The Island of Missing Trees

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Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Shteyngart, McCarthy, Davies, and More


Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from Gary Shteyngart, Tom McCarthy, Peter Ho Davies, and more—that are publishing this week.
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Our Country Friends by Gary Shteyngart
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Our Country Friends: “Shteyngart (Lake Success) returns with the droll and heartfelt story of a Russian American couple who invite a group of friends to ride out the lockdown with them on their Hudson Valley ‘estate’ in March 2020. Sasha Senderovsky, a bumbling writer, clumsily prepares for his guests: ‘Because he did not believe in road marks or certain aspects of relativity, the concept of a blind curve continued to elude him,’ Shteyngart writes of Sasha’s driving, which ends with a case of liquor shattered in the trunk. Sasha’s wife, Masha, bans smoking on the property, which Sasha allows his friend Ed Kim to break immediately after showing Ed to his bungalow, one of five along with the main house. There’s also Vinood Mehta, a once aspiring writer whose abandoned manuscript factors into a late-breaking plot involving jealousy and betrayal. The couple’s eight-year-old adopted daughter, Nat, who is of Chinese descent and is obsessed with K-pop, bonds with their friend Karen Cho, who, like Ed, is Korean, and Shteyngart drops in about as many illuminating details about the Korean diaspora as he does about Russian immigrants and their American children. The author shows great care for his characters, making Sasha’s vulnerability particularly palpable when an uncertain screenwriting project threatens his financial stability. Shteyngart’s taken the formula for a smart, irresistible comedy of manners and expertly brought it up to the moment.”

The Making of Incarnation by Tom McCarthy

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Making of Incarnation: “McCarthy’s acclaimed previous novels all revealed a fascination with spatial diametrics and information theory, and the intricately calibrated latest (after Satin Island) soars even further from plot and character conventions with a study of motion, data, and trajectory. At the center of many looping narratives is Pantarey Motion Systems, whose chief engineer, Mark Phocan—who had a boyhood epiphany during a mishap at an exhibition of Joan Miró paintings where he first encountered camera playback technology—oversees the company’s various models comprising vectors and the measurement of bodies through all matter of space. Its interests include motion capture studios, various experiments with wind tunnels and water tanks, the course of an affair between Norwegian dignitaries, a mysterious client looking into the copyright of dance moves and, most prominently, the special effects department working on a science fiction movie called Incarnation. Crucial to Pantarey’s work are the boxes created by form-and-motion innovator Lillian Gilbreth to measure the pathway of workers through factories, one of which—Box 808—has gone missing. The search for the missing motion-map provides one more course through a series of set pieces that meditate on topics as diverse as the physics of space travel and the pathway of the bullet that killed Archduke Franz Ferdinand. (There are also airplanes, astronauts, and Russian spies.) McCarthy arcs and zigzags through the parameters of contemporary fiction and achieves a brilliant new form. The whooshing, trawling result is the epitome of sui generis.”

New York, My Village by Uwem Akpan

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about New York, My Village: “Akpan’s ambitious debut novel (after the collection Say You’re One of Them) follows a Nigerian writer in New York City as he navigates myriad permutations of racism and prejudice. Ekong Otis Udousoro has a four-month fellowship in 2016 to understudy with a small U.S. publisher and edit an anthology of stories about Nigeria’s civil war of the late 1960s. Ekong, a member of Annang tribe (a ‘minority of minorities’), has his visa denied twice before finally securing entry with help from his stateside editor-in-chief. The all-white publishing house greets Ekong with friendly overtures, but his diverse neighbors in Hell’s Kitchen offer only icy stares, leading him to take refuge in Times Square and at Starbucks. While fighting for underrepresented authors and against bloodthirsty bedbugs, Ekong learns that first impressions don’t always reveal true character. Throughout, he strives to bear witness to the atrocities and lingering animosities of the Biafran War among compatriots living in the Bronx, in New Jersey, and in his village back home. Akpan writes as much to educate as to entertain, adding lengthy and lucid historical passages with footnotes to source material along with excerpts from the book Ekong is editing. This layered novel tells more than it shows, but it’s well worth listening to.”

