Here are some of Jeff's new favorites:
This is the third and concluding volume of Atkinson’s Liberation Trilogy, following An Army at Dawn (the war in north Africa, 1942-43) and The Day of Battle (Sicily and Italy, 1943-44). Beginning with D-Day and continuing through the final days of the war, this is a superb narrative history told from the perspective of not only the generals but also the war-weary junior officers and terrified teenaged infantrymen. Due to his exhaustive research and humanizing touch, Atkinson could be called the Shelby Foote of World War II.
Sort of a nautical Chariots of Fire, this gripping book tells the story of the University of Washington’s 1936 eight-oar crew team and its quest of an Olympic gold medal. This team, composed of nine working-class kids, the sons of loggers, shipyard workers, and farmers, defeated elite eastern and British university teams on their way to the Berlin Olympics and grabbed the attention of millions of Americans. Brown draws on the boys’ own journals, diaries, photos, and memories as he brings this once-in-a-lifetime shared dream vividly to life.
I’ve been following Kate Atkinson ever since her first novel, Behind the Scenes at the Museum, was published in 1997. She is a extraordinarily gifted writer with a great talent for character development and a deft and wry sense of humor. The main character in her new novel, Ursula Todd, is a woman of infinite lives. Born to an English banker and his wife in 1910, she dies before she can take her first breath and is reborn, to a different couple, that same night. Over the course of the novel, Ursula dies and is reborn repeatedly. With each incarnation, she moves closer to the heart of the Twentieth Century as it marches through its first and on toward its second cataclysmic world war. Wildly inventive, darkly comic, and deeply felt, this novel is certain to be on the short list for this year’s Booker Prize.
This multi-generational family saga, set in Texas, is, quite possibly, a masterpiece. Eli McCullough, the pater familias, is a Quannah Parker-type character who is captured in a Comanche raid in 1849 and adopted by the tribe’s chief. Alone after the Indian wars, neither white nor fully native, conversant in the ways and languages of both, he sets out to carve a place for himself with steely and uncompromising pragmatism. Though he succeeds in establishing a powerful dynasty, it is the successive generations, especially his great-granddaughter Jeannie, who must face the consequences of the family’s often ruthless choices. This book brings to mind both Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove in its epic sweep and adroit balancing of humor and tragedy, and Cormac McCarthy’s Border Trilogy in its lyricism and harrowing violence.
Spanning three centuries, this novel braids together the Irish adventures of Frederick Douglass, Senator George Mitchell, and the pilots of the first transatlantic flight from Canada to Ireland in 1919, with the epic tale of four generations of women from a matriarchal clan established by Irish housemaid Lily Duggan. Within this unique and somewhat audacious format, McCann unwinds the hidden connections of places, times, and people, and explores how the old days “arrive back in the oddest ways.” My wife and I both found this novel riveting and deeply moving.