In­ter­na­tional Books

From the Oval Of­fice to David At­ten­bor­ough’s Jour­neys to the Other Side of the World.

North & South - - North & South - edited by VIR­GINIA LAR­SON

Fic­tion The Peo­ple in the Trees Hanya Yanag­i­hara ( Macmil­lan, $ 25)

If your sec­ond novel is a knock­out, peo­ple will want to read your first. That’s why Hanya Yanag­i­hara’s well­re­viewed ( but un­der-read) de­but The Peo­ple in the Trees – first pub­lished in 2013 – has been re-re­leased af­ter the suc­cess of her bril­liant and har­row­ing novel A Lit­tle Life. In The Peo­ple in the Trees, im­pris­oned sci­en­tist Nor­ton Pe­rina tells his life story, fo­cus­ing on his fa­mous dis­cov­ery that mem­bers of an iso­lated Mi­crone­sian tribe can live many cen­turies. A clas­sic un­re­li­able nar­ra­tor, Nor­ton emerges as an ar­ro­gant an­ti­hero (and pos­si­ble so­ciopath) re­spon­si­ble for the degra­da­tion and so­ci­etal dis­in­te­gra­tion of the jun­gle dwellers. “I did what any sci­en­tist would have done,” he in­sists. An in­tro­duc­tion, foot­notes and epi­logue by an acolyte, pur­port­edly to ver­ify Nor­ton’s ac­count, ac­tu­ally high­lights the “mem­oir’s” self-jus­ti­fi­ca­tion and fal­li­bil­ity. A chal­leng­ing, in­creas­ingly grip­ping read by a lit­er­ary ge­nius.


“A po­lit­i­cal in­sider that’s also a beach read.” Coun­try Michael Hughes ( Ha­chette, $ 35)

Take The Iliad, move it to North­ern Ire­land, swap the Greeks and Tro­jans for the IRA and SAS, and you have the ba­sic out­line of Coun­try, a colour­ful reimag­in­ing of Homer’s epic poem. It’s set around 1996, the Trou­bles are cool­ing down and the IRA has de­clared an un­easy cease­fire. But a lo­cal group of IRA men, led by the tem­pes­tu­ous Pig, isn’t happy about de­com­mis­sion­ing and re­solve to launch one last at­tack. Achill, the group’s sniper, splits with Pig. Be­trayal, anger and vi­o­lence en­sue. Each char­ac­ter has its Homeric coun­ter­part: Achill is Achilles, Pig is Agamem­non, lo­cal girl Nel­lie is He­len – but even if you’re not overly fa­mil­iar with The Iliad, the churn­ing rhythm of Michael Hughes’ prose and snappy pace will keep you turn­ing the pages. Spe­cial men­tion to his use of di­a­logue, kept fresh and re­al­is­tic by quirky Ir­ish ver­nac­u­lar, yet never com­i­cally so. SAM BUT­TON

Mem­oir From the Corner of the Oval Of­fice Beck Dorey-stein ( Pen­guin Ran­dom House, $ 38)

Work­ing for the cur­rent US ad­min­is­tra­tion doesn’t sound like a good time. But Barack Obama’s White House was an­other mat­ter en­tirely. It cer­tainly ap­pealed to Beck Dorey- Stein, who tum­bled into a gig record­ing and tran­scrib­ing ev­ery speech, brief­ing and of­fi­cial state­ment of the 44th Pres­i­dent of the United States. For five years, Dorey- Stein shad­owed the POTUS’S ev­ery move, across 45 coun­tries, for state vis­its, fam­ily hol­i­days and some of the dark­est mo­ments of his pres­i­dency. The first-time au­thor is at her best when she re­counts run­ning along­side her boss on ho­tel tread­mills, when she dis­cov­ers he’s as charm­ing, com­pet­i­tive and com­mit­ted as his sup­port­ers claim. It’s only when DoreyStein goes “full mil­len­nial” – ob­sess­ing about her­self and her con­vo­luted love life – that my at­ten­tion flagged. But, as the Hol­ly­wood stu­dio that op­tioned the film rights has noted, Dorey-stein has pulled that most dif­fi­cult rab­bit out of the lit­er­ary hat: a po­lit­i­cal

in­sider that’s also a beach read. SHARON STEPHEN­SON Jour­neys to the Other Side of the World David At­ten­bor­ough ( Ha­chette, $ 38)

“With elec­tri­fy­ing sud­den­ness, the bird [of par­adise] ducked his head and throw­ing his mag­nif­i­cent plumes over his back, he scut­tled down his branch, a tremu­lous foun­tain of colour, shriek­ing pas­sion­ately.” David At­ten­bor­ough, in more nim­ble days, once caught an­i­mals for the Lon­don Zoo – while film­ing early nat­u­ral his­tory films for the BBC. Some­how he also found the time to write six bril­liantly de­scrip­tive books about his far-flung ex­pe­di­tions – the “Zoo Quest” se­ries. Three were re­pub­lished in 2017. This gath­ers to­gether the sec­ond lot, first re­leased be­tween 1960 and 1963, and only slightly re­vised. At­ten­bor­ough is a mas­ter of evoca­tive prose, and his In­di­ana Jones-style ex­ploits in New Guinea rain­for­est, the Pa­cific, Mada­gas­car and Aus­tralia make riv­et­ing read­ing. If you’ve ever won­dered what it might be like to travel over dense jun­gle in an over­stuffed sin­gle-en­gined plane with a New Guinea blue-eyed cock­a­too

on your lap, screech­ing and bit­ing your thumb, a horn­bill’s beak bang­ing painfully into your neck and a box of snakes on­board, won­der no longer. “The jour­ney was a mem­o­rable one.” JENNY NI­CHOLLS