Island of Missing Trees by Elif Shafak

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Island of Missing Trees: “Booker-shortlisted Shafak (10 Minutes 38 Seconds in this Strange World) amazes with this resonant story of the generational trauma of the Cypriot Civil War. Just before Christmas in the late 2010s, 16-year-old Ada Kazantzakis confounds her London classmates by screaming during class. Shortly after, Ada and her botanist father, Kostas, receive a visit from Meryem, an aunt she’s never met, the older sister of her dead mother, Defne. Ada feels growing shame about the scream, and is surly toward the free-spirited Meryem, who spouts strange adages such as, ‘We’re not going to search for a calf under an ox.’ Shafak then jumps back to 1974, when Greek Cypriot Kostas and Turkish Cypriot Defne had assignations in a taverna built around a living fig tree, which narrates part of the book and offers lessons on the human condition via anecdotes about insects and birds. Kostas’s mother, meanwhile, prompted by her disapproval of the courtship and worried over growing violence, sends him to London. Defne and Kostas are later reacquainted in the early 2000s on Cyprus, where she works searching for bodies of the disappeared. The reunion uncovers delicate secrets while expertly giving a sense of the civil war’s lingering damage, and by the end Ada’s story reaches an unexpected and satisfying destination. Shafak’s fans are in for a treat, and those new to her will be eager to discover her earlier work.”

Win Me Something by Kyle Lucia Wu

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Win Me Something: “Wu’s compassionate debut traces one woman’s search for belonging via her memories of growing up in two households. Willa Chen’s upbringing and biracial identity left her feeling caught between worlds. Her parents’ divorce when she was young meant splitting her time between her white mother’s house in New Jersey and her Chinese American father’s in Upstate New York. Both of her parents’ second families—her white stepfather and half brother, and her white stepmother and two mixed-race half sisters—never seem to have room for Willa. At 24, she takes a job as a nanny for an upper-class white family, the Adriens, in New York City. The job becomes a live-in situation, and Willa grows closer to the daughter, Bijou, and the parents, particularly mother Nathalie. As her relationship with the family deepens, Willa confronts memories of her own childhood, and when one of her half sisters moves to the city for college, she hopes to make a connection. Through the characters’ kinships—some familial, some chosen—Wu brilliantly lays out the complicated dynamics of love, belonging, and care that exist within all relationships. Fans of Kiley Reid’s Such a Fun Age will love this.”

Blue-Skinned Gods by SJ Sindu

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Blue-Skinned Gods: “Sindu’s marvelous coming-of-age story (after Marriage of a Thousand Lies) features a young healer in Tamil Nadu, believed to be an incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu, who eventually breaks away from his domineering father. Kalki Sami has blue skin and black blood, and his father, Ayya, has built an ashram for the family to live in, where Kalki, on the eve of his 10th birthday, must undergo three tests, beginning with the performance of a miracle. After struggling to heal Roopa, a sick girl brought to the ashram, he doubts the prophecy about him. Kalki may be seen by strangers as a guru, but as a teen he is easily swayed by Ayya; his cousin, Lakshman, who is his best friend; and Roopa, whose condition eventually improves and with whom Kalki falls in love. After Lakshman leaves the ashram, Kalki travels to New York City as part of a ‘world healing tour’ conceived by Ayya to promote Kalki, where the cousins unexpectedly reunite, and Kalki learns some news that breaks his life in two. Sindu juxtaposes the closed world of the ashram with Kalki’s vibrant experiences in New York, where he performs with Lakshman’s band, the Blue-Skinned Gods; eats meat; and ‘figures out who I was and who I was going to be.’ The imagery is vivid—’my body a colony of ants puttering in all directions’—and the slow-burn narrative by the end becomes incandescent. Sindu’s stunning effort more than delivers on her initial promise.”

God of Mercy by Okezie Nwọka

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about God of Mercy: “Nwoka’s dense, mythologically charged debut takes place in an Igbo village in an unspecified area of Africa, at an unspecified time. There, magic is a part of daily life, the inhabitants attribute their fortunes to the Igbo gods, and young, mute Ijeoma discovers she can fly. Her dissolute father, Ofodile, decides this power is dangerous, and, without the knowledge of Ijeoma’s mother or the rest of the community, exiles her to Precious Word Ministries, where she is abused, caged, and regarded as a witch. After years of maltreatment, during which she writes hundreds of diary entries entreating the village god Chukwu to save her, she and her rebellious friend Ikemba make plans to escape, and their scheming brings about magical and transformative consequences. Nwoka immerses the reader in an often-bewildering world, and though readers unfamiliar with the culture will have a tough time making sense of the parameters, those who stick with it will be rewarded with a rich sense of place. This stirring coming-of-age story holds its own in a recent wave of feminist fiction set in Africa.”

