This Week's Hot Reads
This week: the charming letters of Julia Child and her friend Avis DeVoto, a noir German thriller with a Turkish P.I., one man’s secret generosity during the Depression, a melting pot of Enlightenment ideas and figures explored, and a Russian ballerina watches the czar fall.
A mouthwatering read that captures the spirit of friendship, gastronomy, and Americana.
In 1952, Julia Child responded to an article Bernard DeVoto wrote about inadequate American knives. Living in Paris with her husband, Child had just opened a culinary school and was on the brink of creating the bible of cookbooks, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. DeVoto’s wife, Avis, intrigued by Child’s letter, replied and the two began a correspondence that transcended far beyond cooking. The two wrote back and forth about politics, Kinsey’s research on sex, and of course the transformation of American gastronomy. DeVoto and Child were two epicurean explorers who were able to create a window into the current American food scene. The book also explores Child's frustrations to get her cookbook published and DeVoto’s persistence to make sure Mastering the Art of French Cooking became a classic.
The U.S. debut for a hardboiled German detective series about a Turkish detective fighting organized criminals and gangs of nationalists in seedy Frankfurt.
Nine years after its publication in Germany, the fourth book featuring hardboiled detective Kemal Kurankaya gets its first printing in the United States. Kismet, which the French newspaper La Depeche called “pitch-black noir,” re-imagines the dull capital of the German financial industry as an urban hell where minority groups and crime bosses prey on one another with ruthless abandon. Asked to defend a restaurateur from a gang who chopped off the man’s thumbs and demanded a monthly payment, Kurankaya finds himself up against a band of Croatian nationalists calling themselves the Army of Reason. “Arjouni forges both a gripping caper and a haunting indictment of the madness of nationalism, illuminated by brilliant use of language,” The Guardian wrote, calling the book “magnificent.” The Independent praised the “sharp, witty writing, packed with life and colour that bursts through in Anthea Bell's translation.”
A suitcase full of letters reveals the identity of a man who gave away his wealth in the darkest moment of the Great Depression.
In 2008, former investigative reporter and Pulitzer Prize finalist Ted Gup received a stunning gift from his mother: a suitcase full of letters from his grandfather, Sam Stone. Stone turned out to be the mysterious B. Virdot, an Ohio man who took out a newspaper ad at the height of the Great Depression, telling suffering families to write him with their needs and Virdot responded with a $5 check for each family. His collection of letters reveal not only a moving history of America’s darkest times, but a man who completely fabricated the details of his own early years in the United States. Gup’s treatment of the revelations is part narrative history, part investigative journalism, and a gripping exhortation to act. The Los Angeles Times writes that the sacred letters “could hardly have landed in better hands.”
Philipp Blom brings to life the Enlightenment-shaping debates in the salon of Baron Thierry Holbach.
The word “wicked” might not be the one that comes to mind to describe the Enlightenment, with its value of reason and order, but historian Philipp Blom paints a portrait of the radical ideas and big personalities that shaped the era. Many of them—from Denis Diderot and Lawrence Sterne to David Hume and Adam Smith—met in the Paris salon of Baron Thierry Holbach. Blom, author of Enlightening the World and To Have and to Hold, brings their meetings to life and conveys the high drama that went along with the intellectual debates that helped lay the foundation for the modern world.
Adrienne Sharp tells the richly imagined historical story of a ballerina looking back on her life in the doomed Romanov court.
Even though she admits her diary is a “concoction of fiction and lies,” perhaps an unreliable ballerina is the best person to give a tour of the doomed and intrigue-ridden court of Czar Nicholas Romanov. Adrienne Sharp, author of The Sleeping Beauty, uses the century-old dancer Mathilde Kschessinska sitting down to pen her memoirs as an opportunity to explore historical events as Imperial Russia fell to revolution. The lover of Czar Nicholas, Kschessinska has an inside view of Russia’s political and cultural life, and a front-row seat to its dissolution. “Sharp artfully evokes the extravagantly decadent twilight of Tsarist Russia in this dazzling fictional memoir,” writes Margaret Flanagan of Booklist. “Secrets, scandals, and suspense steeped in authentic period detail provide a sumptuous feast for historical-fiction fans.”