This week: Dumas's sequel to "The Three Musketeers," plus Ayelet Waldman on microdosing.
With his brilliant, raw energy ricocheting off of every line, Booker winner Adiga (White Tiger) turns his wry wit and his scrutiny to the youth leagues of cricket in Mumbai, following the successes and failures of teenage brothers Radha Krishna and Manjunath Kumar, who have been both formed and broken by their visionary but abusive father, Mohan. Brought to Mumbai as children after their mother left, the boys have grown up in a “one-room brick shed, divided by a green curtain.” Ever since, they’ve spent every hour hoping and preparing for a different future, which they know depends on their ability to outshine all the other boys on the cricket field. To either help or hinder this process comes a cast of scouts, recruiters, and hangers-on, each of whom is etched with Adiga’s trademark clarity—they are as defined by their fate as they are resentful of it. “Revenge is the capitalism of the poor,” he writes, describing Mohan’s resolve to prove the potential of his sons, as well as their eventual attempts to escape him. But the claim also fuels the energy of the novel as a whole, unraveling the tremendous grit and fierce inner conflicts that come with the pursuit of revenge. Though Radha is known throughout Mumbai as the “best batsman” and Manju the “second best batsman,” this is shockingly upturned, a move from which no one ever quite recovers. Meanwhile, as Manju in particular comes of age, he wrestles with what the sport demands and what he’s willing to sacrifice in turn.
The March Against Fear: The Last Great Walk of the Civil Rights Movement and the Emergence of Black Power
In a powerful and timely book, Bausum (Stonewall) focuses her attention on the last great march of the civil rights era, the March Against Fear, from Memphis, Tenn., to Jackson, Miss., in June 1966. Initiated by James Meredith in an effort to make Mississippi a less fearful place for black Americans, the march swelled to 15,000 people and resulted in 4,000 black Mississippian voter registrations; it also splintered the major civil rights organizations of the day and gave rise to Stokely Carmichael’s Black Power movement. Bausum dissects these internal divisions with great sensitivity, lauding Martin Luther King Jr.’s peacemaking powers while illuminating the conditions that provoked others to more confrontational protest. Abundant details disclose the extent of segregation and racism, the pivotal role of law enforcement authorities, and how fraught protecting the marchers could be: state troopers used tear gas and physical assault to “suppress an act of racial defiance” when marchers tried to pitch their tents on public land. This exemplary look into civil rights history concludes with perspective and encouragement regarding ongoing struggles for social change. Archival photos and source notes are included.
Retired detective Kwon Chun-dok, the Sherlock Holmes–like hero of this ambitious episodic crime novel set in Hong Kong from Chan (The Man Who Sold the World), is on his deathbed in 2013, working on a murder case with the aid of his mentee, Insp. Sunny Lok. Subsequent sections, introduced in reverse chronological order, focus on the infamous triads of Hong Kong organized crime (in 2003), the transfer of sovereignty from the U.K. to China (in 1997), the Tiananmen Square riots (in 1989), and more. Trained in England, the brilliant Chun-dok has been a great success, “silently filling a glorious page of the history of Hong Kong policing.” The mysteries he solves, as clever as they may be, can feel a bit old-fashioned. The author’s real goal is to tell a history of modern Hong Kong, as Chan explains in his afterword. As a “social narrative” of the city, to use his phrase, the story is fascinating.
Despite the subtitle, fans of Athos, Porthos, Aramis, and D’Artagnan won’t find the legendary swashbucklers here. However, Dumas’s trademark gifts at crafting engaging historical romances are amply in evidence in this lengthy yet fast-paced volume that places at center stage the Machiavellian lead, Cardinal Richelieu. Ellsworth’s translation captures a complete narrative of the cardinal’s machinations directly after the events of The Three Musketeers by merging for the first time the original serial novel of The Red Sphinx with a separate story, The Dove, which had been written 15 years earlier. In 1628, Richelieu struggles to retain power in the face of a formidable array of foes, including Queen Anne and the queen mother, by seeking out the truth behind the assassination of Henri IV, the ostensible father of the current monarch. Dumas’s penchant for addressing his readers (“We hope our readers will forgive us, but we believe it is time to present King Louis XIII to them, and to devote a chapter to his strange personality”) remains endearing, and his wit helps sustain interest despite many fewer action sequences than in the author’s better-known works. A very entertaining epic.
