May 2018 Books to Read!

The prairie fire crabapple tree in our front yard exploded in deep pink blossoms this past weekend, and all I want to do is spend time in the yard with a book as the weather keeps warming up. There are some great ones coming out this month, too, including William Trevor’s final collection of short stories and a wonderfully strange collection of stories from Robert Aickman.

What are you most excited about, and have I missed any we should all read?

The links to Amazon.com are affiliate links, so if you purchase the book (or any item) by going there from this page, we’ll make a bit of money for the site. Do not feel obligated, of course — we’ll keep going regardless! Release dates are based on the U.S. release date.

May 1

Ivory Pearl
by Jean-Patrick Manchette
translated from the French by Donald Nicholson-Smith
NYRB Classics

Buy from Amazon.com here.

Here is the blurb from NYRB Classics:

Out of the wreckage of World War II swaggers Ivory Pearl, so named (rhymes with girl) by some British soldiers who made her their mascot, a mere kid, orphaned, survivor of God knows what, but fluent in French, English, smoking, and drinking. In Berlin, Ivy meets Samuel Farakhan, a rich closeted intelligence officer. Farakhan proposes to adopt her and help her to become the photographer she wants to be; his relationship to her will provide a certain cover for him. And she is an asset. The deal is struck…

1956: Ivy has seen every conflict the postwar world has on offer, from Vietnam to East Berlin, and has published her photographs in slick periodicals, but she is sick to death of death and bored with life and love. It’s time for a break. Ivy heads to Cuba, the Sierra Maestra.

History, however, doesn’t take vacations.

Ivory Pearl was Jean-Patrick Manchette’s last book, representing a new turn in his writing. It was to be the first of a series of ambitious historical thrillers about the “wrong times” we live in. Though left unfinished when Manchette died, the book, whose full plot has been filled in here from the author’s notes, is a masterpiece of bold suspense and black comedy: chilling, caustic, and perfectly choreographed.

The Mars Room
by Rachel Kushner
Scribner

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Here is the blurb from Scribner:

From twice National Book Award–nominated Rachel Kushner, whose Flamethrowers was called “the best, most brazen, most interesting book of the year” (Kathryn Schulz, New York magazine), comes a spectacularly compelling, heart-stopping novel about a life gone off the rails in contemporary America.

It’s 2003 and Romy Hall is at the start of two consecutive life sentences at Stanville Women’s Correctional Facility, deep in California’s Central Valley. Outside is the world from which she has been severed: the San Francisco of her youth and her young son, Jackson. Inside is a new reality: thousands of women hustling for the bare essentials needed to survive; the bluffing and pageantry and casual acts of violence by guards and prisoners alike; and the deadpan absurdities of institutional living, which Kushner evokes with great humor and precision.

Stunning and unsentimental, The Mars Room demonstrates new levels of mastery and depth in Kushner’s work. It is audacious and tragic, propulsive and yet beautifully refined. As James Wood said in The New Yorker, her fiction “succeeds because it is so full of vibrantly different stories and histories, all of them particular, all of them brilliantly alive.”


May 8

Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo”
by Zora Neale Hurston
Amistad

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Here is the blurb from Amistad:

A major literary event: a newly published work from the author of the American classic Their Eyes Were Watching God, with a foreword from Pulitzer Prize-winning author Alice Walker, brilliantly illuminates the horror and injustices of slavery as it tells the true story of one of the last-known survivors of the Atlantic slave trade—abducted from Africa on the last “Black Cargo” ship to arrive in the United States.

In 1927, Zora Neale Hurston went to Plateau, Alabama, just outside Mobile, to interview eighty-six-year-old Cudjo Lewis. Of the millions of men, women, and children transported from Africa to America as slaves, Cudjo was then the only person alive to tell the story of this integral part of the nation’s history. Hurston was there to record Cudjo’s firsthand account of the raid that led to his capture and bondage fifty years after the Atlantic slave trade was outlawed in the United States.

In 1931, Hurston returned to Plateau, the African-centric community three miles from Mobile founded by Cudjo and other former slaves from his ship. Spending more than three months there, she talked in depth with Cudjo about the details of his life. During those weeks, the young writer and the elderly formerly enslaved man ate peaches and watermelon that grew in the backyard and talked about Cudjo’s past—memories from his childhood in Africa, the horrors of being captured and held in a barracoon for selection by American slavers, the harrowing experience of the Middle Passage packed with more than 100 other souls aboard the Clotilda, and the years he spent in slavery until the end of the Civil War.

Based on those interviews, featuring Cudjo’s unique vernacular, and written from Hurston’s perspective with the compassion and singular style that have made her one of the preeminent American authors of the twentieth-century, Barracoon masterfully illustrates the tragedy of slavery and of one life forever defined by it. Offering insight into the pernicious legacy that continues to haunt us all, black and white, this poignant and powerful work is an invaluable contribution to our shared history and culture.

