contrived in its depiction of upper-class snobbism, hypocrisy, and corruption, resulting in a diverting if thin story.”

The Dragonfly Sea by Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Dragonfly Sea: “In this sprawling, beautiful novel from Owuor (Dust), a real-life occurrence of a Kenyan woman travelling to China after learning of her Chinese heritage forms the backdrop for a moving story of loss and discovery. In 1992, on Pate Island, a small island off the coast of Kenya, six-year-old Ayaana spends her days scanning the seas for boats and the return of a father she never knew. One day, a ‘sun-blackened, salt-water-seared, bug-eyed and brawny’ sailor appears and Ayaana chooses him for a father, much to his surprise—and to the chagrin of her mother. Then, years later, when cultural emissaries from China arrive at Pate, 20-year-old Ayaana discovers she is a descendant of one of the members aboard the ship of 14th-century mariner Admiral Zhang He, whose seafaring expeditions brought him to Africa, and agrees to set sail for China to be united with distant relatives. Once there, she serves as living justification for a commercial Chinese stake in an increasingly globalized Africa: ‘Cohabiting with shadows—here was the weight of a culture with a hulking history now preparing itself to digest her continent.’ Attracting attention wherever she goes, Ayaana struggles to assimilate to Chinese culture and is as drawn to the sea as ever. Brilliantly capturing Ayaana’s sense of loss of her home and her family, as well as her hope for the future, Owuor’s mesmerizing prose lays bare the swirling global currents that Ayaana is trapped within. With a rollicking narrative and exceptional writing, this epic establishes Owuor as a considerable talent.”

Running Home by Kate Arnold 

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Running Home: “A woman’s crippling grief over her father’s death is the starter pistol for this marathon of self-discovery from Arnold, former Outside magazine editor and daughter of National Geographic photographer David Arnold. When a terminal cancer diagnosis halts her father’s retirement project of archiving thousands of photos, those images reopen old wounds for Katie. Recalling her parents’ separation when she was two, she writes, ‘It’s nearly impossible to untangle my earliest memories from Dad’s photographs.’ Shuttling between his rural Virginia home to care for him and her life in Santa Fe raising two children, she suppressed her anguish. After he died in 2010, she found his diaries, in which he had divulged mixed feelings about fatherhood and ‘deep resentment’ of her. Arnold’s narrative includes flashbacks of her need for her father’s acceptance; she reveals how at age seven, ‘desperate for Dad’s attention,’ she agreed to his dare to run a 10K race, and from that point became ‘a runner by accident.’ After his death, she relied on ultrarunning to manage anxiety and developed a friendship with Zen writer Natalie Goldberg (author of Writing Down the Bones) who offered koans during their weekly walks together (‘You need to know death in order to blossom fully’). While her summations of lessons learned feel too pat, this is a bittersweet recollection of a father-daughter relationship.”

The Selected Works of Abdullah the Cossack by H.M. Naqvi

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Selected Works of Abdullah the Cossack: “Naqvi’s second novel (after Homeboy) is an uproariously funny, poignant family saga told by a glib septuagenarian contemplating life in his beloved city of Karachi. Once manager of his father’s Hotel Olympus, the philosophical Abdullah, nicknamed ‘Cossack’ because he once outdrank a contingent of visiting Russians, now lives, overweight and diabetic, in the upstairs quarters of a crumbling family house shared with his brother Babu’s family. Beloved uncle of the ‘Childoos’ downstairs, and fancying himself a phenomenologist, Abdullah is nevertheless seen by the majority of his relatives as profligate and irresponsible. Things go treacherously haywire after he’s rescued from thugs in the street by a mysterious lady named Jugnu, and his old friend, a jazz musician dubbed ‘the Caliph of Cool,’ asks him to act as guardian for his grandson Bosco. It so happens that both Jugnu and Bosco’s family are in danger from the Karachi mob. As threats mount, including from Abdullah’s own family, who are pressuring him to give up the title deed to the house so they can sell it, the nostalgic, courageous Abdullah comes up with a scheme to save everyone. Touching on the metaphysical, the moral, and the absurd, this bawdy epic is a fresh-voiced testament to place, family, and the importance of loyalty.”

