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Sunday, November 27, 2022

10 New Books We Recommend This Week

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HOW BEAUTIFUL WE WERE, by Imbolo Mbue. (Random House, $28.) Mbue’s quietly devastating second novel — about a fictional African village with high mortality due to an American oil company’s pollution — charts the ways oppression, be it at the hands of a government or a corporation or a society, can turn the most basic needs into radical acts. “What starts as a David-and-Goliath story slowly transforms into a nuanced exploration of self-interest, of what it means to want in the age of capitalism and colonialism — these machines of malicious, insatiable wanting,” Omar El-Akkad writes in his review. “Mbue has created a place and a people alive with emotional range.”

BROTHER, SISTER, MOTHER, EXPLORER, by Jamie Figueroa. (Catapult, $25.) Figueroa’s fablelike debut novel follows adult siblings in an unnamed Spanish-speaking country, who perform for tourists to make a living. It shows how these picturesque people in “exotic” lands have lives as complex as anyone’s, with fewer resources to help them cope. “Even those of us who resist magical realism might accept, maybe even celebrate it in this beautifully crafted, poetic book,” Esmeralda Santiago writes in her review. “Having read ‘Brother, Sister, Mother, Explorer,’ maybe the next time you travel, you might recall that what you see is not all there is. You might see yourselves as Jamie Figueroa sees you, apart from and yet a part of our common human condition.”

NO ONE IS TALKING ABOUT THIS, by Patricia Lockwood. (Riverhead, $25.) This singular novel by Lockwood, a lauded memoirist and poet who first gained a following on Twitter, distills the experience of life online while transfiguring it into art. The result is a book that reads like a prose poem, at once sublime, profane, intimate, philosophical, witty and, eventually, deeply moving. “Lockwood is a modern word witch, her writing splendid and sordid by turns,” Merve Emre writes in her review. “The chief virtue of the novel is how it transforms all that is ugly and cheap about online culture — the obsession with junk media; the fragmentary and jerked presentation of content; the mockery, the snark; the postures, the polemics — into an experience of sublimity.”

FOUR LOST CITIES: A Secret History of the Urban Age, by Annalee Newitz. (Norton, $26.95.) Like a guide to vanished places, this book offers archaeological clues to our urban roots, from the little-known Catalhoyuk (a 9,000-year-old city located in today’s Turkey) to the famed Pompeii, with its exquisitely preserved brothels and bars and graffiti. “The theme of how cities die runs as a dark undercurrent through the book,” Russell Shorto notes in his review. “The operative lesson from the past, at least from this curated offering of former metropolises, seems to be that human culture is a plastic thing. Rather than lamenting the fragility of our current urban structures, we might do better figuring out how to bend and shape society for the future.”

THE BONE FIRE, by Gyorgy Dragoman. Translated by Ottilie Mulzet. (Mariner, paper, $16.99.) Set in the aftermath of a revolution, this Hungarian novel considers how superstitions rise in times of turmoil. On one level, it’s a coming-of-age story about a 13-year-old orphan and her eccentric grandmother navigating personal and political crises; on another, it’s a tale of ghosts, folklore and ancient memory. “That this slippery narration — a risky choice — not only propels the story forward but also resonates with the book’s themes of instability and skewed perception is a testament to Dragoman’s powers,” Rebecca Makkai writes in her review. “He reaches back to folklore but also speaks to this artistic moment, in which genre and its ancestral roots permute and enrich highly regarded capital-l Literature.”

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