SUM­MER BOOKS

23 BOOKS WE’VE LOVED SO FAR THIS YEAR

The Washington Post Sunday - - SUMMER BOOKS - BY THE ED­I­TORS OF BOOK WORLD

THE BOOK OF ARON

By Jim Shep­ard Knopf. 260 pp. $23.95

In the sum­mer of 1942, Ger­man sol­diers ex­pelled al­most 200 starv­ing chil­dren from an or­phan­age in the War­saw Ghetto and packed them into rail­cars bound for the Tre­blinka ex­ter­mi­na­tion camp. Draw­ing on his imag­i­na­tion and dozens of his­tor­i­cal sources, Shep­ard brings the War­saw or­phan­age to life in this re­mark­able novel about a poor Pol­ish boy and his friend­ship with the care­taker of the War­saw or­phans, a pe­di­a­tri­cian named Janusz Kor­czak. Although re­lent­less in its por­trayal of sys­tem­atic evil, “The Book of Aron” is, nonethe­less, a story of such star­tling can­dor about the com­plex­ity of hero­ism that it chal­lenges each of us to greater courage.

BORN WITH TEETH

A Memoir

By Kate Mul­grew Lit­tle, Brown. 306 pp. $28

Kate Mul­grew has so con­vinc­ingly played strong women on screen — think Capt. Kathryn Janeway on “Star Trek: Voy­ager” and Galina “Red” Reznikov on “Or­ange Is the New Black” — that you can be for­given for be­liev­ing she’s prob­a­bly that way in real life, too. Her memoir, “Born With Teeth,” will prove your sus­pi­cions cor­rect. Mul­grew swag­gers en­dear­ingly across its pages, her “able and hardy con­sti­tu­tion” ever on dis­play as she pow­ers through the many chal­lenges — both per­sonal and pro­fes­sional — that life has tossed her way. Elo­quent and im­pas­sioned, the book reaches be­yond the stan­dard Hol­ly­wood memoir to some­thing more af­fect­ing and en­dur­ing.

THE CHINA COL­LEC­TORS Amer­ica’s Cen­tury-Long Hunt

for Asian Art Trea­sures By Karl E. Meyer and Sha­reen Blair Brysac

Pal­grave Macmil­lan. 420 pp. $30

How did the United States be­come, as a re­cent Wall Street Jour­nal ar­ti­cle pro­claimed, “the cap­i­tal of Asian art”? Part of the an­swer can be found in this ex­cel­lent book, which tracks the ad­ven­tures of the learned, cut­throat and ec­cen­tric scholars and col­lec­tors who brought the trea­sures of the Mid­dle King­dom to Amer­ica. Sharply writ­ten through­out and packed with anec­dotes, “The China Col­lec­tors” is as en­ter­tain­ing as it is eye-open­ing. Af­ter read­ing it, you’ll never visit an Asian art ex­hibit again with­out shud­der­ing at how much Sturm und Drang went into the cre­ation of such peace­ful­ness and seren­ity.

DEAD WAKE

The Last Cross­ing of the Lusi­ta­nia

By Erik Lar­son Crown. 430 pp. $28

The broad strokes of the sink­ing of the Lusi­ta­nia will be fa­mil­iar to most read­ers, but Lar­son’s ac­count is the most lu­cid and sus­pense­ful yet writ­ten. He uses letters, jour­nals and the ac­counts of sur­vivors to re­con­struct the ship­board ex­pe­ri­ences, and these are among the most vivid and of­ten heart­break­ing pas­sages in the book. In one, Theo­date Pope, one of Amer­ica’s “few fe­male ar­chi­tects of stature,” re­calls the con­ster­na­tion of a fel­low pas­sen­ger who had been served a dish of ice cream but no spoon: “He looked rue­fully at it and said he would hate to have a tor­pedo get him be­fore he ate it.” When the Lusi­ta­nia fi­nally crosses the path of the deadly Uboat on May 7, 1915, only 764 of the 1,959 pas­sen­gers and crew mem­bers sur­vive.

