I’m delighted to tell you that whereas there were just a few brand spanking new titles that took my fancy for April, it’s choc-a-bloc with tasty-looking paperbacks most of which I’ve yet to read. I’ll begin with one that I have: David Chariandy’s Brother, an eloquent story of grief and loss set against a backdrop of urban immigrant poverty. Returning to her home town, Aisha finds that Michael has become a recluse since the death of his brother Francis in a shooting ten years ago and is determined to bring him back into the world. Exploring themes of grief, racism and social deprivation while weaving Michael’s memories of Francis through Aisha’s visit, Brother packs a quietly powerful punch for such a short book.
Having been shortlisted for a multitude of literary prizes, including the Man Booker, Esi Edugyan’s Washington Black won the 2018 Scotiabank Giller Prize for which Brother was longlisted in 2017. The eponymous eleven-year-old is chosen as a personal servant to one of the brothers who have taken over a Barbados sugar plantation, a man obsessed with the idea of flying which results in disaster for him. ‘From the blistering cane fields of Barbados to the icy wastes of the Canadian Arctic, from the mud-drowned streets of London to the eerie deserts of Morocco, Washington Black teems with all the strangeness and mystery of life’ say the publishers.
Carys Davies’ West sounds entirely different but has also met with a great deal of acclaim. When widower Cy Bellman hears of the discovery of huge ancient bones in Kentucky he takes himself off to investigate, leaving his young daughter behind in Pennsylvania. Davies’ novel tells the story of Cy’s journey and of Bess, waiting at home for his return. ‘Written with compassionate tenderness and magical thinking, it explores the courage of conviction, the transformative power of grief, the desire for knowledge and the pull of home, from an exceptionally talented and original British writer’ say the publishers promisingly.
Thomas Bourke’s The Consolation of Maps seems to explore similar themes of loss and the desire for knowledge. Kenji Tenabe sells antique maps in a prestigious Tokyo gallery but is presented with an unexpected offer of a job in America working for a woman who has never recovered from the death of her lover. ‘Moving across countries and cultures, The Consolation of Maps charts an attempt to understand the tide of history, the geography of people and the boundless territory of loss’ say the publishers which sounds interesting if a little woolly.
Louisa Hall’s Trinity is about the pursuit of a different kind of knowledge, telling the story of Robert Oppenheimer, who oversaw the development of the atomic bomb, from the perspective of seven fictional characters and revealing the contradictory nature of this brilliant scientist. ‘Blending science with literature and fiction with biography, Trinity asks searing questions about what it means to truly know someone, and about the secrets we keep from the world and from ourselves’ according to the blurb. It sounds fascinating and Annabel’s review over at Annabookbel has whetted my appetite further. I’ve not read much fiction about the development of the bomb which shaped the second half of the twentieth century apart from TaraShea Nesbit’s The Wives of Los Alamos, Lydia Millett’s Oh Pure and Radiant Heart and Joseph Kanon’s Los Alamos.
I’ll end this first instalment with Gun Love by Jennifer Clement, author of the impressive Prayers for the Stolen, published in the UK a few years ago. Fourteen-year-old Pearl lives in the front seat of a wrecked car in a Florida trailer park while her mother lives in the back. Under the driver’s seat sits a gun given to Margot by her boyfriend, a regular visitor to the back seat. ‘Gun Love is a hypnotic story of family, community and violence. Told from the perspective of a sharp-eyed teenager, it exposes America’s love affair with firearms and its painful consequences’ say the publishers. I remember circling Prayers for the Stolen for some time, expecting unremitting grimness given that it was about kidnapped girls but it surprised me, and I’m hoping for the same with this one.
That’s it for the first batch of April’s paperbacks. A click on the first title will take you to my review and to a more detailed synopsis for the other five should any pique your interest. If you’d like to catch up with the month’s new titles they’re here. More soon…