Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Sunday Salon... Books with Buzz from the 20 Under 40 list

Welcome to The Sunday Salon! It's a beautiful morning in Connecticut with temps in the high 40's and NO SNOW! The trees are whispering my name to come out and play, but I'm still wrapped up in a book, Song of the Silk Road by Mingmei Yip, which I hope to finish today, and we've got some great books to chat about! So, grab thatcup of joe and relax! Let's escape into some great reads!

One book that's gotten a lot of great buzz this week (it was released this past tuesday) is The Tiger's Wife by Téa Obreht. It's March's Indie Next pick, it's highlighted in today's NY Times Sunday Book Review, and I'm sure the abstract of it that appeared in The New Yorker in June 2009 drove The New Yorker to choose Tea Obreht as one of its' 20 under 40 writers. Obreht was also chosen by The National Book Foundation's 5 Under 35. The Tiger's Wife weaves myth and legend from a Balkan country with the present. Here's the description of The Tiger's Wife from the authors website...

In a Balkan country mending from years of conflict, Natalia, a young doctor, arrives on a mission of mercy at an orphanage by the sea. By the time she and her lifelong friend Zóra begin to inoculate the children there, she feels age-old superstitions and secrets gathering everywhere around her. Secrets her outwardly cheerful hosts have chosen not to tell her. Secrets involving the strange family digging for something in the surrounding vineyards. Secrets hidden in the landscape itself.
But Natalia is also confronting a private, hurtful mystery of her own: the inexplicable circumstances surrounding her beloved grandfather’s recent death. After telling her grandmother that he was on his way to meet Na
talia, he instead set off for a ramshackle settlement none of their family had ever heard of and died there alone. A famed physician, her grandfather must have known that he was too ill to travel. Why he left home becomes a riddle Natalia is compelled to unravel.
Grief struck and searching
for clues to her grandfather’s final state of mind, she turns to the stories he told her when she was a child. On their weekly trips to the zoo he would read to her from a worn copy of Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, which he carried with him everywhere; later, he told her stories of his own encounters over many years with “the deathless man,” a vagabond who claimed to be immortal and appeared never to age. But the most extraordinary story of
all is the one her grandfather never told her, the one Natalia must discover for herself. One winter during the Second World War, his childhood village was snowbound, cut off even from the encroaching German invaders but haunted by another,
fierce presence: a tiger who comes ever closer under cover of darkness. “These stories,” Natalia comes to understand, “run like secret rivers through all the other stories” of her grandfather’s life. And it is ultimately within these rich, luminous narratives that she will find the answer she is looking for.

This book seems so "Big" for a debut of such a young (she's only 24!) writer, but all the reviews I've read earn her high praise for not only her prose, but her the world she has created in The Tiger's Wife.

Reading all the buzz for The Tiger's Wife made me take another look at those 20 under 40 authors that The New Yorker urged us to keep an eye out for. You may wonder what all the hype is about the 20 under 40... well, basically the 20 under 40 are the next generation of fiction writers. The writers that we'll be reading for years to come; writers that will be shaping the direction of writing (That's essentially what the 5 under 35 list is too). There are 20 writers picked and they are all under the age of 40. It's a list that isn't refreshed every year either - the last "20 under 40" list, which was then called "The Future of American Fiction", and included young authors by the names of Jonathan Franzen, Michael Chabon, and Jhumpa Lahiri was back in 1999. Here's the list of The New Yorkers 2010 list of 20 Under 40 authors (and their ages):
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, 32
Chris Adrian, 39
Daniel Alarcón, 33
David Bezmozgis, 37
Sarah Shun-lien Bynum, 38
Joshua Ferris, 35
Jonathan Safran Foer, 33
Nell Freudenberger, 35
Rivka Galchen, 34
Nicole Krauss, 35
Dinaw Mengestu, 31
Philipp Meyer, 36
C E Morgan, 33
Téa Obreht, 24
Yiyun Li, 37
ZZ Packer, 37
Karen Russell, 28
Salvatore Scibona, 35
Gary Shteyngart, 37
Wells Tower, 37
Let's take a look at a few of the books that have caught my eye from two authors on this list...

