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Eliza arrives in Australia in the late 1800s. Her family in London fell on hard times and her father hopes to regain his money in the lucrative pearl-diving trade. The environment is harsh, and the village is vicious. Her father vanishes from his ship, and Eliza tries to track him down, while her brother flees to another town. With the help of some eccentric characters, she succeeds but it’s a perilous journey. Racism, colonialism, and greed all get a workout. Atmospheric and multilayered.
I’ve been enamored of Bach’s music for decades, and this book delivers the story of the genesis of his St. Matthew Passion in stunning detail. Stefan, 13, is sent to Leipzig after his mother dies. His spell in music school is clouded by bullying and weighted with his grief, but the Bach family takes him in where he witnesses and participates in Bach’s fervor of creation, stemming in part from the composer’s own loss of his 3-year-old daughter. We get to know Bach’s second wife, Anna Magdalena, and his daughter from his first marriage, Catharina, who befriends Stefan. Bach’s drive, his rigor, and the politics around patronage are all highlighted in this stunning historical novel. (After I finished the book, I listened to the piece and found myself moved to tears as well as enlightened by the insights I gleaned.)
Yasmin and Joe are engaged. She’s a doctor in training, he’s the son of powerful, iconoclastic Harriet who has over-the-top plans for their wedding to be. The first dinner where her British-Indian parents meet Harriet is an awkward disaster and a template for the inevitable disjuncture between families. On an intimate level, Yasmin and Joe are also mismatched. Things unspool, often with absurdity, and surprising relationships form. Rich, funny, thoughtful—the Ali package I know and love.
The monumental, disintegrating housing project in Chicago is coming down building by building, but Fe Fe, 12, keeps playing double Dutch in the hallways and trying to keep her friendships intact. She knows change is inevitable and frightening as the girls meet their varied fates and her brother gets caught up in gang life. A teacher, Ms. Pierce, offers some hope and stability. Church too, though that’s transitory as well. Vivid, tragic, with punchy language and descriptive eloquence.