Non-fic­tion The Fab­u­lous Bou­vier Sis­ters Sam Kash­ner & Nancy Schoen­berger (Harper­collins, $33)

When it comes to sib­ling ri­valry, Jacque­line Bou­vier Kennedy Onas­sis and Lee Bou­vier Radzi­well would be hard to beat. Born into priv­i­lege and “bred to daz­zle”, they were look­ers from the get-go, with a well-honed com­pet­i­tive edge – of­ten aimed at each other. Their modus operandi was to hook in­flu­en­tial and wealthy men, which they did with aplomb: one mar­ried an Amer­i­can pres­i­dent and the other a Pol­ish prince. The world gaw­ped. Both mar­riages ended badly but still the need to “up­stage” and the lust for mon­eyed men con­tin­ued un­abated. En­ter Aris­to­tle Onas­sis. Lee had the af­fair but Jackie be­came his wife. Lee? Not even a brides­maid. Es­tranged sis­ters? You bet. The clincher was the read­ing of Jackie’s will when she died 24 years ago. Lee was left noth­ing, but she’s still alive at 85 and con­trib­uted to this ex­tra­or­di­nary, mus­tread bi­og­ra­phy. JU­DITH BARAGWANATH

Notes on a Ner­vous Planet Matt Haig (Allen & Un­win, $ 30)

“What hap­pens when over­load be­comes a cen­tral char­ac­ter­is­tic of mod­ern life?” asks Matt Haig in this su­perb lit­tle hard­cover book. He ex­plores con­sumer over­load, work over­load, news over- load and en­vi­ron­men­tal over­load, as well as things like time, be­long­ing, love, hap­pi­ness, anger, anx­i­ety, panic, hys­te­ria and – what ad­vice would a tur­tle give? The an­swer to that one is, “Have an am­phibi­ous ap­proach to life… You can tune in to the wind and the wa­ter. You can tune in to your­self.” Haig is a num­ber-one best­selling UK au­thor, who has ex­pe­ri­enced years of anx­i­ety and panic at­tacks. Here, he mixes in­sight with warmth and can be very funny. I’ve al­ready been back for a reread. JIM ROBIN­SON

The Lost Pi­lots Corey Mead (Macmil­lan, $ 38)

They’re barely re­mem­bered to­day, but in the 1920s Cap­tain Bill Lan­caster and pi­o­neer­ing avi­a­trix Jessie Keith-miller were global su­per­stars. They em­bod­ied the ex­cite­ment of avi­a­tion’s golden age and, dur­ing the frenzy of their fame, Lan­caster and Keith-miller (both mar­ried to other peo­ple) fell scan­dalously in love. Soon, how­ever, it all came crash­ing down. The De­pres­sion hit hard, the re­la­tion­ship foundered… then, one night, a young man died. And Lan­caster was on trial for mur­der. Tap­ping into a wealth of source ma­te­rial – flight logs, per­sonal jour­nals, news­pa­per ar­ti­cles – The Lost Pi­lots il­lu­mi­nates, in an im­mensely ap­peal­ing way, the glory days of pi­o­neer­ing avi­a­tion and a sen­sa­tional mur­der trial. It’s capped with the poignant end to Lan­caster’s story.


Dopesick Beth Macy ( Harper­collins, $ 37)

When opioids started rav­aging ru­ral, small-town Amer­ica in the mid-90s, jour­nal­ist Beth Macy was on the case. For five years she criss-crossed the coun­try in­ter­view­ing ad­dicts, cops, griev­ing par­ents, doc­tors and the lawyers who fi­nally took Pur­due Pharma to court for al­low­ing their “won­der drug” – Oxycon­tin – to dec­i­mate large tracts of the pop­u­la­tion. Three Pur­due ex­ec­u­tives were fined, not jailed, and “Oxy” to­day is harder to source as an in­jectable. Good? Not re­ally. There’s al­ways some­thing wait­ing in the wings to fill the vac­uum, and part two of Dopesick deals with the age-old scourge of heroin. It’s back, it’s cheap, it’s ac­ces­si­ble and it’s ev­ery­where. The silent march of ad­dic­tion con­tin­ues, and Macy’s book, metic­u­lously re­searched, spells out the aw­ful truth. JU­DITH BARAGWANATH

Bi­og­ra­phy Bruce Lee: A Life Matthew Polly (Si­mon & Schus­ter, $ 40)

The au­thor of this 500-page bi­og­ra­phy is him­self an in­ter­est­ing char­ac­ter: a Rhodes scholar who spent two years study­ing kung fu in China. Matthew Polly’s mix of aca­demic, mar­tial arts ex­po­nent and gush­ing film-star fan mesh to­gether to tell the story of a man whose name re­mains syn­ony­mous with on- screen kung fu. With Crazy Rich Asians top­ping the box of­fice in the US and UK, and be­ing ac­claimed for its Asian and Asian-amer­i­can cast, Lee’s strug­gles as he tried to find em­ploy­ment in Hol­ly­wood half a cen­tury ago are put into even greater per­spec­tive. He was a ground-breaker but, as has so of­ten been the case for film stars quickly be­stowed with god-like sta­tus (James Dean, River Phoenix et al), his life was a short, tragic one. Polly’s decade-long re­search is rev­e­la­tory, the life of Lee now draped in truth rather than myth.


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