PositiveThe Seattle Times...heartfelt and timely ... In The Leavers we come to see that the Chinese-American identity is to hold tight to the hyphen that separates these two cultures, these two realities ... while it is a quiet story, it comes at a time when a little breathing room, time to reflect on ourselves as a country, seems urgently necessary.
What It Means When a Man Falls From the SkyLesley Nneka Arimah
RaveThe Seattle TimesThe title story in this slender collection is as devastating as it is clever ... Arimah’s stories are witty, poetic and searing, full of flawed-but-lovable characters and images that make you reread passages. The author has a keen sense of fantasy and the absurd, but her work is rooted in experiences and impulses that will seem all too familiar.
Everyone Brave is ForgivenChris Cleave
RaveThe Seattle TimesCleave unflinchingly exposes the personal hang-ups of his characters as they grapple with hard life choices. He harnesses his immense talent for crafting gorgeously insightful turns of phrase to show us how courage and cowardice sometimes exist side-by-side in the same person — even in the same decision ... Everyone Brave is Forgiven may not be as up-to-the-minute as his explorations of post-9/11 society, the global migrant crisis or elite women’s athletics, but like those novels, it is both searing and timeless.
Kill 'Em and Leave: My Search for the Real James BrownJames McBride
RaveThe Seattle Times[This] impassioned investigation of Brown’s essence and legacy represents a tour de force of cultural reportage ... Of all the incredible scenes McBride re-creates, none is more touching or ominous than his description of [Michael] Jackson arriving in Augusta to view Brown’s body at a funeral home in the middle of the night, standing for hours by his idol’s gold-plated casket.
And Yet...: EssaysChristopher Hitchens
PositiveThe Seattle TimesA few essays, such as 'My Red-State Odyssey,' about the author’s travels through the South, 'where all politics is yokel,' either don’t add up to much or seem a bit off-the-mark. One wonders, as well, what this vocal supporter of the Iraq war would write about the once-again turbulent situation there today. Still, the overwhelming feeling this collection leaves is of a voice extinguished just when it was needed most — that of a matchless, uncompromising observer.
In the Midnight Hour: The Life & Soul of Wilson PickettTony Fletcher
RaveThe Seattle Times...[a] richly detailed new biography of the singer. This book is a reminder of just how powerful a presence Pickett was ... As I read Fletcher’s painstakingly researched assessment of Pickett’s career and cultural influence, in which he recounts the making of so many of the singer’s most memorable songs, I couldn’t help but go online every few minutes to enjoy the songs themselves ... Fletcher faithfully escorts us through Pickett’s life, from his churchgoing youth in the segregated Deep South to his time making music in Detroit and Memphis as those centers of African-American life exploded with musical talent, to his legendary sessions in the unlikely recording hot spot of Muscle Shoals, Ala. He treats us to behind-the-scenes moments when magic happened in the recording studio ... As In the Midnight Hour shows, Pickett lost his way, but those full-throated shouts and screams still hit home.
Hunters in the DarkLawrence Osborne
PositiveThe Seattle TimesOsborne creates an atmosphere dripping with torrential rains and intrigue. Cambodia comes off as a dangerously seductive playground, plying visitors with the sultry false promise of uncomplicated abandon among the Buddhist ruins, all under the bemused gaze of the local, ethnic Khmers who know better.
A Brief History of Seven KillingsMarlon James
PositiveThe Seattle TimesMarlon James’ epic novel about what he refers to as ‘post-post-colonial’ Jamaica is so thick with characters and voices that it induces feelings of disorientation similar to traveling to a foreign country for the first time … Switching narrators at a furious pace, Marlon uses this incendiary backdrop to explore the lives of the colorful street criminals and gang lords who had a hand in the assassination attempt on Marley … James’ use of island dialect only adds to the difficulty of following the story. His approach is both thrilling and infuriating. But this is history as it actually unfolds — messy, multifaceted and full of loose ends.
Between the World and MeTa-Nehisi Coates
RaveThe Seattle TimesThe book is polemical at times, but it’s also driven by probing reporting and a loving intimacy. For example, Coates writes with tremendous power, but also intense grief, about a dashing African-American college friend who was shot by a police officer under highly suspicious circumstances outside Washington, D.C., more than a decade ago ... demonstrates this author’s admirable ability to interrogate himself and challenge his own attitudes and ideas, while picking apart those generally held by the society he lives in. Coates’ book possesses a brooding eloquence that only carefully channeled anger and sadness can produce ... stands to become a classic on the subject of race in America.
