Mysterious and otherworldly historical fiction seems to be the theme for March. Get ready for some expertly crafted books from old and new writers alike who are tackling big ideas. I think March is bringing us a host of the kind of book that stays with you for a long time after you’ve finished reading.
The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro
With his first novel in a decade, Ishiguro, winner of the Man Booker Prize (for The Remains of the Day) gives us a misty, mystic, mythic fable with a mystery to untangle wrapped in an old-fashioned post-Arthurian adventure story. Centered around an elderly couple, Axl and Beatrice, The Buried Giant is ostensibly the story of their journey to find their adult son, and although the title description tells us little more than that, it’s clear this is not just some tale of travel and adventure. The title description drops tantalizing hints of the characters’ being “drawn inexorably toward the comfort, and the burden, of the fullness of a life’s memories,” and “the act of forgetting and the power of memory.” One of the reviews I read mentions a collective memory loss plaguing Britain, as if the entire country is suffering through the early stages of dementia. What’s causing this? What does it mean to remember or to forget? Do our memories change who we are? Does forgetting? This one is surely not for everyone, but no less than Margaret Atwood declares Ishiguro “a master craftsman,” and I have no doubt that each layer of this complex novel builds effortlessly on the last.
Audio published by Random House. Available 3/3/2015.
A Reunion of Ghosts by Judith Claire Mitchell
With an otherworldly feel to it, this second novel from Judith Claire Mitchell (an Iowa Writers’ Workshop graduate) centers around the planned group suicide of three sisters, but promises mirth and dark humor alongside the dark legacy of the Alter family. The Alter sisters’ great-grandfather, a German Jew, contributed to the invention of chlorine gas, used in WWI and a predecessor to the chemical combination used in Nazi death camps. This sinister contribution to history set in motion a series of suicides in the Alter family and now, the sisters decide, their own time is at an end. What could be a depressing and morbid tome is, judging by the starred reviews and early blurbs, a carefully crafted, darkly comic, deeply original story.
Audio published by HarperCollins Publishers. Available 3/24/2015.
Mademoiselle Chanel: A Novel by C.W. Gortner
I’ve never exactly been a fashion plate and I’d be hard pressed to name a single designer whose expensive fashions have ever graced my closet, but even I am intrigued by this historical novel of the life of Coco Chanel. I may not have ever worn one of her designs or shelled out for her iconic Chanel No. 5 perfume, but I’ve had my share of little black dresses and I can certainly appreciate a fascinating life. Born in poverty and raised in an orphanage, Gabrielle Chanel became a seamstress, transformed herself into Coco, and attracted a gentleman whose wealth gave her the opportunity to open her own hat design business. No matter what one might think of the world of fashion, the life of a woman who was able to transform a hat store into a clothing empire, all while maintaining her independence (and a string of high-profile lovers) in the early decades of the 20th century makes for a good story. Following the success of novels like The Paris Wife and Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald, C.W. Gortner’s Mademoiselle Chanel fictionalizes the characters but readers who prefer biographies can get their fix from Rhonda K. Garelick’s Mademoiselle: Coco Chanel and the Pulse of History, which released this past fall.
Audio published by HarperCollins Publishers. Available 3/17/2015.
The Empire of the Senses by Alexis Landau
Cast in two parts—first the Eastern Front of World War I and then the interwar years in Berlin—Landau’s debut novel takes us on the journey of an ordinary German family and shows us how the unimaginable becomes reality, how ordinary people allow atrocities in their midst. So many novels focus on the horrors of World War II, but few depict the everyday and all-too-human passions and desires that led up to them. With a Booklist starred review already, I have high hopes for this fresh take on oft explored territory.
Audio published by Brilliance Audio. Available 3/17/2015.
Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan
With three starred reviews already (School Library Journal, Kirkus, and Publishers Weekly), Muñoz Ryan’s newest book for middle schoolers weaves a story of music and magic across time and space, with a cast of characters joined together by a mysterious harmonica. With vivid historical detail, Muñoz Ryan depicts three of the darkest chapters of the 20th century—the Great Depression, the rise of Nazi Germany, and World War II. The individual stories and hardships of three separate characters come together in an emotional conclusion. Kirkus calls it, “a grand narrative that examines the power of music to inspire beauty in a world overrun with fear and intolerance.”
Audio published by Scholastic Audio. Available 3/1/2015.