When She Woke by Hilary Jordan: Whereas Mudbound explored forbidden love between races in the post World War II era, When She Woke imagines a love affair between a renowned religious leader and one of his followers in a dystopian world caught up in religious extremism. I liked the intensity through most of the book, though the plot loses course about two thirds of the way toward the end. A fine sophmore novel.
Zone One by Colson Whitehead: I wish I had more time to write about this incredibly written not-about-zombies zombie novel. In a world infected by a plague, the novel follows one man nicknamed Mark Spitz for three days in Manhattan as he and his crew clear out the more innocuous infected ones, the “stragglers”, transfixed by the earlier lives. Ultimately we have to ask ourselves if we’re already living in a zombie world. Mr. Bookdwarf also liked this one. He says it’s funnier than The Road, but the humor masks the fact that it’s even bleaker in some ways.
The Calcutta Chromosome by Amitav Ghosh: In preparation for reading the second book the trilogy after Sea of Poppies, I’m reading Ghosh’s backlist. Turns out he turned his hand to scifi and won an Arthur C. Clarke award his efforts in 1997. A computer programmer discovers an aged ID card of a long-lost acquaintance , which draws him into an adventure that brings us back and forth through time. The history of malaria never seemed so interesting, and it’s great to see where Ghosh came from while you’re waiting for your preorder of River of Smoke to ship.
Damascus by Joshua Mohr: A wacky cast of characters all who hang out at a bar called Damascus in the Mission District in San Francisco inhabit this novel. Mohr wants to explore feelings about the war in Iraq and uses this setting to get behind a variety of people, including the alcoholic bar-owner, his outspoken niece, her artist friend, and an veteran discharged for a non-combat injury. Though the narrator’s voiceover gets a little wearisome at times, the characters make this novel sparkle.
Pao by Kerry Young: I hadn’t realized that there was a large Chinese population in Jamaica, but this novel of a Chinese man’s coming of age is set there. Pao moves to the island with his mother and brother after the Chinese Civil War and rises to become the godfather of Kingston’s Chinatown. Though the rackets are small, Pao possesses a sensitive temperament that makes him want to do right by people. We see Jamaica move from post-colonial rule all the way to the Rastafarian revolution. Amidst all of this, Chinatown’s residents must find their own role to play.
The Good Muslim by Tahmima Anam: I loved Anam’s debut novel A Golden Age back in 2008, about Rehana Haque and her children’s experiences during the Bangladeshi War for independence in 1971. In her follow-up, the children, Maya and her brother Sohail, must face the challenges of peace. Maya trains in medicine, devoting herself to the care of women raped and used during the war. Sohail, meanwhile, chooses a religious path that alienates both his sister and mother. Anam has written an thoughtful exploration of what it means to assimilate and to believe.