This week, we highlight new books from Porochista Khakpour, Zephyr Teachout, and Nathacha Appanah.

A Country for Dying

Abdellah Taïa, trans. from the French by Emma Ramadan. Seven Stories, $16.95 trade paper (144p) ISBN 978-1-60980-990-4

Immigrants in Paris seek political, economic, and sexual refuge in Taïa’s heart-wrenching tale of postcolonial identity crisis (after Infidels). Zahira, a 45-year-old prostitute, is haunted by memories of her father’s suicide in Morocco when she was a child, and of Allal, a possessive Moroccan who loved her decades earlier. In Paris, Zahira looks out for an Algerian protégé, Zannouba, on the eve of Zannouba’s sex reassignment surgery, and Mojtaba, a gay Iranian dissident, whose innocence awakens Zahira’s maternal instincts. For Zahira and others, solace eludes them in the form of lost or unrequited love, a theme Taïa distills in a nested story of Zahira’s vanished aunt, Zineb. Enlisted by the French to service soldiers in 1950s Indochina, Zineb is left adrift between the family she’s left behind and a love she can only sell. Taïa’s blunt style is shot through with an immediacy accenting the high stakes for those chased across borders and running from their own pasts (“You thought you had fled our world,” says Allal). But Zahira is not free, and Allal has not forgotten her; he is coming now to Paris, planning to kill her. In the churning gears of this compact, deeply moving novel, crises of identity prove more solvable than those of the heart. (Sept.)

Break ’Em Up: Recovering Our Freedom from Big Ag, Big Tech, and Big Money

Zephyr Teachout. All Points, $28.99 (320p) ISBN 978-1-250-20089-1

Attorney and political activist Teachout (Corruption in America) makes a passionate and persuasive case for a revitalized antitrust movement to strengthen democracy and improve the lives of middle- and working-class Americans. Explaining that three large poultry processors buy and sell nearly every chicken in the U.S., allowing them to set restrictive, exploitative terms on contract farmers, Teachout forecasts the “chickenization” of the American economy. Companies like Seamless and Uber, she writes, centralize power, profit, data, and decision-making while decentralizing labor and risk. She critiques Amazon, Facebook, and Google for destroying competition; building an advertising model that fosters “surveillance, discrimination, and addiction”; and imperiling the free press. Other corporations come under fire for mandating private arbitration to settle lawsuits, “taking over” political parties and trade associations, and abetting the suppression of the minority vote. Teachout’s suggestions for reform include restoring stringent antitrust measures in place before the 1980s and overhauling the Communications Decency Act. Teachout delivers a forceful, clearly articulated vision of “moral markets” built on freedom, choice, and human dignity. Progressives will heed this clarion call for reform. Agent: Gail Ross, the Ross Yoon Agency. (May)

Tropic of Violence

Nathacha Appanah, trans. from the French by Geoffrey Strachan. Graywolf, $16 trade paper (160p) ISBN 978-1-64445-024-6

Orphaned gang members and desperate refugees live on a machete’s edge in Appanah’s blistering depiction (after Waiting for Tomorrow) of postcolonial chaos in Mayotte, an island in the Mozambique channel. A carousel of first-person narrators recount the abrupt life story of Möise, abandoned as a baby and taken in by Marie, a white nurse in Mayotte. After Marie dies, the teenage Möise’s simmering identity crisis leads him into the island’s unforgiving slum, a “violent no-man’s land” called Gaza. There, the book-loving Möise, who names his dog after the author Henri Bosco, falls sway to gang leader Bruce, whose child soldiers run Gaza’s economy by drug dealing, burglary, and political graft. Marked as a middle-class interloper, Möise is ripe for Bruce’s exploitation. The calamitous chain of events that follows is narrated from beyond the grave by players who are helpless to change it and can only affirm its inevitability. “This country turns us all into beings who do wrong,” Marie says in her ghostly narration. A journalist and native Mauritian, Appanah has a knack for reportorial detail that crystallizes the characters’ commentary. Seen from above, present-day Mayotte is adrift in its own history, neglected by France, its parent state; at ground level it’s bloodstained and redolent with “sour urine on street corners, ancient shit in the gutters, chicken being grilled on top of oil drums, eau de cologne and spices outside the houses, the sour sweat of men and women and musty reek of laundry.” Appanah skillfully lets these perspectives merge in the short, brutal lives of her characters. This heralds Appanah as an essential cosmopolitan voice. (May)