DE­LI­CIOUS FOODS

By James Han­na­ham Lit­tle, Brown. 367 pp. $26

A fan­tas­ti­cally propul­sive story about a teenager try­ing to save his drug-ad­dicted mother from in­den­tured servi­tude on a mod­ern-day fruit farm. In swift, star­tling scenes, Han­na­ham makes vis­i­ble the or­nate prison of racism that con­stricts the spir­its of or­di­nary peo­ple and crushes the spir­its of ex­tra­or­di­nary ones. The nar­cotic high from this novel comes from al­ter­nat­ing chap­ters nar­rated in the dis­em­bod­ied voice of crack co­caine it­self.

FU­TURE CRIMES

Ev­ery­thing Is Con­nected, Ev­ery­one Is Vul­ner­a­ble, and What We Can Do About It

By Marc Good­man Dou­ble­day. 392 pp. $27.95

Good­man’s ad­dic­tive book in­tro­duces read­ers to the brave new world of tech­nol­ogy, where rob­bers have been re­placed by hack­ers, and vic­tims in­clude nearly any­one on the Web. A for­mer beat cop who founded the Fu­ture Crimes In­sti­tute, Good­man warns that even the hu­man body is hack­able. Re­searchers have suc­cess­fully bro­ken into a pace­maker — as hap­pened on the tele­vi­sion show “Home­land” — and not only were able to read con­fi­den­tial pa­tient in­for­ma­tion but also could have de­liv­ered jolts of elec­tric­ity to the pa­tient’s heart. Good­man says he isn’t in the busi­ness of fear-mon­ger­ing. In­stead, he wrote “Fu­ture Crimes” to shed light on the very latest in crim­i­nal and ter­ror­ist trade­craft and to kick off a dis­cus­sion.

GBH

By Ted Lewis SoHo Crime. 323 pp. $26.95

Never be­fore avail­able in the United States, “GBH,” set in mid-1970s Bri­tain and first pub­lished in 1980, is one of the most coldly bril­liant crime nov­els you will ever read. If you read it, that is. Ted Lewis’s last and pos­si­bly great­est work isn’t, as the old say­ing goes, for the faint of heart. Tor­ture, mur­der, or­gies, sado­masochism, porn films, mas­sacres and not a sin­gle lik­able or trust­wor­thy char­ac­ter aren’t pre­cisely the stuff of best-sell­er­dom. Or . . . per­haps they are? “GBH” — the ini­tials stand for griev­ous bod­ily harm, a Bri­tish le­gal term — is a mes­mer­iz­ing story of power, love, hubris and be­trayal but, above all, the por­trait of a tragic vil­lain.

GHETTOSIDE

A True Story of Mur­der in Amer­ica

By Jill Leovy Spiegel & Grau. 366 pp. $28

Leovy, a Los An­ge­les Times re­porter, has spent more than a decade in her city’s most dan­ger­ous neigh­bor­hoods with killers, moth­ers, drug deal­ers, gang mem­bers, ado­les­cent hook­ers and cops. And she brings them all to life with grace and artistry and con­trolled out­rage in “Ghettoside.” If there’s any jus­tice, this will be the most im­por­tant book about ur­ban vi­o­lence in a gen­er­a­tion. In a world af­ter Fer­gu­son (and af­ter Eric Garner and Tamir Rice and all the rest), as we de­bate the harm done by po­lice, Leovy fo­cuses on the harms that come from things left un­done by po­lice. She has vis­ited, and she speaks for, the dead, their sur­vivors, their neigh­bor­hoods and the cops who deal — and more im­por­tant, don’t deal — with them all. She or­ga­nizes the book around one cen­tral nar­ra­tive: the in­ves­ti­ga­tion of the killing of Bryant Ten­nelle, the young black son of a Los An­ge­les Po­lice Depart­ment homi­cide de­tec­tive.

THE GREEN ROAD

By Anne En­right Nor­ton. 310 pp. $26.95

Welcome to the Madi­gan fam­ily of County Clare: four adult chil­dren, all con­tend­ing in var­i­ous ways with the emo­tional tyranny of their never- sat­is­fied mother. In the first half, each mas­ter­ful chap­ter fo­cuses on one of the sib­lings at a dif­fer­ent time around the world. In the sec­ond half, En­right brings them back to the old fam­ily home for a mo­men­tous Christ­mas in 2005. There’s noth­ing En­right can’t do with per­spec­tive, tone and time. This is a rich, ca­pa­cious novel, buoyed by ten­der hu­mor.

