12 New Books We Recommend This Week – The New York Times
Crimes and mysteries anchor a number of our recommended titles this week, from the murder case at the heart of Aamina Ahmad’s debut novel, “The Return of Faraz Ali,” to the search for a missing student in Sara Novic’s novel “True Biz,” set at a school for the deaf. Jane Pek offers an unconventional detective story in her debut novel, “The Verifiers.” And in “Scoundrel,” the Book Review’s crime columnist, Sarah Weinman, tells the true story of a convicted killer freed from prison in the 1960s after he became a cause célèbre on the right.
Also recommended this week: Ruth Brandon’s biography of the Dada artist Marcel Duchamp and his romantic entanglements, Natalie Hodges’ classical music memoir, Silvia Ferrara’s history of written language and a couple of politically minded books — Mónica Guzmán’s guide to bridging the partisan divide and, from the Times reporter Jeremy W. Peters, a look at the recent history of the Republican Party. In fiction, we like Jennifer Egan’s “The Candy House” (a sequel of sorts to her magnificent novel “A Visit From the Goon Squad”), along with Eloghosa Osunde’s “Vagabonds!” and “Rebellion,” a reissued 1924 novel by the Austrian writer Joseph Roth. Happy reading.
Senior Editor, Books
THE CANDY HOUSE, by Jennifer Egan. (Scribner, $28.) Egan’s sequel to “A Visit From the Goon Squad,” her Pulitzer Prize-winning 2010 novel, tells more than a dozen interrelated stories and defies neat summarizing. It’s about music, New York’s East Village, magazine journalism, San Francisco in the 1970s, Gen-X nostalgia, the digitalization of everything and the search, in the face of that digitalization, for forms of authenticity. A relatively trim 334 pages, it has “a dwarf-star density,” our critic Dwight Garner writes. “Inside, 15 or 20 other novels are trying to climb out. The chapters are short; the tone is aphoristic; the eye for cultural and social detail is Tom Wolfe-like. This is minimalist maximalism. It’s as if Egan compressed a big 19th-century triple-decker novel onto a flash drive.”
UNCOMMON MEASURE: A Journey Through Music, Performance, and the Science of Time, by Natalie Hodges. (Bellevue Literary Press, $17.99.) Hodges, a longtime violinist, writes in this memoir about giving up the idea of becoming a professional soloist. She analyzes the years of her young life that were devoted to repetitive musical study. This is “an indeed uncommon and genre-defying book,” our critic Alexandra Jacobs writes. “Its essayistic form and intermittently pedagogic style can give one the not-unpleasant feeling of sitting in a lecture or concert hall as someone else’s emotion and erudition washes over you.”
REBELLION, by Joseph Roth. Translated by Michael Hofmann. (Everyman’s Library, $24.) Andreas Pum, the protagonist of Roth’s recently reissued 1924 novel, loses a leg during World War I. He doesn’t really mind. He believes in a just God, “one who handed out shrapnel, amputations and medals to the deserving.” The short book charts his eventual disillusionment with that God and the government he had previously revered. “Andreas’s naïveté and eventual enlightenment might have been cartoonish in the hands of someone less ironic and wise than Roth,” our reviewer John Williams writes. “Instead, he is sympathetic as well as comical, and his closing cri de coeur against God is one for the ages.”
THE RETURN OF FARAZ ALI, by Aamina Ahmad. (Riverhead, $27.) In this quietly stunning debut novel, a midlevel police officer in Lahore, Pakistan, is sent to cover up a girl’s murder in the red-light district where he was born. The characters feel real, as does the violent collision of their scheming and resignation, the depths of their wanting. “Ahmad’s compassion and deep care for the psychological and emotional nuances of her characters never wavers, no matter how monstrous or self-interested or defeated they become,” Omar El Akkad writes in his review. “It extends through generations and transformations of place, all the way to a devastating final chapter, fully human, fully engaged with what makes us human, no matter the size of the wounds or the immunity of those who inflict them.”
SPELLBOUND BY MARCEL: Duchamp, Love, and Art, by Ruth Brandon. (Pegasus, $27.95.) Brandon’s deliciously dishy biography of Marcel Duchamp and the triangulated love affair between Duchamp, Beatrice Wood and Henri-Pierre Roché (the author of “Jules et Jim”) offers a deeply researched portrait of its time, and thrusts the reader into the heart of the avant-garde in which the art world was changed forever and conventional society was scandalized. But perhaps the greatest pleasure, as Lauren Elkin writes in her review, is Brandon’s winning account of the lesser-known Wood: “She comes across with novelistic vibrancy, a young woman navigating her nascent desire, her old-fashioned family and the insistent drive to make art.”
