7 Most Favorable Reviews in November 2021

  • December 3, 2021

We came, we read, we gushed. Here’s a recap of the titles that left us especially warm and swoony last month.

7 Most Favorable Reviews in November 2021

My Monticello: Fiction by Jocelyn Nicole Johnson (Henry Holt and Co.). Reviewed by Carr Harkrader. “My Monticello begins in a fictional Charlottesville that, as Johnson subtly reveals, is about 20 years past 2017’s infamous ‘Unite the Right’ white-supremacist rally. It was at those protests that a young woman, Heather Heyer, was run down by a man in a car and killed. In Johnson’s story, Naisha Love, a young Black woman who grew up in Charlottesville and is a student at the University of Virginia, is leading a group away from the city. The group includes her grandmother, MaViolet, her boyfriend, Knox, and a ‘scattering of neighbors.’ They are fleeing a ‘dark new unraveling’ that has led to white mobs of mostly male UVA students attacking Black neighborhoods in the city.”

Castaway Mountain: Love and Loss Among the Wastepickers of Mumbai by Saumya Roy (Astra House). Reviewed by C.B. Santore. “As you read the first chapter of Castaway Mountain, you may think you’re reading a novel with an improbable premise. But this is a true account of people in India who literally live on, and make their living from, other people’s garbage. Their shelters (they are by our standards far from houses) are made of scraps culled from the trash, built on barely reclaimed marshland filled in with trash and located on the edges of dumping grounds for trash piled as high as a mountain. The people who live here survive by picking through the trash to find items they can sell or eat. Plastic bottles, discarded medical-supply bags, and scrap metal and wire are especially valuable because they can be sold to trash traders.”

Lemon: A Novel by Kwon Yeo-sun; translated by Janet Hong (Other Press). Reviewed by Alice Stephens. “While the world watches the closing ceremony of the 2002 FIFA World Cup, jointly hosted by South Korea and Japan, an extraordinarily attractive student named Kim Hae-on is assaulted and left to die in a Seoul park. Two male classmates are the prime suspects: Han Manu, a bullied misfit whose most salient feature is that he walks with a shuffle because his shoes are ill-fitting; and Shin Jeongjun, the scion of a wealthy family and the last person seen with Hae-on. Hae-on is the most stunning girl in school, much to the chagrin of Yun Taerim, also gorgeous, ‘but compared to Hae-on’s absolute, staggering beauty, she didn’t seem all that much different from the rest of us.’ Taerim is jealous of Jeongjun’s attentions to Hae-on, and on the fateful day, asks Manu for a ride on his scooter so she can see who is in Jeongjun’s car with him. She sees Hae-on and immediately gets off the scooter. Hae-on’s body is discovered the next day.”

The Pastor by Hanne Ørstavik; translated by Martin Aitken (Archipelago). Reviewed by Patricia Schultheis. “In places, The Pastor’s explorations of epistemology threaten to overshadow its narrative, and its numerous flashbacks interrupt the story’s flow. Also, Liv’s tendency to address herself is off-putting. She shares her interior life, but this reviewer wishes Ørstavik had shared more of her character’s background. Does she have siblings? A penchant for popcorn? A favorite fish chowder? That said, The Pastor is a quietly radical book. With so many modern protagonists enthralled by their own despair, Ørstavik has dared to create in Liv one who directs her gaze away from her own navel and toward heaven, almost as if she were directing readers wondering where God is to look to the north. Look hard.”

A Long Way from Douala: A Novel by Max Lobe; translated by Ros Schwartz (Other Press). Reviewed by Susi Wyss. “If you’ve ever spent time in Cameroon, you’re familiar with what Francophone Africans refer to as ‘l’ambiance africaine’ — the country’s lively, vibrant atmosphere, especially when people gather to hang out and dance to loud and exuberant music, often at outdoor bars. And more than likely, you’ll have heard of legendary soccer player Roger Milla, who had a successful career in France and played for Cameroon’s national team in three World Cups. Lobe weaves both of these threads into the fabric of his novel, along with other characteristics of current-day Cameroon, where smartphones abound, terrorists attack the population up north (even as the president’s propaganda machine insists he’s got everything under control), and it seems like every young person wants boza (migration to Europe) in hopes of finding the economic opportunities scarce at home.”

Shelf Life: Chronicles of a Cairo Bookseller by Nadia Wassef (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). Reviewed by Jennifer Bort Yacovissi. “Imagine a group of friends sitting around chatting about what they most wish they could do. Two of them say, ‘Open a bookstore,’ and by the end of the night, they decide to move forward with the plan, and the others agree to invest. That scenario would be fraught enough if the group were in, say, Columbus, Ohio, or Harrogate, England, but the friends in question were in Cairo, Egypt, where culture and politics argued against success for an independent bookstore. As described in Nadia Wassef’s engaging memoir, Shelf Life: Chronicles of a Cairo Bookseller, that did not deter the author, then 27, her sister, Hind, or their friend Nihal from opening their store, Diwan, in March 2002. They were, perhaps, too innocent to be intimidated, too blissfully ignorant to grasp all that they did not yet know.”

A Good Ending for Bad Memories by Vailes Shepperd (Bold Story Press). Reviewed by Gisèle Lewis. “The plot develops slowly and is filled with anecdotes about her idiosyncrasies, such as when Agnes hides all the chairs from her husband. Each persona is ignorant of the others, leading to contradictions and awkward interruptions that confuse the children. Thus, the younger generation cannot escape the consequences of the older generation’s trauma. The children emerge as the story’s heroes as they observe and adapt to their inconsistent environment, eventually tolerating their parents as guests and suffering their neglect with dignity. The lack of narrative urgency lends the novel a literary feel, although the reader may become impatient wondering if Shepperd intends to reveal the origins of Mrs. Thrace’s condition. But perseverant readers discover clever leitmotifs and plot threads that pay off grandly by the end.”

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