Noteworthy paperbacks

May 25, 2013 

The Lower River by Paul Theroux. (Mariner/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) Longing for the purposefulness of his Peace Corps days, the American protagonist of Theroux’s riveting novel returns to an African village after an absence of 40 years. But nostalgia soon turns into despair: The school he built is in ruins, the church and clinic are gone, and the villagers’ overtures toward him are tinged with menace.

The Crisis of Zionism by Peter Beinart. (Picador) In this forceful exposition, Beinart, a former editor of The New Republic who runs a blog called Open Zion, indicts both Israel’s West Bank occupation and the U.S. Jewish organizations that he says are putting Israeli democracy at risk.

Esther Stories by Peter Orner. (Back Bay/Little, Brown) History and geography invest characters with a sense of passing time and changing place in Orner’s first collection of stories, many of which follow two very different Jewish families.

Making Babies: Stumbling Into Motherhood by Anne Enright. (Norton, $15.95.) In witty bite-size chapters like “Milk,” “Crying” and “Burps,” Enright, the Man Booker Prize-winning author of “The Gathering,” illuminates the darkest corners of pregnancy and motherhood.

Some Assembly Required: A Journal of My Son’s First Son by Anne Lamott with Sam Lamott. (Riverhead) Lamott, who wrote movingly of her son, Sam, in “Operating Instructions” (1993), enters a new chapter in her life – grandmotherhood – when Sam becomes a father at 19.

The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman. (Scribner) Set in Australia in the years after World War I, Stedman’s fablelike first novel concerns a lighthouse keeper and his wife who find a baby in a boat that has washed ashore. Desperate for a family, they take in the baby as their own, and are drawn into an increasingly tragic set of consequences.

Confront and Conceal: Obama’s Secret Wars and Surprising Use of American Power by David E. Sanger. (Broadway) Sanger, The New York Times’ chief Washington correspondent, lucidly describes President Barack Obama’s evolving foreign policy. Citing the Obama-directed raid to kill Osama bin Laden and the expansion of drone strikes into an anti-terrorism offensive, Sanger persuasively shows that the president has been aggressive on national security, often behind closed doors.

The Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln by Stephen L. Carter. (Vintage) Carter’s shrewd thriller imagines what might have happened if Lincoln had survived John Wilkes Booth’s bullet to face an impeachment trial for overstepping his authority during the Civil War. At the story’s center is Abigail Canner, a young black woman and aspiring attorney hired by the law firm working on Lincoln’s defense.

The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human by Jonathan Gottschall. (Mariner/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) Gottschall draws on research in neuroscience, psychology and evolutionary biology to show how stories saturate our lives and help us navigate complex social problems.

New York Times

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