The Big Man’s Daughter

Owen Fitzstephen. Seventh Street, $15.95 trade paper (184p) ISBN 978-1-64506-019-2
This arresting mystery from Fitzstephen (Hammett Unwritten) explores what might have happened to a minor character in Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon. In 1922 San Francisco, cunning 18-year-old Rita Gaspereaux is at loose ends after her con artist father, Cletus, “known to some in the rackets as the Big Man,” dies in a shootout over the possession of a statuette called the Black Falcon. Rita, who’s learned a few tricks from Cletus, believes she’s at last free to take control of her life, but barely a day passes before she’s drawn against her will into a quest to retrieve the fabled bird. Meanwhile, Rita takes solace in fiction, “almost as effective an escape as laudanum,” in particular a novel about an innocent 18-year-old from Kansas, Dorothy G. Extracts from the novel nicely complement Rita’s story. Lies, cons, shifting alliances, kidnapping, and death propel readers toward a strangely hypnotic climax, which is skillfully presaged yet still an exhilarating surprise. Fans of metafictional mysteries will be enthralled. (May)

Brown Album: Essays on Exile and Identity

Porochista Khakpour. Vintage, $16 trade paper (304p) ISBN 978-0-525-56471-3

In this wonderful essay collection, novelist Khakpour (The Last Illusion) passionately and wittily explores the writing life and the Iranian-American experience. Not surprisingly, political concerns abound; Khakpour recalls, early in the Trump presidency, hearing of deportations in her majority-Muslim apartment building and encountering rumors that naturalized citizens such as herself—her family left Iran soon after the revolution—would be targeted. She threads memoir throughout, touching on her family life and on her years as “the only Iranian not only in my grade but in the whole elementary school, middle school, and high school.” In recounting the writing of her first novel, Sons and Other Flammable Objects, Khakpour offers a revealing set of reflections on the travails and joys of being a writer, as she finishes the manuscript and submits it to the publisher, hits assorted prepublication snags, and embarks on the reading and book festival circuit. She also shares the pitfalls of being known as an Iranian-American writer, or, due to her novel’s themes, a “9/11 author.” Lovers of the essay and those interested in immigrant literature will be particularly delighted, but any reader can enjoy Khakpour’s passionate and enlightening work. (May)

The Price of Peace: Money, Democracy, and the Life of John Maynard Keynes

Zachary D. Carter. Random House, $35 (656p) ISBN 978-0-525-50903-5

Journalist Carter debuts with a compassionate and richly detailed exploration of the life and legacy of economic theorist John Maynard Keynes (1883–1946). Seeking to assemble Keynes’s disparate views on politics, money, art, war, and culture into the “singular, definitive philosophical statement” he never produced in his lifetime, Carter delves into The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money (1936) and other writings to explain Keynes’s theories on public welfare, deficit spending, and financial markets. He also documents Keynes’s public support of “deficit-financed expansion” during the New Deal, and credits Keynes with securing government funding for the restoration of the Royal Opera House at Covent Gardens after WWII. On a more personal note, Carter describes Keynes’s involvement with the Bloomsbury group, and the shock of confidants Virginia Woolf and Lytton Strachey at his “wild, impossible love” with Russian ballerina Lydia Lopokova (Keynes’s previous romantic relationships had been with men). Tracing the impact of Keynesian economics on modern U.S. politics, Carter sketches the policies of every president from Kennedy through Obama, and explores how Keynes’s “spirit of radical optimism” animates contemporary efforts to arrest the “global slide into authoritarianism.” Carter makes complex economic concepts accessible, and eloquently untangles Keynes’s many personal and professional contradictions. This is an essential portrait of the economist and the man. (May)

