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 Weekly Words about New Books in
Independent Bookstores

January 26, 2020

New Novels from Consummate Storyteller Allende and a Hot New Literary Author
 
A Long Petal of the Sea by Isabel Allende. The Spanish Civil War and its aftermath has been popular source material for authors over the years, beginning with Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls. Now the accomplished Allende has again blended fact and fiction with a saga spanning six decades and crossing continents as it follows two young people as they flee the aftermath of the war in search of a place to call home.
 
A pregnant young widow, Roser, enters into a marriage of necessity with Victor, the brother of her deceased love, making it easier for the two to flee Fascist Spain in the late 1930s. Together with 2,000 other refugees, they set sail for Chile on a ship chartered by the poet Pablo Neruda. Once there, the unlikely partners accept and even embrace exile as the rest of Europe erupts in world war. Over the course of their lives, they face numerous trials but also experience joys as their ongoing dreams of returning to Spain keeps them going.   
 
In a rave review for Booklist, reviewer Donna Seaman wrote, "Allende deftly addresses war, displacement, violence, and loss in a novel of survival and love under siege, a tale that is seductively intimate and strategically charming with valor, perseverance, transcendent romance, and wondrous reunions providing narrative sweeteners to lure readers into contemplation of past atrocities and, covertly, of the disturbingly similar outrages of the present, in which refugees and immigrants are treated with appalling cruelty and fascist threats escalate around the warming world."  
 
 
Cleanness by Garth Greenwell. This Iowa author hit it big with his debut literary novel, What Belongs to You , which was longlisted for the National Book Award,  was a finalist for six other awards , and was named a Best Book of 2016 by over 50 publications in nine countries. Greenwell expands upon that book with Cleanness, written as a seri es of stories narrated by an American teacher in Sofia, Bulgaria, who navigates a life impacted by lov e - both its discovery and the losses it brings. As he prepares to leave the country, he grapples with the intimate encounters during his years abroad. A queer student's confession recalls his own first love, a stranger's seduction devolves into paternal sadism, and a romance with another foreigner opens, and heals, old wounds. Each echo reveals startling insights about what it means to seek connection: with those we love, with the places we inhabit, and with our own fugitive selves.
 
The novel is a January Indie Next pick; here's the bookseller review: "Cleanness is a trance-inducing read. I started this book and was immediately swept up in it, and before I knew it, hours had passed. Greenwell describes human relationships in raw, beautiful detail while also exploring the power dynamics at play. If Cleanness is not one of my favorite books of 2020, it will have been a spectacular year for books."    
- Hunter Gillum, Beaverdale Books, Des Moines, IA 
Lovely Book About Love and Friendship Finding Growing Audience
   
The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy. Who would believe that a slim volume containing pen-and-ink illustrations and simple words of hope and kindness by a London artist - albeit of some renown - would become a bestselling book in America in this particular day and age? I mean, what resonance could a book celebrating friendship and kindness have at a time when...oh, wait - never mind.  
 
This is not a book with a strong narrative, or even any narrative at all. Rather it's a series of distinctive drawings featuring four friends engaging in brief conversations that are warm and wise, empathetic and thought-provoking. 
 
An example - "What do you want to be when you grow up?" mole asks boy with the two sitting in a tree. "Kind," said the boy. In short, this is a quietly inspiring book about love and hope that could prove an ideal gift book for many people and years.  
 
Author/artist Mackesy is also an interesting guy. He began as a cartoonist for The Spectator and a book illustrator for Oxford University Press before his work was discovered by art galleries in England and the U.S. He has lived and painted in South Africa, Southern Africa, and America and co-runs 
Mama Buci, a honey social enterprise in Zambia. He also produced 'The Unity Series,' a collaborative set of lithographs with Nelson Mandela in 2006.
 
To watch a short video of Mackesy drawing and talking about the book, click here. And note below one of the book's most popular images and sentiments.   
 
 
 
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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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