Lookaway, Lookaway, by Wilton Barnhardt. (Picador) A family and a region are coming apart in the Raleigh writer’s lacerating but affectionate satirical novel of the New South. Joseph B. “Duke” Johnston and his wife, Jerene, sit near the apex of society in Charlotte, but over the course of a decade they’re sorely tried by a cast of characters including a rebellious, outspoken daughter; a closeted son; and Jerene’s brother, Gaston, an acid-tongued, alcoholic novelist.
Jonathan Swift: His Life and His World, by Leo Damrosch. (Yale University) Swift (1667-1745) distinguished himself as novelist (“Gulliver’s Travels”), satirist (“A Modest Proposal”), essayist, poet and political pamphleteer. Damrosch’s commanding biography aims at sweeping away misconceptions about Swift’s parentage, love life, and moral and religious views – many of which were encouraged by Swift himself.
The Dark Road, by Ma Jian. Translated by Flora Drew. (Penguin) Ma Jian, whose previous books include the Tiananmen-era novel “Beijing Coma” and “Stick Out Your Tongue,” a collection of stories about Tibet, here depicts the tragic effects of China’s one-child policy in the rural hinterland. When a young peasant becomes pregnant without state permission, she and her husband take their first child, a daughter, and find refuge on a rickety houseboat on the Yangtze River.
Miss Anne in Harlem: The White Women of the Black Renaissance, by Carla Kaplan. (Harper Perennial) In this revelatory cultural history, Kaplan introduces the women – given the collective dismissive name “Miss Anne” – who became patrons of and participants in the Harlem Renaissance and raised hot-button issues of race, gender, class and sexuality in the bargain.
Japan 1941: Countdown to Infamy, by Eri Hotta. (Vintage) Surveying the internal mechanics of the Tokyo regime that planned and executed the attack on Pearl Harbor, Hotta finds a web of reckless incompetence and asks: Why did these men – military leaders, politicians, diplomats, the emperor – make a decision that was doomed from the start?
Last Car Over the Sagamore Bridge: Stories, by Peter Orner. (Back Bay/Little, Brown) In 52 stories, most no longer than a few pages, Orner presents a kaleidoscope of lives and experiences: lovers at a Wyoming hotel in 1912; a weary communist in 1990s Prague; a daydreaming furniture salesman in 1940s New England.
Wonder of Wonders: A Cultural History of “Fiddler On The Roof,” by Alisa Solomon. (Picador) Roaming across cultures and time periods, Solomon traces how and why the story of the beleaguered milkman Tevye, the creation of the Yiddish writer Sholem Aleichem, was reborn as blockbuster entertainment and a global touchstone.
New York Times