Epstein, Jennifer Cody. The Gods of Heavenly Punishment. Norton. Mar. 2013. ISBN 9780393071573. 384p. $26.95. HISTORICAL
After the 1945 firebombing of Tokyo rips apart 15-year-old Yoshi’s old life, she builds a new one with the help of three Americans: downed bomber pilot Cam; Billy, an Occupation soldier guarding a secret; and Anton, an architect who helped modernize Tokyo only to see it destroyed by the war. Expect a firm sense of culture: Epstein (The Painter from Shanghai) lived in Japan for five years. Lots of promotional push, plus a reading group guide.
Jansma, Kristopher. The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards. Viking. Mar. 2013. 272p. ISBN 9780670026005. $26.95. LITERARY
Why am I highlighting this contemporary picaresque? Jansma was a finalist for BOMB magazine’s 2011 fiction contest. Sales reps are already raving, and so are their customers. And the story sounds so absorbing. The bright-eyed young narrator, an aspiring writer (yes, this is a debut novel), looks up to the gifted Julian McGann and falls hard for Julian’s lovely friend Evelyn. When this triangle implodes, the narrator attempts to sort himself out by traveling the world, from Sri Lanka to Manhattan’s jazz clubs. A writer to watch.
Kricorian, Nancy. All the Light There Was. Houghton Harcourt. Mar. 2013. 288p. ISBN 9780547939940. $24. HISTORICAL
“It didn’t start with blaring newspaper headlines announcing a pending invasion. … Our war commenced that afternoon when my mother stockpiled groceries so that, no matter what this new war might bring, her family would have something to eat.” The setting is Paris (where Kricorian has studied), the time World War II, and the family Armenians living in the outlying Belleville neighborhood who had already survived one tumultuous upheaval. At first glance, history as seen through family intimacy, with careful physical detail; try it.
Majmudar, Amit. The Abundance. Holt. Mar. 2013. 272p. ISBN 9780805096583. $26. POP FICTION
Mala and Ronak are surprisingly less comfortable with their dual Indian and American roots than their parents, part of an immigrant community that has happily embraced the New World. Told that their mother is about to die, they return home to the Midwest, where Mala persuades Ronak that they should immerse themselves in Indian culture by learning to cook their mother’s favorite dishes. Then Ronak hits upon the idea of capturing their experience in book and film, and all hell breaks loose. Majmudar’s Partitions was among Kirkus’s best debut novels and Booklist’s best works of historical fiction of 2011, which bodes well for this new novel.
Ravel, Edeet. The Cat. Pintail: Penguin Group (USA). Mar. 2013. 240p. ISBN 9780143186458. pap. $16.LITERARY
A single mother, Elise is utterly undone by the death of her 11-year-old son, but the need to take care of his beloved cat helps pull her through. Soon she abandons her concrete-walled isolation and reaches out to others. A Canadian Jewish Book Award winner and Governor General’s Literary Award finalist, the Israeli-born Ravel will be uplifting here.
Selasi, Taiye. Ghana Must Go. Penguin Pr: Penguin Group (USA). Mar. 2013. 336p. ISBN 9781594204494. $25.95. LITERARY
After the death of famed surgeon Kwaku Sai, his family, which had spun apart violently when he abandoned them for his second wife, come together again in Ghana, reconciling themselves to his death even as they reassess what he cost them in life. This debut novel follows the appearance of Selasi’s “The Sex Lives of African Girls” in Best American Short Stories 2012 this fall, so watch carefully.
Shafak, Elif. Honor. Viking. Mar. 2013. 352p. ISBN 9780670784837. $26.95. LITERARY
Things don’t work out as planned when Pembe, who is Kurdish, follows Turkish husband Adem to London in the 1970s. When Adem deserts the family, eldest son Iskender steps in as head—and thus feels obliged to defend the family honor when Pembe begins a chaste relationship with a man named Elias. As always, Shafak plunges into the heart of cultural conflict; this internationally best-selling Turkish author is set to shake you up. For your smart readers.