In the small village of Edgecombe St. Mary in the English countryside lives Major Ernest Pettigrew (retired), the unlikely hero of Helen Simonson's wondrous debut. Wry, courtly, opinionated, and completely endearing, the Major leads a quiet life valuing the proper things that Englishmen have lived by for generations: honor, duty, decorum, and a properly brewed cup of tea.
A Time Magazine Top 10 Fiction book for 2011
One of the Wall Street Journal's Top 10 Mysteries of the Year 2011
Prepare for The Hypnotist to cast its spell
Julian Treslove, a professionally unspectacular and disappointed BBC worker, and Sam Finkler, a popular Jewish philosopher, writer and television personality, are old school friends.
The first novel in the Westerman and Crowther historical crime series that The New York Times Book Review called CSI: Georgian England and Tess Gerritsen called chillingly memorable
Book one of the New York Times-bestselling All Souls trilogy--"a wonderfully imaginative grown-up fantasy with all the magic of Harry Potter and Twilight" (People)
#1 National Bestseller
Winner of the John Gardner Fiction Award
A National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist
A Los Angeles Times Book Prize Finalist
Hilary Mantel’s WOLF HALL is subtle, insightful, fascinating. She has completely integrated the historical details into a living portrait of a man, Thomas Cromwell and his development in a very difficult time and place, Henry VIII’s court between 1500 and 1535. Way more than a “historical novel” it’s a study of religious fanaticism, power politics and human compassion. The book won both the Man Booker Award and the National Book Award.
Pearl S. Buck’s THE GOOD EARTH is a classic that I re-read early in the year. And I am still thinking about it almost a year later. The complete arc of a man’s life set in the very violent and devastating era of China in the first quarter of the 20th century. Buck dared to write a colorful, detailed and realistic setting, but it is the character of Wang Lung that really makes this book stay alive.
SCHOOL FOR LOVE by Olivia Manning is a small, quiet, dry and fascinating novel. Manning is too little known probably because she’s such a quiet writer, but nothing I read all year created a sense of place and a sense of loneliness quite like this story of an orphaned teenage boy marooned in Jerusalem right before the end of World War II, at the mercy of a hypocritical and domineering “aunt”.
Jhumpa Lahiri is a super talented writer, especially of short stories. Her first book of stories INTERPRETER OF MALADIES won the Pulitzer Prize, and I loved that one. Her second book of stories, UNACCUSTOMED EARTH, is the one I read this year. It is brilliant. I know lots of people don’t like short stories, but try Lahiri, because these stories allow you to enter a complete world just like a good novel does, and she develops many faceted characters and plot just like a novel too, only with graceful brevity.
Julie Orringer’s first novel THE INVISIBLE BRIDGE is a big, sweeping novel set in Paris in the 1930s then in Hungary during WWII. Her characters are a family of Jewish Hungarians with three smart, talented sons, one of whom is an architecture student on scholarship in Paris. Throughout the first half of the book, the dread of what you know will probably happen to these fascinating characters creates a tension in the reader, and when the violence begins to touch their lives you cannot put this book down. She explores characters, families, and a little known twist on the German government’s inhumane treatment of occupied peoples.
THE CELLIST OF SARAJEVO by Steven Galloway will make you think about the Balkan War of the early 1990s in a different way. The story of four citizens caught in the death trap of the city over a period of two weeks brings the time and place to life. The outrageous behavior of the Serbs bombing and killing citizens of Sarajevo, trying to kill as many Croatians and Bosnians as possible for over two years, without a single international agency or other country stopping the siege is heartbreaking.
WAIT TIL NEXT YEAR by Doris Kearns Goodwin is about as American as baseball, which is a major part of this fine memoir. I put off reading this book because I was afraid it would be too sentimental. But much to my delight, she has written a very unglamorous account of her growing up right outside of New York City in the 1940s up to the mid 50s. Baseball, especially the Brooklyn Dodgers, were a passion for her and her father and mother. Indeed, up and down the streets of this close-knit community were baseball fans, rooting for the Yankees or the New York Giants or for the Dodgers. The illness of her mother, the role of race both in baseball and her community, and the struggle for equal opportunity by some of the girls she knew add depth to this lovely recounting of her growing up.
MOUNTAINS BEYOND MOUNTAINS by Tracy Kidder introduces the reader to Dr. Paul Farmer and his medical mission in Haiti, but it is way more than a biography of do-gooder. Farmer is a force of nature who since 1980s has pioneered medical outreach to rural Haitians and at the same time trained Haitians to do the medical work themselves. Even before the earthquake of 2009, Haiti had few roads, little clean water, desiccated lands because American interventions to dam up rivers, corrupt government aided and abetted by foreign powers. Farmer’s Partners in Health has set itself a huge, unending task. But as if that weren’t enough, Farmer has introduced new protocols for treating tuberculosis throughout the world that the UN’s World Health Organization resisted but finally accepted because it saved so many more lives. Kidder’s writing is clear and detailed, personal and affectionate, but also frustrated and impatient. He strikes a fine balance in introducing you to Farmer’s almost saint-like efforts and the help and frustration of those around him.
A.J. Liebling’s THE ROAD BACK TO PARIS is a volume of the journalist’s work that is now out of print. Other volumes of his New Yorker pieces are available however, and I highly recommend any of them. Every piece he wrote for the New Yorker is full of life, odd and telling details, compassion and sometimes righteous anger at the corruption of people, even the ones on “our side”. He loved boxing, food, France and the men who fought Second World War for the Allies, sometimes mixing up all his passions in one essay. Few journalist write pieces like these any more.
THE BROTHER GARDENERS by Andrea Wulf recounts the way in which the avid gardeners and naturalists of Europe (especially England) in the 1700s changed the course of gardening. By traveling around the globe some naturalist like Joseph Banks brought back species from all over the world and the plants and trees growing today in Kew Garden show you much of what he did. But a man named Collinson and others in England cultivated species of plants and trees mostly provided to them by the intrepid American collector John Bartram, who sent seeds and roots across the ocean many times a year for over 40 years. The cultivation of these specimens and incorporation into cultivated gardens changed what we grow in our own gardens today. It’s a fascinating story and gives new meaning to the concept of “invasive species”.
Now in development for TV
Since its debut in 1990, The Wheel of Time(R) by Robert Jordan has captivated millions of readers around the globe with its scope, originality, and compelling characters.
Jerusalem in 1945 is a city in flux: refugees from the war in Europe fill its streets and caf's, the British colonial mandate is coming to an end, and tensions are on the rise between the Arab and Jewish populations. Felix Latimer, a recently orphaned teenager, arrives in Jerusalem from Baghdad, biding time until he can secure passage to England.