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 Weekly Words about New Books in
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February 23, 2020

Splendid Narrative Nonfiction Salutes Churchill and One Immigrant's Ethical Dilemma
 
The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz by Erik Larson. One of our great nonfiction storytellers (think Dead Wake, Devil in the White City, In the Garden of Beasts, and more) recounts the first year of Winston Churchill's tenure as British Prime Minister. And it was not an easy time - on his first day on the job, Adolf Hitler invaded Holland and Belgium. Poland and Czechoslovakia had already fallen, and the Dunkirk evacuation was just two weeks away. For the next 12 months, Hitler would wage a relentless bombing campaign, killing 45,000 Britons. All Churchill had to do was hold his country together and persuade President Franklin Roosevelt that Britain was a worthy ally. Drawing on diaries, original archival documents, and once-secret intelligence reports, Larson provides a new lens on London's darkest year through the day-to-day experience of Churchill and his family. In an era of political turmoil and dysfunction, it's refreshing to read about a leader whose eloquence, courage, and perseverance bound a country together.
  
In its starred review, Booklist said, "What Larson brilliantly provides are the finer details of the effects on England as he focuses on the family and home of its dynamic, idiosyncratic, and indefatigable leader. . . . Larson's skill at integrating vast research and talent for capturing compelling human dramas culminate in an inspirational portrait of one of history's finest, most fearless leaders." 
 
 
Amnesty by Aravind Adiga. This provocative novel from the Booker Prize-winning author of   The White Tiger tells the story of one day in the life of a young illegal immigrant who must decide whether to report crucial information about a murder - thereby risking deportation. Danny - formerly Dhananjaya Rajaratnam - is an illegal immigrant in Sydney, Australia, denied refugee status after he fled from Sri Lanka. Working as a housecleaner, he's been trying for three years to create a new identity for himself. And it's going pretty well - with his girlfriend, his hidden accent, and highlights in his hair, he is as close as he has ever come to living a normal life.

But then one morning, Danny learns a female client of his has been murdered. A jacket was left at the scene, which belongs to another of his clients - a doctor with whom Danny knows the woman was having an affair. What to do, Danny? Come forward with his knowledge about the crime and risk being deported? Or say nothing, and let justice go undone? The doctor himself confronts Danny, bullying him to stay quiet - and invisible - which naturally adds to our hero's angst. Over the course of this day, balancing his dreams for the future and the unpredictable reality of living invisibly and undocumented, Danny wrestles with his conscience to decide if a person without rights still has responsibilities.  
 
This is a book that presents a challenging moral dilemma, but by creating a lead character who is an illegal immigrant, author Adiga has added consequence to the story. As Juan Gabriel Vasquez wrote in The New York Times Book Review, "With documentary precision, Adiga portrays the exploitation, risks, danger, paranoia, dreadful living conditions, and psychological stress faced by undocumented refugees."  
Literary Millennial Love Story Now in Paperback
 
The second novel from hot young Irish writer Rooney actually had its paperback release moved up to February due to Hulu's April release of a TV series based on the book. Normal People is a story of young love and a relationship beset with personal demons and class differences. The novel is initially set in the small Irish town of Carricklea and then moves to Trinity college in Dublin. High school kids Connell and Marianne couldn't be more differen t - he's popular and well-adjusted, star of the school football team, while she is lonely, proud, and intensely private. But when they meet by chance out of school, an indelible connection grows between the two teenagers, although both are determined to conceal it. A year later, they're both studying at Trinity College in Dublin. Marianne has found her feet in a new social world while Connell hangs at the sidelines, shy and uncertain. Throughout their years at university, the two stay connected - getting involving with other people but continually drawn back together as they try to figure out what they want from life.
 
The book was on seemingly every "Best Of 2019" you could find and garnered great reviews, among them this from The New Yorker: "[Rooney] has been hailed as the first great millennial novelist for her stories of love and late capitalism...One of the unusual pleasures of Rooney's novels is watching young women engage in a casual intellectual hooliganism, demolishing every mediocrity that crosses their paths, just for the fun of it... in the process creating some of the best dialogue I've read." 
 
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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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