Not TV

Mailer, Lethem, Amis, Ashbery deliver good reads
By JOHN FREEMAN  |  December 28, 2006

WILL WE LOVE HIM? Jonathan Lethem takes on the great American grunge novel.
Big names, new names, and a handful of poets provide worthwhile reading this winter to distract you from the Sopranos reruns on A&E.

VIKRAM CHANDRA’s Sacred Games (HarperCollins, January 1) is 928 pages of literary Bollywood noir about a Sikh police instructor and a gangster who has hacked his way to the top in Mumbai (formerly Bombay) in the ’80s and ’90s, when the body count of crime syndicate shoot-outs emblazoned newspapers like some grim cricket score. The book is so good, it can even headline above the return of NORMAN MAILER, who unleashes The Castle in the Forest (Random House, January 23), a portrait of Hitler in youth through the eyes of the devil’s assistant. England’s own mini-Mailer — MARTIN AMIS — also looks back at Fascism and anti-Semitism in his short new novel, House of Meetings (Knopf, January 16).

From Turkey comes ELIF SHAFAK, who weighs in on the damage of the Armenian genocide in her raucous new novel, The Bastard of Istanbul (Viking, January 18). Booker finalist HISHAM MATAR’s debut novel, In the Country of Men (Dial Press, January 30), arrives on these shores too, with a heartbreaking tale of a father’s disappearance.

This winter is a busy one for Irish heavyweights. Prolific Booker Prize winner PATRICK MCCABE returns from a whopping two years off with Winterwood (HarperCollins, January 23), the story of a man who descends from madness into murder. IMPAC Dublin Literary Award winner COLM TÓIBÍN offers up stories in Mothers and Sons (Scribner, January 2), and Booker winner JOHN BANVILLE makes his genre debut as Benjamin Black, author of the crime novel Christine Falls (Henry Holt, March 6).

On the sunnier side of things, fans of The Office will find a literary equivalent of sorts in JOSHUA FERRIS’s debut, Then We Came to the End (Little, Brown, March 1). Literate entertainment is also to be discovered in JONATHAN LETHEM’s tango with the great American grunge novel, You Don’t Love Me Yet (Doubleday, March 13), and in Pulitzer winner JANE SMILEY’s Hollywood novel Ten Days in the Hills (Knopf, February 11). Meanwhile, DANIEL ALARCÓN brings to life the radio world, Latin American revolutionary style, in his debut novel, Lost City Radio (HarperCollins, February 1).

After a big 2006, African storytelling will see another avalanche of superior fictions. NURUDDIN FARAH kicks it off with Knots (Riverhead, February 1), the story of a Somali émigré’s struggle with adapting to life in Canada. Nigerian-born HELON HABILA follows with his long-awaited debut, Measuring Time (W.W. Norton, February 19), which is about twin brothers separated by a world of chance, and DINAW MENGESTU spins a yarn about an Ethiopian émigré to Washington, DC, in The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears (Riverhead, March 1). Also keep an eye out for Aya (Drawn & Quarterly, March 20), a story from MARGUERITE ABOUET and CLEMENT OUBRERIE about a 19-year-old boy who’s about to experience the collapse of the Ivory Coast dream in 1978.

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