Below are a few books released this month and next that promise exceptional stories. They’re on my reading table and perhaps will find their way to yours. You’ll find an intriguing mix of fiction, memoir, and graphic nonfiction that may even spark ideas for this gift-giving season.
According to The Poetry Foundation, poet and author Lucille Clifton is noted for saying much with few words. Her memoir, Generations, originally published in 1976 and reissued this week by NYRB Classics, runs to a mere 140 pages. From the book’s description: “Clifton tells us about the life of an African American family through slavery and hard times and beyond, the death of her father and grandmother, but also all the life and love and triumph that came before and remains even now.” Poet Tracy K. Smith in the book’s introduction describes the memoir as “poetically terse and emotionally epic.” (Read the introduction here.) From the Kirkus 1976 review: “You can easily see the reflection of [Clifton’s] tight, spare poetry in this exceedingly compact book, which is all the more affecting for its light touch and suggestive sketches of all the American Sayles, including a few of the white ones.” The book is dedicated to Clifton’s father, Samuel Sayles.
Also released this week, another work of nonfiction, Ken Krimstein’s (he’s a contributing New Yorker cartoonist) When I Grow Up: The Lost Autobiographies of Six Yiddish Teens. Krimstein uses his immense talent to graphically illustrate six autobiographies of Eastern European Jewish teens on the brink of WWII. Their stories were found in 2017 among hundreds of autobiographies hidden in a Lithuanian church cellar. From the book’s description: “In When I Grow Up, Krimstein shows us the stories of these six young men and women in riveting, almost cinematic narratives, full of humor, yearning, ambition, and all the angst of the teenage years. It’s as if half a dozen new Anne Frank stories have suddenly come to light, framed by the dramatic story of the documents’ rediscovery.” The autobiographies were originally written as entries for competitions held in Eastern Europe in the 1930s. From the Kirkus starred review: “By cruel irony, the winners were to be announced on Sept. 1, 1939, the day the Nazis invaded Poland. The Gestapo seized many of the documents, but librarians spirited some away—and then hid them again when Stalin launched a Soviet pogrom after the war.”
Claire Keegan’s new novel comes to the United States already an international bestseller. It’s described by the publisher Grove Atlantic as “a deeply affecting story of hope, quiet heroism, and empathy from one of our most critically lauded and iconic writers.” Small Things Like These is set in a small Irish town, 1985, where Bill Furlong keeps his family afloat during “raw” times delivering coal and timber to the community. A Norway spruce lights up the town square for the upcoming Christmas holiday. The weather is surprisingly cold, the snowfall heavy and frequent. We learn of Furlong’s connection to the wealthy Wilson family in the big house and the story of his unwed mother. A dramatic turn arrives on a Sunday morning when Furlong delivers coal to the local convent. He sees something that forces him to face his past and an ongoing tragic, deep secret kept by the Catholic church, which holds great power over the town. I’ve already read this tremendously good book that offers deeply affecting characters and a breathtaking finale. Small Things Like These is to be published November 30.
This is Nadifa Mohamed’s third novel, a fictionalization of what happened to the last man to be executed in Wales and who, 40 years later, was exonerated. From the novel’s description: “In Cardiff, Wales in 1952, Mahmood Mattan, a young Somali sailor, is accused of a crime he did not commit: the brutal killing of Violet Volacki, a shopkeeper from Tiger Bay. At first, Mahmood believes he can ignore the fingers pointing his way; he may be a gambler and a petty thief, but he is no murderer. He is a father of three, secure in his innocence and his belief in British justice.” The Fortune Men was a finalist for this year’s esteemed Booker Prize that described it as “a gripping novel.” From Kirkus Reviews: “Mahmood’s fate is never much in doubt (an epilogue brings the story up to date) but it’s an engrossing and tense story all the same.” The Guardian says the story is “powerfully reimagined.” The Fortune Men is to be published December 14.
Elizabeth Taylor is a British novelist of the mid-20th century often described as “a well-kept secret” and “the other Elizabeth Taylor” (the title of her biography by Nicola Beauman). Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont is her most loved novel, according to the publisher, a story of the recently widowed Mrs. Palfrey moving into the Claremont Hotel in London’s South Kensington, a “haven for the genteel and the decayed,” during the 1960s. Mrs. Palfrey “prides herself on having always known ‘the right thing to do'” but now is challenged, and, according to the description, tries something new. According to The Guardian, it’s a heart-breaking story; however … “Much of the reader’s joy lies in the exquisite subtlety in Taylor’s depiction of all the relationships, the sharp brevity of her wit, and the apparently effortless way the plot unfolds. Among the other residents of the Claremont, Lady Swayne and Mrs. de Salis are comic monsters who could have easily enjoyed walk-on parts in Jane Austen.” NYRB Classics is reissuing Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont on December 21. A movie was made of the book in 2005.