The Gods of Tango

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Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Keret, Solnit, Truong, Cruz, Rushdie, and More

Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from the likes of Etgar Keret, Rebecca Solnit, Monique Truong, Angie Cruz, Salman Rushdie, and more—that are publishing this week.

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Fly Already by Etgar Keret

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Fly Already: “Keret (The Seven Good Years) balances gravitas and drollery in this collection of 23 pieces. Stories often begin with declarative sentences—’I celebrate the kid’s birthday the day after.’—that presume an intimacy with the reader and immediately engage. Many are very short; ‘Evolution of a Breakup,’ ‘At Night,’ ‘The Next-to-Last Time I Was Shot Out of a Cannon,’ each capture a moment of emotional complexity. Longer stories start with that same directness and add complications. ‘Tabula Rasa’ begins with the explanation of a frightening recurrent dream rooted in academia and ends with echoes of the Holocaust. In ‘Crumb Cake,’ Mom is grumbling because her 50-year-old son is unsatisfied with the birthday cake she has made him. As a lunch celebration plays out, deeper fissures in their relationship are revealed. The longest story, ‘Pineapple Crush,’ begins with ‘the first hit of the day’ and follows the tumultuous life of a functioning drug addict who has a job working with an after-school program. Peppered throughout the book is an email thread about terrorism, Nazism, and UFOs; it’s the most unconventional story of all, bringing home the idea that the personal is political. The endlessly inventive Keret finds the truth underlying even the simplest human interactions.”

Dominicana by Angie Cruz

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Dominicana: “The demands and expectations of family are an overpowering force in this enthralling story about Dominican immigrants in the mid-1960s from Cruz (Let It Rain Coffee). Fifteen-year-old Ana Cancion, living in the Dominican countryside, becomes Ana Ruiz when she bends to her mother’s pressure and marries the brutish 32-year-old Juan, who has recently emigrated to America and is scratching out a living in New York. Juan and his brothers intend to build a restaurant on the Cancion family land back in the Dominican Republic, and part of the plan is for the brothers to first raise money by working in New York. When Juan brings Ana to the city, she’s overwhelmed, learning hard lessons about the locals and her husband—who’s abusive until Ana becomes pregnant—and she grows closer to Juan’s younger brother, Cesar. Ana comes of age while the Vietnam War protests surge around her in New York, and when the brewing conflict in the Dominican Republic erupts, Ana becomes determined to earn her own money and bring her mother and siblings to the relative safety of the States. The intimate workings of Ana’s mind are sometimes childlike and sometimes tortured, and her growth and gradually blooming wisdom is described with a raw, expressive voice. Cruz’s winning novel will linger in the reader’s mind long after the close of the story.”

The Sweetest Fruits by Monique Truong

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Sweetest Fruits: “Truong (The Book of Salt) gives voice to three women in the life of Lafcadio Hearn—the real-life 19th-century Greek-Irish writer who wrote about America, the West Indies, and most notably Japan—in her remarkable novel about love, the power of memory, and betrayal. On the island of Cythera in the late 1840s, Lafcadio’s mother, Rosa, meets Charles Hearn, an Irish military surgeon, and sees in him not only romance but a way to escape her oppressive father and loveless home. But when Rosa arrives in Ireland, family politics and homesickness drive her away, leaving a young Lafcadio with nothing but the memory of her scent of lavender. In 1872, Alethea Foley, a young woman born enslaved in the U.S. but now free, meets Lafcadio, also called Patrick, in Cincinnati, where he’s pursuing a career in journalism. Though they fall in love and marry, there are rifts in the marriage rooted in their racial and cultural differences that they cannot repair, and he leaves. In the last decade of the 19th century, Lafcadio arrives in Japan after reporting stints in New Orleans and the West Indies. Soon he meets Koizumi Setsu, who becomes his literary and cultural translator, wife, and mother of his children. Interwoven through these richly imagined narratives are excerpts from the first, actual biography of Lafcadio Hearn, published in 1906. Truong is dazzling on the sentence level, and she inhabits each of these three women brilliantly. Truong’s command of voice and historical knowledge brings the stories of these remarkable women to life.”

