Hut's Place
 Weekly Words about New Books in
Independent Bookstores

July 19, 2020

New Spy Thriller Blends Fact With Fiction and Harrowing Novel Gives Face to Immigrant Experience
American Spy by Lauren Wilkinson. This exciting debut spy thriller, now in paperback, has earned Wilkinson comparisons to John le Carre, but she's very much her own storyteller. No stuffy British machinations here; it's 1986 and   our protagonist, Marie Mitchell, is a Black intelligence officer with the FBI. She's young and restless in an old boy's club and jumps at the chance to join a shadowy task force aimed at undermining Thomas Sankara, the charismatic revolutionary president of Burkina Faso whose Communist ideology has made him a target for American intervention. She knows her recruitment is less about her experience than her appearance, but Sankara is an intriguing figure, and the assignment gets her out of the office. In the year that follows, Marie will observe Sankara, seduce him, and ultimately have a hand in the coup that brings him down.   
It's an intriguing mix of fact and fiction, and Wilkinson blends the two nicely. Sankara was the president of Burkina Faso from 1984 to 1987 and sometimes referred to as the African Che Guevara. His real-life story inspired the plot of   which adds to the enjoyment of what The New York Times described as  "a gutsy new thriller . . . challenging boundaries is what brave fiction does, and Wilkinson proves confident enough to carry it off."
The Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christy Lefteri. Brought up in London, Lefteri is
daughter of Cypriot refugees who fled their country in the 1970s. That certainly informs her debut novel - now in paperback - which puts human faces on the Syrian war in this immigrant story of a beekeeper and his wife who are fo rc ed to flee their home.  
Nuri is the beekeeper and Afra, his wife, is an artist. They live a simple life, rich in family and friends, in the hills of the beautiful Syrian city of Aleppo. When all they love is destroyed by war, Nuri (the book's narrator) knows they have no choice except to leave their home. But escaping Syria will be no easy task: Afra has lost her sight, leaving Nuri to navigate her grief as well as a harrowing  journey through Turkey and Greece toward an uncertain future in Britain. Nuri is sustained only by the knowledge that waiting for them is his cousin Mustafa, who has started an apiary in Yorkshire and is teaching fellow refugees beekeeping. 
Reviewing the book last year, The Boston Globe wrote: "In recounting the daily brutality as well as the glimmers of beauty, this novel humanizes the terrifying refugee stories we read about in the news. Lefteri explores questions of trust and portrays what trauma and loss can do to individuals and their relationships. . . . A beautiful rumination on seeing what is right in front of us - both the negative and the positive."
Essays Cast Sharp Critical Eye on Contemporary Culture
  Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion by Jia Tolentino. The smart young cultural critic of The New Yorker, whom the Washington Post called "The millennial Susan Sontag, a brilliant voice in cultural criticism," has earned more raves for this essay collection, now out in paperback. In each of the nine thoughtful and revealing pieces, Tolentino provides a fresh generational sensibility, which is perhaps most keenly seen in her reflections on the rise of the internet and social media that "positions personal identity as the center of the universe." She also writes about her own life, using experiences she's lived through to offer incisive observations about the cultures she grew up in. She recounts her childhood as a rare Asian American in a large Texas evangelical church community, her role in a teen reality-TV show, and her stints at the University of Virginia and in the Peace Corps, delving into race, gender, sexual assault.   
The culture website Vulture is among the many that reviewed Trick Mirror glowingly, writing, "It isn't hyperbolic to say that New Yorker staff writer Jia Tolentino could be the Joan Didion of our time - writing about feminism, vaping, popular music, religion, and sexual assault with equal amounts of ease and insight...She's an expert in the sweet spot where contemporary politics and youth culture meet and make out."  

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

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