A Manual for Cleaning Women: Selected Stories
by Lucia Berlin, edited by Stephen Emerson with a forward by Lydia Davis
Berlin, a onetime Oakland & Berkeley resident who passed away in 2004, wrote stories about the difficulties of addiction and working class life in a conversational tone. Despite her often dark subject matter, “the prevailing sensibility of this book…is cleareyed and even comic in the face of life hitting the skids” (Kirkus Reviews). In her forward, Lydia Davis compares Berlin to Alice Munro, Grace Paley and Tillie Olsen. Reviewers predict that this collection will bring her some long-deserved acclaim, since Berlin “may just be the best writer you've never heard of” (Publishers Weekly).
Make Your Home Among Strangers
by Jennine Capo Crucet
Lizet is not like her sister Leidy, who aspires to marriage and motherhood. She has different, secret dreams, so she applies to a posh New England college and gets a scholarship—without telling anyone in her Cuban American family. When she reveals her plans to become the first in her family to attend college, her parents are furious. Later, when Lizet returns to Miami for Thanksgiving after her first months away, her visit coincides with the arrival of a 5-year-old Cuban refugee who has washed ashore on a raft, working the Cuban ex-pat community into a frenzy. Debut novelist and winner of a PEN/O. Henry and Iowa Short Fiction award, “Crucet depicts with insight and subtlety the culture shock, confusion, guilt, and humiliations of the first-generation college student surrounded by privilege” (Library Journal).
by Vu Tran
Robert, an Oakland cop, finds himself embroiled in a search for his ex-wife in the grittiest and sleaziest parts of Las Vegas. His ex, Hong (known to Robert as Suzy) is missing after being badly beaten by her current husband Sonny. Hong’s tragic past, as a victim of war in Vietnam and as a refugee in Malaysia, unfolds as Robert hunts for her and plans to even the score on her behalf. “This haunting and mesmerizing debut is filled with all the noir elements—a dark and seedy underworld, damsels in distress, tarnished heroes, and a blurring of moral boundaries” while “it examines such themes as culture, desperation, memory, mental illness, love, loss, and redemption” (Booklist).
Flood of Fire
by Amitav Ghosh
An accomplished Bengali author concludes his historical fiction trilogy that began with Sea of Poppies (2008, shortlisted for the 2008 Booker Prize) and continued with River of Smoke (2011, shortlisted for the Asian Literary Prize). Flood of Fire revolves around India’s involvement in the First Opium War of 1839 to '41 between China and England. It follows a large cast of characters with shifting relationships to the drug trade and each other, and the military actions that amounted to a “nineteenth-century war on drugs.” “This feverishly detailed, vividly panoramic, tumultuous, funny, and heartbreaking tale offers a vigorous conclusion to Ghosh's astutely complex and profoundly resonant geopolitical saga” (Booklist).
by Tanwi Nandini Islam
The Saleems are a Bangladeshi family raising their daughter in post-9/11 Brooklyn, along with orphaned niece Ella, who harbors a secret romantic love for her beautiful cousin. The Saleems later take in Maya, the runaway daughter of a Muslim cleric. In this coming-of-age story, the three girls confront their roots, forbidden loves and difficult family secrets. “The novel is a sensitive and subtle exploration of the experience of gender nonconformity across cultures” and “a transcontinental, transgenerational tale of a family and its secrets” (Kirkus Reviews).
by Ottessa Moshfegh
It’s Christmastime in the 1960s, but things are bleak in this creepy tale from an Oakland author. Eileen is lonely and miserable, living with her alcoholic, abusive father in a filthy and run-down house in New England, where she is a secretary at a boys’ prison. When the beautiful and mysterious Rebecca joins the prison staff, Eileen is smitten and determined to be her friend at all costs—which leads to a shocking crime. Booklist calls it “literary psychological suspense at its best” and Kirkus calls it “a shadowy and superbly told story of how inner turmoil morphs into outer chaos.”
by Eli Gottlieb
Todd Aaron is a middle aged man with Autism who has been thriving at the Payton Living Center for four decades. His routines are suddenly disrupted by the arrivals of a disturbing new roommate, an untrustworthy staff aide, and an intriguing new female resident. Suddenly Todd’s usual longing for home become unbearable and he attempts an escape. Kirkus calls it an “eloquent, sensitive rendering of a marginalized life” and Publishers Weekly says that Todd’s “voice is spectacular” and the story is “never less than captivating.”
by Kathleen Alcott
Edith is an aging widow with fading memory and a rambling Brooklyn Brownstone. Her ragtag group of tenants keeps an eye out for her, but Edith’s son Owen only has eyes for the building’s potential profit. When Owen serves everyone with eviction papers, the tenants join forces to protect both Edith and their homes. “Ensemble novels often strain to stay true to all their voices, especially when those voices range across genders, ages, ethnicities, and mental capacities” but “Alcott (The Dangers of Proximal Alphabets, 2012) displays a deft hand with every one of her odd and startlingly real characters… A luminous second novel from a first-class storyteller” (Kirkus Reviews).
In the Language of Miracles
by Rajia Hassib
The lives of an affluent family of Egyptian Americans are shattered when the eldest son commits a murder-suicide. Hosaam, having long struggled with depression, kills himself and his ex-girlfriend Natalie, the daughter of the family next door in their affluent New Jersey suburb. What follows is an account of the myriad ways family members cope with their personal grief, as well as the public suspicion, prejudice and judgment leveled at them. Kirkus calls it a “sensitive, finely wrought debut” and Library Journal says “this rich novel offers complex characters, beautiful writing, and astute observations.”
The Girl from the Garden
by Parnaz Foroutan
An elderly woman looks back on her family’s tragic history in a Jewish community in Iran in the early 20th century. At the story’s center is Rakhel, who has failed to produce an heir for her wealthy husband, leaving her desperate and bitter, and prompting her husband to make decisions that will cause great sorrow among their household. The Girl from the Garden is “an immersive tale of the inner strength of women living in a time and within a culture when their personal thoughts and opinions were unwelcomed by men” (Library Journal). “Suspenseful and haunting, this riveting story of jealousy, sacrifice, and betrayal and the intimately drawn characters within will not be easily forgotten” (Booklist).
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