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 Weekly Words about New Books in
Independent Bookstores

August 18, 2019

Double Dose of an Imaginative
and Unconventional
Booker Prize-Winning Author

 
Flights by Olga Tokarczuk, translated by Jennifer Croft. Polish writer Tokarczuk has long been a huge deal in her native country and popular throughout much of Europe. With her nomination and subsequent winning of the 2018 Man Booker Prize, she has also made a significant splash in America. With Flights now on indie bookstore shelves in paperback, more readers have an opportunity to discover her. Having said that, Flights will not be for everyone. The book is difficult to describe (as I am about to prove) and impossible to pigeonhole. Written largely as a series of sometimes connected stories and essays, Flights is in the broadest sense
reflections on travels and travellers. Three examples: an adoring sister carries Chopin's heart from Paris to Warsaw in secret; a woman must return to her native Poland in order to poison her terminally ill high school sweetheart; and a young man slowly descends into madness when his wife and child mysteriously vanish during a vacation and just as suddenly reappear.  
 
In describing the author and her work, one Booker Prize judge said, " Tokarczuk is a writer of wonderful wit, imagination and literary panache. In Flights, brilliantly translated by Jennifer Croft, by a series of startling juxtapositions she flies us through a galaxy of departures and arrivals, stories and digressions, all the while exploring matters close to the contemporary and human predicament - where only plastic escapes mortality." If those words and a desire to delve into contemporary experimental fiction motivate you, Flights is definitely a journey to consider.   
 
But we're not done yet. Tokarczuk's newest hardcover novel, Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead, has also just been released. This time, she puts her unique spin on the mystery genre with an unconventional detective story featuring an unlikely amateur sleuth. It's an August Indie Next pick; here's the review that tells you why:
 
"Janina is an eccentric middle-aged woman who translates William Blake, studies astrology, and is acutely attuned to the wilderness around her in rural Poland. When hunters and poachers begin to be gruesomely murdered, Janina informs the police that the animals are responsible. As the bodies mount, so does her involvement with the mystery, although her status as a crank and possible madwoman ensures that she's ignored. This is an extraordinary and disturbing tale - a mystery that becomes more complex as the story continues, accompanied by Janina's often witty observations on man, nature, justice, and identity. The ending of this hard-to-categorize novel, a finalist for the 2019 Man Booker International Prize, will knock the breath out of you. Don't miss this excellent translated work from an award-winning writer!"  
- Cindy Pauldine, The River's End Bookstore, Oswego, NY  
Mystery Worthy of Christie and Her Own Police Thrillers
   
The Witch Elm by Tana French. Taking a break from her hugely popular Dublin Murder Squad police procedurals, the Edgar-winning French has produced a stand-alone thriller that's now in paperback. The protagonist is Toby, a happy-go-lucky charmer who's dodged a scrape at work and is celebrating with friends when the night takes a turn that will change his life - he surprises two burglars who beat him and leave him for dead. Struggling to recover from his injuries, beginning to understand that he might never be the same man again, he takes refuge at his family's ancestral home to care for his dying uncle Hugo. Then a skull is found in the trunk of an elm tree in the garden, and...
 
Among the numerous good reviews, it's hard to think the author wouldn't be especially pleased with kind words from Stephen King in the New York Times Book Review:
 
"Here's a things-go-bad story Thomas Hardy could have written in his prime, although the Hardy version would probably contain no lines such as 'I looked like the lowlife in a zombie movie who isn't going to make it past the first half-hour' ... So far, so Agatha Christie (who is even name-checked in passing). You have the murder victim, another skanger (although a rich one) whose passing we need not mourn; you have the small pool of possible suspects; you have the manor house with the walled-in garden where the body was discovered. But an Agatha Christie novel might run 250 pages or so. The Witch Elm is twice that length, and I'm relieved to report that those added pages aren't just filler.
WHERE TO FIND 
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WHY THE COLUMN?
Hi, I'm Hut Landon, and I work as a bookseller in an independent bookstore in BerkeIey, California.

My goal with this newsletter is to keep readers up to date about new books hitting the shelves, share what indie booksellers are recommending in their stores, and pass on occasional news about the book world.

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