Zone OneColson Whitehead
RaveThe Seattle TimesComing off the success of 2009's leisurely, autobiographical Sag Harbor, Colson Whitehead takes a radical turn toward the macabre in his new end-of-the-world zombie thriller Zone One ... The streets of New York make up a hellscape in the aftermath of a plague that kills off much of humanity but leaves a core group of survivors... As bad as all that sounds, in Zone One we get a tale that is as cheeky as it is bleak ... The hero of the novel, who goes by the name Mark Spitz, is one of the civilian zombie sweepers, and the novel is partly a character study of him ... Whitehead, himself a New Yorker, writes about Spitz's travails in that brooding, vertical metropolis with a dark poetry, which makes this harrowing tale not just a juicy experiment in genre fiction but a brilliantly disguised meditation on a 'flatlined culture' in need of its own rejuvenating psychic jolt.
Known and Strange ThingsTeju Cole
PositiveThe Seattle TimesThese intimate yet expansive essays, some mere musings, some critiques, others scholarly articles and still others insightful pieces of cultural reportage, display the same peripatetic spirit and dot-connecting that Cole put to such good use in his debut novel set in Manhattan, Open City, and his novel exploring the social dynamics of Lagos, Nigeria, Every Day is for the Thief.”
RaveThe Seattle TimesTime ricochets, splits and collapses in on itself so often in Ben Lerner’s wonderfully disorienting second novel 10:04 that the very idea of human experience takes on new meaning … The writing project seems all the more pressing given that the author in 10:04 has been diagnosed with a bizarre aortic condition that could cause his heart to give out at any moment. Living as he does on the precipice of life (or the verge of death), every human connection seems weighted with significance … This novel is a commentary on an America that’s hurtling toward the future but with its back turned to it.
AmericanahChimamanda Ngozi Adichie
RaveThe Seattle Times[Adichie] has rendered a near-flawless novel, one whose language so beautifully captures the surreal experience of an African becoming an American that one walks away with the sense of having read something definitive … It is Ifemelu who will steal your heart, though. Smart, pretty and brutally honest — often hilariously so — she is an immigrant who is mostly unbowed by the intimidating experience of trying to form a new life, and perhaps a new identity, in a society she scarcely understands, one that is run by white people, no less.
Open CityTeju Cole
PositiveThe Seattle TimesThe wonder and the tragedy of flight come up again and again in Teju Cole's magnificent and shattering post-9/11 novel Open City... Plot is a minor consideration in the eloquent musings of the central character, Julius, a Nigerian-born, half-German psychiatrist on residency in Manhattan ... His solitary aloofness has its drawbacks, though. Ironically, given his keen sense of observation, he at times seems oblivious to events happening right under his nose... Julius is more preoccupied with the bird's-eye view of things. But at every turn, he must confront his own reality as foreigner in a terror-obsessed society... But like a lot of difficult journeys in life, the trip is as meaningful as the destination. Open City is a remarkably resonant feat of prose.
Five-Carat SoulJames McBride
RaveThe Seattle TimesThe writer and musician James McBride proves once again that he is a master conjurer of African Americana with his new book of charmed, imaginative short stories, Five-Carat Soul ... Full of humor, down-home vernacular and slightly twisted nostalgia, McBride’s coming-of-age stories about this crew’s adventures go down like warm milk sneakily spiked with a shot of whiskey ... McBride is at his best in this off-kilter mode. Last year’s nonfiction offering, Kill ‘Em and Leave, saw McBride recounting his investigation into the life and times of the Godfather of Soul, James Brown, with similar gusto and flare. He just goes for it, and the results once again are funny, strange and touching.
Tree of SmokeDenis Johnson
RaveThe Seattle TimesThe immensely talented Johnson delivers a beautifully layered, insightful and visceral montage of stories that examines the Vietnam War experience from multiple points of view … The colonel's outburst reflects a pattern in Tree of Smoke of well-meaning, at-one-time enthusiastic people losing faith in their missions, and even in God … One gets the sense that everyone in the long, colorful cast of characters in Tree of Smoke is on a Danteesque excursion through a hell of misguided intentions.
The Underground RailroadColson Whitehead
RaveThe Seattle TimesWhitehead’s finest work to date ... in imagining how things might have been in an alternate historical reality, Whitehead reminds us of the horrors, hopes and leaps of faith that shaped the actual experiences of early African Americans — and which reverberate to this day.