I’ve been reading a lot of Spring galleys that I thought I would share with you. I’ve heard people who have been in the book business say that they thought this current season the best they’ve ever seen. This might be true. It’s certainly the best I’ve seen in my ten years, but what about the season that has to follow? I feel bad for the Spring books, forced to come on stage like the understudy. The Fall of 2009 is great, but let’s pretend for the Spring books that they won’t be compared. There are some gems, trust me!
Beneath the Lion’s Gaze by Maaza Mengiste is surely one of these gems. Set in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on the cusp of the revolution, the novel follows one family’s tumultuous time. In 1973, a television program revealed the true effects of the drought and famine on the Wollo region of Ethiopia, destabilizing Emperor Haile Selassie’s regime. It also allowed growing popularity of the socialists. Hailu, a skilled doctor in the capital, must shepherd his family through this rough era. His older son Yonas, a university professor, feels impotent against the violence, trying to protect his wife and daughter. The younger son Dawit meanwhile feels the fiery convictions of the college age. When soldiers request Hailu treat an obvious torture victim–she must not die, he is told–he makes a decision that will change his family’s fate. Their tragic story makes Mengiste’s debut novel powerful and gripping.
I don’t think I was alone when I was surprised to see Joshua Ferris’ debut novel Then We Came to the End nominated for the National Book Award in 2007. I mean surprised in a pleasant, excited way. Here was a fresh new voice and it was being recognized. Ferris returns in January with a new novel, The Unnamed, which couldn’t be more different from his first book. Attorney Tim Farnsworth thought he had recovered from a mysterious illness that causes him to walk to the point of exhaustion, but it’s returned and not getting better. His wife Jane does everything she can think of to keep him safe. Packing backpacks with GPS for him so she can eventually find him. The illness affects his daughter Becka as she is forced to take care of him over time. Ferris keeps the suspense up. Is he getting better? Will he go home again? Plus there’s the tragedy of Tim and Jane’s marriage. They truly love one another, yet he can’t stop the constant walking. It’s heartbreaking.
The last book I’ll mention is by one of my favorite writers William Boyd called Ordinary Thunderstorms. Climatologist Adam Kindred is back in England looking for work. A small good deed puts hurls him into the world of assassination, conspiracy, and the underworld. It comes across at first like a straight forward thriller. Yet Boyd uses the plot to examine different aspects of English life. Boyd tells the story from various characters’ viewpoints, including the head of a multimillion dolllar pharmaceutical firm, a prostitute living in public housing, a hired killer, and of course Adam Kindred. It succeeds in certain areas, fails in others. I don’t think it’s Boyd’s best work, but even his less successful efforts are better than most.