Here is a sprinkling of books recently published in January – a lot of these are going on the ever growing to-be-read list:
Running the Rift by Naomi Benaron: This novel is the third winner of The Bellweather Prize awarded biennially by Barbara Kingsolver for an unpublished novel that addresses issues of social justice. I must admit I have been slightly disappointed in the first two winners (The Girl who Fell From the Sky and Mudbound) but this one seems to be getting good reviews so I am hopeful. Running the Rift is about 10 years in the life of Jean Patrick Nkuba, a gifted Rwandan boy, 10 years leading up to and including the tumultuous months of Tusi/Hutu violence. Nkuba is a gifted distance runner hoping to win an Olympic medal for his country. The novel explores his coming of age and training while the undercurrents of violence build. Before he can realize his dream, he must run for his life leaving behind everything he loves.
From The Washington Post: Benaron does not spare us any of the abominations of the genocide, but her denouement is surprisingly redemptive — not to say romantic.
From The Seattle Times: This well-written and well-researched novel is an impressive debut, although at times the book suffers from a surfeit of disturbing events. Our sympathy never deserts Jean Patrick. We concur with Bea when she says to him, “Your hope is the most beautiful and the saddest in the world.”
Book Blog Reviews:
The Literate Housewife: Naomi Benaron took these horrific events full of blood, terror, and despair and wrote nothing short of an amazing novel. It is a novel which steadfastly bore witness to human determination, loyalty, the love of family, and, against all odds, hope.
Devourer of Books: The story Benaron tells is gripping, and she tells it in a very personal and engaging way. It is easy to sit down with Running the Rift and read for 100 or more pages at a time. Jean Patrick is a complex and sympathetic character, and the reader cannot help but root for him – and keep reading to make sure he will be okay.
Linus’ Blanket: Running the Rift is an amazing book, carefully nuanced and paced in a way that perfectly examines the way the ordinary can coexist with unspeakable horror and violence. Benaron convey the joy, frailty and contradictions which are the handmaidens of human existence, no matter the cataclysms that life offers up. (You know it is a really good review when you can’t decide which part to quote)
The Translation of the Bones by Francesca Kay:In Battersea, south London simple-minded Mary-Margaret, claims to have experienced a miracle in the Chapel of the Holy Souls, Father Diamond, in the midst of a personal crisis of faith and other church authorities try to downplay events as the members of the church and the neighborhood deal with issues of belief, faith, hope, and despair.
From The Telegraph: If Francesca Kay’s second novel were a piece of music, it would be a requiem, finding the poetry, perhaps even the glory, in loss and despair. Which is not to say that her novel is depressing or gloomy – far from it. In its depiction of a community grappling with the pain of what it means to be human, it is a novel which manages to be both poignant and uplifting.
From The Independent: With its finely worked tapestry of voices and viewpoints, its keen-eyed pleasure in the contrasts of inner-urban life, its lyrical excursions into memory and yearning, The Translation of the Bones sharpens the reader’s mind – and stretches its sympathies – rather than drenching it in mystical mawkishness.
Book Blog Reviews:
Cornflower Books: This is a moving book about faith, belief and love, isolation, loneliness and passion, and about motherhood, too
A Guy’s Moleskin Notebook: With writing so quietly majestic and probing, Francesca Kay shows how intricately and inevitably love and suffering are connected. Without love there could be no sorrow, and thus suffering is spared. The novel is heedless of the miracle’s credibility but rather how we respond to such a claim. It registers precisely the potential within religious belief for mania, obsession, literal-mindedness, and delusion as profusely as for uplift, consolation and compassion.
Heft: A Novel by Liz Moore: Arthur, a 550 pound housebound former academic, Kell, a seventeen year old poor boy in a rich school, and Kell’s mother, Charlene who reaches out to Arthur for help. This is a novel about lost and lonely people seeking a connection with each other while dealing with the untold reality of their lives. Many reviews mention that this novel is not perfect but worth reading nonetheless.
From The San Francisco Chronicle: The novel progresses at a comfortable pace, thanks to Moore’s graceful prose. There are no bad metaphors to wince at in this book. In fact, Moore scarcely allows herself any showy literary tricks, which, these days, is a trick itself.
From The Star Tribune: While the three main characters remain physically apart for the majority of the novel, their stories intersect and create a narrative that pulls in other stories of hidden sadness along the way.
Book Blog Reviews:
Book Reporter: HEFT is both a lyrically written tale and an engrossing page-turner. In Arthur Opp, author Liz Moore gives us a complete, three-dimensional person rather than the media’s stereotypical obese recluse; Arthur is quite heartbreakingly real, as is young Kel Keller, who we also grow to know. Their stories, simply told without soap opera-ish flourishes, tug at a reader’s emotions. Although not a light read, this tender tale is ultimately hopeful and unforgettable.
Bibliophile by the Sea: The way in which the story unfolds is not perfect, but I cared so much about the characters that I was able to overlook any flaws in the story structure.
Books Matter: But the novel reminds readers that one is not “chosen” to be alone, only chooses to be so. In this imperfect novel of very imperfect characters, that hefty choice, between grappling with the often harrowing outer world and hiding from it, blooms.
Other releases of note:
1222 A Hanne Wilhelmsen Novel by Anne Holt – Norwegian Crime Fiction
Poser: My Life in Twenty Yoga Poses by Claire Dederer – a memoir of motherhood and marriage structured around her love affair with yoga.
How it All Began by Penelope Lively – …the powerful role of chance in people’s lives and deftly illustrates how our paths can be altered irrevocably by someone we will never even meet.
The Flight of Gemma Hardy – a modern day retelling of Jane Eyre
First You Try Everything by Jane McCafferty – An engrossing tale of a marriage that’s falling apart and a wife who will stop at nothing to keep it together.