After a much-needed break, the Clerk returns with a list of must-read books in August. This month’s collection includes authors from the US, the UK, India, Brazil, and Pakistan, and with a wide range of subjects covering reincarnated romance, museum adventures, homecomings in post-partition India/Pakistan, and much more, it promises to contain something that will appeal to readers of all ilks.
Enjoy! And, please support this site by following the purchasing links after each entry. All book descriptions come directly from the publishers.
A fresh new voice emerges with the arrival of Sour Heart, establishing Jenny Zhang as a frank and subversive interpreter of the immigrant experience in America. Her stories cut across generations and continents, moving from the fraught halls of a public school in Flushing, Queens, to the tumultuous streets of Shanghai, China, during the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s. In the absence of grown-ups, latchkey kids experiment on each other until one day the experiments turn violent; an overbearing mother abandons her artistic aspirations to come to America but relives her glory days through karaoke; and a shy loner struggles to master English so she can speak to God.
Narrated by the daughters of Chinese immigrants who fled imperiled lives as artists back home only to struggle to stay afloat—dumpster diving for food and scamming Atlantic City casino buses to make a buck—these seven stories showcase Zhang’s compassion, moral courage, and a perverse sense of humor reminiscent of Portnoy’s Complaint. A darkly funny and intimate rendering of girlhood, Sour Heart examines what it means to belong to a family, to find your home, leave it, reject it, and return again.
Purchase Link: Sour Heart: Stories
A witty, urbane, and sometimes shocking debut novel, set in a hallowed New York museum, in which a co-worker’s disappearance and a mysterious map change a life forever.
Stella Krakus, a curator at Manhattan’s renowned Central Museum of Art, is having the roughest week in approximately ever. Her soon-to-be ex-husband (the perfectly awful Whit Ghiscolmbe) is stalking her, a workplace romance with “a fascinating, hyper-rational narcissist” is in freefall, and a beloved colleague, Paul, has gone missing. Strange things are afoot: CeMArt’s current exhibit is sponsored by a Belgian multinational that wants to take over the world’s water supply, she unwittingly stars in a viral video that’s making the rounds, and her mother–the imperious, impossibly glamorous Caro–wants to have lunch. It’s almost more than she can overanalyze.
But the appearance of a mysterious map, depicting a 19th-century utopian settlement, sends Stella–a dogged expert in American graphics and fluidomanie (don’t ask)–on an all-consuming research mission. As she teases out the links between a haunting poem, several unusual novels, a counterfeiting scheme, and one of the museum’s colorful early benefactors, she discovers the unbearable secret that Paul’s been keeping, and charts a course out of the chaos of her own life. Pulsing with neurotic humor and dagger-sharp prose, Impossible Views of the World is a dazzling debut novel about how to make it through your early thirties with your brain and heart intact.
Purchase Link: Impossible Views of the World
Moving from revolutionary Zanzibar in the 1960s to restless London in the 1990s, Gravel Heart is a powerful story of exile, migration and betrayal, from the Booker Prize-shortlisted author of Paradise
Salim has always believed that his father does not want him. Living with his parents and his adored Uncle Amir in a house full of secrets, he is a bookish child, a dreamer haunted by night terrors.
It is the 1970s and Zanzibar is changing. Tourists arrive, the island’s white sands obscuring the memory of recent conflict: longed-for independence from British colonialism swiftly followed by bloody revolution. When his father moves out, retreating into dishevelled introspection, Salim is confused and ashamed. His mother explains neither this nor her absences with a strange man; silence is layered on silence.
When glamorous Uncle Amir, now a senior diplomat, offers Salim an escape, the lonely teenager travels to London for college. But nothing has prepared him for the biting cold and seething crowds of this hostile city. Struggling to find a foothold, and to understand the darkness at the heart of his family, Salim must face devastating truths about himself and those closest to him – and about love, sex and power.
Evoking the immigrant experience with unsentimental precision and profound insight, Gravel Heart is a powerfully affecting story of isolation, identity, belonging and betrayal, and is Abulrazak Gurnah’s most dazzling achievement.
