Tuesday New Books
I like China Miéville in theory. (Though honestly I liked him better when I thought he was a she.) I've gotten excited and breathy over each of his books, but I've never picked one up...at least not yet.
China Miéville doesn’t follow trends, he sets them. Relentlessly pushing his own boundaries as a writer — and in the process expanding the boundaries of the entire field — with Embassytown, Miéville has crafted an extraordinary novel that is not only a moving personal drama but a gripping adventure of alien contact and war.
In the far future, humans have colonized a distant planet, home to the enigmatic Ariekei, sentient beings famed for a language unique in the universe, one that only a few altered human ambassadors can speak.
Avice Benner Cho, a human colonist, has returned to Embassytown after years of deep-space adventure. She cannot speak the Ariekei tongue, but she is an indelible part of it, having long ago been made a figure of speech, a living simile in their language.
When distant political machinations deliver a new ambassador to Arieka, the fragile equilibrium between humans and aliens is violently upset. Catastrophe looms, and Avice is torn between competing loyalties — to a husband she no longer loves, to a system she no longer trusts, and to her place in a language she cannot speak yet speaks through her.
Vaclav and Lena seem destined for each other. They meet as children in an ESL class in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn. Vaclav is precocious and verbal. Lena, struggling with English, takes comfort in the safety of his adoration, his noisy, loving home, and the care of Rasia, his big-hearted mother. Vaclav imagines their story unfolding like a fairy tale, or the perfect illusion from his treasured Magician’s Almanac, but among the many truths to be discovered in Haley Tanner’s wondrous debut is that happily ever after is never a foregone conclusion.
One day, Lena does not show up for school. She has disappeared from Vaclav and his family’s lives as if by a cruel magic trick. For the next seven years, Vaclav says goodnight to Lena without fail, wondering if she is doing the same somewhere. On the eve of Lena’s seventeenth birthday he finds out.
Haley Tanner has the originality and verve of a born storyteller, and the boldness to imagine a world in which love can overcome the most difficult circumstances. In Vaclav & Lena she has created two unforgettable young protagonists who evoke the joy, the confusion, and the passion of having a profound, everlasting connection with someone else.
Considered to be António Lobo Antunes's masterpiece, The Land at the End of the World — now in a new and fully restored translation by acclaimed translator Margaret Jull Costa — recounts the anguished tale of a Portuguese medic haunted by memories of war, who, like the Ancient Mariner, will tell his tale to anyone who listens. In the tradition of William Faulkner and Gabriel García Márquez, Lobo Antunes weaves words into an exhilarating tapestry, imbuing his prose with the grace and resonance of poetry. The narrator, freshly returned to Lisbon after his hellish tour of duty in Angola, confesses the traumas of his memory to a nameless lover. Their evening unfolds like a fever dream, as Lobo Antunes leaps deftly back and forth from descriptions of postdictatorship Portugal to the bizarre and brutal world of life on the front line. The result is both tragic and absurd, and belongs among the great war novels of the modern age.
Healthy foods that you can prepare in 15 minutes? I'm there! (Or possibly I just really like the salmon dish on the cover. Yum.)
Via Library Journal:
Board-certified nutritionist Bowden and nutrition educator and personal whole foods chef Bessinger (coauthors, The Healthiest Meals on Earth) have chosen recipes based on nutrient density (greatest nutrition for the dollar), glycemic load (low in sugar or processed carbs), and fiber. Busy families will appreciate such recipes as Speedy and Spicy Curried Apricot Chicken Salad, Fortified Fish Soup with Sweet Onion, and Healthy Jalapeño Cornbread Chili. Nutritional information for each recipe lists calories, fat, protein, and fiber. Recommended for health-conscious cooks short on time.
Via Publishers Weekly:
First published in South Africa in 2001, this haunting novel from the late postapartheid intellectual Mpe (1970-2004) ventures into South Africa's xenophobia and the devastation caused by the AIDS epidemic. The story takes the form of a eulogy by an anonymous narrator, addressed directly to its deceased subject, Refentse, revisiting the events leading up to his suicide. The first from rural Tiragalog to get a Master's in Arts and become a university lecturer, Refentse arrives in the rough-and-tumble Johannesburg suburb of Hillbrow and quickly becomes mired in a web of passion and betrayal among friends and lovers. Despite his stormy personal life, Refentse pursues "a mission to explore Hillbrow in writing" and decides he must forgo his native Sepedi language and write in English to reach a wider audience, a theme Refentse explores in a short story about a female author whose loyalty to her native tongue ensures the marginalization of her career and whose ambitions are eclipsed by her rapid deterioration caused by AIDS, a fate readers discover might have mirrored the fictional author's had he not taken his own life. Heavily influenced by oral storytelling traditions and yet fully engaged with the world it's set in, this is a powerful novel from a talent cut down unfortunately early.
An Empty Room is the first book by the celebrated Chinese writer Mu Xin to appear in English. A cycle of thirteen tenderly evocative stories written while Mu Xin was living in exile, this collection is reminiscent of the structural beauty of Hemingway’s In Our Time and the imagistic power of Kawabata’s palm-of-the-hand stories. From the ordinary (a bus accident) to the unusual (Buddhist halos) to the wise (Goethe, Lao Zi), Mu Xin’s wandering “I” interweaves plots with philosophical grace and spiritual profundity. A small blue bowl becomes a symbol of vanishing childhood; a painter in a race against fading memory scribbles notes in an underground prison during the Cultural Revolution; an abandoned temple room holds a dark mystery. An Empty Room is a soul-stirring page turner, a Sebaldian reverie of passing time, loss, and humanity regained.
In the oil-rich and environmentally devastated Nigerian Delta, the wife of a British oil executive has been kidnapped. Two journalists — a young upstart, Rufus, and a once-great, now disillusioned veteran, Zaq — are sent to find her. In a story rich with atmosphere and taut with suspense, Oil on Water explores the conflict between idealism and cynical disillusionment in a journey full of danger and unintended consequences.
As Rufus and Zaq navigate polluted rivers flanked by exploded and dormant oil wells, in search of "the white woman," they must contend with the brutality of both government soldiers and militants. Assailed by irresolvable versions of the "truth" about the woman’s disappearance, dependent on the kindness of strangers of unknowable loyalties, their journalistic objectivity will prove unsustainable, but other values might yet salvage their human dignity.