Cantoras by Carolina De Robertis

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Cantoras: “This sensuous tale from De Robertis (The Gods of Tango) takes readers to the author’s native Uruguay during the 1970s to follow the harrowing lives of five women living under dictatorship. Bonded as cantoras, or ‘women who sing’ (a coded term for lesbians at the time), Flaca, Romina, Anita, Malena, and Paz escape the oppression of their country’s new regime and enjoy freedom at Cabos Polonio, a little known beach. Flaca is a risk taker who bucks tradition; Paz, a 16-year-old romantic just discovering who she is; Romina, a revolutionary who continues to fight despite punishment; Malena, a mysterious one hiding a dark past; and Anita, a beautiful housewife with dreams beyond her marriage. Back home in Montevideo, people disappear and women are raped, but in Polonio, relationships and romance flourish. Over the course of 35 years, these friends and lovers form a makeshift family as they struggle to find their place and awake to their true desires. After the dissolution of the civic-military dictatorship in 1985, formerly forbidden romances are allowed to take root and the characters learn how to live under democracy. De Robertis does a fine job of probing the harsh realities of what it takes to carve out a life of freedom under an oppressive government.”

Axiomatic by Maria Tumarkin

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Axiomatic: “Examining the theme of trauma and grief over the course of five extended essays, cultural historian Tumarkin (Otherland) presents a remarkable tour de force. Each essay derives its title from a different axiom—to pick two: ‘You Can’t Enter the Same River Twice’ and ‘Time Heals All Wounds,’—and explores an easily sensationalized subject, such as, in the latter, teen suicide. That the essays come across as original is a testament to their artful construction, as they organically navigates the networks of a community and evoke a larger system through its smaller components. ‘Time Heals All Wounds’ delves into the repercussions of teen suicide for families, schools, and communities, and moves through different stories as if they were all part of the same larger case. In addition to trauma, the essays also touch on the effects of time, as in ‘History Repeats Itself,’ about a lawyer whose commitment to ‘being embedded in the community, walking the streets, using the same public transport as my clients’ causes Tumarkin to reflect on how time ‘lets trust stick, and relationships take anchor.’ Perhaps most impressive is how Tumarkin openly courts, yet escapes, cliché. These essays will linger in readers’ minds for years after.”

Whose Story Is This? by Rebecca Solnit

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Whose Story Is This?: “Solnit (Hope in the Dark) highlights gains in the reframing of the American narrative in her incisive latest essay collection. The new narrative, she argues, is progressive and wider in scope, and makes room for the voices of women and people of color. In a moving open letter to Christine Blasey Ford, who testified to the Senate during Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings that Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted her while the two were in high school, Solnit notes the cultural and legislative changes that came about after Anita Hill’s testimony to demonstrate how the results of such an act of bravery ‘rippled outward in all directions.’ In ‘The Problem with Sex Is Capitalism,’ Solnit explores the entitlement that causes some misogynist men to become violent when denied access to women’s bodies; in ‘If I Were a Man’ she enumerates the challenges of being a woman devoted to her career in a society that still expects women to sacrifice their own ambitions in order to be a caregiver and supporter of others. The collection’s standout, ‘A Hero Is a Disaster,’ suggests a reevaluation of the American ideal of ‘rugged individualism’ to reflect the fact that America’s (and the world’s) problems cannot be solved by single actors, but by ‘movements, coalitions, [and] civil society’ working in tandem. Solnit reasserts herself here as one of the most astute cultural critics in progressive discourse. This brief but trenchant collection will please her fans.”