Fall Back Down When I Die by Joe Wilkins

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Fall Back Down When I Die: “Montana’s rugged beauty is poetically evoked in Wilkins’s fine debut. The story is divided into three narratives. First, readers meet Wendell Newman, a high school basketball star turned rancher whose family operation is in financial trouble after paying for his late mother’s failed surgeries. Things become even more complicated when he is asked to become guardian for his possibly mute, seven-year-old cousin, Rowdy Burns, whose mother has just been arrested for possession of methamphetamines. Next, there is Gillian Houlton, an assistant principal who is having a difficult time raising her teenage daughter, Maddy, after the death of her husband, a game warden who was killed by a rancher. Finally, readers get the written apologia of a man named Verl, who is on the run from the law and hiding out in the mountains. The three stories converge when a militia group, the Bull Mountain Resistance, shows up at Wendell’s door just as a deputy sheriff and social worker arrive to check up on Rowdy. Shots are fired, and Wendell is forced to flee into the mountains with Rowdy and Maddy. Though the plot depends on too many coincidences, the novel achieves an undeniable cumulative emotional power as the fates of its memorable characters play out. This is an accomplished first novel, notable in particular for its strong depiction of the timeless landscape of Montana’s big sky country.”

March 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 March titles, check out our First-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 Old Drift by Namwali Serpell: Described as the “Great Zambian Novel you didn’t know you were waiting for,” this debut novel, from the winner of the 2015 Caine Prize for African writing, tells the story of three Zambian families—black, white, and brown—caught in a centuries-long cycle of retribution, romance, and political change. Serpell asks, “How do you live a life or forge a politics that can skirt the dual pitfalls of fixity (authoritarianism) and freedom (neoliberalism)? And what happens if you treat error not as something to avoid but as the very basis for human creativity and community?” Recipient of a starred review from Kirkus and advance praise from Carmen Maria Machado, Alice Sebold, and Garth Greenwell, The Old Drift is already well positioned to become the Next Big Thing of 2019. (Jacqueline)
Gingerbread by Helen Oyeyemi: Oyeyemi became a critical darling in 2014 with Boy, Snow, Bird, a retelling of “Snow White.” She takes us back into fairy tale world with Gingerbread, the story of mother and daughter, Harriet and Perdita Lee, and their family’s famous, perhaps…magical, gingerbread recipe. Along with Harriet’s childhood friend Gretel, the Lees endure family, work, and money drama all for the sake of that crunchy spice. (Janet)

The New Me by Halle Butler: If Butler’s first novel, Jillian, was the “feel-bad book of the year,” then her second, The New Me, is a skewering of the 21st-century American dream of self-betterment. Butler has already proven herself a master of writing about work and its discontents, the absurdity of cubicle life and office work in all of its dead ends. The New Me takes it to a new level in what Catherine Lacey calls a Bernhardian “dark comedy of female rage.” The New Me portrays a 30-year-old temp worker who yearns for self-realization, but when offered a full-time job, she becomes paralyzed after realizing the hollowness of its trappings. (Anne)
Kaddish.com by Nathan Englander: Pulitzer finalist Englander’s latest novel follows Larry, an atheist in a family of orthodox Memphis Jews. When he refuses to recite the Kaddish, the Jewish prayer for the dead, for his recently deceased father, Larry risks shocking his family and imperiling the fate of his father’s soul. Like everyone else in the 21st century, Larry decides the solution lies online, and he makes a website, kaddish.com, to hire a stranger to recite the daily prayer in his place. What follows is a satirical take on God, family, and the Internet that has been compared to early Philip Roth. (Jacqueline)
Minutes of Glory by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o: Thiong’o, the perennial Nobel Prize contender who once got through a prison sentence by drafting a memoir on toilet paper, has collected his best short stories in this collection, which spans half a century. From “The Fig Tree,” which Thiong’o wrote when he was an undergraduate in Uganda, to “The Ghost of Michael Jackson,” which he wrote while teaching at Irvine, these stories affirm the wide range of a global sensation. (Thom)

