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Like the legendary Silk Road, The White Road is a route of wonders. Edmund de Waal’s fifth book is about the “white gold” that is porcelain, and porcelain is about geology and alchemy, shards and ewers, Jesuits, emperors, and Swedenborg’s angels—it’s a rich, multi-faceted story that de Waal, a world-renowned ceramicist and author of the phenomenal The Hare with Amber Eyes, follows from China to Versailles to Meissen to Plymouth. Along the way he charts where it darkens with exploitation, war, and the Nazis’ brand of figurines, but more often reports the efforts of craftsmen and apothecaries to perfect the balance of porcelain’s kaolin and other (often secret) ingredients, and to discover the best temperatures for firing the clay to its wondrous luminescence. This quest leads de Waal, like so many others, to develop a life-long case of porzellankranheit, “porcelain sickness.” Available in hardcover, $9.98.
The evil at the heart of David Mitchell’s recent Slade House is the human desire for immortality, which the Grayer twins, Norah and Jonah, have finessed to the level of a sustained “meta life” through a combination of arcane knowledge, a special elixir, and, most crucial, the knack for picking the right victims. To keep their own souls going, the two periodically consume the soul of an “engifted” one, and in preying on social misfits—an autistic boy, an awkward teenager, her complicated sister—they make the unwanted the chosen ones, if only for the last night of their lives. In conveying these characters’ desperate struggle for life, Mitchell proves himself not only a deft craftsman, capable of impersonating anyone, but shows he’s one of the most compassionate writers around. The real magic of his work isn’t the supernatural material, but his ability to see a disembodied soul as “a clear cloud of stars” or false love as “cupid’s noose.” Available in hardcover, $9.98.
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- Laurie Greer