To the Friend Who Did Not Save My Life (Semiotext(e) / Native Agents)

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Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Galchen, Zambreno, Emezi, and More

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Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from Rivka Galchen, Kate Zambreno, Akwaeke Emezi, and more—that are publishing this week.
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Everyone Knows Your Mother Is a Witch by Rivka Galchen

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Everyone Knows Your Mother Is a Witch: “Galchen’s captivating latest (after the children’s adventure Rat Rule 79) follows an illiterate widow as she confronts accusations of being a witch in 1618 Germany. As soldiers and plague spread across the Holy Roman Empire at the start of the Thirty Years’ War, 74-year-old Katharina Kepler’s own troubles play out on a grand scale after her neighbor (whom Katharina calls ‘the Werewolf’) accuses Katharina of poisoning her and manages to convince others that they, too, have been afflicted or targeted by Katharina’s witchcraft. Katharina must fight to clear her name with the help of her three children—her youngest son, a bullheaded pewter guildsman; her daughter, a kindly pastor’s wife; and her eldest son, an expert in horoscopes who works as the Imperial Mathematician—and her kindly, quiet neighbor Simon, who documents Katharina’s case for posterity and risks his own reputation by serving as Katharina’s guardian in court. Mesmerizing details abound, such as the torture inflicted on those accused of witchcraft, and the herbal remedies Katharina relies upon. Galchen portrays her characters as complicated and full of wit as they face down the cruelties dealt to them (a man called ‘the Cabbage,’ demanding Katharina release a curse on his sister, threatens her with a ‘vain sword… something a nobleman might commission and then reject at the last moment, leaving the sword maker in a bind’). This is a resounding delight.”

Animal by Lisa Taddeo

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Animal: “In Taddeo’s underwhelming debut novel (after the nonfiction narrative Three Women), a re-traumatized woman faces her painful past. Joan, 37, leaves New York City for Los Angeles after her boss, Vic, with whom she had been having an affair, shoots himself in front of her at a restaurant. Witnessing Vic’s death brings back memories for Joan, who lost her parents to a gruesome act of violence when she was 10, which left her orphaned and with a sizable inheritance. Joan believes a young woman named Alice, a yoga teacher in L.A., whom she’d never met, holds the key to understanding the night of her parents’ death, and the reason is initially withheld from the reader as well as Alice, after the two women form a superficial intimacy revolving around men and how terrible they are. Unfortunately, Alice suffers from thin characterization that renders her little more than a device for Joan’s development. And though the men are certainly horrible, especially the ones in Joan’s life—including her dead father—Taddeo misses an opportunity for a more critical exploration of female rage, relying instead on the shock value of the third act’s violent scenes. Recent novels such as A Certain Hunger by Chelsea G. Summers have treated similar themes with more imagination and depth.”

We Two Alone by Jack Wang

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about We Two Alone: “Wang’s elegant debut delves into the heterogeneity of the Chinese diaspora in stories that take the reader to settings as disparate as 1920s Canada and Nazi-occupied Vienna. Wang is equally convincing with the voice of the insecure Oxford undergraduate whose parents run a Chinese takeaway in ‘Belsize Park,’ as he is with a washed-up Chinese American hockey player and deadbeat dad living in modern-day Florida in ‘Allhallows.’ In ‘The Nature of Things,’ a pregnant wife from Vancouver’s Chinatown is living in Shanghai on the eve of the 1937 Japanese attack. The title story is the longest, and the standout; its protagonist is Leonard Xiao, a Chinese-American actor in his late 40s whose career never quite got off the ground. Having so long wanted to prove his Harvard physicist father wrong about the viability of his career choice, Leonard poignantly grapples with the reality that this may never happen. Occasionally the stories feel as if they end prematurely and avoid narrative conflict, but Wang’s prose is subtle and economical, well suited to his themes of disappointment, alienation, and departure. As the stories build on one another, they create a portrait full of both nuance and grace.”

To Write as if Already Dead by Kate Zambreno

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about To Write as if Already Dead: “In this clever hybrid work, Zambreno (Drifts) interrogates her fascination with French writer and photographer Hervé Guibert, whose novel To the Friend Who Did Not Save My Life (1990) controversially outed friend Michel Foucault of having died of AIDS. In the first of two parts, Zambreno sets out to explore ‘the problem of a friendship,’ first between herself and a famous author she met under a pseudonym online, then between Foucault and Guibert, before the novel—which traces Guibert’s own suffering with AIDS and featured a character named Muzil, based on Foucault—was written. ‘At what point,’ she wonders, ‘does the writing become an act of betrayal?’ Part two takes a diaristic turn, covering Zambreno’s pregnancy-related ailments and the daily demands on her as a working mother, as the act of writing becomes more difficult: ‘I need to push it out as if through my body… even if the thinking is fickle, even if it changes over time.’ As her investigation turns to the financial and material needs motivating her to write in the first place, it morphs into a feverish quarantine journal wherein she questions the meaning of language during crisis, especially the use of first-person writing. The author’s fans will savor this cascading meditation on what makes writing possible and necessary.”

Dear Senthuran by Akwaeke Emezi

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Dear Senthuran: “Emezi (The Death of Vivek Oji) reflects on their spiritual and creative evolution in this gorgeous epistolary memoir. Among the cast of recipients they address are friends, family, an ex-lover, Toni Morrison, and Senthuran Varatharajah, their German translator, who inspired the work’s form. Originally from Aba, Nigeria, Emezi identifies as ogbanje, an Igbo spirit that’s also a god. They are ’embodied but not human,’ an existential tension that governed their life as they traveled the globe in their 20s in search of home and themselves. Emezi eventually settled down in New Orleans in 2019, but their search for self continues in each letter as they shed old ‘masks,’ outgrow relationships, and undergo a hysterectomy to align their human body with their ‘spiritself.’ Emezi details the loneliness that comes with being ‘estranged from the indigenous Black realities’ and is unwavering in their demand that readers meet them on their terms, even if they might be considered ‘too strange, too arrogant.’ Yet in consistently captivating prose, Emezi demonstrates that it is precisely this unyielding belief in themself that catapulted their career, clinching literary awards and six-figure book deals. Those interested in broadening their metaphysical understanding of the world would do well to pick up this spellbinding work.”

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