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Paris Never Leaves You

Ellen Feldman. St. Martin’s Griffin, $17.99 trade paper (368p) ISBN 978-1-250-62277-8

The question of what it means to be Jewish drives Feldman’s nuanced WWII story of love and survival (after Terrible Virtue). Nine years after the war, Charlotte Foret, a widow from France, lives in New York City with her teenage daughter, Vivi, working as an editor at a publishing house. Vivi learns to navigate the social whirl of her school as one of only a handful of Jewish students, while Charlotte tries to deny a growing attraction to her married boss. When Charlotte receives, and tries to ignore, a letter postmarked Bogotá, Colombia, a sanctuary for many former Nazis, she realizes she cannot escape the memories of occupied Paris. In flashbacks, Feldman vividly recreates those years as Charlotte runs a Paris bookstore where she meets and befriends German Wehrmacht officer Julian Bauer. She rationalizes that Julian (the subject of the letters she receives from Bogotá) is different from other Nazis; though he assumes she’s Jewish and getting by on false identity papers, he’s unconcerned. The night Julian saves Charlotte and Vivi from a roundup, he and Charlotte become lovers and he confides a dangerous secret that gives Feldman’s story a gasp-worthy spin, elevating an otherwise conventional wartime love story. With its appealing heroine and historically detailed settings, romance fans will find this satisfying. Agent: Emma Sweeney, Emma Sweeney Agency. (June)

Reviewed on 04/17/2020 | Details & Permalink

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More Miracle Than Bird

Alice Miller. Tin House, $25.95 (360p) ISBN 978-1-947793-76-7

Miller’s solid debut draws on the life of literary translator Georgiana Hyde-Lees, who married W.B. Yeats. The story opens in war-weary 1916 London, at a hospital filled with recuperating soldiers. Georgie has taken a nursing job, where she fends off suitors by telling them about her sweetheart—the much older Willy Yeats. Georgie also attends meetings of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, a secret society devoted to the occult that Willy has joined, and believes this shared interest means they are meant for each other, though Willie isn’t ready to settle down. Georgie searches for clues to her future happiness at gatherings of the Order and in séances with a young medium named Nora Radcliffe, though she senses something sinister (“for a terrifying minute the map of her brain seemed wiped pale”). After Georgie is fired for lying to get time off, she determines to marry Willy despite the age difference and his reputation as a ladies’ man. Though readers know from the beginning Georgie will marry Willy, Miller maintains tension by laying out plenty of plausible alternatives. Historical fiction devotees will appreciate this sensitive character study wrapped in an atmospheric, moody rendering of WWI London. Agent: Geri Thoma, Writers House. (June)

Reviewed on 04/17/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Three Streets

Yoko Tawada, trans. from the Japanese by Margaret Mitsutani. New Directions, $15 trade paper (64p) ISBN 978-0-8112-2930-2

In Tawada’s ruminative collection of three fantastic tales (after The Emissary), a nameless, wandering narrator moves between contemporary Berlin and an imaginary realm of poets and ghosts. A trip to an organic food store with a ghostly child in “Kollwitz Strasse” sets the narrator to thinking about the sketches of Käthe Kollwitz, a German artist who drew heartrending pictures of “poverty that individuals can’t be held responsible for.” In “Majakowskiring,” the narrator walks through a quiet part of what was once East Berlin, thinking about a woman who’s “a typical West Berliner” and therefore couldn’t be bothered to visit that neighborhood, then enters a mysterious restaurant in which a photograph of the Russian poet Vladimir Mayakovsky comes to life. And in “Pushkin Allee,” the narrator envisions the lives and motivations of Red Army soldiers, workers, and a German child memorialized in a park. Though the stories share a concern with the politics and the disasters of the 20th century, it is Tawada’s astute, observational asides that will remain with readers: city life is “an amusement park of the senses... full of people you might have met.” Brief and surprising, these stories reinvent familiar landmarks and artworks, giving readers an imaginative and hopeful way to grapple with the history that’s written into the urban landscape. (June)

Reviewed on 04/17/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Mother Daughter Widow Wife

