Staff Pick

The eponymous linguists of Cathleen Schine’s delightful, tender novel The Grammarians (Sarah Crichton, $27) are Laurel and Daphne, identical twins who fall in love with language early, speak to each other in their own native tongue of Blingo, and, until complications arise, play with words like toys. Almost dauntingly inseparable, the pair also struggle (or is it struggles?) with the boundaries of their individual identities. Named for the same mythic figure, as “identical twins…are they half or double?” They have a double wedding, each bears one daughter, then, even as language remains the focal point for each, their opposing views of it eventually divide them. While one becomes The People’s Pundit and writes a column on usage, the other appropriates examples of non-standard English for poems and stories. Schine uses the twins’ dispute to question the wider purposes of writing and speech, touching on attendant issues of class and gender. The real question, though, is how grammar, spelling, and punctuation combine into a story that brings out life’s deeper emotional resonances. In what at heart is a captivating novel of family, Schine writes with warmth and affection for her characters, brilliantly conveying the complicated dynamics of a group of people who don’t always understand or like each other, but who share unbreakable bonds.

The Grammarians: A Novel Cover Image
$27.00
ISBN: 9780374280116
Availability: In Stock—Click for Locations
Published: Sarah Crichton Books - September 3rd, 2019

Staff Pick

Ostensibly “about” Lafcadio Hearn (1850-1904), best-known for his travel writing and collections of Japanese ghost stories, Monique Truong’s The Sweetest Fruits (Viking, $26) is a beautifully written meditation on identity, memory, and storytelling. As Hearn’s mother, two wives, and a friend recount their experiences with a man each of them knew by a slightly different name—Patricio, Patrick, Yakumo, and Hearn—we get both four stories of one man, and stories of four different men. But more importantly, we get the stories of several remarkable women: Rosa Antonia Cassimati, Hearn’s mother, the descendent of faded Greek nobility; his first wife, Alethea Foley, a former slave who worked as a cook in Cincinnati boarding houses; and Koizumi Setsu, the daughter of a samurai whom he married in Japan; and, interspersed, excerpts from Elizabeth Bisland’s 1906 The Life and Letters of Lafcadio Hearn. Creating a distinctive voice for each woman, Truong’s meticulous and lyrical prose is full of telling historical details and rich with psychological insight. She’s a writer you want to reread and quote, from Rosa’s passionate ”I listened to my heart that day, and it was a fist pounding with anger” to Alethea’s description of Civil War coffee, brewed with roasted cornmeal, that “tastes like war” to one, “like freedom brewing” to another.

The Sweetest Fruits: A Novel Cover Image
$26.00
ISBN: 9780735221017
Availability: In Stock—Click for Locations
Published: Viking - September 3rd, 2019

Staff Pick

In vignettes that range from warm and nostalgic to brutally realistic, Elif Shafak, one of Turkey’s most prominent writers, tells the story of a woman who started life in 1947 as Leyla Afi fe Kamile, the daughter of an Islamic polygamist, and ended it in 1990 as Tequila Leila, one of Istanbul’s many murdered sex workers. As her body cools in a dumpster, Leila, exhibiting the “persistent brain activity in people who had just died,” recalls key moments. Triggered by a Proustian rush of smells and told in seemingly random order, the memories that surface in Leila’s final 10 Minutes, 38 Seconds in This Strange World (Bloomsbury, $27) describe her early years in a rural town, dominated by folklore and misogyny; her escape from abuse, an increasingly strict father, and an arranged marriage at age 16; testify to her strength and resilience; and, above all, celebrate the five friends who helped her survive on Istanbul’s unforgiving street of brothels. All as marginalized as Leila, what remains of this devoted group—the gifted son of a woman judged to be too independent, a trans woman, a Somali refugee, a Lebanese person of short stature, and the firebrand communist she marries—bands together to rescue Leila’s story from the anonymity of her body’s numbered grave in the cemetery of the companionless.

10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World Cover Image
$27.00
ISBN: 9781635574470
Availability: In Stock—Click for Locations
Published: Bloomsbury Publishing - September 24th, 2019

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