Pity the Beast by Robin McLean

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Pity the Beast: “McLean (Reptile House) returns with a category-defying novel of revenge, survival, and transcendence in modern-day Montana. While Ginny and her husband, Dan, assist a mare with a difficult birth on their ranch, the couple fights bitterly about Ginny’s infidelity with a neighbor, Shaw. Locals arrive to help with the foaling, and as the night wears on, drunken arguments turn violent: Dan rapes Ginny, and nearly all of the men do, as well, urged on by her sister, Ella. Presuming Ginny dead, they toss her inert body into the pit for dead livestock. But Ginny survives and emerges with an avenging fury and strikes back at one of her assailants with a plank spiked with nails. Armed with a stolen horse, weapons, provisions, and memories of her tough Granny, she flees into the mountains, hoping to have the authorities bring the men to justice. Hot in pursuit, though, are Dan, Ella, Ella’s husband, and two other men. The story of the posse alternates with prehistoric myth, natural history, excerpts from an imaginary western, data from 22nd-century extraterrestrial botanists, and the wise ‘thoughts’ of superintelligent, telepathic mules. But, however provocative, these passages don’t manage to integrate with the main narrative. Raw and elemental, searing yet wry, this has much to say on law and lawlessness, sexual politics, and humans’ animal nature.”

Chasing Homer by László Krasznahorkai (translated by John Batki, musical performances by Szilveszter Miklós, illustrated by Max Neumann)

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Chasing Homer: “Krasznahorkai’s strange and engrossing novella (after Baron Wenckheim’s Homecoming) reads like a Jean-Claude Van Damme movie dreamed up by Beckett and Kafka. Killers with an unknown motive are chasing the narrator, who has become by necessity an autodidact of survival skills, through Croatia along the Adriatic Coast. At a tourist bar in Korčula, holed up after being chilled to the bone by ominous gusts of the ‘Bora,’ the hero overhears a tour guide convince a couple to let him lead them on a tour of Mljet, a small island believed by its inhabitants to be the true location of Odysseus’s sojourn with Calypso, and follows them there. The hero’s account up to this point has been filled with reports of fast, chaotic, unpredictable movement to ward off the hunters, and of pledges to resist the animalistic pleasures in life, which would lead to doom, but at Korčula, something changes. Batki’s translation exquisitely captures the grace underlying the hero’s frenetic mindset (‘I must plunge, from the edge of a moment right into its midst, just like some Moby-Dick, or a dying butterfly between two flower petals’), as do the vignettes scored by free jazz drummer Szilveszter Miklós for each chapter (accessible via QR codes that appear in the text). Whether on a large canvas or small, Krasznahorkai never ceases to impress.”

The Art of Revision: The Last Word by Peter Ho Davies

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Art of Revision: “Novelist Davies (A Lie Someone Told You About Yourself) draws on his experience teaching at the University of Michigan’s writing program in this terrific guide to revising fiction. ‘Perhaps our ultimate resistance to revision, to doneness is that it prefigures death—the final draft, the last word,’ Davies writes. He rejects Thomas Wolfe’s categorization of writers as either ‘putter-inners’ or ‘taker-outers’ and posits that revision is the process of finding out what one really means to do with a story and involves both cutting out ‘darlings’ (or the ‘scaffolding… that can be taken down after the story is built’) and by adding when more is needed. Along the way, Davies surveys the methods writers have used for revision, including those of Frank O’Connor and Isaac Babel, and the relationship between Raymond Carver and editor Gordon Lish—in each case, he shows why revisions were made and how they changed a story. Davies also devotes a chapter on knowing when one is done with a story—a moment, he says, ‘when you understand why you told your story in the first place, what your intent actually was.’ Full of spirit and sound advice, this survey will be a boon to writers.”

Also on shelves this week: Sacred City by Theodore C. Van Alst.

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