Purchase Link: Gravel Heart
A rural working-class New England town elects as its mayor a New York hedge fund millionaire in this inspired novel for our times—fiction in the tradition of Jonathan Franzen and Jennifer Egan.
Mark Firth is a contractor and home restorer in Howland, Massachusetts, who feels opportunity passing his family by. After being swindled by a financial advisor, what future can Mark promise his wife, Karen, and their young daughter, Haley? He finds himself envying the wealthy weekenders in his community whose houses sit empty all winter.
Philip Hadi used to be one of these people. But in the nervous days after 9/11 he flees New York and hires Mark to turn his Howland home into a year-round “secure location” from which he can manage billions of dollars of other people’s money. The collision of these two men’s very different worlds—rural vs. urban, middle class vs. wealthy—is the engine of Jonathan Dee’s powerful new novel.
Inspired by Hadi, Mark looks around for a surefire investment: the mid-decade housing boom. Over Karen’s objections, and teaming up with his troubled brother, Gerry, Mark starts buying up local property with cheap debt. Then the town’s first selectman dies suddenly, and Hadi volunteers for office. He soon begins subtly transforming Howland in his image—with unexpected results for Mark and his extended family.
Here are the dramas of twenty-first-century America—rising inequality, working class decline, a new authoritarianism—played out in the classic setting of some of our greatest novels: the small town. The Locals is that rare work of fiction capable of capturing a fraught American moment in real time.
Purchase Link: The Locals: A Novel
When two cars collide at an intersection in a leafy Chicago suburb, Hartley Nolan is not the person police expect to find behind the wheel. After all, he barely drinks; everyone knows it’s his wife who’s the alcoholic. But the bigger question on people’s minds is what brought Sonia Senn, dead at the scene, back to her hometown in such a hurry that night?
In eleven tightly linked stories, Red Light Run pulls us into the inner lives of Hartley, Sonia, and a host of other characters to untangle the mounting forces that carry them to their fates. Among the ensemble in this prismatic collection are a real estate agent who seeks gossip on the market rather than houses, a trailer park developer whose entire livelihood is laid to waste by a single cigarette, a divorced mother battling her daughter-in-law for hegemony over her kitchen, a widower hell-bent on destroying the invasive species of beetle that’s wiping out his oak trees, and a down-and-out handyman with a desperate plan for revenge. And then there’s Sonia Senn, with a dark secret of her own, and Hartley Nolan, who has risen above his roots to become a commodities trader in Chicago only to end up sentenced to eight years at Grassland State Prison. With infectiously grim humor and wry insight, these characters contemplate their realities in relation to one tragic moment, propelling us toward a startling revelation about the long and sometimes crooked arc of justice.
A brilliant feat of storytelling, Red Light Run is the radiant and stunning debut from Best New American Voices writer Baird Harper.
Purchase Link: Red Light Run: Linked Stories
Chandrasekhar Kambar is one of the most accomplished Indian writers working today. In each of Kambar’s novels, the archetypical Mother, Karimayi, is at the center. The narrative of Karimayimoves through an astounding time span, beginning with the mythopoetic times of Goddess Karimayi’s birth and continuing through the historical and cultural shifts in the life of a small rural community called Shivapura during the British colonial era.
Karimayi breaks the familiar narrative of an idyllic and traditional village community being destroyed by the incursion of modernity. Instead, the multilayered narrative of Karimayi weaves everything into itself—the story of the village’s past, the myth of Karimayi, the disorder that sets in with the invasion of colonial modernity and the lure of the city, and, most importantly, of the disruption of another form of “native” modernity that the village community has already begun to incorporate into its rhythms of life. Cleverly challenging colonial cartography, Kambar’s book plays with the idea of an eternal India that exists between myth and reality.
Purchase Link: Karimayi
A coming of age tale of brutal beauty and disarming tenderness from one of Brazil’s most exciting young novelists, an author writing in the footsteps of “Roberto Bolaño, Jim Harrison, the Coen brothers and…Denis Johnson” (The New York Times)
A young man wakes up at dawn to drive to the Andes, to climb the Cerro Bonete–a mountain untouched by ice axes and climbers, one of the planet’s final mountains to be conquered–as an act of heroic bravado, or foolishness. But instead, he finds himself dragged, by the undertow of memory, to Esplanada, the neighborhood he grew up in, to the brotherhood of his old friends, and to the clearing in the woods where he witnessed an act that has run like a scar through the rest of his life.
