January 5, 2013 

Alibis: Essays on Elsewhere by Andre Aciman. (Picador) These beguiling essays explore time, place and identity – from an extended aria on the memories evoked by the scent of lavender to elegiac meditations on Barcelona, Rome, Paris and New York.

The Undertow by Jo Baker. (Vintage) Baker’s finely observed novel follows four generations of a British family, from World War I to the present day: William Hastings, a factory worker who joins the navy; his son, Billy, a talented cyclist sent behind German lines in World War II; his grandson, Will, an Oxford professor in the 1960s; and his great-granddaughter, Billie, an artist in contemporary London.

Wanted Women: Faith, Lies, and the War on Terror. The Lives of Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Aafia Siddiqui by Deborah Scroggins. (Harper Perennial) Scroggins’ rigorous dual biography alternates between two polarizing Muslim women, “icons of the war on terror”: Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the Somali-born former member of the Dutch Parliament and incendiary critic of Islam; and Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani neuroscientist who, in 2010, was sentenced to 86 years in prison for her assault on U.S. personnel in Afghanistan.

The Flame Alphabet by Ben Marcus. (Vintage Contemporaries) In the alternate-reality America of this audacious, allegorical novel, the speech of children has become lethal to adults. (They’re weak and feverish, and their faces wither.) This malady manifests first in Jews, one of whom – Marcus’ protagonist, Sam – is captured and imprisoned in a language retraining camp, where he is forced to devise nontoxic forms of communication.

American Nietzsche: A History of an Icon and His Ideas by Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen. (University of Chicago) By the time of his death in 1900 at the age of 55, Friedrich Nietzsche had become the philosophical celebrity of his age. Ratner-Rosenhagen surveys his appeal in this country, showing how pragmatists embraced a man who took aim at nearly all the foundations of modern American life.

Raylan by Elmore Leonard. (Morrow/HarperCollins) Organ trafficking, strip mining, gambling and bank robberies motivate criminals to perform even more heinous acts in this punchy thriller. In the middle of it all is the steely, Stetson-wearing United States marshal Raylan Givens, “as close to a moral force as you’re likely to find in Leonard’s universe,” Olen Steinhauer said here.

Man Seeks God: My Flirtations With the Divine by Eric Weiner. (Twelve) When a health scare puts him in the hospital, Weiner, a former foreign correspondent for NPR, ponders a nurse’s question: “Have you found your God yet?” A self-described “Confusionist,” he sets off on a journey through five countries and eight religions to find the faith that fits him best.

The Street Sweeper by Elliot Perlman. (Riverhead) In Perlman’s labyrinthine novel, the intertwined stories of a black janitor in a New York hospital and a beleaguered history professor at Columbia encompass the Holocaust, the civil rights struggle and the American justice system.

New York Times

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