HER

By Har­riet Lane Lit­tle, Brown. 261 pp. $26

As this bril­liant psy­cho­log­i­cal thriller opens, Nina spots a younger woman named Emma whom she be­lieves she knew long ago. Over the next few months, Nina slowly and craftily cul­ti­vates Emma, even play­ing hard to get, as the women give their per­spec­tives on their grow­ing friend­ship in al­ter­nat­ing chap­ters. ( Why Emma doesn’t re­call Nina is one of the story’s sev­eral mys­ter­ies.) As Nina in­sin­u­ates her­self deeper into Emma’s life, the reader’s anx­i­ety is com­pounded by the like­li­hood that her nas­ti­ness is pay­back for some wrong that Emma did to Nina a long time ago — but what?

H IS FOR HAWK By He­len Mac­don­ald Grove. 300 pp. $26

Mac­don­ald was in her late 30s when her fa­ther, a pho­to­jour­nal­ist, died sud­denly. Deep in grief, she seized upon a cu­ri­ous book called “The Goshawk,” by T.H. White, and be­gan fol­low­ing the au­thor’s ex­am­ple by train­ing her own rap­tor. Mac­don­ald evokes the elu­sive­ness of so much that we all want. She wants her fa­ther back; she wants her hawk con­nected to her; she wants the nat­u­ral world guarded and pre­served in its dis­ap­pear­ing glory. Needs ac­cu­mu­late, come into con­flict and are bravely ex­plored. This is an el­e­gantly writ­ten amal­gam of na­ture writ­ing, per­sonal memoir, literary por­trait and be­reave­ment ex­plored.

THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD

A Memoir

By El­iz­a­beth Alexan­der Grand Cen­tral. 209 pp. $26

Alexan­der may be best known for her poem “Praise Song of the Day,” which she de­liv­ered at Pres­i­dent Obama’s 2009 in­au­gu­ra­tion. “What if the might­i­est word is love?” she asked in that pow­er­ful verse. It’s a sen­ti­ment she plumbs beau­ti­fully in this af­fect­ing memoir, which grace­fully tells the story of her re­la­tion­ship with her hus­band, the artist and chef Fi­cre Ghe­breye­sus, who died sud­denly in 2012 at age 50. Given its sub­ject, the memoir is re­mark­ably up­lift­ing. Alexan­der, who grew up in Washington and is a pro­fes­sor at Yale, doesn’t wal­low in her grief or vent anger at her loss. “I miss my friend,” she says, “plain and sim­ple.” By the end of the book, you will un­der­stand pre­cisely why.

A LIT­TLE LIFE

By Hanya Yanag­i­hara Dou­ble­day. 720 pp. $30

Yanag­i­hara’s novel is a wit­ness to hu­man suf­fer­ing pushed to its lim­its, drawn in ex­tra­or­di­nary de­tail by in­can­ta­tory prose. At the open­ing, four young men move to New York City af­ter col­lege: a gay, bril­liant and ar­ro­gant fig­u­ra­tive pain­ter sure of his in­evitable suc­cess; an ar­chi­tect un­sure of his sex­u­al­ity and per­plexed about his “in­suf­fi­cient black­ness”; a hand­some, un­am­bi­tious ac­tor who works as a waiter while be­ing de­sired by men and women alike; and an as­sis­tant pros­e­cu­tor whose de­sire to main­tain a ve­neer of con­trol de­spite his past phys­i­cal and sex­ual trauma cre­ate the ma­jor dra­mas in the nar­ra­tive. His friends’ love — real, self­less love — is the thing that could save him, if only he would let it. It’s a life, just like ev­ery­one else’s, but in Yanag­i­hara’s hands, it’s also ten­der and large, af­fect­ing and tran­scen­dent; not a lit­tle life at all.

THE NUNS OF SANT’ AM­BRO­GIO

The True Story of a Con­vent in Scan­dal

By Hu­bert Wolf Trans­lated from Ger­man by Ruth Martin

Knopf. 476 pp. $30

This as­ton­ish­ing book is much more than a true-crime thriller about mur­der­ous les­bian nuns — it’s also a very se­ri­ous study of how the church deals with scan­dal. As Wolf points out, we aren’t sup­posed to know about this story. The tale cen­ters on Sis­ter Maria Luisa, the novice mistress at the Sant’ Am­bro­gio con­vent in Rome. She was in­tel­li­gent, charis­matic and stun­ningly beau­ti­ful. She was also a so­ciopath, em­bez­zler, false saint, sex­ual preda­tor, patho­log­i­cal liar and mur­derer. A less-prin­ci­pled au­thor would have turned this into a tale of naughty nuns and per­verted priests and watched the roy­al­ties roll in. Wolf is, how­ever, a scholar of im­mense in­tegrity who re­al­izes that this story does not re­quire em­bel­lish­ment.