Finding Dora Maar: An Artist, an Address Book, a Life

Brigitte Benkemoun, trans. from the French by Jody Gladding. Getty Publications, $24.95 (216p) ISBN 978-1-60606-659-1

French journalist Benkemoun (La Petite Fille sur la Photo) examines the life of former Picasso mistress and Weeping Woman photographer and painter Dora Maar (1907–1997) and the Parisian avant-garde movement in this exhilarating account. After Benkemoun’s husband lost his address book, he purchased another on eBay, which the author, upon receiving it, learned had belonged to Maar and contained the names and addresses for such luminaries as Balthus, Brassaï, Andre Breton, Marc Chagall, Jean Cocteau, Paul Éluard, and Jacques Lacan. What follows is a combination cultural history and detective story, with the address book’s pages being “a small keyhole through which I could peer at a world long vanished and like no other.” Over the next two years, Benkemoun obsessively researched the names and addresses to piece together Maar’s 10-year relationship with Picasso, her life during the Nazi occupation of Paris, her place among the Surrealists and avant-garde in mid-century France, and her years as a painter after her breakdown and break-up with Picasso, which led to her living out her final days as a virtual recluse. This enthralling study of Paris and its artistic avant-garde should be required reading for Surrealist and modern art lovers. (May)

Ping Pong

Taiyō Matsumoto, trans. from the Japanese by Michael Arias. Viz, $29.99 (520p) ISBN 978-1-974711-65-9

First serialized in Japan in the mid-1990s, this unlikely love song to ping-pong by Matsumoto (Cats of the Louvre) dashes together a cockeyed mix of athletic action, indie drama, and visual spectacle. At a small high school, two former friends dream of table tennis greatness: Peco, a cocky natural talent, and Smile, a stone-faced brooder. They’re forced to up their game when a rival school acquires Wenge Kong, a ringer from China. On one level it plays as conventional sports manga packed with dynamically drawn action, outlandishly overpowered competitors, and characters saying such things as “better not to have been born than to be up against losers like these” through gritted teeth. On another, it’s a delicately observed human drama about the boys, their teammates and rivals, and the adults jockeying to guide them. Matsumoto’s characters describe ping-pong as “solitude and doubt, anguish and despair, nihilism and depravity” and make the reader believe it. The angular figures lunge from the page at extreme, distorted perspectives, plunging through weedy back alleys, cluttered apartments, and cavernous gymnasiums. This crowd-pleasing manga is poised to score points with readers across the board. (May)

First Kiss with a Cowboy

Sara Richardson. Forever, $7.99 mass market (368p) ISBN 978-1-5387-1715-8

Richardson (A Cowboy for Christmas) introduces readers to bucolic Silverado Lake, Colo., in this splendid, sexy series launch. Cal-Poly adjunct professor Jane Harding’s first romance novel was a bestseller, but writer’s block hampers progress on her second. With a deadline six weeks away, Jane heads home to Silverado Lake—where no one knows she’s a writer—for her best friend’s wedding. She soon runs into rodeo rider Toby Garrett, her teenage crush and the inspiration for the hero of her book, and is happy for the chance to conduct some hands-on research. Reconnecting with Toby frees Jane’s muse, allowing her to make rapid progress on her manuscript. But after being hurt by Toby as a teenager, she’s afraid to get too close and face a second round of heartbreak. In animated prose, Richardson showcases her gift for crafting realistic heroines and complex, swoon-worthy heroes. The pace is fast, the setting’s charming, and the love scenes are delicious. Fans of cowboy romance are sure to be captivated. Agent: Suzie Townsend, New Leaf Literary & Media. (May)