LJ Best Books 2016

A jury of our peers discussed, debated, disagreed, and finally declared LJ’s annual Top Ten Best Books of the year, selected by our editors, as well as Top Five lists for genre fiction, nonfiction, poetry, graphic novels, and SELF-e titles. VISIT THE WEBSITE

Travels & Translations | Memoir

This month, there is little connection among the featured memoirs, except that two are by Americans, and two are translated works. Authors Peter Andreas and Andrew Forsthoefel offer prime examples of enlightening memoirs, while the accounts of Ludmilla Petrushevskaya and Maryse Wolinski perhaps look too inward. Yet, to each his own—try one for yourself and see what you think.

Andreas.RebelMomstarred review starAndreas, Peter. Rebel Mother: My Childhood Chasing the Revolution. S. & S. Apr. 2017. 336p. photos. ISBN 9781501124396. $26; ebk. ISBN 9781501124457. MEMOIR
After becoming radicalized during the late 1960s, former Mennonite and housewife Carol Andreas became obsessed with making “the revolution” happen, kidnapped her son, Peter, and moved to South America. Eventually, they made their way back to the United States, where they lived in hiding. Although infuriating and terribly misguided woman, she is portrayed as affectionate, understanding, and full of acceptance. Andreas (John Hay Professor of International Studies, Brown Univ.; Smuggler Nation: How Illicit Trade Made America) uses an interesting, straightforward style that early on relates his life as though through a child’s eyes. Yet, as the narrative progresses, and the author grows older, he becomes increasingly critical and questioning of his mother’s actions. In the end, he is thankful for the experiences she gave him, even though their relationship becomes increasingly strained. This is a dense book, involving a parallel story line about Carol’s divorce from Andreas’s father, Carl, and Carl’s attempts to gain custody of his son. VERDICT A profound and enlightening account that will open readers up to different ideas about love, acceptance, and the bond between mother and son. [See Prepub Alert, 10/24/16.]

Forsthoefel.Walkingstarred review starForsthoefel, Andrew. Walking To Listen: 4,000 Miles Across America, One Story at a Time. Bloomsbury USA. Mar. 2017. 400p. maps. bibliog. ISBN 9781632867001. $28; ebk. ISBN 9781632867025. MEMOIR
Unsure of what to do after graduating from college, Forsthoefel decided to walk across America, from Pennsylvania to the Pacific coast, and listen to the fascinating stories of ordinary people. Forsthoefel includes chunks of many of these tales verbatim. But what is even more fascinating, and unexpected, is the journey he goes through himself. Guided by Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass and Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet—both of which he quotes from copiously—he discovers what he can endure, what he is capable of, and finds a place for himself in the world. For the author, what started out as an attempt to understand our connections to other people ends in a greater understanding of a connection with himself. VERDICT A remarkable book that calls to mind William Least-Heat Moon’s Blue Highways.

Petrushevskaya.MetropolPetrushevskaya, Ludmilla. The Girl from the Metropol Hotel: Growing up in Communist Russia. Penguin. Feb. 2017. 176p. tr. from Russian by Anna Summers. photos. ISBN 9780143129974. pap. $16; ebk. ISBN 9781101993514. MEMOIR
Originally published in Russian in 2006, this is the first volume of Petrushevskaya’s autobiography. Acclaimed in the United States for her fablelike short stories, here the author (There Once Lived a Woman Who Tried To Kill Her Neighbor’s Baby: Scary Fairy Tales; He Hanged Himself: Love Stories) turns her darkly comic sensibility on the early, and quite unhappy, years of her own life. Many of the chapters are very short and disconnected from one another, and in a few instances, Petrushevskaya slips into the third person, which brings the reader back to the feel of her short stories. The most intriguing final section describes her experience doing menial labor and working for a radio station in Kazakhstan. Otherwise, the book adds little to the “miserable childhood” subgenre of memoir. VERDICT For readers already familiar with Petrushevskaya, this will be a welcome addition. Others may want to turn to her fiction first.

Wolinski.GoingCharlieWolinski, Maryse. Darling, I’m Going to Charlie. 37 Ink: Atria. Feb. 2017. 144p. tr. from French by Sandra Stein. ISBN 9781501154898. $22; ebk. ISBN 9781501154911. MEMOIR
Journalist and writer Wolinski is the widow of Georges Wolinski, cartoonist and victim of the 2015 terrorist attack on the offices of the French newspaper Charlie Hebdo. Here, she provides both a rather clinically detailed narrative of the attacks themselves as well as touching stories of her 47-year relationship with Georges. There is a lot of anger here, too, as it becomes clear, at least according to Wolinski, that French officials could have done more to protect Charlie Hebdo in the years prior to the attack. VERDICT It’s difficult to grasp who exactly the audience for this memoir is, at least outside of France, as there is little sense of the universality of the experience. Most relevant to readers wishing to find out more about the Charlie Hebdo attack.

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Derek Sanderson About Derek Sanderson

Derek Sanderson is currently Assistant Librarian for Instruction Services at Mount Saint Mary College in Newburgh, NY. When not reviewing books or at the library he enjoys spending time with his son, reading, listening to the Grateful Dead, making mix tapes, and watching whichever sports are in season.

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