7 Most-Favorable Reviews in October 2020

  • November 3, 2020

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 October 2020

Anxious People: A Novel by Fredrik Backman; translated by Neil Smith (Atria Books). Reviewed by Robert Allen Papinchak. “How do you follow up a sensational international bestseller like A Man Called Ove? Fredrik Backman does it spectacularly with the entertaining conundrum Anxious People. As equally idiosyncratic and iconoclastic as his debut, it is an outrageously hilarious, flawless novel about ‘how a bank robber failed to rob a bank but instead managed to spark a hostage drama.’ It is the most bizarre heist story since Sidney Lumet’s ‘Dog Day Afternoon,’ with narrative nods to Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto and O. Henry’s ‘The Ransom of Red Chief.’”

Winston Churchill: A Life in the News by Richard Toye (Oxford University Press). Reviewed by Dean Jobb. “Toye never loses sight of the bigger picture and carefully traces Churchill’s complex and evolving relationship with the press within the broader context of a media landscape being transformed by technology, by the power of press lords, and by changing journalistic standards. ‘Churchill was a master of publicity who cultivated a new form of political celebrity’ and ‘thrived in the heat of the media battle,’ the author writes. This meticulously researched and engaging book shows how the consummate statesman did it — how he created his public image and why his fame and accomplishments have endured.”

Igifu by Scholastique Mukasonga; translated by Jordan Stump (Archipelago Books). Reviewed by Bárbara Mujica. “A native of Rwanda, Mukasonga was forced by the violence to flee to Burundi and then to France, where she currently lives. During the brutal 1994 Tutsi genocide, 27 of her family members died. Drawing largely from personal experience, she paints a vivid picture of the consequences of violence for ordinary people. ‘Igifu’ means hunger, and hunger plagues the displaced Tutsis of Nyamata ‘like a cruel guardian angel.’ It is a ‘heartless magician’ who conjures up images of steaming beans or manioc balls, simple meals that the refugees cannot afford. Back home, they did not want for food, as they kept dairy cows, but the invaders killed their animals, and now the Tutsis must work for a pittance or accept charity.”

Transcendent Kingdom: A Novel by Yaa Gyasi (Knopf). Reviewed by Jennifer Bort Yacovissi. “We watch as Gifty draws more tightly into herself, shedding her few friendships as an act of will; moving into the world of facts, clear answers, evidence, and control; and practicing isolation, perhaps as a form of penance. Deep in scientific exploration, she does not know how she feels about the God who, with Nana’s death, abandoned her family but never seems far away. When her favorite laboratory mouse — an inveterate lever-presser that has developed a limp from the shocks he receives as he desperately chases another hit of Ensure — finally, because of her intervention, refuses to press the lever, it is as though she is witnessing a rebirth, the light of salvation that may course through all of us.”

Shoddy: From Devil’s Dust to the Renaissance of Rags by Hanna Rose Shell (University of Chicago Press). Reviewed by David Raney. “If that seems a lot to pile on the cart with a heap of old rags — shoddy’s original incarnation — well, it is. But Shell pulls it off. She writes with an eye for both vivid visuals and historical links, perhaps because she serves as a university professor in three departments: history, art history, and cinema studies. What she calls her ‘shoddy odyssey’ begins at fast-fashion chain H&M and, within three pages, is making stops in Massachusetts, Miami, Port-au-Prince, and West Yorkshire, dropping 1918 New York Times headlines and Old English etymologies along the way.”

The Scapegracers by Hannah Abigail Clarke (Erewhon Books). Reviewed by Emma Carbone. “Throughout The Scapegracers, author Hannah Abigail Clarke cleverly dismantles classic popular-girl tropes as Sideways and readers learn more about the triumvirate that quickly adopts Sideways into its ranks with surprising loyalty and affection. Sideways, Daisy, and Madeline are described as white, Yates is Black, and Jing is Asian (presumably Chinese). The characters are also diverse in terms of sexuality, with lesbian Sideways and bisexual Jing, among others.”

The Midnight Circus by Jane Yolen (Tachyon Publications). Reviewed by Tara Campbell. “Yolen is often dubbed “the Hans Christian Andersen of America,” but that should not be misunderstood. Her work is not Andersen Americanized: sanitized, watered-down, Disney-fied. It is true to the real tradition of Andersen: mesmerizing, haunting, and often not for the faint of heart. This collection teems with Yolen’s weird, folkloric verve. Her menagerie of stories is distilled from a cauldron of fairytales, legends, and history, featuring everything from selkies to shapeshifters; witches, weavers, and warriors; and angels murderous to ravenous. Her foreword and endnotes offer additional context for the work, creating a satisfying — if often unsettling — reading experience.”

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