In Fridlund’s stellar debut novel, 14-year-old Linda, an observant loner growing up in the Minnesota woods, becomes intrigued with the Gardners, the young family that moves in across the lake from her home. As she gets to know them, she realizes that something is amiss. Having been raised in a commune by unconventional parents, Linda is prone to provocative statements and challenging authority. She’s also fascinated by the scandal that occurs when Lily Holburn, a student at her school, accuses a teacher, Adam Grierson, of inappropriate behavior but then recants her testimony. At the same time, Linda forges a friendship with the comparatively worldly Patra Gardner and her endearing four-year-old, Paul, whom Linda babysits for a summer before his sudden and mysterious death. Matters take a curious turn once Patra’s husband, an older man named Leo, returns after months away at work. Fridlund expertly laces Linda’s possessive protectiveness for Patra with something darker, bordering on romantic jealousy. A sense of foreboding subtly permeates the story as Fridlund slowly reveals what happened to Paul. Her wordsmithing is fantastic, rife with vivid turns of phrase. Fridlund has elegantly crafted a striking protagonist whose dark leanings cap off the tragedy at the heart of this book, which is moving and disturbing, and which will stay with the reader.
Debut author Gewirtz’s account of China’s transition from Marxist central planning to “socialist market” economics is masterful: detailed, balanced, and illuminating. After the death of Mao Tse Tung in 1976, successor Deng Xiaoping encouraged the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to “emancipate the mind” from outdated ideology. Without any clear plan in mind, Chinese economists embraced Deng’s aphorism—“crossing the river by feeling for the stones”—and began to study both capitalist and socialist economies, looking for objective economic laws that would enrich China. Gewirtz patiently chronicles this halting, frequently frustrating, process. Before even instituting change, progressives had to rewrite party ideology to make free markets compatible with Marxist thought. Economists punished during the Cultural Revolution were returned to the CCP and encouraged to study previously forbidden foreign economic theory. Powerful conservatives in the CCP often slowed or halted progress. And any signs that liberalization threatened political control (such as the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests) placed reform in jeopardy. Economist Zhao Ziyang, a key figure, spent the remainder of his life under house arrest after opposing martial law. This is a revelatory account of China’s economic evolution, its debt to Western economic thought, and its love-hate relationship with capitalism.
Welcome to Mill Valley, “endowed with not only green mountains and gold hillsides, but also redwood forests, [and] canyon waterfalls,” just over the bridge from San Francisco in affluent Marin County. It’s hardly the most dangerous place to grow up, but in Johnson’s excellent debut, her sharp storytelling conveys an authentic sense of the perils of adolescence observed through a group of teenagers complicit in a terrible event back when they were all in middle school: the suicide of a classmate beset by cyberbullying after sending a love note. The group, now high school juniors, is seen through the eyes of Molly Niccol, a young new English teacher from outside Fresno, a “nowhere place between beige strip mall and brown farmland.” Molly is anxious to connect with her students; she’s not so far removed from her own teen years, when she felt the same “claustrophobic rage that she could not explain to anyone... there was no clear reason why she should be in any particular moment so furious, so bored. ” Molly struggles to make sense of the kids in her class and the rumors about them she hears in the teachers’ lounge, like ambitious Abigail’s affair with a teacher, and the disappearance of Damon Flintov, one of the original middle school tormentors. Johnson allows these dramas to unfold through various shifting perspectives, including the texts and Facebook posts that run current to teenage life. She keeps the action brisk and deepens readers’ investment, culminating in high school party that goes wrong. Readers may find themselves so swept up in this enthralling novel that they finish it in a single sitting.
Miller’s second novel (after Norwegian by Night) is a polished and powerful commentary on the effects of war on two men—an ambitious British journalist and a clueless American soldier who meet briefly in Iraq at the end of the Gulf War in 1991. Private Arwood Hobbes and Brit reporter Thomas Benton witness the slaughter of Shiite civilians by the Iraqi army and cannot prevent the cold-blooded murder of a young girl in a green dress. The experience haunts both men for years, but 22 years later, in 2013, shocking news footage of an insurgent attack in Iraq reunites the two men in a desperate and risky gambit to save a girl in a green dress shown in the video. Middle-aged Hobbes is energized to right an old wrong, and old, slow Benton is reluctant to get involved. Amid the dangerous Syrian, Iraqi, and Kurdish refugee crisis in northern Iraq, Hobbes and Benton team up with a U.N. refugee officer, but the men are captured by ISIL terrorists, beginning a deadly cat and mouse game of torture, intimidation, and negotiation. Benton doesn’t understand Hobbes’s obsession with the girl in the video or the unique skills he’s gained since 1991. This is an excellent depiction of the complicated Iraq-Syria situation, especially the desperate plight of refugees and the West’s failure to provide peace or relief. Miller caps his stellar, electrifying story with a knockout ending.
