Noteworthy paperbacks

January 4, 2014 

Tombstone: The Great Chinese Famine, 1958-1962 by Yang Jisheng. Translated by Stacy Mosher and Guo Jian. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux) Yang, a historian and veteran journalist in Beijing, estimates that 36 million Chinese starved to death during the Great Leap Forward. A landmark study of the disaster and the delusions and cruelties of Communist Party leaders, “Tombstone” is also a memorial for the uncle who raised Yang like a son and died of starvation in 1959.

Scenes from Early Life by Philip Hensher. (Faber & Faber) In Hensher’s lush amalgam of novel and memoir, based on the life of his Dhaka-born husband, a Bengali narrator looks back with Proustian detail on his childhood during Bangladesh’s bloody struggle for independence from Pakistan in the 1970s.

Rule and Ruin: The Downfall of Moderation and the Destruction of the Republican Party, From Eisenhower to the Tea Party by Geoffrey Kabaservice. (Oxford University) From New Deal reforms to civil rights legislation, “moderate Republicans helped shape many of what are typically thought of as Democratic achievements,” Kabaservice argues in this detailed history of the modern Republican Party and the ideological and political contest that has turned it into a “monolithically conservative organization.”

Angelopolis by Danielle Trussoni. (Penguin) Trussoni’s 2010 supernatural thriller, “Angelology,” plunged two star-crossed heroes – art historian Verlaine and Evangeline, an innocent young nun – into an ancient battle against power-hungry angel-human hybrids known as the Nephilim. In this sequel, set a decade later, Evangeline has been transformed into one of the Nephilim, and Verlaine is an “angel hunter” tasked with killing her kind.

Marilyn: The Passion and the Paradox by Lois Banner. (Bloomsbury) Marilyn Monroe, who died more than 50 years ago at age 36, was brazenly sexual, shy and insecure; a dumb blonde and an intellectual; a bad actor or a brilliant comedian. Weaving together exclusive interviews and, most significantly, newly available material from Monroe’s personal archive, Banner presents a rich and often inspired narrative of the star’s life.

Between Heaven and Here by Susan Straight. (McSweeney’s) Straight’s eighth novel, the last in a trilogy, continues the story of the Picards and their kin – black, French-speaking refugees from Jim Crow Louisiana who headed west. Progressing through the dark puzzle of a woman’s sordid death in California, the plot turns on the travails of a crack-addicted prostitute and her desperate attempts to provide her son with a better life.

The Fun Stuff: And Other Essays by James Wood. (Picador) In 23 sparkling dispatches, bookended by two moving personal essays, Wood, a staff writer at The New Yorker and the author of “How Fiction Works,” offers a panoramic look at the modern novel – including works by Cormac McCarthy, Lydia Davis and Aleksandar Hemon – and brings us back to the old masters Leo Tolstoy and Thomas Hardy.

New York Times

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