Elese's Eleven: A Book Buyer's Picks for 2023
Wow, Daniel Mason can WRITE. A truly masterful story of one house, one orchard, one forest over the American centuries. A feast of descriptions of the natural world paired with poignant character sketches. I started with the ensemble cast LibroFM audio (incredible) and finished by reading the physical book -- pick your method; both are amazing.
Ephraim Emma Noémie Jacques. These four names -- the names of author Anne Berest's maternal relatives who were killed at Auschwitz -- appear on a postcard her mother receives in the mail one day. In this work of near-autofiction, Berest attempts to unravel the mystery of why this postcard came to be and reckon with how the secrets of the past affect her family's present. Journeying from Russia to Latvia to Palestine to France -- the French Resistance, interwar Parisian artistic life -- it's all here. A truly remarkable read with a masterful translation by Tina Kover; no other book from this year has moved me more than The Postcard.
If, like me, you've been waiting 14 years since Cutting for Stone for his next one, read & rejoice in these 700 pages of more Verghese magic. If you're new to this author, Verghese is a doctor and all of his works have a strong medical narrative; this one is no exception as the mystery of a family curse plays out over generations of one family in Kerala, India. Written with joy and mastery, it is an absolute delight to be swept along for the ride. (Pick up his memoir, My Own Country, next.)
An early 20th-century true crime story, Somerset Maugham, affairs and more affairs, and oh, it's all quite literary. Tan Twan Eng has gifted us another gorgeous historical novel of colonial-era Malaysia. For another great read from many years ago, see his beautiful The Garden of Evening Mists.
Alex loses her precariously schemed position as girlfriend (escort?) to a wealthy man and is cast out of the bright, carefree Hamptons summer illusion into eddies of dead-ends. Dark, uncomfortable, propulsive. An earworm of a book in the best possible way.
A true crime Gen-X literary campus thriller? Yes, please.
William Boyd, where you have been all my life? Styled as a fictional biography of one Cashel Greville Ross, The Romantic is a page-turning, globe-spinning, picaresque-like romp through 19th century Europe and beyond. Maybe not the book if you're looking for deep character development, but who needs inner depth when you're having this much fun? Clearly, I'm late to the fan club, but after finishing this one, I promptly bought two other Boyd novels...I can't wait.
A light & engaging dramedy of manners set in the tony Fruit Streets of Brooklyn Heights.When a friend got COVID and needed reading material, this was the book I lent her.
When a Mi'kmaq girl goes missing on a berry farm in Maine, two families are irreparably changed. I love a book with a good ending and this one delivers.
A clever, entertaining, thought-provoking read: Bunny's adolescent years begin in Baku, drift through WASP-y New England, and end in exurbia Houston, all of them spent buffeted against the more strongly expressed wills of others. One constant in Bunny's foreign-service-kid life has been the background thrum of oil & its exigencies and its overwhelming male-ness. Is that world hers? And what would that mean, if so? Watching Bunny weigh her ambivalences is a delight, albeit one mixed with the inexorable terror of knowing where all of these choices lead. A coming-of-age novel, with a side of climate fiction.
An intensely profound read steeped in mythology, pain and love.