This short story collection, edited and introduced by We Need Diverse Books cofounder Oh, features 10 stories “for all of us” from authors who include Kwame Alexander, Soman Chainani, Meg Medina, and Walter Dean Myers. Each story stands on its own, but the collection as a whole highlights the importance of perspective, perseverance, wonder, courage, and creativity during the middle school years. A thoughtful entry from Matt de la Peña, written in second person, centers on a Mexican-American teenager who does well at school but sees basketball as a “path to those tree-lined lives they always show on TV.” In Grace Lin’s delightful “The Difficult Path,” literacy proves an unexpected ticket to a life with pirates for a Chinese girl eager to escape an arranged marriage. And Jacqueline Woodson’s elegiac “Main Street” focuses on the relationship between an 11-year-old white girl and her “tall and brown and beautiful” best friend in a New Hampshire town where “the leaves were the only color.” Thought provoking and wide-ranging, this first anthology from WNDB should not be missed.
In Ruskovich’s beautifully constructed debut novel, Ann attempts to piece together her husband Wade’s past—namely, the murder of his younger daughter, May, by his ex-wife, Jenny, and the disappearance of his elder daughter, June, which took place years ago, on the mountain where Wade and Ann now live. The book is set in the alluring and haunting landscape of Idaho, spanning over 50 years, and depicting Ann’s obsession and determination to figure out what exactly Jenny’s motives were and just what happened to the girls. Jenny is now in jail, mostly keeping to herself while serving a life sentence, and Ann is caring for Wade while he suffers from genetic early-onset dementia, training dogs, and making knives. All the while, Ann and Wade hope that June may still be alive, after 18 years of no news. With her amazing sentences, Ruskovich draws readers into the novel’s world, using a number of well-developed voices to describe various perspectives, allowing readers to understand the complexities of the story as well as Ann does. Shocking and heartbreaking, Ruskovich has crafted a remarkable love story and a narrative that will stay with readers.
In this poignant coming-of-age story, Newbery Medalist Spinelli invites readers to revisit Two Mills, Pa. (last seen in Maniac Magee), during the 1950s to meet the 12-year-old daughter of a prison warden. When Cammie was a baby, her mother saved her life and was killed in the process. Still feeling her mother’s absence, Cammie lives a lonely existence with her father above the town prison. During the summer, she fills the hours by visiting the women inmates, playing records with her 12-going-on-17 best friend, and trying to turn her caregiver, Eloda Pupko, into a replacement mother. But Cammie’s failing schemes, coupled with another painful loss, cause her to lash out at everyone in her path. Spinelli again shows his mastery at evoking a particular time and place while delving into the heart of a troubled adolescent, creating an evocative backdrop through the sounds of early rock and roll, the smell of frying scrapple, and the sights of children freely roaming their neighborhoods. Like Cammie’s quietly wise housekeeper, readers will understand Cammie’s frustrations and cheer her on as she confronts her deepest emotions.
Novelist and essayist Waldman (Bad Mother)—mother of four, married to another high-profile writer (Michael Chabon)—worked as a federal public defender and taught at prestigious law schools. After struggling with mood swings and bouts of depression, Waldman becomes a “self-study psychedelic researcher,” taking small doses of LSD on repeating three-day cycles and discovers plenty to exonerate the illicit substance. It’s a major departure for the author of novels and a mystery series, and though the book’s subtitle broadcasts the happy ending, the hows and whys of her journey are the great payoffs. Waldman structures the book as a diary of her microdosing protocol, but each entry is a launchpad for topics on which she speaks frankly and knowledgeably. Her journal tackles drug policy, her days as an attorney, parenting, writing, and marriage maintenance. It’s a highly engaging combination of research and self-discovery, laced with some endearingly honest comic moments. She is exactly the sort of sensible, middle-aged, switched-on, spontaneous woman whom any reader would enjoy taking a trip with. Waldman, by her own account, is firmly in control when it comes to controlled substances: she doesn’t want to feel out of it; she just wants to get on with it.