Look How Happy I’m Making You by Polly Rosenwaike: A couple of months ago I zipped through this funny and poignant collection of stories about women grappling with motherhood in many different ways: One struggles with infertility, for instance, and another gets pregnant by accident. Throughout, I was struck by the depth of feeling, not once compromised by the brevity of the form. In its starred review, Kirkus calls it “an exquisite collection that is candid, compassionate, and emotionally complex.” Meaghan O’Connell says, “Each story in Look How Happy I’m Making You is a lovely universe unto itself—funny, intimate, casually profound—but there is something transcendent about reading them together like this.” (Edan)

If, Then by Kate Hope Day: In a quiet mountain town, four neighbors’ worlds are rocked when they begin to see versions of themselves in parallel realities. As the disturbing visions mount, a natural disaster looms and threatens their town. From a starred review in Publishers Weekly: “Day’s well-crafted mix of literary and speculative fiction is an enthralling meditation on the interconnectedness of all things.” (Carolyn)

Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls by T Kira Madden: With a sparkling blurb from Mary Gaitskill—“Sad, funny, juicy and prickly with deep and secret thoughtful places”—and a sparkling cover (literally—see her website), T Kira Madden’s debut memoir, a coming-of-age story set in Boca Raton, is primed for buzz. As a grownup, Madden self-describes as an “APIA writer, photographer, and amateur magician”; as a child, “Madden lived a life of extravagance, from her exclusive private school to her equestrian trophies and designer shoe-brand name. But under the surface was a wild instability…she found lifelines in the desperately loving friendships of fatherless girls.” One of the best, most evocative titles of the release season, IMHO. (Sonya)
A Woman Is No Man by Etaf Rum: Isra, a 17-year-old Palestinian girl in 1990, prefers reading to suitors, but after her family marries her to an American deli owner she finds herself living in Brooklyn, trapped in a losing struggle against his oppressive mother, Fareeda. Eighteen years later, Fareeda attempts to pressure Isra’s oldest daughter into an early marriage, but an estranged family member offers Isra a chance to determine her own life. Rum, who was born to Palestinian immigrants living in Brooklyn, has written that she hopes her debut novel moves readers “by the strength and power of our women.” (Kaulie)
The White Card by Claudia Rankine: The author of Citizen, Macarthur Genius grant honoree, and founder of the Racial Imaginary Institute will publisher her first play, one that examines the concept of whiteness and white Americans’ failures to acknowledge it, through a series of interactions between an artist and an affluent couple. In the play’s introduction, Rankine writes “The scenes in this one-act play, for all the characters’ disagreements, stalemates, and seeming impasses, explore what happens if one is willing to stay in the room when it is painful to bear the pressure to listen and the obligation to respond.” (Lydia)
EEG by Daša Drndic: I first encountered Daša Drndic through her novel Belladona in June, unwittingly a mere two weeks after the author’s death from lung cancer. I was struck by the character Andreas Ban, and his idiosyncratic reflection upon ears, that “marvelous ugly organ,” accompanied by a diagram of an ear marked with the body’s points. This character Ban continues into Drndic’s next and final book, EEG, where after surviving a suicide attempt he goes on to dissect and expose the hidden evils and secrets of our times. He’s stand-in for Drndic herself, who wrote emphatically and had stated that “Art should shock, hurt, offend, intrigue, be a merciless critic of the merciless times we are not only witnessing but whose victims we have become.” (Anne)
Instructions for a Funeral by David Means: Means’s last publication, Hystopia, was a Booker-nominated novel, but he is still best known for his short stories. Instructions for a Funeral is therefore a return to (the short story) form, 14 pieces, previously published in the New Yorker, Harpers, The Paris Review, and VICE, that display the intelligence and questing range for which Means is known. From a fistfight in Sacramento to a 1920s FBI stakeout in the midwest, Instructions for a Funeral invites readers on a literary journey with a master of the modern short story. (Adam P.)
The Cook by Maylis de Kerangal (translated by Sam Taylor): Writes Priya Parmal in her 2014 New York Times review of Maylis de Kerangal’s first novel translated into English, The Heart, “These characters feel less like fictional creations and more like ordinary people, briefly illuminated in rich language, beautifully translated by Sam Taylor, that veers from the medical to the philosophical.” In The Cook, a “hyperrealist” tale centered around a self-taught professional cook, we are treated to “lyricism and [the] intensely vivid evocative nature of Maylis de Kerangal’s prose, which conjures moods, sensations, and flavors, as well as the exhausting rigor and sometimes violent abuses of kitchen work.” The Cook is her 10th novel, her second translated into English (also by Taylor); Anglophones can be grateful that we’re finally catching up with this many-prize-winning author. (Sonya)
Sing to It by Amy Hempel: Hempel, the short story legend best known for “In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson Is Buried,” is back with her first new collection of stories in over a decade. From “Cloudland,” which depicts a woman’s reckoning with her decision to give up her child, to “A Full-Service Shelter,” which follows a volunteer at a shelter where abandoned dogs are euthanized, the stories in Sing to It are fitting additions to Hempel’s work. (Thom)


