This week: a globe-spanning collection of short stories, a famous editor’s memoir of tragic, youthful romance, Dubai takes centerstage in a new thriller, Ivan Doig returns with a novel about Montana miners, and a gripping account of the 1939 World’s Fair.
Memory Wallby Anthony Doerr
An intricate, deftly written collection of six short stories.
Anthony Doerr was born in Cleveland and has lived in New Zealand, South Africa, and Italy. Now he teaches creative writing at Warren Wilson College in Idaho. This diverse, global background helps explain what’s behind the six diverse, globe-spanning stories that appear in Doerr’s fourth book, Memory Wall. From South Africa to Wyoming, from Nazi-era Hamburg to Lithuania, these stories look at the role memory plays—how it deceives and plays with information collected from the past—and, at the same time, covers the vastness of the world we live in. The title story, about a woman in Cape Town nearing the end of her life who records her memories on cassettes, is an intricate, deftly written narrative. Originally published in McSweeney’s, Dave Eggers said it’s “one of the best things [the magazine has] ever published.”
Instead of a Letterby Diana Athill
A poignant look at love—and a woman’s fearless life.
From one of the greatest book editors in postwar England, a classic memoir about a privileged youth and a devastating romance. Diana Athill, a recently appointed Officer of the British Empire, was born in 1917, educated at Oxford, and counted Philip Roth, Norman Mailer, John Updike, and V.S. Naipaul as just a few of the many notable writers she worked with before retiring at 75. Her most recent memoir, Somewhere Towards the End, won the NBCC award and became a surprise bestseller. On the heels of that success and a recent BBC documentary, her 1962 memoir Instead of a Letter—is being reissued and deserves a new audience. First covering her privileged youth in the countryside, as well as her struggles to cope with hoity-toity British customs, the book quickly delves into a more scandalous story—a story about her romance with an air force pilot gone awry. What starts as a fairy-tale relationship, then engagement, becomes hellish. (The guy breaks it off, marries someone else, and dies abroad.) Happiness disappears for the next 20 years, only to slowly come back. A poignant look at Athill’s fearless life, Instead of a Letter is more than just a sappy love tale. As The Guardian’s Ian Jack puts it, “I had never read a book like it, and to my mind only a few memoirs have equaled it since.”
Layover in Dubaiby Dan Fesperman
A fast-paced, dialogue-packed thriller on the Arabian Peninsula.
Businessmen the world over have been flocking to Dubai for the last decade in search of get-rich-quick schemes. So it’s only natural that the British crime writer Dan Fesperman, author of The Amateur Spy and The Prisoner of Guantánamo, should place his newest thriller in that scorching hot stretch of global capitalism, right off the Arabian Peninsula. Layover in Dubai starts when Sam Keller, an American businessman, finds himself in a complicated web of competing criminal interests—a result of his murdered colleague. As an auditor for a pharmaceutical company, Keller quickly becomes a target, too. Then, while running away from pretty much everyone, whether Russian mobsters or corrupt cops, Keller meets Anwar Sharaf, perhaps the one honest cop in the city. Sharaf’s passion for justice ignites the action, and Fesperman’s dialogue-packed plot explodes from there.
Work Songby Ivan Doig
A classic tale from the heyday of American capitalism by the king of the Western novel.
Ivan Doig’s 13th novel, Work Song follows the fortunes of Morrie Morgan as he navigates the hard world of a 1919 mining town. Set in the author’s native Montana, the scenery provides a majestic backdrop for the drama and intrigue of life in a company town where being your own man can be a dangerous thing. Refusing to wear the "copper collar" of the Anaconda mining company, Morrie and his alluring landlady Grace find themselves drawn into a world of violence and corruption as the miners struggle against the seemingly omnipotent corporation. As The New York Times wrote, “Though sometimes his prose veers towards the clichéd…not one stitch unravels in this intricately threaded narrative.”
Twilight at the World of Tomorrowby James Mauro
Fact is better than fiction in this gripping account of the 1939 World’s Fair.
With the planet on a precipice, the 1939 World’s Fair in New York presented a hollow image of unity in the face of the most devastating war in human history. In Twilight at the World of Tomorrow, Mauro describes the whirlwind of politics, celebrity, and idealism that shaped the Fair. In the book, we follow the stories of four people for whom "The World of Tomorrow" was the stage of destiny. Mauro tracks Einstein’s fateful decision to urge the building of the atomic bomb, describes the Fair’s dapper president Grover Whalen’s attempts to broker world peace through his pavilions, and the two NYPD detectives who met their doom protecting the public from a now forgotten act of terrorism. Kirkus awarded the book a starred review, describing it as “a delightful time capsule, skillfully unpacked.” An accomplished magazine writer and editor, James Mauro’s debut work masterfully paints a picture of the turmoil and innovation that defined the time.