Books to anticipate this September: part two

Here you’ll find five more books (see part one) being released this month. Given all the media anticipation, you’ll likely recognize Anthony Doerr’s novel that’s among them. He’s the author of the beloved All the Light We Cannot See that became a phenomenal best-seller in 2014. I remember a woman during a Q&A, after I gave a presentation, holding up a copy of that WWII Pulitzer Prize-winner and asking me to recommend a book “just like this one.” I did my best. At least now, seven years later, she’ll have a more perfect match.

Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr tells a story in settings that span 15th century Constantinople to an interstellar spaceship in 2146. The characters have in common being “dreamers and outsiders who find resourcefulness and hope in the midst of peril.” They also share a connection to an ancient text written by the Greek author Diogenes about Aethon, who yearns to be turned into a bird so he can fly to a utopian paradise in the sky. This Greek text is the narrative vehicle that knits together Doerr’s story lines. His 600+ page count combined with what sounds like a complex concept causes some hesitation in me. Except Doerr has proven himself with every book he’s written to be an exceptional author, and everywhere I read about Cloud Cuckoo Land, the comments say he magically pulls it off. Publishers Weekly writes: “Doerr seamlessly shuffles each of these narratives in vignettes that keep the action in full flow and the reader turning the pages. …It’s a marvel.” Kirkus Reviews describes the book as a magical literary puzzle. Release date is September 28.

Several days ago, I finished reading Assembly by Natasha Brown, a slim, powerful punch of a novel. It tells the story of a British Black woman advancing her way upward in London’s fierce investment banking industry and pushing through the glass ceiling. In a few brief scenarios, the first pages illustrate harassment during her early minion years with shocking realism. Then we enter the successful years of wealth, but they are weighed down by her dread of the ongoing racist slights and sexual innuendos from her male colleagues; and then there’s the constant pressure to “work twice as hard, be twice as good, and always, assimilate.” Her boyfriend invites her to attend a party at his parents’ country estate, and she’s conflicted about attending. He’s an aristocratic white boy interested in politics and her presence in his life helps his liberal agenda; but then his presence in her life helps the capitalist male colleagues at the office accept her. Meanwhile, the British Empire breathes down her neck with the message to “go home,” vans touring the streets with those words diminishing her sense of place and self, even though she and her parents, of Jamaican descent, were born in England. Natasha Brown takes us into our narrator’s heritage, skin, identity, talent, drive, and desolation with intimate, devastating force. The novel is now available, released this week.

Richard Powers’ new novel, listed among the six finalists contending for the 2021 Booker Prize, features Theo Byrne, a widowed astrobiologist raising his nine-year-old sweet but troubled son Robin. Robin gets expelled from school for slamming a friend’s face with a metal thermos. Of all the descriptions I’ve read, this one from the Booker Prize is the best: “What can a father do, when the only solution offered is to put his boy on psychoactive drugs? What can he say, when his boy asks why we are destroying the world? The only thing to do is to take the boy to other planets, while helping him to save this one.” Kirkus Reviews in its starred review says Bewilderment is “a touching novel that offers a vital message with uncommon sympathy and intelligence.” Publishers Weekly says it’s “a marvelous story of experimental neurotherapy and speculations about alien life.” It also suggests this is not Powers’ best work. The novel is to be released September 21.

When We Cease to Understand the World by Benjamín Labatut is another book I recently finished reading (I recommended it on last month’s All Sides Weekend Books). It’s a hybrid work of fiction and nonfiction about genius scientists and the power of their discoveries to both save and destroy the world. One chapter is devoted to an astrophysicist who discovered a “rent” in the fabric of space-time and sent an astonishing letter to Einstein from the WWI trenches. Another is devoted to a Japanese mathematician who posted a phenomenal break-through on his blog but refused to defend it publicly in journals and at conventions. Much of his story tells the life of another mathematician who discovered and comprehended similarly, and also withdrew from society. A few of the real-life geniuses in this extraordinary book reach the scary brinksmanship of an unexplainable abyss and unimaginable possibilities. In the chapter about German theoretical physicist Heisenberg, this Nobel Prize-winner “had no idea how he had arrived at his results … if he was correct, science could not only understand reality but begin to manipulate it at its most basic level.” I struggled with all my required science classes in high school and college, never having a mind for that field, but I couldn’t put this book down. Author Benjamín Labatut lives in Santiago, Chile. This is his first book to be translated into English. The translator is Adrian Nathan West. The book is due to be released September 28.

I was planning to write about Don Winslow’s new novel City on Fire; however, its publication date has been moved to spring 2022. Winslow says he prefers to wait out the pandemic to release the novel when he can do his promotional tour at bookstores and meet his readers in person. In its place, here’s a look at Amor Towle’s new novel, The Lincoln Highway, due to be released a few days over the September border on October 5. Towles won his readership with his debut A Gentleman in Moscow and then his sophomore novel Rules of Civility. His new book tells the story of four boys on their way to New York City from Nebraska in 1954. It features eighteen-year-old Emmett Watson arriving home after serving fifteen months on a work farm for involuntary manslaughter. Emmet intends to pick up his eight-year-old brother, Billy, and head to California but discovers two friends from the work farm have followed him home. Herein plans change to go east rather than west. Publishers Weekly says in its starred review that the “magnificent comic road novel … doubles as an old-fashioned narrative about farms, families, and accidental friendships” and shouldn’t be missed. Kirkus Reviews also gives it a star and says Towle’s novel is “an exhilarating ride through Americana.”

Publishers Weekly and Kirkus Reviews are the publishing industry’s respected forecasters of upcoming books.