The Other Americans by Laila Lalami: Lalami, whose previous novel, The Moor’s Account, was a finalist for the Pulitzer, returns with a “structurally elegant mystery” (Kirkus). At the opening of this highly anticipated new novel, Morroccan immigrant Driss Guerraoui is killed by a speeding car on a California highway. The book then follows a number of characters connected to and affected by his death, including his jazz composer daughter, his wife, and an undocumented immigrant who witnessed the accident. J.M. Coetzee says, “This deftly constructed account of a crime and its consequences shows up, in its quiet way, the pressures under which ordinary Americans of Muslim background have labored since the events of 9/11.” (Edan)
Good Talk by Mira Jacob: A graphic novel about raising her mixed-race son in a white supremacist society by the author of The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing, built around conversations with a curious six year old. Jacqueline Woodson says “In Jacob’s brilliant hands, we are gifted with a narrative that is sometimes hysterical, always honest, and ultimately healing.” (Lydia)

Joy by Erin McGraw: In her newest collection, McGraw gathers 53 “very short stories” about time, religion, class, and relationships. In Publishers Weekly’s starred review, they said “this quintessential collection of stories serves as an homage to the form while showcasing McGraw’s stunning talent and deep empathy for the idiosyncrasies, small joys, and despairs of human nature.” (Carolyn)

The Club by Takis Würger (translated by Charlotte Collins): German reporter Würger’s debut novel focuses on the Pitt Club, an exclusive all-male dining club, and Hans Stichler, the young boxer tapped to investigate them. Full of secrets, violence, and ruminations on class, the novel explores the dangers of toxic masculinity and the cost of justice. (Carolyn)

The Dragonfly Sea by Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor: Owuor, whose debut Dust was shortlisted for the Folio Prize, returns with a coming-of-age novel about Ayaana, a young African woman who travels in order to find her place in the world. The book has received starred reviews from both Kirkus and Publishers Weekly—the latter writes, “with a rollicking narrative and exceptional writing, this epic establishes Owuor as a considerable talent.” (Carolyn)

Portrait of Sebastian Khan by Aatif Rashid: Fiction and nonfiction writer Rashid’s forthcoming debut follows the eponymous Sebastian Khan—a noncommittal, Muslim American art history student—on the cusp of his 2011 college graduation. Author J. Ryan Stradel called the debut “a smart, thoughtfully constructed, and propulsive coming-of-age story.” (Carolyn)

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