Back in Esplanada, the young man revisits his initiation into adulthood and recalls his boyhood friends who formed a strange and volatile pack. Together they play video games, get drunk around bonfires, pick fights, and goad each other into bike races where the winner is the boy who has the most spectacular crash. Caught between the threat of not being man enough, the desire to please his friends, and the intoxicating contact-high of danger, the boy finds himself following the rules of the pack even as the risks mount. And in a moment that reverberates and repeats itself in new ways in his adulthood, his fantasies of who he is and what it means to be a man come crashing down, and life asserts itself as an endless rehearsal for a heroic moment that may never arrive.
From one of Brazil’s most dazzling writers, The Shape of Bones is an exhilarating story of mythic power. Daniel Galera has written a pulse-racing novel with the otherworldly wisdom of a parable.
Purchase Link: The Shape of Bones: A Novel
In the mid-nineties, Birjees Dawar Ali returns to Pakistan to seek out a history left unfinished long ago; one from which, nursing heartbreak and betrayal, she had previously fled home to partitioned India. Will she find the family that so generously gave her succor, the home that became her own, and the unquestioning love she found there? Or will these certainties have crumbled with the march of history?
A deeply moving narrative of love and loss, All Passion Spent is set in the continuing aftermath of the 1947 partition of India and the subsequent emergence of India and Pakistan as two separate countries. Zaheda Hina’s richly layered narrative, brought alive in this lyrical and poetic translation by Neelam Hussain, touches on the many complexities that surround this painful history: a profound sense of grief and displacement in the subcontinent, the lives sundered midstream, lost friendships, and the quest for new roots and lands.
Purchase Link: All Passion Spent
A wildly imaginative novel about a man who is reincarnated over ten thousand lifetimes to be with his one true love: Death herself.
First we live. Then we die. And then . . . we get another try?
Ten thousand tries, to be exact. Ten thousand lives to “get it right.” Answer all the Big Questions. Achieve Wisdom. And Become One with Everything.
Milo has had 9,995 chances so far and has just five more lives to earn a place in the cosmic soul. If he doesn’t make the cut, oblivion awaits. But all Milo really wants is to fall forever into the arms of Death. Or Suzie, as he calls her.
More than just Milo’s lover throughout his countless layovers in the Afterlife, Suzie is literally his reason for living—as he dives into one new existence after another, praying for the day he’ll never have to leave her side again.
But Reincarnation Blues is more than a great love story: Every journey from cradle to grave offers Milo more pieces of the great cosmic puzzle—if only he can piece them together in time to finally understand what it means to be part of something bigger than infinity. As darkly enchanting as the works of Neil Gaiman and as wisely hilarious as Kurt Vonnegut’s, Michael Poore’s Reincarnation Blues is the story of everything that makes life profound, beautiful, absurd, and heartbreaking.
Because it’s more than Milo and Suzie’s story. It’s your story, too.
Purchase Link: Reincarnation Blues: A Novel
In the spirit of Station Eleven and Never Let Me Go, this dazzling and ambitious literary debut follows three generations of beekeepers from the past, present, and future, weaving a spellbinding story of their relationship to the bees—and to their children and one another—against the backdrop of an urgent, global crisis.
England, 1852. William is a biologist and seed merchant, who sets out to build a new type of beehive—one that will give both him and his children honor and fame.
United States, 2007. George is a beekeeper fighting an uphill battle against modern farming, but hopes that his son can be their salvation.
China, 2098. Tao hand paints pollen onto the fruit trees now that the bees have long since disappeared. When Tao’s young son is taken away by the authorities after a tragic accident, she sets out on a grueling journey to find out what happened to him.
Haunting, illuminating, and deftly written, The History of Bees joins these three very different narratives into one gripping and thought-provoking story that is just as much about the powerful bond between children and parents as it is about our very relationship to nature and humanity.
Purchase Link: The History of Bees: A Novel