August Publications

Novelist and playwright Zakes Mda's Ways of Dying was a big hit in his native South Africa, where it was even adapted into a jazz opera. Toloki is a Professional Mourner, making a meager living by attending funerals in the violent city where he lives. In his ratty suit he adds "an aura of sorrow and dignity," often serving as peacemaker when fights break out. He encounters Noria, a childhood acquaintance whose son has just died, and the two renew their friendship, finding comfort in reminiscing over the harrowing events of their lives. There are shades of the absurd in Mda's darkly humorous descriptions of the crime, poverty, violence and ethnic unrest that plague the characters in this oddly affecting novel. (Picador, $13 paper 212p ISBN 0-312-42091-9)

Dave Eggers, Joyce Carol Oates and Colson Whitehead made the selections for the 2002 edition of The O. Henry Prize Stories, with an introduction by series editor Larry Dark. Familiar names like Ann Beattie, Richard Ford, David Foster Wallace, Alice Munro and A.M. Homes dominate the table of contents. "The Ceiling," by Kevin Brockmeier, the First Prize winner, finds a man's marriage breaking up as a sinister object in the sky threatens to crush the earth; Second Prize goes to newcomer Mark Ray Lewis's "Scordatura," in which a young gay man returns home to his religious Texas town and bonds with his grandfather; Louise Erdrich comes in third with "The Butcher's Wife." National advertising.(Anchor, $14 paper 432p ISBN 0-385-72162-5)

Austin school principal Bobbie Strickland has her hands full in Blackboard fave Evelyn Palfrey's Everything in Its Place: her daughter, Darlene, is a mess, so Bobbie is raising her granddaughter, Monee; then her elderly neighbor is beaten and robbed under mysterious circumstances. With all this, she can barely make time for handsome divorcé Raymond Caldwell. Despite occasionally tepid dialogue, the plot—equal parts family drama, mystery and romance—contains plenty of surprising twists, and the story is delivered with a sure hand. There are enough issues for a week of Oprah shows (parenting, fidelity, religious hypocrisy, substance and sexual abuse) but Palfrey (Dangerous Dilemmas) incorporates them all with a minimum of melodrama. (Scribner, $13 paper 256p ISBN 0-671-04224-6)

Death in Troy is a teeming, elliptical examination of repressed homosexuality by popular Turkish writer Bilge Karasu (1930—1995), his second novel to be translated, by Aron Aji, into English (after Night). Set mostly in the seaside town of Sarikum in the 1940s and '50s, it bounces from narrator to narrator, but focuses mainly on Mushfik Hanim, whose desire is a constant source of confusion for him (and probably for most modern American readers). Central in his life are his fanatically devoted mother, Dilaver, and Suat, the young boy he falls in love with. Sin, madness and guilt are all balanced by flashes of beautiful imagery and poetic language. (City Lights, $11.95 paper 170p ISBN 0-87286-401-4)

Twenty-three-year-old Daaimah S. Poole targets the TRL generation of MTV watchers in her previously self-published Blackboard hit Yo Yo Love. Temple University student Kayla Johnson is having some bad luck with guys—a thief, a suck-up, a cheater—and her friends and family aren't much better off. Then she meets handsome, financially stable Wil, who changes everything, until Kayla learns some dirty secrets. There's plenty of drama, all of which is thoroughly predictable and shallow. Beeper etiquette, Jerry Springer and McDonald's provide cultural touchstones; young ladies can read this when they're not kickin' it at the mall. National advertising.(Dafina, $15 paper 240p ISBN 0-7582-0238-5)

A 14-year-old Odessa boy skips his violin lessons to go swimming in Isaac Babel's "Awakening." A prim Washington lawyer exults in an extramarital dalliance with his wife's friend in John Updike's "Baby's First Step." Characters like these take flight from everyday responsibilities in Escape: Stories of Getting Away. The collection, edited by Reed College Russian professor Lena Lencek and Yale University professor of medicine Gideon Bosker (who co-edited The Beach, among other anthologies) includes pieces by Harold Brodkey, Nella Larson, D. H. Lawrence, Ivan Bunin, George Saunders, Michael Chabon and other luminaries past and present. (Marlowe, $16.95 paper 368p ISBN 1-56924-526-6; Aug. 30)