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This Other Eden by Paul Harding
On a tiny island off the coast of Maine, a ragtag bunch has made a minimal life. They’re descendants of Black Benjamin and Irish Patience who settled there in 1792. Lots of interbreeding and to the government, an embarrassment and a scourge. So they decree the island be “cleansed,” with some shuttled off to an institution for the feeble-minded and the rest just evicted. A tragic story but shot through with the beauty of nature and the marvelously quirky, ingenious nature of the community members. Luminous prose, heart-rending.
Watch Us Dance by Leila Slimani
When the rebellious energy of the ‘60s hit Morocco, it caused great upheavals, as played out in one extended family. Patriarch Achine decries his relatives’ loosening of religious and cultural bounds. His French wife Mathilde carries on with her quasi-medical services, but their daughter Aicha becomes a real doctor, first studying in Europe and then returning home with her newfound ways which are anathema to her dad. Their son Selim falls in with hippies. They dance—it’s scandalous. This book is a follow-up to Slimani’s excellent The Country of Others but works on its own. I didn’t bother with the complex Dramatis Personae but just waded into the action and was transported to a time and place made manifest.
The Imposters by Tom Rachman
This is a kaleidoscope of a book with an unusual setup, all constellated around Dora, an English novelist. She had one hit, and a few more books after that, but is feeling old, tired, and uninspired. However, she keeps working fitfully on what she knows will be her last oeuvre. Each chapter starts with a few lines of her latest attempt but takes off in different directions around the globe and introduces us to a variety of characters, including family members, an old lover, and her last remaining friend. The trick: we don’t know their relationship to Dora until later down the line. Intriguing, sad, and funny in turn.
Holler Rat by Anya Liftig
In this memoir, we meet someone whose life is split in two. Her mother is from hard-scrabble Appalachia and her father is a successful East Coast Jew. She shuttles between granny’s falling apart farm to tony suburban Connecticut and fits nowhere. This leads to depression, wild acting out, self-harm, and ultimately jaw-dropping performance art. Kind of exhausting, but fascinating.