Robin Wasserman. Scribner, $27 (288p) ISBN 978-1-982139-49-0

Wasserman’s shrewd, beguiling follow-up to Girls on Fire unpacks the ways three women’s lives are affected by a sexual predator. In 1999, a woman arrives in Philadelphia on a bus with no memory of who she is or where she came from. Dubbed Wendy Doe, she is placed into care at the Meadowlark Institute for Memory Research. Lizzie Epstein, the research fellow tasked with observing her by Dr. Benjamin Strauss, a semi-famous scientist and philanderer, spends her days conversing with Wendy and mulling over the implicit bargain of her affair with Benjamin, who promises to advance her career. The story flashes forward two decades, when Lizzie, mourning the death of Benjamin, who she’d married after he left his first wife, opens her door to Alice, the 18-year-old daughter of Wendy. Alice is looking for information about her mother, who has disappeared. Wasserman’s prose starkly conveys the power sought and held by Benjamin (“Strauss believed in knowledge by colonization, understanding a subject by spreading across every inch of its territory until it was wholly possessed”), and she methodically moves the story toward a disturbing revelation about the connections among Wendy, Lizzie, and Alice. This examination of how one man in power can abuse the women closest to him delivers the goods. Agent: Meredith Kaffel Simonoff, DeFiore and Company. (June)

Reviewed on 04/17/2020 | Details & Permalink

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This Little Family

★ Inès Bayard, trans. from the French by Adriana Hunter. Other, $15.99 trade paper (272p) ISBN 978-1-89274-687-0

Bayard’s stunning debut tracks the devastating impact of a woman’s rape on herself and her family. After Marie, a young financial consultant in Paris, is raped by the CEO at her bank, she tells no one about the attack. A few weeks later, on a picnic with her husband, Laurent, and her parents, sister, and baby nephew, the “pitiful ordinariness” of questions about her job “shoots through her head at the speed of sound,” and she imagines driving a knife into her belly. Still gripped in a spiral of misery, Marie discovers she is pregnant. Though she and Laurent have been trying to conceive, she’s certain the baby is her rapist’s. After giving birth to her son, Thomas, a desperate and suicidal Marie eventually returns to her job and leaves Thomas at day care for as long as possible. Bayard’s chronicle of Marie’s breakdown escalates with blistering depictions of Marie’s intense neglect of Thomas and of the household (“I’ve never been able to wash him because his penis disgusts me”; “I now think throwing things in the trash is just another modern pastime we should avoid”), with a defiant, feral energy that has echoes of Elena Ferrante’s Days of Abandonment. As Laurent catches Marie in various lies and senses her distance, he becomes suspicious of the child’s paternity. Meanwhile, Marie decides to take action, leading to a tragic, harrowing conclusion. Marie’s indelible voice makes this a powerful study of sexual violence and its aftermath. (June)

Reviewed on 04/17/2020 | Details & Permalink

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The Margot Affair

Sanaë Lemoine. Hogarth, $27 (327p) ISBN 978-1-984-85443-8

Lemoine’s sumptuous debut explores the enthralling life of the 17-year-old secret love child of a French politician. Margot Louve is the child of stage actress Anouk Louve and Bertrand Lapierre, the French Minister of Culture during the late ’90s. Her father, though loving and kind, only visits Margot and Anouk sporadically, but Margot idealizes him—especially in comparison to her dramatic, self-absorbed mother. Tired of subterfuge and lack of recognition, Margot leaks her parents’ affair to journalist David Perrin in a bid for public acknowledgement from her father. However, Margot’s plan backfires when Bertrand discovers what she’s up to and consequently cuts off her and Anouk. As Margot struggles with the consequences of her decision, she turns to David and his wife, Brigitte, and forms a secret life of her own; Margot confides in Brigitte, who considers ghostwriting Margot’s memoir. As Margot becomes reliant on Brigitte’s attention and validation, she also develops an obsession with David. The eclectic cast and rich Parisian backdrop deepen this dramatic exploration of family and the trials of early adulthood. Francophiles and anyone who appreciates an emotionally rewarding story will enjoy Lemoine’s lush, well-crafted tale. (June)

Reviewed on 04/17/2020 | Details & Permalink

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No-Signal Area

Robert Perisic, trans. from the Croatian Ellen Elias-Bursac. Seven Stories, $22.95 (368p) ISBN 978-1-60980-970-6

