To Walk Alone in the Crowd: A Novel

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Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Fung, Anam, Bell, and More


Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from Pik-Shuen Fung, Tahmima Anam, Matt Bell, and more—that are publishing this week.
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Ghost Forest by Pik-Shuen Fung

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Ghost Forest: “Fung’s moving debut follows an unnamed protagonist whose family immigrated to Vancouver from Hong Kong when she was three, right before the 1997 handover to Chinese rule. Her father, fearing he won’t be able to find a job abroad, stays in Hong Kong—and thus, their ‘astronaut family,’ coined by the Hong Kong media to describe families where the father stays behind for work, is born. The narrator grows up in Vancouver with her mother, grandparents and younger sister, born a year after they immigrated, and develops a complicated relationship with her father, whom she only sees twice a year. The time they do spend together, like when she lives with him during a summer internship in Hong Kong or when he visits her during her semester abroad in Hangzhou, China, is marred by criticism, arguments, and hurt feelings. But when her father develops liver disease, the narrator is suddenly faced with the reality that she and her father may never have the opportunity to fill in the gaps of their relationship. Woven throughout are stories from the narrator’s mother and grandmother, whose tales about their family provide both historical context and levity. The bracing fragments and poignant vignettes come together to make a stunning and evocative whole.”

The Startup Wife by Tahmima Anam

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Startup Wife: “Heavy lies the high-tech crown in Anam’s spectacular fourth novel (after her Bengal trilogy). Asha Ray, 30, a brilliant computer coder whose PhD project at Harvard involves the ‘reverse engineering of the brain,’ reconnects with Cyrus Jones, a high school crush she hasn’t seen in 13 years who has become an itinerant ‘humanist spirit guide,’ officiating weddings and baptisms for nonreligious people. She abandons her research and the two marry in an impulsive city hall wedding, then move into her parents’ house on Long Island. Asha and Cyrus find work at Utopia, a tech company whose mission is to ‘save humanity from the apocalypse.’ There, Asha throws herself into creating an ‘Empathy Module’ algorithm for a social networking app inspired by Cyrus’s spiritual work. The app, a ‘virtual parish’ called WAI (We Are Infinite) becomes a global sensation, and, after Cyrus gets the credit for it, his charismatic personality turns him into a ‘new messiah’ and threatens their marriage. A startling ending framed by a deadly, Covid-like pandemic drives the plot close to a disastrous abyss as a trend of ‘death ritual groups’ sparked by the app causes moral and ethical dilemmas. Anam provides a piercing perspective on marital and business institutions and gender bias and cultural clashes, and weaves in rich local color as Asha grows reacquainted with her childhood home and her parents’ Muslim community. This is a powerful statement on the consequences of public achievement on private happiness.”

China Room by Sunjeev Sahota

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about China Room: “Sahota’s engaging latest (after The Year of the Runaways) follows a teenage bride in rural Punjab during the British Raj. Mehar Kaur was five years old when she was promised to one of three brothers. In 1929, Mehar, now 15, is married along with two other women to the three, but Mehar still does not know which is her husband. The women live and sleep in the china room, and are alone with their husbands only on those nights when they meet in an unlit room for sex. Mehar mistakenly comes to believe that Suraj, the youngest, is her husband, leading her to drop her veil and sleep with him one afternoon. Suraj realizes what happened but doesn’t want to give her up, and Mehar falls in love with him, leading to heartbreaking consequences. Mehar is seen and treated as property, yet Sahota manages to give her the illusion of agency, providing an empathetic look at how she would prefer the world to be. Woven within Mehar’s affecting narrative is the less-developed story of her great-grandson, an unnamed man who narrates in 2019, recalling the summer of 1999, when he was 18 and left England for Punjab to battle his heroin addiction. Though the various parts are uneven, it’s well worth the time.”

A Passage North by Anuk Aradpragasam

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about A Passage North: “A young man ruminates about Sri Lankan history and his own life in the introspective latest from Arudpragasam (The Story of a Brief Marriage). After leaving a PhD program in India and spending two years as an NGO worker in Sri Lanka following the end of the civil war, Krishan returns home to live with his mother and frail paternal grandmother in Colombo. He then learns that his grandmother’s caretaker, Rani, has fallen into a well and died while visiting her family in the north. As Krishan wrestles with the appropriate response to the news, he also mulls over an email from Anjum, a bisexual Indian ex-girlfriend with whom he shared an intense relationship. Krishan decides to travel north for Rani’s funeral, and reflects on Rani’s life as the mother of two sons killed in the war, while he still fixates on his time with Anjum. He interrupts these reminiscences with lengthy summaries of poems and a documentary film, the latter providing historical background on the civil war in a way that sometimes feels forced. Overall, though, the elegant descriptions of Krishan’s sentiments helps smooth over the slow pace and spare plot (on cigarettes: ‘the present [was made] more bearable even when he wasn’t smoking because it meant the present was leading to something good’). Readers who enjoy contemplative, Sebaldian narratives will appreciate this.”

