One Day I Will Write About This Place: A Memoir by Binyavanga Wainaina. (Graywolf) In this remarkable coming-of-age memoir, which grew in part from the seeds of two shorter works – the autobiographical novella “Discovering Home” and the essay “How to Write About Africa” – Wainaina describes fiction as his refuge from the confusing realities of politics and adolescence in South Africa and his native Kenya.
An American Spy by Olen Steinhauer. (Minotaur) Steinhauer’s earlier novels “The Tourist” and “The Nearest Exit” introduced the Department of Tourism, a black-ops cell within the CIA, and his dour hero, Milo Weaver. In this ingenious third installment, the department has been all but wiped out by a Chinese spymaster, and Weaver, one of the few survivors, is drawn into a campaign of retaliation.
Rin Tin Tin: The Life And The Legend by Susan Orlean. (Simon & Schuster) Orlean, whose 1998 book, “The Orchid Thief,” explored the more obsessive corners of the American character, now tells the story of the soulful German shepherd, born on a World War I battlefield, who conquered Hollywood and became a family-friendly symbol of Cold War gunslinging.
Lightning Rods by Helen DeWitt. (New Directions) DeWitt’s funny, filthy satire follows Joe, a failed salesman of vacuum cleaners and encyclopedias, who rises through corporate America with an invention that curtails sexual harassment in the workplace.
Louis D. Brandeis: A Life by Melvin I. Urofsky. (Schocken) This is an exhaustive, admiring biography of Brandeis (1856-1941), the jurist, lawyer and reformer who devised savings bank life insurance, helped establish the state of Israel as the head of the American Zionist movement and, as a Supreme Court justice, developed the modern jurisprudence of free speech and the doctrine of a constitutionally protected right to privacy.
River Of Smoke by Amitav Ghosh. (Picador) Ghosh’s stirring sequel to the novel “Sea of Poppies” follows opium’s 19th-century trail from the cities, harbors and plains of India to the Chinese trading outpost of Canton. At the story’s center is Bahram Modi, a self-made businessman from Bombay, India, who has staked his fortunes to one massive shipment of opium and is caught between British merchants who swear by “the elemental forces of Free Trade” and a Chinese establishment eager to root out the commerce in opium.
Babel No More: The Search For The World’s Most Extraordinary Language Learners by Michael Erard. (Free Press) How can certain people accumulate a daunting number of languages? Are their brains wired differently from ours? Erard’s entertaining, informative survey – part globe-trekking adventure, part science lesson, part intellectual investigation – seeks the answers.
King Of The Badgers by Philip Hensher. (Faber & Faber) The disappearance of an 8-year-old girl is the starting point for Hensher’s novel, a darkly comic look at a picturesque English town, the working-class housing estates on its outskirts and the national attention that envelops them both.
New York Times