TRUE BIZ, by Sara Novic. (Random House, $27.) Novic’s tender, beautiful and radiantly outraged second novel, whose title comes from an A.S.L. expression meaning “seriously,” takes readers inside the classrooms — and families — of a group of students and educators at a school for the deaf where a 15-year-old girl with a faulty cochlear implant and an unstable home life has gone missing. The book is “moving, fast-paced and spirited … but also skillfully educational,” Maile Meloy writes in her review. “Great stories create empathy and awareness more effectively than facts do, and this important novel should — true biz — change minds and transform the conversation.”
THE GREATEST INVENTION: A History of the World in Nine Mysterious Scripts, by Silvia Ferrara. Translated by Todd Portnowitz. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $29.) Ferrara says she wrote this book the way she talks to friends over dinner, and that’s exactly how it reads. Instead of telling a chronological history of writing, she moves freely from script to script, island to island, and offers a dizzying but greatly enjoyable narrative account of the development of written language. “She is constantly by our side, prodding us with questions, offering speculations, reporting on exciting discoveries,” Martin Puchner writes in his review. “Some of Ferrara’s most far-reaching ideas stem from her collaboration with scientists, including the claim that writing literally changes the brains of those who learn it.”
THE VERIFIERS, by Jane Pek. (Vintage, paper, $17.) Pek’s engrossing debut novel gives us a thoroughly modern twist on classic detective fiction. When the unlikely gumshoe Claudia Lin begins working to expose online dating fraud at a shady company, she stumbles instead on a murder mystery. But an even bigger one looms. “Are we surrendering to algorithms that know us better than we know ourselves?” David Gordon asks in his review. “Are we trading our freedom of choice, thought, even desire, for convenience and fantasy? Are we becoming unable to tell, or even care, what’s real?”
VAGABONDS!, by Eloghosa Osunde. (Riverhead, $28.) The setting and driving force of this teeming novel-in-stories is Lagos, Nigeria, with its 21 million people all watching and being watched; the book focuses on those who “live in the cracks,” who feel themselves outsiders in a society where same-sex romance is illegal and often punished by violence. “Some of the most indelible characters recur through multiple stories,” our reviewer, Chelsea Leu, notes. “Together, they give the sense of an unveiling, culminating in a citywide coming-out party that manages to be at once apocalyptic and bewildering, and even joyous.”
SCOUNDREL: How a Convicted Murderer Persuaded the Women Who Loved Him, the Conservative Establishment and the Courts to Set Him Free, by Sarah Weinman. (Ecco, $28.99.) Through meticulous and extensive research, the Book Review’s crime columnist tells the true story of a murderer freed from prison with the help of a right-wing support network led by William F. Buckley, only to attack another woman. “Instead of wondering what will happen, the reader is asked to consider the more important question: how it did,” Katherine Dykstra writes in her review. “Weinman diligently and chronologically recreates the judicial proceedings, literary lunches, letter exchanges, prison visits, stays of execution and romances (there were many!) that led from incarceration to exoneration and back again.”
INSURGENCY: How Republicans Lost Their Party and Got Everything They Ever Wanted, by Jeremy W. Peters. (Crown, $28.99.) In this spirited history, Peters argues that Republicans have transformed their party from the genteel preserve of pro-business elites to a snarling personality cult. “What distinguishes ‘Insurgency’ is its blend of political acuity and behind-the-scenes intrigue,” Romesh Ratnesar writes in his review. “Peters is a fluid and engaging writer, and as the narrative of ‘Insurgency’ unfolds and Trump inevitably, irresistibly, assumes center stage, you almost can’t help admiring … the candidate’s raw, demagogic genius.”
I NEVER THOUGHT OF IT THAT WAY: How to Have Fearlessly Curious Conversations in Dangerously Divided Times, by Mónica Guzmán. (Ben Bella, $26.95.) In her timely call for civilized discourse, Guzmán issues both a clarion call and a guide for finding common ground. “Just as the road to better health is often disappointingly low-tech,” Lisa Selin Davis writes in her review, “the cure for polarization is the simple and underappreciated art of conversation. But, of course, simple doesn’t mean easy.”