To Walk Alone in the Crowd by Antonio Muñoz Molina (translated by Guillermo Bleichmar)

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about To Walk Alone in the Crowd: “Spanish writer Muñoz Molina, whose Like a Fading Shadow was shortlisted for the International Booker Prize, returns with an ambitious story of a writer-flaneur. An unnamed narrator enumerates his perceptions while walking in various cities: ‘I listen with my ears and with my eyes,’ he notes in the opening, set in Madrid. In New York City, he travels from the southern tip of Manhattan to the Bronx, to visit Edgar Allan Poe’s former cottage. Interspersed are wistful descriptions of his aging wife (‘She is enriched by the treasure of time’) and gauzy meetings in a Madrid café with a mysterious man whose ‘physical features were forgotten as soon as he was gone.’ The narrator also ruminates extensively on such writers as Poe, Charles Baudelaire, Thomas De Quincy, Herman Melville, and Walter Benjamin, noting how they fell in social status while practicing ‘a useless trade pursued by people of no practical sense.’ Most of the narrative is in short prose fragments, often headed by phrases that mimic ad copy (‘Go Wherever You Choose’). Occasionally the narrator breaks out into verse, cataloging terrorist attacks and deadly accidents. Some sections burst with political barbs (‘Donald Trump with his gold Lex Luthor hairpiece, misgoverning’). In the end, the solitary writer’s journeys and observations culminate in his discovery of solace in loving his wife, and his passion makes the narrative deeply rewarding. The result is a treasure trove.”

Strange Beasts of China by Yan Ge (translated by Jeremy Tiang)

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Strange Beasts of China: “Yan delivers a noirish, stylish bestiary in her English-language debut, reminiscent of such Chinese classics as The Book of Mountains and Seas and Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio. In the mythical land of Yong’an City, humans live alongside a variety of quirky, beautiful beasts who are often almost indistinguishable from their human neighbors, aside from mild behavioral or physical characteristics. Sacrificial Beasts, for instance, have low-hanging earlobes with sawtooth edges. Sorrowful Beasts cannot smile, or else they die. Others enjoy fantasy novels or have a penchant for char siu pork. The main character, an unnamed cryptozoologist, spends her days smoking cigarettes, drinking at a dive bar, and documenting the stories of her beast-inhabited city. Many involve romances between humans and beasts that are taut with tragedy and friction. A painter, for instance, falls in love with the perfect bestial mate, but loses him after a mysterious incident involving his pregnant sister. The overall effect of Yan’s storytelling is dreamy and hypnotic, sometimes opaque but always captivating. These cryptic but well-told tales offer much to chew on.”

Appleseed by Matt Bell

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Appleseed: “Bell (In the House upon the Dirt Between the Lake and the Woods) delivers a stirring take on climate change, complicity, and human connection. In separate narratives set centuries apart, three characters struggle to remain true to themselves in hostile worlds. In 18th-century Ohio, Chapman, a faun, wanders the wilderness with his human brother, planting apple trees that will feed future settlers and may someday grow the fruit Chapman hopes will make him fully human. In a postapocalyptic late 21st-century North America, a man named John confronts his role in the creation of the corporation that controls the world’s food supply, and plots to tear down the system. A thousand years from now, in an icy wasteland, humanoid C follows the directive of his previous iterations: find enough biomass beneath an endless glacier to regenerate life. An accident surfaces long-forgotten instructions, leading C across the ice to what may be humanity’s last stronghold. While each character’s situation appears bleak, the voices in this powerful tale continually seek something beyond the imperfection of human stewardship, as when John contemplates his complicity: ‘there’s no crime in being born into a harmful story but surely there’s sin in not trying to escape.’ This is an excellent addition to the climate apocalypse subgenre, and the way it grapples with humanity’s dramatic influence on the planet feels fresh and bracing.”

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