Compulsory Games
by Robert Aickman
NYRB Classics

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Here is the blurb from NYRB Classics:

The best and most interesting stories by Robert Aickman, a master of the supernatural tale, the uncanny, and the truly weird.

Robert Aickman’s self-described “strange stories” are confoundingly and uniquely his own. These superbly written tales terrify not with standard thrills and gore but through a radical overturning of the laws of nature and everyday life. His territory of the strange, of the “void behind the face of order,” is a surreal region that grotesquely mimics the quotidian: Is that river the Thames, or is it even a river? What does it mean when a prospective lover removes one dress, and then another—and then another? Does a herd of cows in a peaceful churchyard contain the souls of jilted women preparing to trample a cruel lover to death? Published for the first time under one cover, the stories in this collection offer an unequaled introduction to a profoundly original modern master of the uncanny.

Warlight
by Michael Ondaatje
Knopf

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Here is the blurb from Knopf:

From the internationally acclaimed, best-selling author of The English Patient: a mesmerizing new novel that tells a dramatic story set in the decade after World War II through the lives of a small group of unexpected characters and two teenagers whose lives are indelibly shaped by their unwitting involvement.

In a narrative as beguiling and mysterious as memory itself–shadowed and luminous at once–we read the story of fourteen-year-old Nathaniel, and his older sister, Rachel. In 1945, just after World War II, they stay behind in London when their parents move to Singapore, leaving them in the care of a mysterious figure named The Moth. They suspect he might be a criminal, and they grow both more convinced and less concerned as they come to know his eccentric crew of friends: men and women joined by a shared history of unspecified service during the war, all of whom seem, in some way, determined now to protect, and educate (in rather unusual ways) Rachel and Nathaniel. But are they really what and who they claim to be? And what does it mean when the siblings’ mother returns after months of silence without their father, explaining nothing, excusing nothing? A dozen years later, Nathaniel begins to uncover all that he didn’t know and understand in that time, and it is this journey–through facts, recollection, and imagination–that he narrates in this masterwork from one of the great writers of our time.


May 15

Old Masters
by Thomas Bernhard
translated from the German by James Reidel
Seagull Books

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Here is the blurb from Seagull Books:

Thomas Bernhard’s Old Masters has been called his “most enjoyable novel” by the New York Review of Books. It’s a wild satire that takes place almost entirely in front of Tintoretto’s White-Bearded Man, on display in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, as two typically Viennese pedants (serving as alter egos for Bernhard himself) irreverently, even contemptuously take down high culture, society, state-supported artists, Heidegger, and much more.

It’s a book built on thought and conversation rather than action or visuals. Yet somehow celebrated Austrian cartoonist Nicholas Mahler has brought it to life in graphic form—and it’s brilliant. This volume presents Mahler’s typically minimalist cartoons alongside new translations of selected passages from the novel. The result is a version of Old Masters that is strikingly new, yet still true to Bernhard’s bleak vision, and to the novel’s outrageous proposition that the perfect work of art is truly unbearable to even think about—let alone behold.

Last Stories
by William Trevor
Viking

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Here is the blurb from Viking:

The beloved and acclaimed William Trevor’s last ten stories.

With a career that spanned more than half a century, William Trevor is regarded as one of the best writers of short stories in the English language. Now, in Last Stories, the master storyteller delivers ten exquisitely rendered tales–nine of which have never been published in book form–that illuminate the human condition and will surely linger in the reader’s mind long after closing the book. Subtle yet powerful, Trevor gives us insights into the lives of ordinary people. We encounter a tutor and his pupil, whose lives are thrown into turmoil when they meet again years later; a young girl who discovers the mother she believed dead is alive and well; and a piano-teacher who accepts her pupil’s theft in exchange for his beautiful music. This final and special collection is a gift to lovers of literature and Trevor’s many admirers, and affirms his place as one of the world’s greatest storytellers.

Time within Time: The Diaries, 1970 – 1986
by Andrei Tarkovsky
translated from the Russian by Kitty Hunter-Blair
Seagull

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Here is the blurb from Seagull:

“Tarkovsky for me is the greatest,” wrote Ingmar Bergman. Andrey Tarkovsky only made seven films, but all are celebrated for its striking visual images, quietly patient dramatic structures, and visionary symbolism.

Time within Time is both a diary and a notebook, maintained by Tarkovsky from 1970 until his death. Intense and intimate, it offers reflections on Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Hermann Hesse, Thomas Mann, and others. He writes movingly of his family, especially his father, Arseniy Tarkovsky, whose poems appear in his films. He records haunting dreams in detail and speaks of the state of society and the future of art, noting significant world events and purely personal dramas along with fascinating accounts of his own filmmaking. Rounding out this volume are Tarkovsky’s plans and notes for his stage version of Hamlet; a detailed proposal for a film adaptation of Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot; and a glimpse of the more public Tarkovsky answering questions put to him by interviewers.

