The books we love coming out this week include new titles from Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, Kristy Cambron, and Betina González.
Argentinian González anatomizes in her skillful English-language debut an American community’s pursuit of enlightenment and the violence and madness left in its wake. The novel takes place in a moribund, near-future unnamed U.S. city where only the university and the natural history museum have survived a devastating depression. The residents, increasingly attuned to “early cultural signs of the final imbalance, of how the entire planet would eventually rise up against us,” have embraced a more resourceful lifestyle by taking up hunting. Among them, Vik, an ailing taxidermist from the fictional Caribbean island of Coloma, discovers that a possibly dangerous intruder has been living in his closet; the acerbic Beryl instructs those, like her, over 70, in marksmanship after crazed deer begin assaulting people; and a young girl, Berenice, looks for a new caretaker after her mother abandons her to join a cultish back-to-nature group. The story lines gradually converge around the prevalence of a hallucinogenic Coloma plant called albaria that “closes your eyes and sets you down in a ray of light where time doesn’t exist.” This has the makings of a zany psychedelic romp, but instead the delirium is marvelously controlled and administered in doses just potent enough to ease patient readers into this off-kilter world. González’s distorted utopian vision is a memorable trip.
National security analyst Lemmon (Ashley’s War) delivers a fascinating portrait of Kurdish female fighters and their role in the Syrian civil war and the fight against the Islamic State. Beginning in 2012, Lemmon explains, ISIS took advantage of a rebellion against the Assad regime to seize control of vast swaths of territory in Syria. The country’s Kurdish ethnic minority, concentrated along the northeastern borders with Turkey and Iraq and long oppressed by the Syrian government, formed People’s Protection Units to advance the cause of self-rule and defend Kurdish villages from ISIS and other extremists. In 2013, a few hundred women formed a “separate and equal” satellite of the People’s Protection Units, stipulating that in their new organization “women could and would lead men in battle, but women would not be led by men.” They soon gained a reputation as fierce and effective fighters, which Lemmon demonstrates in a riveting account of how four women took part in the battle for the city of Kobani. Aided by U.S. intelligence and occasional air strikes, these and other members of the Women’s Protection Units helped to retake the city from ISIS. Lemmon briskly sketches the biographies of individual fighters and commanders, and unravels the complex history of the region with skill. This deeply reported account enthralls and informs.
Woven within this beautiful historical tapestry of WWII from Cambron (The Painted Castle) is the stark reminder to keep friends close and enemies closer. Early in the occupation of Paris, Lila de Laurent, a former dressmaker for the House of Chanel, is on the run from the Nazis and intent on carrying out a mission for the resistance. She hopes stowing away in a bakery truck will allow her to evade capture—but she’s soon discovered by the driver, who turns out to be the Jewish man she once loved and believed to be dead. Now they must help each other survive. Later in the war, Sandrine Paquet will do whatever it takes to keep her family safe while her beloved husband is away at war—even if it means working for the Nazis to catalog their stolen art. But when a beautiful gown with a cryptic message sewn into the lining arrives for her, she too is plunged into the resistance. Based on true events, this exquisite tale impresses with its historical and emotional authenticity. Historical fiction fans won’t want to miss this.
In this high-octane near-future thriller from Marrs (The Passengers), a covert program to preserve the country’s most crucial records enlists citizens in a most unusual way. Two years earlier, the Hacking Collective infiltrated the network controlling autonomous vehicles, causing collisions that claimed over 5,000 lives. Subsequently, the Collective has launched massive ransomware attacks, leading to fears that the National Archives could also be compromised. The radical solution, to buy time while the security forces devise ultra-secure computer systems, is to take all its contents offline by converting the data into binary code that would then be stored in DNA and injected into people’s brains, where it could later be retrieved. Those living repositories, known as Minders, are selected after passing a test that’s aimed at people with synesthesia. Of course, the plan doesn’t go smoothly, leading to several violent deaths and the government losing track of the Minders’ whereabouts. The effective world-building includes showing how DNA research extends into other realms of society. This page-turner never sacrifices the characters’ humanity for the sake of plot. Marrs has definitely upped his game.
World Fantasy Life Achievement Award winner Campbell’s the Three Births of Daoloth series makes its U.S. debut with this spine-tingling tale set in 1950s Liverpool. As teenager Dominic Sheldrake begins his year at a new Catholic high school, he hears rumors from his eccentric neighbor, Mrs. Norris, about a man who can commune with the dead. Believing this kind of spiritualism to be heresy, Dominic is startled to learn that his new teacher, Mr. Noble, is the medium Mrs. Norris described. Together with his two friends, Jim and Bobby (short for Roberta), Dominic observes Mr. Noble’s increasingly erratic behavior as he searches for proof of his abilities. After uncovering Mr. Noble’s journal, which details his twisted activities, Dominic is pulled deeper into a strange and terrifying world of death and the occult. Campbell’s nuanced prose blends mystery with eldritch terror and balances the dark moments with a wry sense of humor. Period details of a post-WWII Britain give the story an intimate sense of place. This is Campbell at the height of his powers, proving once again that he is a master of the genre.
Both old-fashioned in lauding American virtue and revisionist in examining America’s “explosive injustices,” this graphic distillation of Rather’s 2017 bestseller embraces the nation’s faults and promise. Striding through event-packed panels in his trademark reporter’s trench coat, Rather enumerates the values he believes should unite the fractious country. Chapters focus on themes such as freedom and community, with Rather weaving in snapshots of his working-class Texas upbringing to illustrate everything from his appreciation of nature to the crucial role libraries and schools play in a functioning democracy. Unsurprisingly, the standout sections feature the anchorman defending journalism—arguing that the chaos of a free press is worth it when “long-term accountability is more important than short-term stability.” His decades as a reporter provide vivid jumping-off points to dissect issues from racism to war to homophobia (for example, after finally producing a report on AIDS in 1986, he notes that, “like so many others... I journeyed from ignorance to tolerance to inclusion”). Foley’s loose-lined illustrations are appropriately cheeky yet idealistic—Norman Rockwell by way of Larry Gonick. Though the traumas rooted in the 2016 election hang over the adaptation, Rather strikes a pragmatic message: “Democracy is an action more than a belief.” Rather and his collaborators’ work of clear-eyed optimism delicately threads American idealism and realism.