Noteworthy paperbacks

March 22, 2014 

Comandante: Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela by Rory Carroll. (Penguin) Carroll spent six years covering Venezuela and Hugo Chavez (1954-2013) for The Guardian of London. He frames this sharp-eyed biography as a study of how the democratically elected strongman rose from poverty and prison to unrivaled influence as president, thumbing his nose at Washington while wielding his country’s oil reserves as a tool for socialist-inspired change.

Harvard Square by Andre Aciman. (Norton) Aciman’s touching and slyly comic novel opens in summer 1977 and pairs two immigrants struggling to find their footing in America: the nameless Egyptian narrator, an inhibited graduate student in literature at Harvard; and a brash Tunisian cabdriver called Kalaj (for Kalashnikov), who spends his evenings at a cafe holding forth on the evils of his adopted homeland.

The Unwinding: An Inner History Of The New America by George Packer. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux) Winner of the 2013 National Book Award for nonfiction, Packer’s kaleidoscopic account of economic decline and the fraying of the national fabric traverses cities large and small, and is presented through the lives of several Americans, including factory workers and venture capitalists, celebrities and Washington insiders.

Amity & Sorrow by Peggy Riley. (Back Bay/Little, Brown) In Riley’s harrowing first novel, a desperate woman and her two daughters have fled a polygamous compound in Idaho. When their car crashes in rural Oklahoma, they are given shelter by a brooding farmer not unfamiliar with loss.

Sum It Up: 1,098 Victories, a Couple of Irrelevant Losses, and a Life in Perspective by Pat Summitt with Sally Jenkins. (Three Rivers) During her reign from 1974 to 2012, Summitt, who learned to play basketball in the hayloft of her family’s farm, led the University of Tennessee women’s basketball team to eight national titles and became the face of her sport. This memoir looks back on Summitt’s triumphs – accomplished, she says, with a mix of love, fury and manipulation – and candidly discusses the Alzheimer’s diagnosis she received in 2011, at age 59.

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler. (Plume) Fowler, the author of “The Jane Austen Book Club,” explores the effects on a psychology professor’s human offspring when he tries raising a chimpanzee as one of the family. The novel’s narrator – the professor’s witty, skeptical and duly damaged daughter – parcels out the details of her “chimped up” Midwestern household and recalls the family’s implosion after the experiment ends.

The Book Of My Lives by Aleksandar Hemon. (Picador) In these poignant essays, the highly praised short-story writer reflects on his native Bosnia (street soccer in Sarajevo, political turmoil, warfare, exile); adjusting to life in America; and, in a devastating final chapter, the death of his young daughter.

New York Times

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