RECOMMENDED AUTHORS AND BOOKS FOR ADVANCED 2
- ALI, MONICA Brick Lane
After an arranged marriage to Chanu, a man twenty years older, Nazneen is taken to London, leaving her home and heart in the Bangladeshi village where she was born. Her new world is full of mysteries. How can she cross the road without being hit by a car (an operation akin to dodging raindrops in the monsoon)? What is the secret of her bullying neighbor Mrs. Islam? What is a Hell’s Angel? And how must she comfort the nave and disillusioned Chanu?
As a good Muslim girl, Nazneen struggles to not question why things happen. She submits, as she must, to Fate and devotes herself to her husband and daughters. Yet to her amazement, she begins an affair with a handsome young radical, and her erotic awakening throws her old certainties into chaos.
Monica Ali’s splendid novel is about journeys both external and internal, where the marvellous and the terrifying spiral together.
- AUSTER, PAUL The New York Trilogy
Paul Auster’s noirish trilogy emphasizes the fragility and mysteriousness of identity. In each short novel, a detective figure haunts a man caught up in a web of strange events that he may or may not have orchestrated himself.
New Yorker: “They are exquisitely bleak literary games written under the influence of the nouveau roman and the genre of detective fiction. Mysteries are not solved, however, but allowed to dangle and multiply, as symbols of the existential mysteries.”
- AUSTER, PAUL Brooklyn Follies
Paul Auster, the unofficial bard of Brooklyn, returns to his home borough for this winsome tale of a resurrected life. Approaching 60, and bored with his suburban existence, Nathan Glass needs some cheering up. The book’s first lines illuminate his mental state: “I was looking for a place to die. Someone recommended Brooklyn.” Nathan decides to move back to the borough where he was born. There he reconnects with his nephew Tom Wood, an ex-graduate student suffering from depression who now works in a bookstore, and with Lucy, the nine-year-old daughter of Tom’s wayward sister Aurora, who joins the pair after her mother goes missing. Nathan slowly emerges from his malaise, discovering new relationships with Lucy, Tom’s boss and bookstore owner Henry Brightman, a widow named Joyce, and a waitress at the local coffee shop. At the same time, he works on his book, an autobiographical farce called THE BOOK OF HUMAN FOLLY–portions of which are worked into the narrative. Buoyed by his new community and his new experiences, Nathan–a grumpy, reclusive character at the beginning of the book–is transformed into a man who no longer looks forward to death.
“The Brooklyn Follies is Auster at the top of his game, sublimating the graft of writing into supremely effortless prose. His words are slinky and supple; his characters sing off the page.”
- BROWN, DAN The Da Vinci Code
Amazon.com: With The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown masterfully concocts an intelligent and lucid thriller that marries the gusto of an international murder mystery with a collection of fascinating esoteria culled from 2,000 years of Western history.
- COETZEE, J.M. Disgrace
In South Africa after apartheid, a middle-aged professor of Romantic poetry sees his career crumble as the world turns more to technology than to literature. After a series of ever more degrading misadventures, including a charge of sexual harassment, he ends up on his daughter’s farm. There, after further disgraces–his daughter is raped and he is attacked and disfigured–he is able to reconcile himself to his stunted life by caring for animals and, finally, feeling a kind of kinship with them.
New York Times Book Review: “Even though it presents an almost unrelieved series of grim moments, DISGRACE isn’t claustrophobic or depressing…. Its grammar allows for the sublime exhilaration of accident and surprise, and so the fate of its characters…seems not determined but improvised. Improvised in the way that our own lives are…. [An] extraordinary novel…”
New Yorker: “[A] novel that not only works its spell but makes it impossible for us to lay it down once we’ve finished reading it–that makes demands upon us not by virtue of a self-conscious ‘message’ but by virtue of a narrative momentum that is itself expressive of moral urgency.
Salon: “[…. DISGRACE is Coetzee’s first book to deal explicitly with post-apartheid South Africa, and the picture it paints is a cheerless one that will comfort no one, no matter what race, nationality or viewpoint….
- FORSYTH, FREDERICK The Afgani
A chilling story of modern terrorism from the grandmaster of international intrigue.
