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Book Notes From The Underground: March 2014


Here are some new noteworthy titles that may or may not be receiving the attention they deserve:

Pushkin Hills by Sergei Dovlatov

A mordantly funny, semi-autobiographical novel by Soviet émigré Dovlatov which tells the story of a failed writer who, in order to survive, becomes a tour guide at the Pushkin Hills Preserve, where he mocks the Pushkin devotees who flock to the estate. Although Dovlatov died in 1990, this is the first English publication of his work. Kurt Vonnegut was a big fan. What about you?



Hog Butcher by Ronald L. Fair

A new edition of a streetwise classic, first published in 1966 and later adapted for the 1975 film Cornbread, Earl and Me. The novel centers on two 10-year-old boys living in Chicago who must deal with the repercussions of having their role model, college-bound Nathaniel “Cornbread” Hamilton, be mistaken by two cops for a fleeing burglary suspect.



Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi

Oyeyemi, named one of Granta’s Best Young British Novelists, reimagines the Snow White fairy tale as a story involving African Americans passing as white.



The Broken and the Whole: Discovering Joy After Heartbreak: Lessons from a Life of Faith by Charles S. Sherman

Sherman, a rabbi from Syracuse, draws strength from his faith and from scripture in struggling with the aftermath of his four-year-old son's debilitating stroke in 1986. How to keep going after such a tragedy? It is difficult, to say the least, but Sherman writes “When I heard Eyal’s terrible prognosis, my life was shattered. But eventually, as Moses did, I got up and climbed the mountain again.”



How Paris Became Paris: The Invention of the Modern City by Joan Dejean

Although most people think of Paris as the city that Baron Haussmann built in the 19th century, Dejean argues that it was the Bourbon monarchs of the 17th cenutry who transformed Paris into the prototypical modern city.



The Double Life of Paul De Man by Evelyn Barish

The story of how Yale professor Paul De Man, influential critic and darling of the deconstructionists successfully bamboozled his way into literary stardom by hiding his collaboration with the Nazis in France during WW II.



The Fishing Fleet: Husband-Hunting in the Raj by Anne De Courcy

An anecdote-rich account of the Victorian women who traveled nearly 5000 miles to find husbands—namely Englishmen serving as officers in the British Army or in the Indian Civil Service, whose positions and salaries made them prime catches. However, even if the women were successful in securing a husband (and many weren’t) , the oppressive heat, illness, bouts of loneliness and the constant uprooting of households made their lives not quite the success story they were hoping for.


Nothing Holds Back The Night by Delphine De Vigan

Award-winning author De Vigan carefully combines memoir and fiction in an attempt to explore her family’s dark history as well as try to understand the despair that drove her mother to suicide at the age of 61.



This Is Where We Came In by Lynne Sharon Schwartz

Novelist, poet and essayist Schwartz returns with her 20th book—a collection of memoiristic essays that explore such topics as a cherished baby grand piano, being bullied in the 3rd grade, growing up in 1950s Brooklyn, and a recent heart surgery that caused her to experience severe depression for months afterward.



The Divorce Papers by Sue Rieger

A darkly comic epistolary novel stuffed with emails, letters, legal memos and handwritten notes follows a messy divorce through the eyes of young law associate Sophie Diehl, who represents the wife in the case, while simultaneously dealing with office politics and her own not-so-successful romantic life.


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Thanks for the suggestions on

Thanks for the suggestions on this wide-ranging and cosmopolitan of booklist.

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