11 New Books We Recommend This Week

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BIG MISTAKE, by Jonathan Lee. (Knopf, $26.95.) Lee’s new novel is about the life and unusual death of Andrew Haswell Green, who was murdered outside his Park Avenue home in 1903 at the age of 83. Although Green is an integral force behind him, he is hardly remembered now. Creation of Central Park, Metropolitan Museum of Art and other postcard destinations in the city. Chapters of the book alternate between Green’s biography and the investigation of his murder. Our critic, John Williams, writes, “There are definite emotional lines to Lee’s imagining of Green’s childhood spent on a struggling farm in Massachusetts.” “The success of the book allows us to live in it rather than ‘see’ it as a kind of historical hologram.”

BETTER TO GO: In Search of Love, Death and Utopia in Auroville, Akash Kapur’s photo. (Printer, $27.) Written by a man who grew up in a willful community in India and returned to live there with his wife and children, this profound memoir is as much a sensitive digression of fraught family history as it is a philosophical meditation on the utopian impulse. Amy Waldman writes in her review, “An unforgettable, heartbreaking story that is deeply researched and understandably told with an almost painful emotional honesty.” “I wanted to read ‘Better Gone’ because I found it so gripping; I didn’t want to read it because I found it very sad. The image that came to my mind again and again was human life crashing against the rocks of firm belief.”

WHAT A BEAUTIFUL PARADISE, By Omar El Akkad. (Knopf, $26.) El Akkad’s second novel examines the opposite sides of a migrant crisis from the perspectives of two children: a boy who is stranded on an island after a doomed ship crossing, and a girl who tries to get him inside and take him to safety. With a compassionate yet nuanced narrative, the novel effectively erases assumptions of good and evil, superiority and inferiority. Wendell Steavenson writes in her review, “This remarkable book carries a message, not from a stereotypical and clichéd hope, but from a greater universal humanism, the eerie idea that after all there is no particular distinction between us, in fact, there is no particular distinction between us. We are all in the same boat. “

LETTERS FROM SHIRLEY JACKSON, Edited by Laurence Jackson Hyman in consultation with Bernice M. Murphy. (Random House, $35.) The author’s letters, collected by his son, reveal that he had not one but two authors, and that they appeared to be polar opposites, shifting between the cheerful, humorous accounts of life at home and the darker, more enigmatic mode of his famous fiction. Laura Miller writes in her review, “Any hope that Jackson’s private writings can convey a more unified sense of self seems quixotic. Some of the letters in this collection were written to a fan who shared Jackson’s taste for books, and “just reading these letters reveals how lonely Jackson was,” says Miller. His confessions and enthusiasm gush like a teenager who has finally found his best friend.”

BUILD YOUR HOME ON MY BODY, Violet Kupersmith’s photo. (Random House, $27.) This novel about a half-Vietnamese American living in Vietnam is preoccupied with the body and its transgressions – both the sexual trauma experienced by the female characters and the ravages of the colonial occupation and war on Vietnam’s body. “This is a big, loaded novel,” says Alexis Schaitkin in her review. “Reading feels like riding a motorcycle full of passengers and stuff: I’ve been drawing attention, bending over, and sometimes wondering if he’d ever reach his destination without hitting it. But Kupersmith is proving to be a fearless driver who enjoys the daunting challenge he has set for himself. There are so many ways this novel can lose its balance; instead, too much of it makes for an exciting, acrobatic and sensual read.”

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