Five books people are talking about this week -- or should be
1. Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets by Sveltlana Alexievich, translated by Bela Shayevich (Random House)
Belarussian writer Alexievich won last year’s Nobel Prize in Literature "for her polyphonic writings, a monument to suffering and courage in our time." She has interviewed ordinary Russians, repeatedly and over many years, and her work – including her 2006 book Voices From Chernobyl, an artfully constructed oral history of those who suffered through the 1986 Ukraine nuclear disaster -- chronicles life in a way that captures the full spectrum of human emotion. Alexievich’s latest book, Secondhand Time, deals with the demise of the Soviet Union, revealing a painful mix of oppression and suffering — but also a certain Russian pride.
2. City of Mirrors by Justin Cronin (Ballantine)
Finally, the capstone of Cronin’s apocalyptic horror thriller trilogy has arrived. After all of the twists and turns of The Passage and The Twelve, Cronin ends the series with a good deal more, as survivors deal with their new society, and as humanity battles for its existence. Before this series vaulted him to the best-seller lists, Cronin won a Whiting Award and a PEN/Hemingway Award (for his wonderful novel Mary and O’Neil, in 2001). Now, he’s busting genres and winning comparisons with Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.
3. The Sport of Kings by C.E. Morgan (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
This is a big novel, set mainly in bluegrass Kentucky and Cincinnati, Ohio and while the territory itself is fairly compressed, the novel spans more than two centuries and is ambitious in scope. In this big work of imagination — which despite its title, is more about race than horse racing — Morgan elegantly braids ideas about class, sexism, and racism through a distinguished Southern family and an African-American ex-con and groom, who converge around the racetrack, a world obsessed with lineage. Her previous novel, All the Living, won her awards like the the National Book Foundation’s “5 Under 35” list, and more recently, a Windham-Campbell Prize for fiction; in this sophomore novel, she follows up impressively on that early promise.
4. The Opposite of Woe: My Life in Beer and Politics by John Hickenlooper and Maximillian Potter (Penguin)
In a season of platitudinous political autobiographies, the high-profile governor of purple Colorado gets high marks for his candor, as he recounts his unlikely rise from a troubled childhood to success as brewpub entrepreneur and his eventual state-wide election. Embracing the beer metaphor -- activists as yeast, the political leader as brewer -- in this memoir, written with his former media adviser and speechwriter Potter, Hickenlooper puts everything from his love life to the legalization of marijuana and same-sex unions on tap.
5. Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging by Sebastian Junger (Twelve).
Junger, the author of the best-selling The Perfect Storm, delves into how veterans return home from combat to find that they do not feel part of the society they are rejoining, the one for which they were fighting. While he does not discredit the idea of PTSD, he argues that this condition does not fully capture the experience of the trauma of re-entry and reintegration into society. Junger extends his argument about belonging and dislocation beyond the military experience, interviewing a wide range of civilians, and exploring the anthropology of tribal life in an effort to understand what it means to feel connected.