Everyone who read the most popular book by Stephen J. Dubner and Steven D. Levitt”Freakonomics” will surely remember one of her heroes Sudhir Venkatesh – a young and courageous American sociologist who in the late eighties had infiltrated the Black Kings gang. For several years of close communication with all sorts of “Hasler” (so called systemic offenders in America), Venkatesh managed to collect sensational material that turned all the ideas about the life of the city floor and formed the basis of the most famous “Freakonomics” headline – “Why do drug dealers continue live with your parents?”
With regard to non-fiction literature, the phrase “reads like a novel” sounds like a cliché, but in the case of “The Devil in the White City” American Erik Larson, it is nothing more than a statement of the obvious. This book is not only read as a novel, it is, in fact, it is — however, a documentary novel. Everything that the author writes about happened in fact and in less skillful hands would have remained just a scattering of disparate facts, but Larson manages to isolate from the chaos of events and persons a powerful plot, which will be envied by the most seasoned fiction writer.
The small book of the French historian Michel Pastoureau is the long-awaited continuation of his series of works on history and color semiotics, begun by “Blue” and continued by “Black”. This time Pastoureau refers to one of the most controversial, not to say ambiguous colors – green, which has managed for many centuries to remain at the same time the color of youth, hope and spring on the one hand, and the color of the devil, envy and temptation on the other.
In America, the writer Meg Wolitzer is usually compared with Jeffrey Eugenides and Jonathan Franzen, and perhaps this comparison is not without formal reasons. The stories that Wolitzer tells are of the same type as these two, and are also best described by the well-known phrase about the long vine and the top flight of the angels: a small private human life on the one hand and a cast-iron tread of great American history on the other.
The 14-year-old Evie, the granddaughter of a Hollywood star, just divorced parents (her father escaped with a young beauty, her mother frantically trying to build a new “personal life” on the ruins of her previous marriage), she had a falling out with a single girlfriend, there was no boyfriend and no, but the window is a sultry Californian summer and the farewell bonfire of the sixties is burning down.
Imagine a world where any shameful thought, any lie, lust, anger or envy are materially embodied, so that they cannot be hidden from anyone. It is this world that the American writer of Czech-German origin, Dan Vyleta,draws in his novel: in the alternative Victorian England he created, someone should think about something bad, from the pores of his skin heavy black smoke begins to leak, staining clothes and intoxicating mind.
Nigeria’s debut novel Chigozie Obioma is a classic case of a book written for a specific task: the author obviously wanted to enter the short list of the Booker Prize for the quota for writers from the Commonwealth countries and brilliantly succeeded (“The Fishermen” was called one of the main contenders for the 2015).
Despite the 700-page cyclopic volume, Englishman Nick Harkaway’s “The Gone-Away World” reads more like a synopsis of a novel than a novel itself. The action in it rushes at a gallop with a breathless haste, almost without the participation of adjectives and adverbs. In addition, having begun with a vigorous action, the novel’s plot suddenly lays a flashback loop of three hundred pages – seemingly unmotivated and too long by any measure.
American Lucia Berlin was born in 1936 in the family of a mining engineer and died on her sixty-eighth birthday, clutching one of her favorite books. She lived in California, Colorado, Chile and Alaska, was beautiful, alcoholic and a hunchback, taught Spanish at school, cleaned other people’s houses, worked as an emergency room nurse, call center operator, huddled in a trailer, got married three times, and gave birth to four sons. In addition, Lucia Berlin wrote stories – only seventy-six pieces, which were published from time to time, but never brought fame or money to their creator.
The novel Robert Jackson Bennett belongs to the kind of fantasy, which can be safely recommended even to readers who are not fantasy of spirit. Perhaps this is precisely his property – belonging both to “high” and “genre” literature – left him out of the reader’s attention: “City of Stairs” is an excellent reading that combines the burning fascination of the plot with the widest range of affected issues – from terrorism to xenophobia.