BY Carole Reedy
A list dominated by long-beloved writers and some new faces too.
4321, by Paul Auster. No surprise to my friends as Auster has been a favorite novelist for more than 40 years. This book is his tour de force. He could stop writing now, though I hope he doesn’t. The novel, running 800+ pages, examines a boy’s life from four different viewpoints, each relying on life’s great wild card: chance.
The Man Who Loved Dogs: A Novel, by Leonardo Padura. Cuban writer Padura in the past gave us four intriguing detective novels, now adapted and available on Netflix, entitled Four Seasons in Havana. They are entertaining, but Padura’s true talent lies in the research, structure, and poignant language he employs in this novel, which explores the lives of people who have determined the direction of our planet. The Man Who Loved Dogs delves into a host of notables—Trotsky and his assassin, Stalin, Diego Rivera, and Frida Kahlo—but also into events such as the Russian Revolution and the Spanish Civil War. The aura of Cuba hangs in the background of all his novels.
Heretics, by Leonardo Padura. In this, yet another tome (you may have guessed I prefer long to short novels), the subject is a painting of Rembrandt. The book takes us to Cuba and Holland and from present day back to the 1700s.
A Place of Greater Safety, by Hilary Mantel. Many of you enjoyed Mantel’s previous novels, Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, two historical novels about Thomas Cromwell. The third in this trilogy is due out in 2018, though recently Mantel advised that it may be delayed until 2019. For me, A Place of Greater Safety, a detailed and emotional account of the French Revolution, is the best of Mantel’s books. It is a study of the turbulent personal and professional lives of Maximilien Robespierre, Georges Jacques Danton, and Camille Desmoulins.
Being Wagner: The Triumph of the Will, by Simon Callow. This one is for opera fans, and most especially for Wagner lovers. Simon Callow created a one-man show entitled “Inside Wagner’s Head,” from which was birthed this marvelous, much-more-than-biography of one of music and drama’s greatest creators. Apart from Callow’s acting talent is his ability to examine and communicate to the modern world the wild and crazy life of the genius Wagner in 19th century Europe.
The Nix: A Novel, by Nathan Hill. Some critics call it “Dickensian,” which in my book is the ultimate compliment. Of course it implies many pages of intense description of the novel’s time, place, and characters. Instead of Dickens’ 19th century London, Hill give us much more than a glimpse of 21st century US, chock-full of descriptions of the excesses of consumerism, the residue of wars, the isolationism of computer technology, and the resulting lost and lonely young that emerged from the havoc. A compelling story line with impressionable characters makes this a novel you literally cannot put down.
Ties, by Domenico Starnone. The shortest, but not the least important, book on my list, Ties explores marriage and is of interest to many due to speculation that Starnone is husband to the elusive Elena Ferrante. In fact, some claim that Ties is his version of her novel The Days of Abandonment. Wherever the truth lies about their identities, Ties, in itself, is a great read.
Homegoing: A Novel, by Yaa Gyasi. Many of us who were young adults in the 1960s and 1970s remember the blockbuster novels of Richard Wright about black men in white America. For me, nothing compares, except for this clever, moving story of slavery taking place in both the US and Africa. This novel leaves us with the same indignation Wright did 45 years ago.
The True History of the Conquest of New Spain, by Bernal Díaz del Castillo. Here is a first-hand 16th-century account of Hernán Cortés and his Spanish crew, among whom Díaz played a significant and loyal role in the defeat of the Aztecs. Mexicophiles will love it.
A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again: Essays and Arguments, by David Foster Wallace. If you haven’t read the work, especially the essays, of this (ironically) most serious and funny of writers, start with this title essay and move on to others in the collection. His suicide at a young age was a tragedy for the literary world.