7 Most Favorable Reviews in May 2021

  • June 3, 2021

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


The Lady of Zamalek: A Novel by Ashraf El-Ashmawi; translated by Peter Daniel (Hoopoe). Reviewed by Alice Stephens. “One does not have to know Egyptian history to be swept up into the thrilling, action-packed drama of the novel, for the characters are motivated by universal human emotions. Peter Daniel’s translation dexterously conveys the historical scope of the story, while imparting the distinct flavor of Egyptian society and culture and skillfully differentiating the inner voice of each character. The story’s lens gets ever wider as the decades pass, slowly revealing the almost incestuous relationships of corruption that tightly bind together people who hate each other and cleave the bonds of love.”

The Atmospherians: A Novel by Alex McElroy (Atria Books). Reviewed by Tara Campbell. “The world of the novel resembles ours, but with a twist: man hordes, a phenomenon in which unrelated groups of men randomly flock together as though temporarily possessed and engage in inexplicable group activities. Sometimes they’re helpful, mowing lawns or rescuing kittens from trees; other times, they gather for violence, throwing bricks through windows or kicking a dog to death. And, each time, the men disperse afterward with only a vague — or no — recollection of what they’ve done. There’s no way to predict when a man horde will form, and no way to predict which way it’s going to go when it coalesces. The thinness of the veil between bizarre fiction and current reality gives one pause.”

A Little Devil in America: Notes in Praise of Black Performance by Hanif Abdurraqib (Random House). Reviewed by Colin Asher. “A Little Devil in America has no single thesis, but Abdurraqib revisits a number of themes within its pages, folding new meaning into his observations each time he adopts a fresh perspective. He writes about the relationship between Black performance and freedom; the need for ‘a people’ to embrace joy, ‘lest they believe themselves only worthy of pain’; and the fraught relationship between Black performers and white audiences. And he weaves his own story through the text as he does so, adding emotional resonance to the book by tying his observations and his characters’ stories to his lived experience.”

Revival Season: A Novel by Monica West (Simon & Schuster). Reviewed by Beth Mowbray. “The narrative unfolds from here, as the family retreats home at the end of the season, each member hoping life will return to ‘normal.’ But being home doesn’t fix anything. In fact, it only makes things harder — especially for Miriam, as she begins to consider where the line of truth lies between how she has been raised and what she has uncovered. And in the midst of all this, she finds that she just might have the same gift of healing as her father, an ability which must remain hidden because women are not allowed to wield such power.”

Antiquities: A Novel by Cynthia Ozick (Knopf). Reviewed by Anne C. Heller. “In the stops between his efforts to reconstruct the dignity of the Jewish boy of 60 years before, Lloyd chronicles his fellow wizened trustees — cruel children once again — quarreling, wilting, and dying: the last of their kind. In her singular way, Ozick shows us, startingly and poignantly, the waning of a WASP tradition that she suggests was paper thin and possibly meaningless all along.”

Frieda’s Song: A Novel by Ellen Prentiss Campbell (Apprentice House). Reviewed by Janet A. Martin. “The moving tale of these two women as they struggle with life, love, and the care of troubled patients becomes a journey shared over decades. The story is fertilized by the wisdom of the late Dr. Frieda and adopted by Eliza, who, in her own work, encounters challenges eerily similar and equally complex. Told via interwoven narration, the tale becomes a threaded fabric of voices as the characters — affected by apprehension, history, and political events — emerge from the page to embed in the reader’s own imagination.”

Quiet Desperation, Savage Delight: Sheltering with Thoreau in the Age of Crisis by David Gessner (Torrey House Press). Reviewed by Christopher Lancette. “Henry David Thoreau calls on us to read books as deliberately as they’re written. I took that advice to heart when I picked up Quiet Desperation, Savage Delight by nature writer David Gessner. I didn’t just read it; I tore it apart and sucked the marrow out of it. I ended up spending more time in the company of Gessner’s latest work than I have with any book I’ve ever read, save one: Walden. That is the highest compliment I could pay any book or its writer.”

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