Five books people are talking about this week -- or should be:
1. A Rage for Order: The Middle East in Turmoil, from Tahrir Square to ISIS by Robert F. Worth (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
What happened to the utopian aspirations of the Arab Spring in 2011? That’s the question poised in this excellent book by the former The New York Times correspondent and Beirut bureau chief Worth. He focuses on divergent stories of individual women and men in Egypt, Libya, Syria, Tunisia, and Yemen to make sense of the uprisings and their bloody aftermaths. And he ends by assessing efforts to reclaim a positive future for the region from the troubled past and present.
2. Tuesday Nights in 1980 by Molly Prentiss (Scout Press)
In this wildly inventive debut novel, set just before gentrification overtook the scruffy SoHo arts scene, Prentiss refashions the traditional love triangle. She casts a wide net, one that expands out of Manhattan as far as the Dirty War in Argentina. This culturally and politically astute work of fiction is a coming of age story, in which creativity and imagination are celebrated in one part of the world and repressed in another. The effect is dazzling.
3. The Last Painting of Sara De Vos by Dominic Smith (Sarah Crichton Books/Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
Associations with the Pulitzer-Prize-winning and best-selling The Goldfinch may be inevitable, but this beautiful novel involving a 17th century Dutch painting springs from an entirely different pot of paint. This page-turning work of fiction connects three women over three centuries, and stretches from Holland to Park Avenue to grungy Brooklyn, to Australia. Smith populates these very different eras and locales with complex, complicated women in this suspenseful, complex, and beautifully written novel.
4. I Will Find You: A Reporter Investigates the Life of the Man Who Raped Her by Joanna Connors (Atlantic Monthly)
As a 30-year-old reporter with the Cleveland Plain Dealer out on an assignment, Connors was held at knifepoint and raped by a stranger. She managed to escape with her life, but the experience haunted her. When her rapist died in prison, Connors embarked on a mission to figure out who he was – and produced this powerful work of non-fiction, recounting a journey animated not by revenge or a quest for closure, but profound curiosity about the perpetrator and the act of violence that so changed her life.
5. Kill ‘Em and Leave: Searching for James Brown and the American Soul by James McBride (Spiegel & Grau)
McBride, a National Book Award winner for his extraordinary novel The Good Lord Bird, and author of the widely acclaimed memoir The Color of Water, has now taken on the life and legacy of Brown, one of the most unknowable of American musicians. He charts Brown’s ascent from the Chitlin’ Circuit, and how the legendary performer found success despite his own addictions and financial woes. McBride vividly portrays the South from which Brown emerged, and as a musician himself, has a visceral feel for Brown’s underappreciated genius.