The Day of the Jackal, The Dogs of War, The Odessa File — the books of Frederick Forsyth have helped define the international thriller as we know it today. Combining meticulous research with crisp narratives and plots as current as the headlines, Forsyth shows us the world as it is in a way that few have ever been able to equal.
And the world as it is today is a very scary place.
When British and American intelligence catch wind of a major Al Qaeda operation in the works, they instantly galvanize — but to do what? They know nothing about it: the what, where, or when. They have no sources in Al Qaeda, and it’s impossible to plant someone. Impossible, unless…
The Afghan is Izmat Khan, a five-year prisoner of Guantánamo Bay and a former senior commander of the Taliban. The Afghan is also Colonel Mike Martin, a twenty-five-year veteran of war zones around the world — a dark, lean man born and raised in Iraq. In an attempt to stave off disaster, the intelligence agencies will try to do what no one has ever done before — pass off a Westerner as an Arab among Arabs — pass off Martin as the trusted Khan.
It will require extraordinary preparation, and then extraordinary luck, for nothing can truly prepare Martin for the dark and shifting world into which he is about to enter. Or for the terrible things he will find there.
Filled with remarkable detail and compulsive drama, The Afghan is further proof that Forsyth is truly master of suspense.
- HORNBY, NICK How to be good
Katie Carr is a doctor. Her husband David is the self-styled Angriest Man in Holloway. But when David suddenly becomes good – properly, maddeningly, give-away-all-his-money good – Katie’s sums no longer add up, and she is forced to ask herself some very hard questions. This novel offers a humorous account of modern marriage and parenthood.
- HOSSEINI, KHALED A Thousand Splendid Suns
A Thousand Splendid Suns is at once an incredible chronicle of thirty years of Afghan history and a deeply moving story of family, friendship, faith, and the salvation to be found in love.
Born a generation apart and with very different ideas about love and family, Mariam and Laila are two women brought jarringly together by war, by loss and by fate. As they endure the ever escalating dangers around them — in their home as well as in the streets of Kabul — they come to form a bond that makes them both sisters and mother-daughter to each other, and that will ultimately alter the course not just of their own lives but of the next generation. With heart-wrenching power and suspense, Hosseini shows how a woman’s love for her family can move her to shocking and heroic acts of self-sacrifice, and that in the end it is love, or even the memory of love, that is often the key to survival.
A stunning accomplishment, A Thousand Splendid Suns is a haunting, heartbreaking, compelling story of an unforgiving time, an unlikely friendship, and an indestructible love.
- HOSSEINI, KHALED The Kite Runner
An epic tale of fathers and sons, of friendship and betrayal, that takes us from Afghanistan in the final days of the monarchy to the atrocities of the present.
The unforgettable, heartbreaking story of the unlikely friendship between a wealthy boy and the son of his father’s servant, The Kite Runner is a beautifully crafted novel set in a country that is in the process of being destroyed. It is about the power of reading, the price of betrayal, and the possibility of redemption, and it is also about the power of fathers over sons-their love, their sacrifices, their lies.
The first Afghan novel to be written in English, The Kite Runner tells a sweeping story of family, love, and friendship against a backdrop of history that has not been told in fiction before, bringing to mind the large canvases of the Russian writers of the nineteenth century. But just as it is old-fashioned in its narration, it is contemporary in its subject-the devastating history of Afghanistan over the last thirty years. As emotionally gripping as it is tender, The Kite Runner is an unusual and powerful debut.
- GOLDEN, ARTHUR Memoirs of a Geisha
The geisha Sayuri tells her remarkable story in this epic novel that ranges from a poor Japanese fishing village in the 1920s to postwar New York City.
New York Times: “‘Write what you know’: in MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA, the first-time novelist Arthur Golden not only defies that old piece of creative-writing class advice, but does so with impunity and panache as well. The outcome: a remarkable piece of sleight of hand, a novel disguised as a memoir, told in the voice of a geisha who grew up in pre-World War II Japan…. In recounting her story, Golden gives us not only a richly sympathetic portrait of a woman, but also a finely observed picture of an anomalous and largely vanished world. He has made an impressive and unusual debut.”