OR­DI­NARY LIGHT

A Memoir

By Tracy K. Smith Knopf. 349 pp. $25.95

In a world of gim­mick mem­oirs — I spent a year do­ing this, a sum­mer try­ing that — Smith’s “Or­di­nary Light” stands out for the uni­ver­sal­ity of its sub­ject and the lu­mi­nos­ity of its treat­ment. A Pulitzer Prize-win­ning poet, Smith writes of her child­hood in North­ern Cal­i­for­nia, the youngest of five kids in a lov­ing black fam­ily suf­fused with a mother’s faith. “Belief was stitched into me, sol­dered tomy bones,” she ex­plains. Yet faith, and Smith’s re­la­tion­ship to her mother, are tested by age, dis­tance and ill­ness, leav­ing the au­thor un­sure of her­self and of the woman she thought she knew. “Did I ever won­der whomy mother used to be,” she asks, “be­fore she be­longed to me?” There is so much we say and wish we could take back. Smith’s memoir is about fi­nally ut­ter­ing things left un­said for too long.

SEVEN­EVES By Neal Stephen­son Mor­row. 880 pp. $35

Writ­ten in a wry, eru­dite voice, Stephen­son’s novel ex­plores the re­ac­tion to the news that in two years, moon frag­ments will pul­ver­ize Earth and de­stroy all life. Sci­en­tists and engi­neers de­velop the Cloud Ark, a space sta­tion to be filled with sci­en­tists, engi­neers and a few civil­ians who will keep the hu­man race pro­cre­at­ing. How­ever, ra­di­a­tion poi­son­ing and deadly skir­mishes be­tween fac­tions on the ark leave the world’s fate in the hands of seven women. With­out any men or ac­cess to stored sperm, they be­come hu­man­ity’s “Eves,” re­con­struct­ing var­i­ous races from their genes. Five thou­sand years later, we see how these choices play out as the seven “peo­ple” groups cre­ated by the women try to re­set­tle on Earth.

A SLANT OF LIGHT

By Jeffrey Lent Bloomsbury. 357 pp. $27

Lent’s heart­break­ing new novel chron­i­cles the ag­o­nized af­ter­math of a Union vet­eran’s re­turn to the Fin­ger Lakes re­gion of New York. In the stark, vi­o­lent open­ing scene, Mal­colm Hopeton con­fronts a hired hand who plun­dered his farm and slept with his wife while he was away. In the process of killing his em­ployee, Mal­colm ac­ci­den­tally slays his wife and in­jures a 15year-old helper. A wid­owed neigh­bor takes the boy to re­cu­per­ate on his farm and tries to pro­tect him from the in­tru­sive in­ter­ro­ga­tion that quickly fol­lows. Lent has al­ways been as deft with plot as any other thriller au­thor, and he ex­pertly weaves a half-dozen nar­ra­tive strands into a richly tex­tured ta­pes­try of a com­mu­nity no longer uni­fied by shared val­ues.

THE SPEECH­WRITER

A Brief Ed­u­ca­tion in Pol­i­tics

By Bar­ton Swaim Si­mon & Schuster. 240 pp. $25

“The Speech­writer” is a re­mark­able po­lit­i­cal memoir, traf­fick­ing nei­ther in score-set­tling nor self-ag­gran­dize­ment but sim­ply re­veal­ing what the au­thor saw and learned. Swaim de­tails his years work­ing for Mark San­ford when the Repub­li­can was South Carolina’s gover­nor, and Swaim fea­tures hi­lar­i­ous speech-prep mo­ments (“Find me some­thing on the lib­erty tree,” the gover­nor de­mands mo­ments be­fore ad­dress­ing a tea party rally), as well as poignant in­sights into the daily chal­lenges of po­lit­i­cal com­mu­ni­ca­tion. A spare, mem­o­rable work on the mean­ing and power of words in public life.