Quichotte by Salman Rushdie

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Quichotte: “Rushdie’s rambunctious latest (following The Golden House) hurtles through surreal time and space with the author’s retooled Don Quixote on a quest for love and redemption in an unloving and irredeemable U.S.A. In this story within a story, Sam DuChamp, author of spy thrillers and father of a missing son, creates Quichotte, an elegant but deluded, TV-obsessed pharma salesman who strikes out cross-country with the son he’s dreamed into existence, to kneel at the feet of an actress by the name of Miss Salma R. Quichotte and son Sancho brave Rushdie’s tragicomic, terrifying version of America, a Trumpland full of bigots, opioids, and violence. They experience weird, end-of-time events—people turn into mastodons, rips appear in the atmosphere—but also talking crickets and blue fairies offering something like hope. Allowing the wild adventure to overwhelm oneself is half the fun. Rushdie’s extravagant fiction is the lie that tells the truth, and, hilariously, it’s not lost on the reader that he shares this Falstaffian and duplicitous notion with none other than Trump (who is never named). Rushdie’s uproarious comedy, which talks to itself while packing a good deal of historical and political freight, is a brilliant rendition of the cheesy, sleazy, scary pandemonium of life in modern times.”

Also on shelves: Chimerica by Anita Felicelli.

A Year in Reading: Jacqueline Woodson

2016 was a strange year in so many ways.  We were at once confused and hopeful about the coming elections, I was traveling way too much — first because of the National Book Award for my memoir Brown Girl Dreaming and then for my novel Another Brooklyn.  I was talking about writing more than I was writing and that was making me cranky.  I was away from my family and that was making THEM cranky. Then we were planning our trip abroad and gut renovation so we were all scattered and crazed.  Reading became a balm for all of us.  In the days I was home, time was spent reading to my eight-year-old.  He had turned a corner as a reader and listener so we moved from the younger graphics — mainly his favorite book of all time: The Crock Ate My Homework — to deeper books like Jason Reynolds’s As Brave As You and later, Ghost, both of which are so brilliantly written that I often tried to move bedtime up a bit to get back to our nightly readings.  At the same time, my daughter was grumbling her way through the (still assigned!) Lord of the Flies, (poor child, I felt her pain!) and finding comfort in Edwidge Danticat’s Krik Krak.  Krik Krak for my daughter, was the Danticat gateway.  She went on to devour Brother, I’m Dying, Breath, Eyes, Memory, and Untwine.  I was more than thrilled to see these books stacked beside her bed and, in the morning, one or the other of them brought down to the breakfast table.  Losing a teenager to Danticat is not really losing a teenager.  The child that re-emerged was a bit deeper, a bit kinder.  Then there was my partner — a doctor by day and a reader by night.  The stack of books grew high beside her bed, got hauled up to the library, only to be replaced by a new stack.  The book she loved the most was Carolina De Robertis’s The God’s Of Tango. It came with us to France this summer and got passed around our extended family.  Not one of the people who opened that book didn’t love it.  I’d have to say The Gods of Tango is on the list of amazing books written in my lifetime. I would love to spend the rest of this commentary telling anyone who wants to listen about The Gods of Tango but I won’t.  Just read it. Or listen to it on audio. Or do both.  The same of anything Ann Patchett puts a pen to.  Commonwealth – Wow!!  State of Wonder — Jeez — how did she do that?!  Bel Canto — What…?!

Audio was big for me this year.  Spending so much time on planes and trains, the words of other writers were healing, reminding me of why I write.  So I plowed through Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me, Kaitlyn Greenidge’s We Love You, Charlie Freeman, Naomi Jackson’s The Star Side of Bird Hill, Karan Mahajan’s The Association of Small Bombs, Brit Bennett’s The Mothers and Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad.

Here’s the truth about me — while my partner will read a book she doesn’t really like until the last word, I will not finish a book I don’t love to the bone. Life is too short. There are far too many good books out there. I’m looking forward to finishing more of the ones I love.

More from A Year in Reading 2016

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