I went on rather a bookish hot streak over the long holiday break — four pretty great books in a row. Let me tell you about them!
The Book of Unknown Americans, by Cristina Henríquz — Let's start with my favorite of the four — this multi-narrator novel about immigrants from several Latin American countries who all live in the same apartment building in Delaware is as timely as it is heartbreaking.
Alma has came to the US from Mexico with her husband Arturo to enroll their daughter Maribel, who suffered minor brain damage after an accident, in a special school. Arturo, a successful contractor in Mexico, picks mushrooms to make ends meet. Mayor, our other narrator, is a shy awkward teenager, whose parents immigrated from Panama when he was a baby. Soon Mayor and Maribel form a connection, even as both their parents struggle to make ends meet during the great recession. Scattered throughout are the stories of others in the apartment building who all came to or stayed in the US for different, but noble, reasons. Ultimately, the point is this, as expressed by the landlord of the building, a man who himself came from Paraguay: "I know some people here think we're trying to take over, but we just
want to be a part of it. We want to have our stake. This is our home,
too." Or, as dramatically put by another immigrant from Mexico, as if speaking directly to any backwards racist Trump supporter: "We're the unknown Americans, the ones no one even wants to know, because they've been told they're supposed to be scared of us and because maybe if they did take the time to get to know us, they might realize that we're not that bad, maybe even that we'd a lot like them. And who would they hate then?" I loved this book — it's a novel that every white American should read, and consider carefully; an extremely important book.
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, by David Shafer — This is a fun, fast globe-trotting thriller about a secret cabal called The Committee that is plotting to take control of all the world's personal data, and then sell it back to only those who can afford it. But this thriller, told from the perspectives of each of three main characters, is really good because it's the rare thriller that focuses more on its characters than it does its break-neck plot. The stories of a bad ass woman named Leila, who works for an NGO in Burma, a down-and-out trust fund hipster in Portland, Oregon, and a douchey, full-of-shit self-help author (who happens to be a drunk) all converge to create a fascinating contemporary (and cautionary) tale about privacy and the Internet. This is a great book for a plane trip or a sunny beach vacation — smarter than your average thriller, but still a quick, engrossing read.
The Buried Giant, by Kazuo Ishiguro — This book is NOT a great book for a plane trip or sunny beach vacation, but it's still a great novel. Ishiguro's imagery, metaphor, and layers of meaning are utterly fascinating here — there's just so much to unpack, it's the kind of novel if you read 15 times, you'd discover something new each time. On the surface, it's a story about a couple, Axl and Beatrice, in medieval England who set off on a quest to find their son. There are dragons, and Sir Gawain, and a mysterious mist that robs people of memory. This novel's an allegory of the highest order — with intimations to our own time about war and its effects (especially on children). It took me awhile to talk myself into reading this, but I'm really I glad I did. Ishiguro is a master.
If you want to read more on this book, check out this super insightful review from RoscoeBooks bookseller Emily.
The Improbability of Love, by Hannah Rothschild — This was a bit of a deep cut and a little outside my reading comfort zone, but I really liked it — Rothschild's debut novel (published Nov. 2015) is the story of an über-valuable lost painting (said painting sometimes narrates its own story at times, which, you just kind of have to deal with) and how an early-30s London woman who has been jilted by her husband finds it in a junk shop, not realizing what she's purchased. Things go a little crazy from there. The novel's been billed as a sort of satire of the uppity art world, and it certainly is that — it's often really funny. But it also has elements of art-world thriller, as well as some serious meditations on the meaning and value of art and its ability to inspire.