The Sweetest Fruits by Monique Truong

Staff Pick

Ostensibly “about” Lafcadio Hearn (1850-1904), best-known for his travel writing and collections of Japanese ghost stories, Monique Truong’s The Sweetest Fruits (Viking, $26) is a beautifully written meditation on identity, memory, and storytelling. As Hearn’s mother, two wives, and a friend recount their experiences with a man each of them knew by a slightly different name—Patricio, Patrick, Yakumo, and Hearn—we get both four stories of one man, and stories of four different men. But more importantly, we get the stories of several remarkable women: Rosa Antonia Cassimati, Hearn’s mother, the descendent of faded Greek nobility; his first wife, Alethea Foley, a former slave who worked as a cook in Cincinnati boarding houses; and Koizumi Setsu, the daughter of a samurai whom he married in Japan; and, interspersed, excerpts from Elizabeth Bisland’s 1906 The Life and Letters of Lafcadio Hearn. Creating a distinctive voice for each woman, Truong’s meticulous and lyrical prose is full of telling historical details and rich with psychological insight. She’s a writer you want to reread and quote, from Rosa’s passionate ”I listened to my heart that day, and it was a fist pounding with anger” to Alethea’s description of Civil War coffee, brewed with roasted cornmeal, that “tastes like war” to one, “like freedom brewing” to another.

The Sweetest Fruits: A Novel By Monique Truong Cover Image
ISBN: 9780735221017
Availability: Special Order—Subject to Availability
Published: Viking - September 3rd, 2019

Out Of Darkness, Shining Light by Petina Gappah

Staff Pick

Many books have been written about the Scottish missionary, Dr. David Livingstone, and his travels deep into the heart of Central Africa in search of the source of the Nile River. There's also been brief mentions of two of his guides, Chuma and Susi, through his journeys. But what Zimbabwean writer Petina Gappah's newest novel, Out Of Darkness, Shining Light (Scribner, $27), gives us is a beautiful reimagining of the explorer’s entire entourage—the group that respectfully carries his body, papers, and maps 1,500 miles across the continent to the Eastern coast of Africa so he could be delivered to his birth home and legal family. The narrative focuses on Halima, still a slave to a harsh man named Amoda, and Jacob Wainwright, a freed slave. Through their distinctive voices we come to understand the different and often contradictory qualities of Bwana Daudi—as they call Dr. Livingstone—and gain a new and more complex awareness of the man behind the legend.

Out of Darkness, Shining Light: A Novel By Petina Gappah Cover Image
ISBN: 9781982110338
Availability: Not On Our Shelves—Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Scribner - September 10th, 2019

The Shadow King by Maaza Mengiste

Staff Pick

Maaza Mengiste, born in Ethiopia, made a memorable literary debut with Beneath the Lion’s Gaze, which won an NAACP Image Award and was named one of the Guardian's Ten Best Contemporary African Books. Her highly anticipated second novel, The Shadow King (W.W. Norton, $26.95), is set in mid-1930s Ethiopia, where Mengiste reimagines Mussolini’s invasion from the perspectives of a sadistic Italian colonel, a Jewish Venetian photographer, and, most prominently, Hirut, an orphaned servant girl working for a wealthy family. A compelling and richly drawn character, Hirut is not content to watch history unfold but turns her considerable intelligence and resourcefulness to taking an active role in events, first by nursing the wounded, then by joining Hailie Selassie’s formidable force of female warriors. In a stroke brilliantly her own, she bolsters flagging hope among her compatriots by disguising a peasant as Haile Selassie when the emperor goes into exile. Facing rape and imprisonment, Hirut not only survives but inspires other women to actively resist the forces that threaten their homeland. Whether describing battlefi elds, domestic life, or interpersonal relationships, Mengiste’s cinematic prose evokes the full sensory experience of the time and place.

The Shadow King: A Novel By Maaza Mengiste Cover Image
ISBN: 9780393083569
Availability: Special Order—Subject to Availability
Published: W. W. Norton & Company - September 24th, 2019