Mike Meginnis’s debut novel Fat Man and Little Boy begins with an unusual premise: the two atomic bombs Americans dropped on Japan during WWII are personified and emerge from the wreckage as real people. Little Boy rises after hitting Hiroshima, and Fat Man after Nagasaki. The two find each other and realize they’re brothers. Together they journey through Japan, observing its destruction while feeling guilty about what they have caused. Their journey takes them to France and then Hollywood, leaving a trail of carnage and crime behind them as they try to figure out their sense of self and live some semblance of a real life.
Meginnis’s novel is as beautiful as it is odd. The novel dips in several genres–magical realism, crime, historical fiction–but never fully stays in either of them. Instead, the novel is less interested in constructing a fast-paced narrative and more focused on creating an allegory about historical calamities and our complacent role in them. Most importantly, it shows how destruction, however in denial we are, inevitably comes back to us. Fat Man and Little Boy might capture the ugliness of war, but its poetic attention to flawed characters and existential angst makes it a novel that sticks with you.
|Recommended by Tiffany White||Sunday, March 20th, 2016||No Comments »|
I just finished Americanah, a wonderful novel by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, the author of Purple Hibiscus, among others. Adichie came to my attention through her non-fiction work, We Should All Be Feminists, but her fiction should not be missed.
Americanah tells the story of a Nigerian woman’s years in the US, and her eventual return to Nigeria. I was attracted to this novel because I usually enjoy expat stories and cross-cultural adventures, and I thought it would be an interesting way to learn more about Nigeria. Adichie handles the theme well, blending moments of cultural discovery that will be familiar to any expat, with moments that were uniquely Nigerian (and uniquely Ifemelu). I found Ifemelu’s mixture of reverse culture shock and comfort on her return to Nigeria is particularly moving.
|Recommended by Meg Stivison||Wednesday, March 9th, 2016||1 Comment »|
Jessica Chiarella’s adult science-fiction novel And Again tells the story of four terminally ill patients who are given the chance to start a new life in genetically perfected versions of their bodies.
However, each of the protagonists struggle with their identities when they receive the transplant: Hannah, an artist, has to re-learn how to hold a brush; David, who was a Congressman, struggles to not return to his vices; Connie, who worked as an actress, has to navigate an industry that is obsessed with physical beauty; and Linda has to learn how to re-connect with her family.
Chiarella forces you to muse on when it is appropriate to draw the line with scientific advances. Is it morally okay to clone humans if you are going to use the technology to save the lives of terminally ill patients?
|Recommended by Amanda Ferris||Monday, February 15th, 2016||No Comments »|
This is only Korean author Kyung-sook Shin’s second novel to be translated into English. Her first, Please Look After Mom, hit the New York Time Bestseller list, but her second translated novel, I’ll Be Right There, is my favorite, exploring themes and territories that surpasses the ”Oprah book club”-esque nature of her past novels.
I’ll Be Right There follows Yoon, a woman who gets a sudden phone call from an ex-boyfriend she hadn’t spoken to in nearly 18 years. Her ex tells her that a beloved college professor is on their death bed. This triggers Yoon to go on a trip down memory lane, reminiscing of her college days during South Korea’s tumultuous ’90s, a time filled with political turmoil, protests, and tear gas.
But this is not a political novel. The politics play as a backdrop to the four pivotal characters, Yoon, Dahn, Myungsuh, and Miry, as they navigate past heartaches, idealism, and loneliness. There’s a lot of death in this novel — so much that it almost takes on a desensitizing effect. But probably what’s most impressive about the book is how it manages to be a page-turner despite having a minimal plot. At the end of the day, people die, people break up, and people live on despite their adversaries. But through friendship and the power of art, some can learn to charge through it.
|Recommended by Tiffany White||Thursday, January 7th, 2016||No Comments »|
When ones gets through the first chapter, or even for that matter, the first sentence, of Ryu Murakami’s Coin Lockers Babies, there is a sudden realization that the mundane is grotesque, sordid, and fetid–that natural everyday life hides behind it a prominent unnaturalness, and vice versa.
Murakami’s novel, after all, was based on the true phenomenon of rampant infanticide in Japan and China in the ’80s and ’90s, where parents abandoned their infants in coin lockers. While the novel’s characters, Kiki and Hashi, escape this fate, their coming of age, quasi-cyberpunk odyssey is one with no catharsis. There is an angst and anger, as personal as it is societal, in Murakami’s world of psychological torment and neglect that spans the remote Japan islands to the radioactive “toxitown” ghettos and bordellos of Tokyo, where life seems as complex in its sexuality, desire, and violence as it is simple in its needs.
|Recommended by Rhys Dipshan||Wednesday, December 9th, 2015||No Comments »|
Canadian author Emily St. John Mandel’s award-winning novel Station Eleven made her the darling of the literary world back in 2014. But her 2009 debut novel is an excellent place for new book fans to start. I have a strong bias toward fiction about people who disappear–people, fueled by some kind of mid-like crisis, who travel to find their souls, to reclaim their identities, or to find some semblance of purpose. In fact, it’s a bit of a literary cliche, but Mandel makes it work.
Lilia, a mysterious woman in her 20s, is a restless traveler. She moves around, from cities to countries, leaving behind lovers, friends, and family who are unknown of her whereabouts. Kidnapped by her father at age seven and forced to move from one city to the next to avoid being found, Lilia has never known stability. The novel opens with Lilia, now an adult, who abruptly leaves her current boyfriend Eli by telling him she’s going for coffee and never returning. Distraught, Eli sets out looking for her. When he receives a postcard from a girl named Michaela who tips him off that Lilia is in Montreal, Eli heads up north, weaving together the lives of all three characters in a way that’s clever and unexpected.
|Recommended by Tiffany White||Friday, December 4th, 2015||No Comments »|
Julianna Baggott’s heartbreaking novel Harriet Wolf’s Seventh Book of Wonders merges a hunt for a missing manuscript and family secrets that define three generations of women.
Years after the famous novelist Harriet Wolf died, her loyal fans are convinced that there’s still a seventh manuscript out there. Harriet had a turbulent relationship with her daughter Eleanor, which in term affected the lines of communication with Eleanor’s children Ruth and Tilton. After running away from home at the age of 16, it is not until her mother is hospitalized that Ruth and the family reunite to come to terms with Harriet’s legacy.
|Recommended by Amanda Ferris||Wednesday, September 30th, 2015||No Comments »|