11 June 2010

Some debut novels I recently read & enjoyed

A Thread of Sky by Deanna Fei. Lin Yulan, a revolutionary leader of the Chinese feminist movement, reluctantly returns to her homeland after years of self-imposed exile for a guided tour of "the new China" with her two daughters and three granddaughters in an effort for the nearly estranged women to reconnect. Each woman arrives in China with her own agenda, and each discovers that some shameful secrets are simply too heavy to bear alone. This powerful, intricately woven first novel is a meditation on grief & recovery, strength & vulnerability, and the urgency to leave one's mark on the world. A very promising debut.

The author graduated from Amherst College, just down the road from our bookstore, and she very graciously stopped by our store one day to sign stock while she was visiting her alma mater. The sales rep had emailed her the above blurb that I wrote for their publicity department and she was very appreciative--there are so many first time writers whose works get overlooked that she seemd grateful for our store's efforts to promote her book. I really look forward to her future work. Penguin published this book new in hardcover in the spring and I hope by the time it's released in paper that it will find the audience it deserves! It would be a very good book group selection.

Beneath the Lion's Gaze by Maaze Mengiste is a debut novel set in the writer's homeland of Ethiopia during the 1974 military overthrow of Emperor Haile Selassie. As famine, chaos, and suspicion sweep the nation, one family becomes wrapped up in chaos of its own. When the matriarch dies, father becomes pitted against sons, brother against brother, and husband against wife, each deciding where his or her loyalties lie, both within the family and in the context of the political turmoil exploding around them. This moving book takes the intimate story of one family's struggle to survive a new regime and places it against the backdrop of important world events.

This book puts me very much in mind of my favorite novel of the last several years--Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese. And not just because it's the story of one man's personal loss echoed in the devastations of his country--there are some absolutely beautiful phrases and startling insights about this famine-stricken nation, "a desolate valley, the sun too bright for shadows of death." Published by Norton in January 2010.

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