The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears by Dinaw Mengestu... Seventeen years ago, Sepha Stephanos fled the Ethiopian Revolution for a new start in the United States. Now he finds himself running a failing grocery store in a poor African-American section of Washington, D.C., his only companions two fellow African immigrants who share his bitter nostalgia and longing for his home continent. Years ago and worlds away Sepha could never have imagined a life of such isolation. As his environment begins to change, hope comes in the form of a friendship with new neighbors Judith and Naomi, a white woman and her biracial daughter. But when a series of racial incidents disturbs the community, Sepha may lose everything all over again.

Wonderful praise for this debut novel by Dinaw Mengestu. It's about immigration and the isolation felt by so many. The title is taken from a line in Dante's Inferno, and parallels Sepha's own hell in America.

The Vagrants by Yiyun Li... Set in China in the late 1970s, when Beijing was rocked by the Democratic Wall Movement, an anti-Communist groundswell designed to move China beyond the dark shadow of the Cultural Revolution toward a more enlightened and open society. In this story, we follow a group of people in a small town during this dramatic and harrowing time, the era that was a forebear of the Tiananmen Square uprising. Morning dawns on the provincial city of Muddy River. A young woman, Gu Shan, a bold spirit and a follower of Chairman Mao, has renounced her faith in Communism. Now a political prisoner, she is to be executed for her dissent. Her distraught mother, determined to follow the custom of burning her only child's clothing to ease her journey into the next world, is about to make another bold decision. Shan's father, Teacher Gu, who has already, in his heart and mind, buried his rebellious daughter, begins to retreat into memories. Neither of them imagines that their daughter's death will have profound and far-reaching effects, in Muddy River and beyond. Yiyun Li weaves together the lives of these and other unforgettable characters, including a serious seven-year-old boy, Tong; a crippled girl named Nini; the sinister idler Bashi; and Kai, a beautiful radio news announcer who is married to a man from a powerful family. Life in a world of oppression and pain is portrayed through stories of resilience, sacrifice, perversion, courage, and belief. We read of delicate moments and acts of violence by mothers, sons, husbands, neighbors, wives, lovers, and more, as Gu Shan's execution spurs a brutal government reaction.

I opened the pages of this book and was immediately taken with the writing, which I found simple and yet beautiful. This is Yiyun Li's debut novel, but she has two collections of stories published as well - A Thousand Years of Good Prayers published in 2006, and Gold Boy, Emerald Girl published last fall.

And speaking of award winners... The National Book Critics Circle Awards were announced and A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan took the top prize for fiction, beating out Freedom by Jonathan Franzen. And The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson won for General Nonfiction. You can find all the winners at The National Book Critics Circle website: PLUS, The finalists for The Audies was announced Feb. 24th. We'll talk more about the nominee's this coming week, but if you'd like to take a look at the nominees visit A highlight this year is a special judges award for Paranormal audiobooks. There were 1100 titles submitted, and the winners will be announced May 24th.

Weekly Recap... Thinking about how wonderful living in Tuscany would be? I reviewed The Reluctant Tuscan by Phil Doran for Memoir Monday! It is a fun, lighthearted book about the rigors of adapting to living in a country not your own. It is funny with great characters and it's all TRUE! Then on tuesday I highlighted Read an eBook Week. Did you take advantage of some of the free and bargain ebooks offered by publishers and ebook retailers? Let me know what your favorite bargain ebooks were! And for First Lines this week, I highlighted Don't Breathe a Word by Jennifer McMahon. I love Jennifer's writing! Of all the books I've read of hers, and I've read all but one, I have never been disappointed. She usually adds some intriguing mystery that really grabs your attention and makes you turn those pages. I'll be reviewing Don't Breathe a Word this month.

How was your week?! Do lists like the "20 Under 40" motivate you to check out the work of the authors included in the list? Or do you HATE lists? One thing I think makes the 20 Under 40 list less tedious is that it's not a yearly list, where lists must be updated "no matter what".

Well, I hope you found something interesting today! Let me know what great books you found this week! Share those titles right here!

Happy reading... Suzanne

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