Set in India but impossible to read without considering political, cultural, religious, and economic oppression throughout the world, A Burning illustrates what happens when systemic subjugation frustrates one’s ability to be the protagonist in one’s own story. A page-turner as well as a moral puzzle, the novel is a dazzling debut by Megha Majumdar.
Take Rachel Cusk, Ben Lerner, Renata Adler, and Sally Rooney; put them in a blender and pour out this book. Intricate, intimate, incisive, intense, it recounts a chronology of conversations over the last twenty years in America, the first-person narrator speaking with mothers, lovers, friends, and others about the violence of desire, the abjection of intimacy, the ambivalence of womanhood, of selfhood, of narrative. Synthesizing and integrating almost every trend in contemporary fiction into a coherent, compelling whole, this book is so derivative it's original—and it knows this, and succeeds anyway, through formal elegance, technical talent, and a voice too canny by half. A breeze, but the kind that knocks you over anyway.
Vigdis Hjorth’s novel about a PR consultant tasked with saving the Norwegian Postal Workers Union from an upcoming national directive that threatens to undermine the national postal service is peculiarly timely for these shores. Originally published in 2013, this English translation is a pitch-perfect introduction to Hjorth’s transfixing, funny, and philosophical style.
The characters in Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments are rarely written about. For the most part stories about women of color born into poverty are lost or erased, they survive only as names in the ledgers of correctional facilities, or a point of evidence in some sociologist's dissection of a social problem. Hartman's book is an in-depth study of just these kinds of girls, women who were part of the great migration to the north after Emancipation, girls who ended up in riots, or a chorus line, instead of a home or a steady job. Because there's so little concrete evidence about these women, Hartman's book is part fiction, part history, filled with exquisite descriptions of heartbreak and lost virginities and long nights, of the smell of summer in Harlem and the screech of voices on the Atlantic City boardwalk. This is history told as fiction because it is, in part, the only way it can be recovered, and I promise you it will be one of the most astonishingly beautiful books you have ever read.
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