Paperbacks

January 12, 2013 

The Vanishers by Heidi Julavits. (Anchor) Julavits’ darkly comic novel follows Julia Severn, a talented student at an institute for psychics in New Hampshire. After suffering a near-lethal psychic attack at the hands of her jealous mentor, Julia is lured into searching for an enigmatic French artist who may hold insights into her mother’s long-ago death.

The Unquiet American: Richard Holbrooke in the World edited by Derek Chollet and Samantha Power. (PublicAffairs) Holbrooke, who died in 2010 while serving as President Barack Obama’s special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, was one of the most accomplished diplomats in modern American history. This book traces Holbrooke’s life and career, with excerpts from his own writing and essays by colleagues, journalists and scholars.

Queen of America by Luis Alberto Urrea. (Back Bay/Little, Brown) Urrea’s sequel to his 2005 novel, “The Hummingbird’s Daughter,” continues the history of his great-aunt Teresa, a late-19th-century Mexican saint and revolutionary. Banished from her country, Teresita makes a new start with her father in the Arizona desert, but she’s soon following one opportunity after another – from Arizona to Texas, California to New York.

Nocturne: A Journey in Search of Moonlight by James Attlee. (University of Chicago) “For countless millennia humankind has lived in step with the cycles of the moon,” Attlee writes, “planting crops, wooing lovers and gathering harvests according to its celestial clockwork.” His search for moonbeams in a world of 24-hour brightness takes readers from prehistory to the present, through the physical world and the realms of art and literature.

The Spoiler by Annalena McAfee. (Vintage) McAfee skewers the Fourth Estate in her razor-sharp first novel, which is set in a London newsroom at the dawn of the digital age and concerns the cat-and-mouse games swirling around two women: Honor Tait, a prize-winning war reporter and grande dame of the British press; and Tamara Sim, the young tabloid hack assigned to interview her.

Autumn in the Heavenly Kingdom: China, the West, and the Epic Story of the Taiping Civil War by Stephen R. Platt. (Vintage) This is a meticulous account of the rebellion against the 200-year-old Qing dynasty – led by a failed civil servant who claimed to be the brother of Jesus – which began in 1851 and became, in Platt’s words, “not only the most destructive war of the 19th century, but likely the bloodiest civil war of all time.”

Parallel Stories by Peter Nadas. Translated by Imre Goldstein. (Picador) A sweeping look at 20th-century Europe, this ambitious Hungarian novel opens in 1989 and is centered, loosely, on a Budapest apartment building whose residents have been trapped in the torpor of Communist tyranny.

What I Don’t Know About Animals by Jenny Diski. (Yale University, $15.) Confronting the “black hole in our understanding of the creatures with whom we share the planet,” Diski observes elephants in Kenya, visits a sheep farm during lambing season, learns to ride horseback and explores her struggle with delusional parasitosis – which had her convinced she was infested with bugs.

New York Times

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