These are five books people are talking about this week -- or should be:
1. Adolfo Kaminsky, A Forger’s Life by Sarah Kaminsky, translated by Mike Mitchell, photographs by Adolfo Kaminsky (Doppelhouse Press)
Sarah Kaminsky tells the true story of her extraordinary father who courageously and secretly used his artistic talent to forge documents and save hundreds of lives as part of the French Resistance. As a Jewish teenager with a deep knowledge of how dyes worked, Adolpho Kaminsky was recruited to the underground effort, and produced thousands of documents to protect European Jews, and later other immigrants and exiles around the world. He worked without remuneration and kept his remarkable story private for decades until his daughter recently persuaded him to reveal his ingenious clandestine work that saved so many lives. Kaminsky was recently the subject of an opinion essay in the New York Times, “If I Sleep for an Hour, 30 People Will Die,” which was accompanied by this powerful video.
2. Playing Through the Whistle: Steel, Football, and an American Football Town by S.L. Price (Atlantic Monthly Press)
Once the steel mill closed in Aliquippa, Pennsylvania, just down the Ohio River from Pittsburgh, the town had only its high school football team for its identity and pride. Sports Illustrated senior writer Price digs into the history and character of Aliquippa — “the ultimate melting pot,” he calls it — in this excellent book, which charts its slow death over the last three decades. Price captures the glory days when Aliquippa produced not only steel, but also prominent Americans, ranging from Mike Ditka to Henry Mancini. In recent years, the high school team has fought to hang onto its reputation for producing college and professional athletes, even as its enrollment has dropped, but the larger problem is that sports were the only glue holding this classic Rust Belt town together — and with rising unemployment and crime, its future looks bleak.
3. The Guineveres by Sarah Domet (Flatiron Books)
In Domet’s charming debut novel, four girls named Guinevere are bound together by coincidence at the Sisters of the Supreme Adoration convent. Each one of the young girls – known as Gwen, Win, Ginny and Vere – has been abandoned there, and they form a provisional family. The world outside the convent’s confines looks gauzy to the girls, but when an unnamed war lands a set of near-dead men in the convent’s sick ward, the girls see the healed men as their escape route. Domet gracefully entwines the individual stories of the girls with those of the female saints, and the result is a richly imagined, emotionally satisfying work of fiction about girls imagining womanhood.
4. Vanity Fair’s Writers on Writers Edited by Graydon Carter, Introduction by David Friend (Penguin Books)
“Literature runs in Vanity Fair’s veins,” writes Friend in his bright and brisk introduction to this beguiling anthology of 43 of the best articles about writers from the past 35 years. A special spark of affinity exists between writer and subject, and some of these pieces are particularly poignant because the writers are now gone -– David Halberstam, writing on Ward Just, or John Leonard on Toni Morrison. Others are funny, heartbreaking, and bittersweet, like Salman Rushdie on Christopher Hitchens, viewed through the prism of their last times together. And when writers reflect on themselves -- as in Arthur Miller’s “His Jewish Question” and William Styron’s “Darkness Visible” -- the effect is bracing and profound.
5. The Earth is Weeping: The Epic Story of the Indian Wars for the American West by Peter Cozzens (Knopf)
In his account of the battle between whites and Native Americans, Cozzens details the tragic story of the American government’s relations with the Indian tribes during the massive expansion into the Great Plains after the Civil War. He weaves together the stories of leaders like Crazy Horse and Red Cloud – his depiction of Red Cloud is particularly vivid – with military antagonists like Custer and Grant. Cozzens adds nuance to our understanding of this period by highlighting the different factions among both the whites and the Indians, and of the ordinary people involved in this dark chapter in American history.