Inevitably, people ask us what books we would recommend. Most are looking for an interesting book to read on the plane or the train. Some are looking for gifts for other people and still others are looking to exercise their language skills. Often, they don’t want a particularly hefty tome of a book that will take too long to read. After a number of such questions, we’ve come to realize that there are some books that fit such requirements and are always included in our list of recommendations. Here are some of them:
Restless by William Boyd
William Boyd’s novel is an absorbing historical thriller about the life of Sally Gilmartin, born Eva Delectorskaya, a Russian emigree recruited into the British Secret Service in 1939. The story unfolds on a parallel track with the story of Sally’s daughter, Ruth a graduate student and single mother living a dull civilian life in Oxford in 1976. Ruth learns of her mother’s secret past through an autobiography that Sally has decided to write about her life. By installments, Eva describes the taciturn spy who recruited and trained her before becoming her lover; her secret propaganda work in New York; and the act of duplicity, almost deadly, that forced her to flee to England and live under an assumed identity. Ruth barely has time to process the shock of her mother's secret before she is swept into a dangerous game: finding her mother's betrayer before it's too late.
It is as exciting as it sounds and Boyd is able to write a completely atmospheric novel replete with period details. There are some unusual twists that hold your attention till the last page is turned.
Away by Amy Bloom
This is all about Lillian Leyb, the 22-year-old Jewish immigrant protagonist whose life reads like a tragedy. Her husband and parents were killed in a Russian pogrom, and the same violent episode separated her from her three-year-old daughter, Sophie. Arriving in New York in 1924, Lillian dreams of Sophie, and after five weeks in America, barely speaking English, she outmaneuvers a line of applicants for a seamstress job at the Goldfadn Yiddish Theatre, where she becomes the mistress of both handsome lead actor Meyer Burstein and his very connected father, Reuben. Her only friend in New York, tailor/actor/playwright Yaakov Shimmelman, gives her a thesaurus and coaches her on American culture. In a last, loving, gesture, Yaakov secures Lillian passage out of New York to begin her quest to find Sophie. The journey—through Chicago by train, into Seattle's African-American underworld and across the Alaskan wilderness—elevates Bloom's novel from familiar immigrant chronicle to sweeping saga of endurance and rebirth. Encompassing prison, prostitution and poetry, Yiddish humor and Yukon settings, Bloom's tale offers linguistic twists, startling imagery, sharp wit and a compelling vision of the past. Bloom has created an extraordinary range of characters, settings and emotions
The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon
For sixty years Jewish refugees and their descendants have prospered in the Federal District of Sitka, a "temporary" safe haven created in the wake of the Holocaust and the shocking 1948 collapse of the fledgling state of Israel. The Jews of the Sitka District have created their own little world in the Alaskan panhandle, a vibrant and complex frontier city that moves to the music of Yiddish. But now the District is set to revert to Alaskan control, and their dream is coming to an end.
Homicide detective Meyer Landsman of the District Police has enough problems without worrying about the upcoming Reversion. His life is a shambles, his marriage a wreck, his career a disaster. And in the cheap hotel where Landsman has washed up, someone has just committed a murder—right under his nose. When he begins to investigate the killing of his neighbor, a former chess prodigy, word comes down from on high that the case is to be dropped immediately, and Landsman finds himself contending with all the powerful forces of faith, obsession, evil, and salvation that are his heritage.
At once a gripping whodunit, a love story, and an exploration of the mysteries of exile and redemption, The Yiddish Policemen's Union is a novel only Michael Chabon could have written.
Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris
In this wildly funny debut from former ad man Ferris, a group of copywriters and designers at a Chicago ad agency face layoffs at the end of the '90s boom. Indignation rises over the rightful owner of a particularly coveted chair ("We felt deceived"). Gonzo e-mailer Tom Mota quotes Walt Whitman and Ralph Waldo Emerson in the midst of his tirades, desperately trying to retain a shred of integrity at a job that requires a ruthless attention to what will make people buy things. Jealousy toward the aloof and "inscrutable" middle manager Joe Pope spins out of control. Copywriter Chris Yop secretly returns to the office after he's laid off to prove his worth. Rumors that supervisor Lynn Mason has breast cancer inspire blood lust, remorse, compassion. Ferris has the downward-spiraling office down cold, and his use of the narrative "we" brilliantly conveys the collective fear, pettiness, idiocy and also humanity of high-level office drones as anxiety rises to a fever pitch. Only once does Ferris shift from the first person plural (for an extended fugue on Lynn's realization that she may be ill), and the perspective feels natural throughout. At once delightfully freakish and entirely credible, Ferris's cast makes a real impression
Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name
This is a taut, darkly witty, and galvanizing tale of one woman's search for the truth about her parentage. Clarissa's enigmatic mother left her family, including her retarded son, when Clarissa was 14, and vanished without a trace. A dozen years later, Clarissa is languishing in a stale relationship and going nowhere with her work editing movie subtitles when her father abruptly dies, and a gaping hole opens in her past. Now it's Clarissa's turn to disappear as she journeys to Lapland and the world of the Sami, an indigenous people who still herd reindeer. With skilled distillation, Vida evokes a culture on the brink of extinction and a legacy of loss as her anxious yet adventurous protagonist throws herself on the mercy of strangers in an otherworldly realm of deep cold, hard drinking, a hotel constructed of snow and ice, the northern lights, and long memories. Brilliantly distilled, blade-sharp, and as dangerously exhilarating as skating in the dark.
His Illegal Self by Peter Carey
His Illegal Self is the story of Che—raised in isolated privilege by his New York grandmother, he is the precocious son of radical student activists at Harvard in the late sixties. Yearning for his famous outlaw parents, denied all access to television and the news, he takes hope from his long-haired teenage neighbor, who predicts, They will come for you, man. They’ll break you out of here.Soon Che too is an outlaw: fleeing down subways, abandoning seedy motels at night, he is pitched into a journey that leads him to a hippie commune in the jungle of tropical Queensland. Here he slowly, bravely confronts his life, learning that nothing is what it seems. Who is his real mother? Was that his real father? If all he suspects is true, what should he do?Never sentimental, His Illegal Self is an achingly beautiful story of the love between a young woman and a little boy. It may make you cry more than once before it lifts your spirit in the most lovely, artful, unexpected way.