This reading list is a wonderful place to find lively reviews of newly released and freshly read books. Sometimes, however, what we are now reading is only new to us. I’ve just finished reading Roger King’s Written on a Stranger’s Map, an out-of-print novel from the 80s, now available as an e-book. It tells the story of a 50-something British economist, long enmeshed in the global manipulation of third-world countries, but suddenly too lost in too many ways to do his latest job in the fictional African country of Kangaba. With tensions rising in the capital city, he finds himself drifting away from his old life as he befriends a young revolutionary and settles into unexpected domesticity with a street girl. At the same time, breaking away from his career of detached calculation draws him back to his old life, to his wife and children. I found this book remarkable in part because I usually find books about Africa too depressing to endure. There is plenty of realistic darkness in this one, but the author allows the characters to be real as well, to matter as people, to each other and to us. He allows them to feel hope and affection and so much more than the fear and contempt that permeate so many other novels of African unrest. The result is surprisingly uplifting.
“Four Worlds” Columnist Avery Fischer Udagawa has her own recommendation for a tale of global significance: “I just finished Please Look After Mom by Kyung-sook Shin, translated from Korean by Chi-young Kim. This riveting novel follows two generations of a family as they search for the mother, who disappeared from a subway platform in Seoul. The family’s stories illuminate transformations in South Korea from pre-World War II to the present, including urbanization and economic growth. The parents’ suffering during and after the war, the mother’s sacrifices, and the children’s journeys from countryside to city careers—which do not bring the ease one might expect—stun and shock. This novel earned its status as an international bestseller.”
Christina Consolino, Profiles Editor, shares another story of loss: “Five Days Left is Julie Lawson Timmer’s debut novel. Mara Nichols, a successful lawyer who has been diagnosed with a fatal disease, decides to take fate into her own hands, giving herself five more days to be with her family. Scott Coffman, a middle school teacher and foster father to an eight-year-old boy, has five days left until the boy’s mother returns from serving a jail sentence. Timmer artfully weaves the stories of these two characters together and takes the reader on an emotional and heart-breaking journey that ultimately gives insight into the strength and power of human relationships.”
Fiction Co-Editor Suzanne Kamata continues our coincidental theme, tempering the lost with the found: “The narrator of Kristin Bair O’Keefe’s second novel, The Art of Floating, is an author living in New England who has lost both her husband, seemingly into thin air, and also her ability to write. At the beginning of the novel, Sia comes across a mute man in a sea-soaked suit on the beach. Not knowing what else to do with him, she brings him home. The mysterious, exceptionally good-looking man, whom Sia dubs ‘Toad,’ quickly becomes an international sensation. Soon everyone in the town has some wacky theory about him. Maybe he’s a merman, or an alien, or even an incarnation of Sia’s lost husband. At one point, Sia says, ‘No one kicks ass on a sophomore novel.’ Sia Dane was wrong. This contemporary fairytale is sad, funny, sexy, risky, and utterly original; I recommend it highly.”
For more recommendations, explore the Literary Reflections archives.