Two men arrive in a rural Eastern European town to arrange for the reopening of a local factory in this sharp portrayal of modern capitalism from Perisic (Our Man in Iraq). Upon arriving in “N,” Oleg and Nikola plan to reopen the factory, which has been shut for many years after the break-up of the Soviet Union, with the help of the locals in order to manufacture two industrial turbines to fulfil a contract Oleg has arranged with “the Colonel,” the leader of a Middle Eastern country. Once the factory is running, Perisic broadens the story’s focus, moving back in time to give Nikola and Oleg’s backstories, exploring the lives of villagers and those who have left or been forced from the village, and circling back to a crashing grand finale. Impressively blending the absurd, dire, and comic, Perisic relates often tragic events, but his characters somehow manage to persevere. This clever, ambitious take on the influences of capitalism on Eastern Europe will be perfect for fans of Umberto Eco. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 04/17/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Quotients

Tracy O’Neill. Soho, $27 (392p) ISBN 978-1-64129-111-8

O’Neill’s esoteric follow-up to The Hopeful centers on the deceit-filled relationship between Alexandra Chen, an American woman, and Jeremy Jordan, an Englishman, who meet and begin dating in London in May 2005. Alex works in international public relations (“She had practiced how to sell a country on her selling their country”), while Jeremy, a hedge fund analyst, tries to keep his past as a British intelligence officer stationed in Belfast during the Troubles a secret from Alex. Alex has troubles of her own—her brother, Shel, ran away at 13, and she’s been looking for him ever since. After Alex accepts an advertising job in New York City that December, Jeremy follows her and they get married. O’Neill’s narrative is tinged with commentary on the rise of digital and social media, which drives a wedge between screen-obsessed Alex and analog Jeremy. Then, in 2008, a journalist friend of Alex’s does his own digging on Shel and raises alarms from Jeremy’s old intelligence contacts after the story unearths NSA secrets. As the details of the couple’s pasts come to light, their marriage is put in jeopardy. O’Neill’s oblique, sometimes opaque prose wears on the reader, though it also offers flashes of insight on the characters’ frequent incomprehension of one another. This would-be techno thriller takes on a bit too much. (May)

Reviewed on 04/17/2020 | Details & Permalink

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A Summer of Fever and Freedom

Chelsey Engel. Labor of Love, $13.59 trade paper (264p) ISBN 978-0-578-52252-4

Engel’s debut offers an engaging plunge into the unrest and excitement of 1969 New York. Jane Martin, 18, grew up in Brooklyn and plans to attend Sarah Lawrence College to study literature. At a party in the city, she meets 23-year-old Maria Valentino, who works as a writer at an activist newspaper. Maria, who was disowned by her mother when she came out as a lesbian, has a best friend in her roommate, Kay, a gorgeous, vivacious drag queen. Kay is injured during one of the Stonewall demonstrations, but his wounds heal quickly, and Engel illustrates the intoxicating effect of Kay’s and Maria’s resilience on Jane (“To experience joy in who one was, one must know who they are”). Maria and Jane are attracted to one another, though Jane is just beginning to understand her own sexuality, and they plan to attend Woodstock together. Jane’s brother Stephen, a Vietnam veteran, agrees to drive them, and as they wait in the rain-soaked field for Joan Baez to take the stage, Stephen espouses his theory about the festival’s meaning (“we’re all here searching for something”). The unpolished prose can be distracting, but the author shines in her descriptions of new love. Engel shows promise with this tale of self-discovery. (Self-published)

Reviewed on 04/17/2020 | Details & Permalink

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The Paris Library

Janet Skeslien Charles. Atria, $28 (368p) ISBN 978-1-9821-3419-8

Charles (Moonlight in Odessa) delivers a delightful chronicle of a woman’s life in WWII-era Paris and rural 1980s Montana. Shortly before the Germans invade France, Odile Souchet, a young Parisian who has adored the American Library in Paris since childhood lands a job there as a librarian. During the occupation, the library remains open and delivers books to soldiers. After Odile learns that her friend Margaret has become enamored with Felix, a Nazi soldier, she tells her fiancé, Paul, a policeman, of Margaret’s folly, and is shocked when Paul beats Margaret, leading Odile to leave and volunteer at the American Hospital. Charles then skips forward to 1983 Froid, Mont., where seventh-grader Lily befriends her widowed neighbor Odile Gustafson, who teaches her French and reveals secrets about her life in Paris. Their bond strengthens throughout Lily’s teenage years. Charles’s richly detailed plot incorporates historical figures from the American Library and highlights the perils of occupied Paris. Historical fiction fans will be drawn to the realistic narrative and the bond of friendship forged between a widow and a lonely young girl. Agent: Heather Jackson, Heather Jackson Literary. (June)

Reviewed on 04/17/2020 | Details & Permalink

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