Good books can upend long-held ideas and disrupt assumptions. The picks for this month reflect a yearning for fresh beginnings and new ways of understanding ourselves and each other.
March 9, 2021 Monitor Reviewers
This month’s selections sweep across the literary landscape with fervor and imagination, illuminating aspects of the human condition and celebrating the desire for transformation
1. The Phone Booth at the Edge of the World by Laura Imai Messina
In a coastal garden in northeast Japan sits the Wind Phone, which offers visitors a place of grace for their sorrow. This quiet novel follows grieving Yui and Takeshi as they form a friendship of shared experience – and navigate the trickier shoals of a deeper relationship – in lyrical, unrushed prose.
2. Libertie by Kaitlyn Greenidge
“Libertie” follows a Black girl born free in the Reconstruction era. Her mother is a doctor who wants nothing more than for Libertie to follow in her footsteps, but Libertie has different ideas of what freedom – for herself and for her people – truly looks like.
3. Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro
In his first novel since winning the Nobel Prize in 2017, Kazuo Ishiguro explores questions about what makes humans irreplaceable. This parable about a society in which science has been taken to ethically questionable levels is, thanks to its narrator – a kind, smart, sympathetic, solar-powered Artificial Friend – a surprisingly warm morality tale about love, hope, and empathy that subverts our expectations about dystopian fiction.
4. The Committed by Viet Thanh Nguyen
In this sequel to his 2016 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, “The Sympathizer,” Viet Thanh Nguyen drives home the brutal – and often horrifyingly absurd – effects of colonialism and every other kind of “ism” on human beings. The Vietnamese immigrant narrator cleans toilets and runs drugs in Paris, not because he wants to, but because this is what the subjugation of his country has brought him to. The novel is not for the faint of heart, but it speaks with power.
5. Red Island House by Andrea Lee
Andrea Lee traces an African American scholar’s marriage to a wealthy Italian businessman and her uneasy relationship with the pleasure palace he’s built on an impoverished island in Madagascar. Told in linked stories, “Red Island House” offers a captivating take on colonialism, privilege, race, and heritage.
6. Surviving Savannah by Patti Callahan March 9, 2021
Patti Callahan’s inspiring historical novel launches off from the 2018 discovery of a luxury steamship that sank in 1838 off the coast of North Carolina, killing half its passengers, many of whom were wealthy Southerners. The steamship, believed to be the Pulaski, has been called the Titanic of the South. The novel moves between the 19th-century passengers and modern-day treasure hunters and museum curators. Buy the Book. Read More
7. A Most Remarkable Creature by Jonathan Meiburg
Jonathan Meiburg’s superb book begins as the story of a bird and ends having marshaled natural history, travelogue, biography, and memoir to conjure people and places both known (Darwin) and not (the South America of the glyptodonts). Along the way he shows how inaccurately we understand our species’ place in the world.
8. Plunder by Menachem Kaiser
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt “Plunder: A Memoir of Family Property and Nazi Treasure” by Menachem Kaiser, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 288 pp.
A master storyteller embarks on a journey to learn about his grandfather and to reclaim an apartment building that was stolen during the Holocaust. The odyssey is fascinating and thought-provoking.
9. The Barbizon by Paulina Bren
The Barizon was New York City’s premier women-only residential hotel in the 20th century. This delightful history explains how, in a pre-feminist time, it sheltered the ambitions and dreams of thousands, including Grace Kelly and Sylvia Plath.
10. The Gospels translated by Sarah Ruden
After having tackled Virgil’s “Aeneid” and St. Augustine’s “Confessions,” classicist Sarah Ruden turns to the Gospels. She grounds them in thorough research and infuses them with a fresh, immediate voice that captures each Gospel’s characteristic tone.