Washington Post Book World: “A scholar of Japanese art and history, Golden is intimate with his material, and it shows in his reconstruction of Gion in the 1930s and ’40s…. Sayuri’s voice never falters–it is, to the end, utterly consistent. MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA is a breathtaking performance twice over, once by its bewitching central figure, and once by the masterful puppeteer who has given her life.”
- KEYES, MARION Sushi for beginners
Hard-nosed, bitch-goddess London fashion editor Lisa Edwards was certain her “fabulous” promotion would mean more A-list parties, society page photos, and jet-setting jaunts to the fall collections.
Instead, she’s being deported, Prada wardrobe and all, to supremely un-chic Dublin to launch Colleen magazine. Her assistant editor, over-organized world-class worrier Ashling Kennedy, however, is thrilled with her new job . . .until she discovers it comes with a very high price tag: Lisa Edwards. And then there’s Ashling’s oldest, dearest chum, Clodagh “Princess” Kelly, who seems to have achieved true happily-ever-after suburban fairy tale bliss — but lately has this irresistible urge to kiss a frog. The chances of three such diverse, equally unsatisfied women bonding would be remote anywhere except in staid Dublin town, “the magazine version of Siberia.” And once they do, they’re going to start shaking things up — in print and out of it — especially when Colleen’s rumpled, moody, wickedly attractive head honcho Jack Devine is tossed into the mix.
- KHADRA, YASMINA The Attack
From the bestselling author of The Swallows of Kabul comes this timely and haunting novel that powerfully illuminates the devastating human costs of terrorism.
Dr. Amin Jaafari is an Arab-Israeli surgeon at a hospital in Tel Aviv. As an admired and respected member of his community, he has carved a space for himself and his wife, Sihem, at the crossroads of two troubled societies. Jaafari’s world is abruptly shattered when Sihem is killed in a suicide bombing.
As evidence mounts that Sihem could have been responsible for the catastrophic bombing, Jaafari begins a tortured search for answers. Faced with the ultimate betrayal, he must find a way to reconcile his cherished memories of his wife with the growing realization that she may have had another life, one that was entirely removed from the comfortable, modern existence that they shared.
- LEON, DONNA Acqua Alta
“In Leon’s fifth Commissario Guido Brunetti mystery, the beating of renowned art historian Dotoressa Brett Lynch draws the contemporary Venetian police detective out of his warm and loving home and into the yearly onslaught of acqua alta, the torrential winter rains. Brett, an American who spearheaded a recent exhibition of Chinese pottery in Venice, lives with her lover, Flavia Petrelli, the reigning diva of La Scala. With his open mind and good sense, Brunetti finds himself more fazed by Flavia’s breathtaking talent than by the nontraditional relationship between the two women. Brunetti’s deliberate and humane investigation to uncover a motive for Brett’s beating takes him to dark, wet corners of Venice and into a sinister web of art theft, fakery and base human desires. While there may be a whiff of stereotype in Brunetti’s assumptions about a character of Sicilian heritage, the action builds to a dramatic and deeply satisfying climax. Intricate and intimate descriptions of Venetian life fill these pages and prove that Leon has once again created a high-stakes mystery in which the setting vibrates with as much life as the story itself.
- LEON, DONNA Through a Glass Darkly
Donna Leon’s fifteenth mystery is set on the island of Murano where her hero, Commissario Guido Brunetti, investigates a murder at a glass furnace (fornace) there. Prior to the murder, Brunetti started snooping around Murano because of suspicion that one of the factory owners may be out to do bodily harm to his son-in-law, an environmental activist and good friend of Brunetti’s sidekick, Vianello.
Leon writes her novels in the third person, and thus, almost everything is seen through Brunetti’s thoughts and judgments. Through Brunetti’s eyes, we experience a wonderful springtime in Venice and superb descriptions of glassware and the age-old art of glass making. Leon has done a lot of research for this book which is a primer on glass making lore and the operation of the factories on Murano. There also is biting social commentary on the effects of industrial pollution on the lagoon by not only the glass factories but also by the chemical and oil industries in nearby Margera. As is often the case, the murderer is motivated by Leon’s old standbys–vanity, greed, and lust for power.
- LODGE, DAVID Thinks
Ralph Messenger is an academic star of language and thought research, Helen Reed is a novelist teaching creative writing to help her overcome her husband’s death. Despite huge differences in belief and temperament they begin an affair that has both tragic and comic consequences.