A SPOOL OF BLUE THREAD

By Anne Tyler Knopf. 368 pp. $25.95

These quirky char­ac­ters ini­tially look like the Bal­ti­more fam­ily mem­bers we’ve so­cial­ized with for 50 years in Tyler’s fic­tion. But some­how what’s fa­mil­iar seems tran­scended in this won­der­ful novel in­fused with fresh­ness and sur­prise. When Red and Abby Whit­shank get too old to care for them­selves, their adult chil­dren rally to help. Sud­denly, the Whit­shank house is too full, burst­ing with chil­dren and spouses and grand­kids, a ca­cophonous or­ches­tra of emo­tional needs, buried re­sent­ments and dis­agree­ments about how din­ner should be cooked.

THE SYM­PA­THIZER By Viet Thanh Nguyen

Grove. 371 pp. $26

Nguyen, who was born in Viet­nam and raised in the United States, has wrapped a cere­bral thriller around a des­per­ate ex­pat story that con­fronts the ex­is­ten­tial dilem­mas of our age. Star­tlingly in­sight­ful and per­ilously can­did, the nar­ra­tion comes to us as a con­fes­sion writ­ten and rewrit­ten many times in an iso­la­tion cell. An im­pris­oned Viet Cong cap­tain re­calls flee­ing with a South Viet­namese gen­eral and in­sin­u­at­ing him­self into the refugee com­mu­nity that set­tles around Los An­ge­les. There he con­tin­ues spy­ing on the rest­less war­riors as they plot a quixotic plan to lib­er­ate their home­land from the com­mu­nists.

THE WA­TER KNIFE By Paolo Baci­galupi Knopf. 371 pp. 25.95

Res­i­dents in the western United States en­dur­ing that wa­ter cri­sis will ap­pre­ci­ate the pre­ci­sion with which Baci­galupi imag­ines our thirsty fu­ture. In “The Wa­ter Knife,” politi­cians and their pri­vate armies fight one another us­ing drones, at­tack he­li­copters and lawyers to take con­trol of the pre­cious life­giv­ing liq­uid still flow­ing, fit­fully, from the Colorado River. An­gel Ve­lasquez, the “wa­ter knife,” is as tough and cun­ning as a noir de­tec­tive. Out­fit­ted with as­sorted fu­tur­is­tic ac­cou­trements, he must find wa­ter us­ing a com­bi­na­tion of le­gal and thug­gish tac­tics. This is a vi­sion of the near fu­ture that bor­rows heav­ily from the strange­ness and con­flicts of the present.

THE WHITES By Richard Price writ­ing as Harry Brandt

Henry Holt. 352 pp. $28

In this com­pelling novel, Price ini­tially fo­cuses on vet­eran New York Po­lice Depart­ment de­tec­tive sergeant Billy Graves, who con­fronts two life-defin­ing chal­lenges. But “The Whites” is also about his wife, fa­ther and chil­dren and the four cops who are his clos­est friends. The story ex­pands to in­clude the crim­i­nals they con­front, the mean streets they pa­trol and the re­al­i­ties of Amer­ica in the 21st cen­tury. That’s the vast land­scape that Price takes us through with stylis­tic grace and piti­less hon­esty.

THE WRIGHT BROTH­ERS

By David McCullough Si­mon & Schuster. 320 pp. $30

McCullough pro­vides de­tailed glimpses of the Wright fam­ily in his su­perb new book, giv­ing more per­sonal in­for­ma­tion than most of us can claim to know about the avi­a­tion pioneers Wil­bur and Orville Wright. We learn that Wil­bur was fas­ci­nated since child­hood by the flight of birds and be­gan ameticulous study of avian flight. Wil­bur was older, more se­ri­ous and more stu­dious; Orville, shyer, gen­tler and more op­ti­mistic. And when they achieved their ex­tra­or­di­nary feat of manned flights off the Outer Banks of North Carolina at Kitty Hawk in 1903, few peo­ple showed any in­ter­est. McCullough’s mag­i­cal ac­count of their early ad­ven­tures— en­hanced by vol­umes of fam­ily cor­re­spon­dence, writ­ten records and his own deep un­der­stand­ing of the coun­try and the era — shows as never be­fore how two Ohio boys taught the world to fly.

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