The Missing Year of Juan Salvatierra

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Tuesday New Release Day: Starring El Akkad, Kitamura, Hoby, and More

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Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from Omar El Akkad, Katie Kitamura, Hermione Hoby, and more—that are publishing this week.
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What Strange Paradise by Omar El Akkad

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about What Strange Paradise: “Akkad (American War) delivers a stirring if straightforward account of a young boy’s flight from Syria during the country’s civil war. Amir Utu sets out for Egypt with his mother, uncle/stepfather Younis, and baby stepbrother. When Younis boards a ferryboat overloaded with migrants, Amir follows him and ends up on a disastrous journey across the Mediterranean, of which he is the sole survivor. The details of what went wrong emerge gradually: first, Amir flees from soldiers on an unnamed island’s beach. He is then found by disaffected 15-year-old Vänna Hermes, who helps him evade detention. Here, Akkad explores a world in which migrants routinely wash up dead on the beach and are viewed as an inconvenience for wealthy tourists. The chapters alternate between the ‘Before’ and ‘After’ of Amir’s arrival on the island, chronicling the characters and challenges Amir faces on the boat and on land, and depicting the injustice, intolerance, and violence that refugees face in a hostile global landscape. The result is a moving if somewhat predictable story of survival and the need for compassion and camaraderie across languages, cultures, religions, and borders. While readers may find themselves wishing for more complexity, there is plenty of moral clarity.”

Nightbitch by Rachel Yoder

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Nightbitch: “Yoder’s guttural and luminous debut blends absurdism, humor, and myth to lay bare the feral, violent realities underlying a new mother’s existence. An unnamed stay-at-home mother lives through a monotonous routine with her two-year-old son, while her kind yet mostly uninterested husband leaves for weeklong work trips each Monday. Things begin to change when the mother notices a patch of hair growing on the back of her neck; spots her new, curiously sharp canines in the mirror; and begins to feel a tail emerging from her lower back. Bewildered by her metamorphosis, the mother searches online for explanations with terms such as ‘looks like I was punched hard in both eyes.’ Horrified by the dizzying results, she treks to the library, a zone that promises the comfort of knowledge but is colonized by other mothers (‘She actively resisted making friends in a mom context and objected to the sort of clapping and cooing that went on in the library room… the happiness and positivity that would also be mandatory,’ Yoder writes). She checks out a book titled A Field Guide to Magical Women, which validates her experience and encourages her to embrace the freedom of her new animal nature. Bursting with fury, loneliness, and vulgarity, Yoder’s narrative revels in its deconstruction of the social script women and mothers are taught to follow, painstakingly reading between the lines to expose the cruel and downright ludicrous ways in which women are denied their personhood. An electric work by an ingenious new voice, this is one to devour.”

The Woman from Uruguay by Pedro Mairal (translated by Jennifer Croft)

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Woman from Uruguay: “This introspective outing from Mairal (The Missing Year of Juan Salvatierra) follows a writer’s eventful day as he travels from Argentina to Uruguay to game the exchange rate and collect advances on two books. Lucas Pereyra hopes the money will solve all his problems, including his marital strife with Catalina, who may or may not be having an affair. While in Montevideo, Lucas plans to meet up with Magalí Guerra Zabala, a woman he recently met at a festival, whom he has built up in his mind as another source of salvation. After securing the money from the bank—’a whole year in my pocket’—he rents a hotel room to pursue his ‘hormonal agenda’ with Magalí, though, as is to be expected, nothing goes as planned. Instead, Lucas has run-ins with a pit bull, a tattoo artist, thugs at the beach, and his old mentor. While Lucas’s objectifying of Magalí wears thin, the story ends beautifully and judiciously, as Lucas must decide what he wants and who he wants to be. It adds up to an intimate and mostly fresh look at middle age.”

Intimacies by Katie Kitamura

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Intimacies: “Kitamura’s plodding latest (after A Separation) follows a group of jet-setting young professionals in The Hague, where a translator finds herself enmeshed in the private lives of her colleagues. There’s something vaguely unseemly about the unnamed translator’s married suitor, Adriaan, as well as other characters, including her boss in Language Services, the preppy curator she house-sits for, and a book dealer who is mugged during a recent wave of violence. But it’s hard to discern what anybody is actually up to. Meanwhile, in the courts, the translator is entrusted with the cases of a recently extradited jihadist and a well-heeled former president of a West African country on trial for war crimes, with whom she must match wits. There are, unfortunately, plenty of unused opportunities for deeper character development; Adriaan in particular is built up as a nemesis, but he does little more than preen, while even less can be said of the various other dilettantes and sexual rivals. Subtle to a fault, this adds up to very little outside of a plethora of dinner scenes and undeveloped subplots, while the translator simply drifts through a Henry James–style chronicle of life abroad. Kitamura is a talented writer, but this one disappoints.”

Virtue by Hermione Hoby

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Virtue: “Hoby (Neon in Daylight) delivers an accomplished take on class and protests against racial injustice. ‘That was just what you did on weekends—brunch and protest,’ Luca Lewis wryly narrates in 2027, looking back on his time interning at a New York City magazine as a naive 22-year-old in 2016–2017. He yearns to befriend fellow intern Zara McKing, an attractive Black woman, but feels ashamed of his whiteness and unsure of how to be an ally. Luca also becomes enamored with Paula Summers, an artist working at the magazine, and her indie filmmaker husband, Jason Frank, and spends the summer with the couple and their five kids in Maine as Paula and Jason fight over how to respond to racial injustice (in the city, Jason took the kids to protests; in Maine, Paula insists on carrying on traditions such as a Fourth of July parade). Toward the end of the summer, Luca learns of a tragedy involving Zara during a protest. Hoby’s writing sparks with inventiveness (‘The sky had a passive-aggressive quality, bruised clouds withholding their light while telling you they were fine’), and she offers insights on the damage of power imbalances in relationships. This speaks volumes on the shallowness of white privilege.”

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