The Guardian: “Thinks… does clever things. Lodge plays wittily with the techniques of stream of consciousness. The narrative dips, innovatively, into the email-epistolary mode. There are Bremnerish pastiches of the literary greats. And, inevitably, the gloomy Catholic skull pokes through the novel’s comic skin.”
- LESSING, DORIS The Diaries of Jane Somers
First published pseudonymously and separately as The Diary of a Good Neighbour and If The Old Could. At the centre of both novels is attractive, intelligent magazine editor Jane Somers, whose wry perception informs and animates every page. Jane was an ambitious journalist concerned with success, clothes and comfort when her life changed. Her husband died, then her mother. Suddenly understanding her real inadequacy, Jane becomes deeply committed to the very old and deprived, making particular friends with one old woman, Maudie, whose life has been all struggle and poverty.
If the Old Could, Jane falls seriously in love for the first time in her life. By now, she is in her fifties. So is Richard Curtis, who loves her. Both are weighed down with responsibilities which are always preventing them from enjoying each other. But with whom is Jane really in love? Who really is she longing for if not her dead husband, whom she did not value at all when he was alive? This new lover is the old one in disguise, just as bright ambitious Jill is Jane when young. Jane seems surrounded – like the very old – by mirrors, by echoes.
- MACEWAN, IAN Atonement
We meet 13-year-old Briony Tallis in the summer of 1935, as she attempts to stage a production of her new drama “The Trials of Arabella” to welcome home her older, idolized brother Leon. But she soon discovers that her cousins, the glamorous Lola and the twin boys Jackson and Pierrot, aren’t up to the task, and directorial ambitions are abandoned as more interesting prospects of preoccupation come onto the scene. The charlady’s son, Robbie Turner, appears to be forcing Briony’s sister Cecilia to strip in the fountain and sends her obscene letters; Leon has brought home a dim chocolate magnate keen for a war to promote his new “Army Ammo” chocolate bar; and upstairs, Briony’s migraine-stricken mother Emily keeps tabs on the house from her bed. Soon, secrets emerge that change the lives of everyone present….
“It is rare for a critic to feel justified in using the word “masterpiece”, but Ian McEwan’s new book really deserves to be called one. (…) Atonement (…) is a work of astonishing depth and humanity.”
- NEVILLE, KATHERINE The eight
Amazon.com: Katherine Neville’s debut novel is a postmodern thriller set in 1972 … and 1790. In the 20th century, Catherine Velis is a computer expert with a flair for music, painting, and chess who, on her way to Algeria at the behest of the accounting firm where she is employed, is invited to take a mysterious moonlighting assignment: recover the pieces of an old chess set missing for centuries.
- PEARSON, ALLISON I Don’t Know How She Does It
For every woman trying to strike that impossible balance between work and home — and pretending that she has — and for every woman who has wanted to hurl the acquaintance who coos admiringly, “Honestly, I just don’t know how you do it,” out a window, here’s a novel to make you cringe with recognition and laugh out loud. With fierce, unsentimental irony, Allison Pearson’s novel brilliantly dramatizes the dilemma of working motherhood at the start of the twenty-first century.
Newsweek: For every woman trying to strike that impossible balance between work and home — and pretending that she has — and for every woman who has wanted to hurl the acquaintance who coos admiringly, “Honestly, I just don’t know how you do it,” out a window, here’s a novel to make you cringe with recognition and laugh out loud. With fierce, unsentimental irony, Allison Pearson’s novel brilliantly dramatizes the dilemma of working motherhood at the start of the twenty-first century.
- ROTH, PHILIP, Everyman
Philip Roth’s new novel is a candidly intimate yet universal story of loss, regret, and stoicism. The bestselling author of The Plot Against America now turns his attention from “one family’s harrowing encounter with history” (New York Times) to one man’s lifelong skirmish with mortality.
The fate of Roth’s everyman is traced from his first shocking confrontation with death on the idyllic beaches of his childhood summers, through the family trials and professional achievements of his vigorous adulthood, and into his old age, when he is rended by observing the deterioration of his contemporaries and stalked by his own physical woes.
