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 Weekly Words about New Books in
Independent Bookstores

May 31, 2020

A Woman's Life in Politics, Both Real and Imagined
 
This Is What America Looks Like: My Journey from Refugee to  Congresswoman by Ilhan Omar. This forthright memoir by the first African refugee, the first Somali-American, and one of the first two Muslim women (with Michigan's Rashida Tlaib in 2018) elected to Congress offers a fascinating true-life refugee/immigrant story. Omar was only eight years old when war broke out in Somalia. She was youngest of seven children, and her mother had died while Ilhan was still a little girl. Omar was being raised by her father and grandfather when armed gunmen attacked their compound and the family decided to flee Mogadishu. They ended up in a refugee camp in Kenya, then four years later, after a painstaking vetting process, her family achieved refugee status and arrived in Arlington,
Virginia.  
Remarkably,
within two decades Omar became a grassroots organizer, graduated from college, and was elected to be U.S. Representative for Minnesota's 5th congressional district, thanks to a record-breaking turnout in 2018.
 
 
It's no secret that Omar's ethnicity and progressive views have made her a target of the current president, and she does address Trump and Washington politics, but this memoir is not meant to be a political polemic. The bulk of her book deals with her life as a refugee and immigrant facing and overcoming myriad challenges and obstacles. With the help of author Rebecca Paley, Omar shares stories that make clear how her fierce fighting spirit was born and honed. It's an honest, often inspiring narration that sheds light on a new breed of leadership coming to the fore in this country.    
 
 
Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld. The #1 bestselling novel in independent bookstores right now is a re-imagining of the life of Hillary Clinton - if she hadn't married Bill Clinton. This is not totally new territory for Sittenfeld; in American Wife told the story of a fict ional First Lady who bore more than passing resemblance to Laura Bush. But with Rodham, she is writing about a real person whose history is well known to most. And, in this version, Hillary does not become the First Lady. Instead, after a courtship with charismatic fellow Yale Law School student Bill Clinton that eventually leads them to Arkansas, her doubts about prospective marriage lead to a devastating breakup. Over the next four decades, Rodham blazes her own trail - one that unfolds in public as well as in private, that involves crossing paths again (and again) with Bill Clinton, and that raises questions about the trade-offs all of us must make in building a life.  
 
Part of the enjoyment of Rodham lies with Sittenfeld's deft weaving of fiction in with actual historical events. In that vein, Kirkus Reviews wrote: ""It's enjoyable to hear [this Hillary] think about her own desires, her strengths and weaknesses, her vulnerabilities and self-justifications; it's also fun to see how familiar events would still occur under different circumstances." 
Award-winning Debut Courtroom Drama   Back in Stock  
 
Miracle Creek by Angie Kim. At this year's Edgar Awards (virtual) ceremony on April 30, this literary courtroom thriller about a mother accused of murdering her eight-year-old autistic son was the winner in the Best First Novel category. I didn't write about it at the time because awards often cause existing copies of the book to sell out - no point in getting you all excited about a good read that you can't actually get your hands on. But Miracle Creek is back in stock and in paperback, so now is good time to bring it to readers' attention.  
 
Here's the basic premise: In a small Virginia town, a group of people know each other because they're part of a special treatment center, a hyperbaric chamber that may cure a range of conditions from infertility to autism. But then the chamber explodes, two people die, and it's clear the explosion wasn't an accident. A showdown unfolds as the story moves across characters who all may be keeping secrets, hiding betrayals. Was it the careless mother of a patient? Was it the owners, hoping to cash in on a big insurance payment and send their daughter to college? Could it have been a protester, trying to prove the treatment isn't safe?  
 
In its review, Publishers Weekly said, "A stand-out, twisty debut . . . Kim, a former lawyer, clearly knows her stuff . . . a masterfully plotted novel about the joys and pains of motherhood, the trick mirror nature of truth, and the unforgiving nature of justice."
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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