The story Marilynne Robinson began in Gilead continues in Home (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $25), but the focus shifts to the household of Rev. Robert Boughton, John Ames’s neighbor and closest friend in Gilead. When Jack, the black sheep of the family who has been absent for twenty years, comes back, Glory, who has returned to care for her ailing father, opens her arms and tries to mediate a communion between father and son. Boughton, though, has difficulty forgiving, and Jack continues to be plagued by his own demons, alcohol as well as self- and spiritual doubt. Home is a moving story about familial love and attempts at reconciliation.
Hans van den Broek is disoriented for many reasons. Born and raised in Holland, he married an English woman and lives in New York City. After the World Trade Center attack, the family fled their downtown apartment and moved, they thought temporarily, to the very bizarre Chelsea Hotel. Rachel felt increasingly insecure in New York and decamped to London with the couple’s young son, Jake. For two years Hans has been frozen geographically and emotionally in his New York job analyzing oil projects for a large financial firm. He partially fills the void of his separation by friendship with a larger-than-life Trinidadian of Indian descent whom he met through cricket, a game he is passionately fond of. Joseph O’Neill’s existential novel Netherland (Pantheon, $23.95) expresses the strangeness felt by New Yorkers after 9/11 and, indeed, the sense of dislocation we all feel in the new world that has come into being.
Hans van den Broek, the alienated protagonist of Joseph O’Neill’s Netherland (Vintage, $14.95), remains in New York when his lawyer wife, anxious after 9/11, returns to Britain with their son. Meanwhile, Hans’s mother, the only parent he remembers, has died in the Netherlands. To dispel his depression, Hans seeks out a weekly cricket game with a bunch of ex-colonials and falls in with Chuck Ramkissoon, a mysterious Trinidadian. Chuck’s schemes and energy become a counterweight to Hans’s passivity. The pacing of the novel, the simplicity of the plot, and the focus on a few characters, make Hans’s sadness and Chuck’s grandiosity stand out. This prize-winning novel is deceptively simple, and immensely thought provoking.
Amitav Ghosh’s richly imagined novel, Sea Of Poppies (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $26), is based on the historical record. After slavery was abolished in Britain, ship-owners found other ways to obtain workers for large plantations in the West Indies and Africa. They tricked, kidnapped, or, in connivance with local authorities, offered unfortunate people a choice between prison and transport. Ghosh has painted a large and attractive cast of Indians and others who end up on board an old slave ship, the Ibis, bound for Mauritius. Among them are: Deeti, a young woman with second sight; Zachary Reid, one of the crew, son of a Maryland freedwoman; Paulette Lambert, the daughter of the curator of the Botanical Garden; and her best friend from her youth, Jodu, whose mother was her wet nurse. There are some really bad guys too, many of whom, I am happy to say, get their just reward. Luckily, Sea of Poppies is the first part of a trilogy—after almost 500 captivating pages, the story is merely getting started.