The terrain of this powerful novel is the human body. Its subject is the common experience that terrifies us all.
- ROTH, PHILIP, Our Gang
A ferocious political satire in the great tradition, Our Gang is Philip Roth’s brilliantly indignant response to the phenomenon of Richard M. Nixon.
In the character of Trick E. Dixon, Roth shows us a man who outdoes the severest cynic, a peace-loving Quaker and believer in the sanctity of human life who doesn’t have a problem with killing unarmed women and children in self-defense. A master politician with an honest sneer, he finds himself battling the Boy Scouts, declaring war on Pro-Pornography Denmark, all the time trusting in the basic indifference of the voting public.
- SMITH, ZADIE On Beauty
Howard Belsey, a Rembrandt scholar who doesn’t like Rembrandt, is an Englishman abroad and a long-suffering professor at Wellington, a liberal New England arts college. He has been married for thirty years to Kiki, an American woman who no longer resembles the sexy activist she once was. Their three children passionately pursue their own paths: Levi quests after authentic blackness, Zora believes that intellectuals can redeem everybody, and Jerome struggles to be a believer in a family of strict atheists. Faced with the oppressive enthusiasms of his children, Howard feels that the first two acts of his life are over and he has no clear plans for the finale. Or the encore.
Then Jerome, Howard’s older son, falls for Victoria, the stunning daughter of the right-wing icon Monty Kipps, and the two families find themselves thrown together in a beautiful corner of America, enacting a cultural and personal war against the background of real wars that they barely register. An infidelity, a death, and a legacy set in motion a chain of events that sees all parties forced to examine the unarticulated assumptions which underpin their lives. How do you choose the work on which to spend your life? Why do you love the people you love? Do you really believe what you claim to? And what is the beautiful thing, and how far will you go to get it?
Set on both sides of the Atlantic, Zadie Smith’s third novel is a brilliant analysis of family life, the institution of marriage, intersections of the personal and political, and an honest look at people’s deceptions. It is also, as you might expect, very funny indeed.
- TAN, AMY The Hundred Secret Senses
Olivia is 3 years old when she discovers she has a half-sister, Kwan, who lives in China. When Kwan arrives to join the family, she reveals her secret to Olivia–she has visions and communicates with ghosts. Many years later, Kwan tries to encourage Olivia not to give up on her marriage to Simon and convinces them both to travel to China with her. In this evocative setting, Kwan has her most disturbing and revealing visions about her own and her sister’s past lives.
Reviews: The Hundred Secret Senses is an exultant novel about China and America, love and loyalty, the identities we invent and the true selves we discover along the way. Olivia Laguni is half-Chinese, but typically American in her uneasiness with her patchwork family. And no one in Olivias family is more embarrassing to her than her half-sister, Kwan Li. For Kwan speaks mangled English, is cheerfully deaf to Olivias sarcasm, and sees the dead with her “yin eyes.”Even as Olivia details the particulars of her decades-long grudge against her sister (who, among other things, is a source of infuriatingly good advice), Kwan Li is telling her own story, one that sweeps us into the splendor, squalor, and violence of Manchu China. And out of the friction between her narrators, Amy Tan creates a work that illuminates both the present and the past sweetly, sadly, hilariously, with searing and vivid prose.”Truly magical…unforgettable…this novel…shimmer[s] with meaning.”–San Diego Tribune”The Hundred Secret Senses doesn’t simply return to a world but burrows more deeply into it, following new trails to fresh revelations.”—Newsweek
- TOOLE, JOHN KENNEDY A Confederacy of Dunces
“This novel records the adventures of Ignatius J. Reilly, a Falstaffian slob who is also one of the most memorable characters in recent fiction. Ignatius wallows through New Orleans reminiscing about Abelard, Boethius, and Batman, while railing against Freud, academics, and Greyhound buses. Like his creator, who committed suicide in 1969, Ignatius never finds his place in the modern world. This comic novel, on the other hand, should have no trouble finding a niche in the literary world; it is a superb mock-heroic tale that is full of the exuberance—and the profound solitude—of life.” Reviewed by Daniel Weiss, Virginia Quarterly Review (Copyright 2006 Virginia Quarterly Review)