A View of the Empire at Sunset
by Caryl Phillips
Farrar, Straus and Giroux

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Here is the blurb from Farrar, Straus and Giroux:

Caryl Phillips’s A View of the Empire at Sunset is the sweeping story of the life of the woman who became known to the world as Jean Rhys. Born Ella Gwendolyn Rees Williams in Dominica at the height of the British Empire, Rhys lived in the Caribbean for only sixteen years before going to England. A View of the Empire at Sunset is a look into her tempestuous and unsatisfactory life in Edwardian England, 1920s Paris, and then again in London. Her dream had always been to one day return home to Dominica. In 1936, a forty-five-year-old Rhys was finally able to make the journey back to the Caribbean. Six weeks later, she boarded a ship for England, filled with hostility for her home, never to return. Phillips’s gripping new novel is equally a story about the beginning of the end of a system that had sustained Britain for two centuries but that wreaked havoc on the lives of all who lived in the shadow of the empire: both men and women, colonizer and colonized.

A true literary feat, A View of the Empire at Sunset uncovers the mysteries of the past to illuminate the predicaments of the present, getting at the heart of alienation, exile, and family by offering a look into the life of one of the greatest storytellers of the twentieth century and retelling a profound story that is singularly its own.


May 22

The Seventh Cross
by Anna Seghers
translated from the French by Margot Bettauer Dembo
NYRB Classics

Buy from Amazon.com here.

Here is the blurb from NYRB Classics:

A revelatory World War II novel about a German prisoner of war fleeing for the border and encountering a variety of Germans, good and bad and indifferent, along his way. Now available in a new English translation.

The Seventh Cross is one of the most powerful, popular, and influential novels of the twentieth century, a hair raising thriller that helped to alert the world to the grim realities of Nazi Germany and that is no less exciting today than when it was first published in 1942. Seven political prisoners escape from a Nazi prison camp; in response, the camp commandant has seven trees harshly pruned to resemble seven crosses: they will serve as posts to torture each recaptured prisoner, and capture, of course, is certain. Meanwhile, the escapees split up and flee across Germany, looking for such help and shelter as they can find along the way, determined to reach the border. Anna Seghers’s novel is not only a supremely suspenseful story of flight and pursuit but also a detailed portrait of a nation in the grip and thrall of totalitarianism.

Margot Bettauer Dembo’s expert new translation makes the complete text of this great political novel available in English for the first time.


May 29

Some Trick: Thirteen Stories
by Helen DeWitt
New Directions

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Here is the blurb from New Directions:

At last a new book: a baker’s dozen of stories all with Helen DeWitt’s razor-sharp genius.

For sheer unpredictable brilliance, Gogol may come to mind, but no author alive today takes a reader as far as Helen DeWitt into the funniest, most yonder dimensions of possibility. Her jumping-off points might be statistics, romance, the art world’s piranha tank, games of chance and games of skill, the travails of publishing, or success. “Look,” a character begins to explain, laying out some gambit reasonably enough, even if facing a world of boomeranging counterfactuals, situations spinning out to their utmost logical extremes, and Rube Goldberg-like moving parts, where things prove “more complicated than they had first appeared” and “at 3 a.m. the circumstances seem to attenuate.” In various ways, each tale carries DeWitt’s signature poker-face lament regarding the near-impossibility of the life of the mind when one is made to pay to have the time for it, in a world so sadly “taken up with all sorts of paraphernalia superfluous, not to say impedimental, to ratiocination.”

Armand V
by Dag Solstad
translated from the Norwegian by Steven T. Murray
New Directions

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Here is the blurb from New Directions:

Armand is a diplomat rising through the ranks of the Norwegian foreign office, but he’s caught between his public duty to support foreign wars in the Middle East and his private disdain for Western intervention. He hides behind knowing, ironic statements, which no one grasps and which change nothing. Armand’s son joins the Norwegian SAS to fight in the Middle East, despite being specifically warned against such a move by his father, and this leads to catastrophic, heartbreaking consequences.

Told exclusively in footnotes to an unwritten book, this is Solstad’s radically unconventional novel about how we experience the passing of time: how it fragments, drifts, quickens, and how single moments can define a life.

T Singer
by Dag Solstad
translated from the Norwegian by Tiina Nunnally
New Directions

Buy from Amazon.com here.

Here is the blurb from New Directions:

T Singer begins with thirty-four-year-old Singer graduating from library school and traveling by train from Oslo to the small town of Notodden, located in the mountainous Telemark region of Norway. There he plans to begin a deliberately anonymous life as a librarian. But Singer unexpectedly falls in love with the ceramicist Merete Saethre, who has a young daughter from a previous relationship. After a few years together, the couple is on the verge of separating, when a car accident prompts a dramatic change in Singer’s life.

The narrator of the novel specifically states that this is not a happy story, yet, as in all of Dag Solstad’s works, the prose is marked by an unforgettable combination of humor and darkness. Overall, T Singer marks a departure more explicitly existential than any of Solstad’s previous works.

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