Weekly Words About New Books in

Independent Bookstores

January 29, 2023

Paperback Releases - Nobel Winner's Magnum Opus and a Moving Memoir of Loss, Near Death, and New Love

The Books of Jacob by Olga Tokarczak, translated by Jennifer Croft. Acclaimed Polish author Tokarczak was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2018. Her novels Flight (winner of the Booker Prize) and Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead are staples in the Fiction or Literature sections of most independent bookstores. Her newest work, written in 2014 and published last year in the U.S. in its translated version, has been called her magnum opus - a sweeping novel chronicling the rise and fall of a mysterious, messianic religious leader in 18th century Europe. Weighing in at 1000 pages, it is a journey over seven borders, five languages, and three major religions, and it features as its main protagonist the real-life religious leader Jacob Frank.

Arriving in a village in Poland, Frank is a young Jew of mysterious origins who soon establishes himself as charismatic figure, attracting an increasingly fervent following. In the decade to come, Frank will traverse the Hapsburg and Ottoman empires with throngs of disciples in his thrall as he reinvents himself again and again, converts to Islam and then Catholicism, is pilloried as a heretic and revered as the Messiah, and wreaks havoc on the conventional order, Jewish and Christian alike, with scandalous rumors of his sect's secret rituals and the spread of his increasingly iconoclastic beliefs.

In it's review, the British daily newspaper The Guardian wrote in part: "As crowded as a Bruegel painting. . . . Tokarczuk is wrestling with the biggest philosophical themes: the purpose of life on earth, the nature of religion, the possibility of redemption, the fraught and terrible history of eastern European Jewry. . . . A landmark."

Left on Tenth: A Second Chance at Life by Delia Ephron. It may be true that Delia Ephron's older sibling Nora is better known to many, but the kid sister certainly holds her own as a writer. Her novel Siracusa and the screenplay for the rom-com You've Got Mail are two notable examples, and you can add her new late-life memoir to an already impressive resume. In her new book, Ephron, entering her 70s, finds herself dealing with the death of her beloved husband, encounters unexpected new love, and fights to survive leukemia - the same disease that killed Nora.

Her story begins with her husband Jerry succumbing to cancer. Several months after his death, she decided to make one small change in her life - she shut down his landline, which crashed her internet and transported her to Verizon hell. She dealt with her grief-fueled frustration the best way she knew: by writing a New York Times op-ed piece about her experience. Who knew that would be a life-changing article?

The piece caught the attention of (among many) Peter, a recently widowed psychiatrist, who emailed her to commiserate and to remind her that they had shared a few dates 54 years as teenagers, set up by Nora. Delia did not remember him, but was intrigued enough to begin a conversation that very quickly led to unexpected and increasingly strong feelings, and, soon thereafter, marriage. This section of the book is quite heartwarming - Ephron is positively giddy at times as she marvels over a second chance at true love.

Four months later, her life takes an abrupt turn as Ephron is diagnosed with a fierce leukemia that threatens her life. But this a fighter who refuses to give in or give up. With the help of great doctors, a risky but cutting-edge treatment, and an enviable cohort of stalwart friends, she beats the odds.

This was my favorite memoir of 2022, and many critics were similarly enthused. In her review for Booklist, Carol Haggas wrote, "Ephron’s harrowing account of coping with multiple, agonizing courses of treatment rivals that of any against-all-odds, true-adventure memoir. Her endurance is nothing short of mind boggling, her survival to tell the tale even more miraculous. Simultaneously spiritually uplifting and emotionally draining, Ephron’s account of triumphing over life’s greatest challenges is itself a tour de force."

Atmospheric Mystery Probes

A Mother's Puzzling Disappearance

Exiles by Jane Harper. This is the much-anticipated fifth book from Australian mystery author Harper, who burst onto the scene five years ago with a knockout debut, The Dry. It's one of two of her titles I feature regularly on the Staff Favorites table in the bookstore where I work - the other being The Lost Son. Harper, a former journalist, creates interesting characters and is adept at writing atmospheric stories - you can almost feel the heat and visualize the vastness of the Australian outback. In Exiles, she brings back Federal Investigator Aaron Falk, the appealing hero of The Dry, and plants him in another tight-knit small town community filled with secrets.

Falk is looking forward to a vacation weekend in a small town in Southern Australian wine country, celebrating the christening of an old friend's baby. But this isn't just any weekend - it's the one-year anniversary of Kim Gillespie's disappearance. One year ago, at a busy town festival on a warm spring night, Kim safely tucked her sleeping baby into her stroller, then vanished into the crowd. Falk is soon enlisted by Kim's older daughter to investigate and finds himself welcomed into the circle of Kim's friends and loved ones. But, of course, all is not as it initially seems, and dark questions linger as long-ago truths begin to emerge. What would make a mother abandon her child? And what actually happened to Kim Gillespie?

In its starred review, Publishers Weekly wrote, “Stellar…Writing at the top of her game, Harper effectively uses whodunit tropes to explore her characters’ hidden lives. Readers interested in literate and nuanced mysteries will be eager to see more of Falk.”

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Hi, I'm Hut Landon,and I'm a bookseller in an independent bookstore in BerkeIey, CA.

My goal here 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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