Barbara's Picks, March 2012, Pt. 1: De Robertis, duBois, Harrison, Kunzru, De Botton, Strayed

De Robertis, Carolina. Perla. Knopf. Mar. 2012. 256p. ISBN 9780307599599. $25.95; eISBN 9780307957382. Downloadable: Random Audio. LITERARY
During Argentina’s Dirty War, a period of military repression lasting from 1976 to 1983, some 30,000 citizens were disappeared‚ including about 500 pregnant women whose newborns were given to military families. This story is at the heart of De Robertis’s second novel, after the international best seller The Invisible Mountain. The daughter of an icy mother and upright naval officer father whom she adores but whose profession is regarded as anathema in the post-dictatorship years, Perla Correa learns from a pushy houseguest just how she figures in the tragedy of the Dirty War era. Expect richly observed detail and real human drama from this award-winning author.

duBois, Jennifer. A Partial History of Lost Causes. Dial. Mar. 2012. 384p. ISBN 9781400069774. $26; CD/Downloadable: Random Audio. LITERARY
Chess champion‚ turned‚ dissident Aleksandr Bezetov tilts at windmills when he takes on Vladimir Putin in a political campaign, while American Irina Ellison faces the certainty that she has inherited Huntington’s disease, which killed her father. What ties them together is Irina’s quest to meet Bezetov, to whom her father had once written a letter asking how one copes with a lost cause. Moving between the 1970s Soviet Union, a gray, enclosed world we can hardly imagine, and up-for-grabs contemporary Russia, which we need to understand better, this debut would seem to address our fighting spirit in the best way possible. A good first move for Stegner fellow duBois; I’m reserving time for this one.

Harrison, Kathryn. Enchantments. Random. Mar. 2012. 320p. ISBN 9781400063475. $26; eISBN 9780679644231. CD: Random Audio. LITERARY
Harrison’s novels always chart heated, dangerously emotional territory, and this one sounds no different‚ with the added benefit of being set during the Russian Revolution, as riveting a time as one can imagine. After Rasputin is killed, the Romanovs take responsibility for his daughters‚ and ask 18-year-old Masha to assume her father’s job of tending to ailing tsarevitch Alyosha. The two become close, and their very different perspectives give historic scope to a country in turmoil. This should appeal to a wide range of readers‚ there’s history and passion, told in a literary voice‚ and Harrison’s recent nonfiction shows that she’s good with detail. Book club gold.

Kunzru, Hari. Gods Without Men. Knopf. Mar. 2012. 384p. ISBN 9780307957115. $26.95; eISBN 9780307957498. LITERARY
The author of such cogent, sharply observed works as The Impressionist and My Revolutions, Kunzru returns with his first book set entirely in the United States. (British-born Kunzru recently moved from London to New York, where he is a Fellow at the NYPL’s Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers.) While New Yorkers Jaz and Lisa Matharu are vacationing in the starkly beautiful Mojave Desert, their autistic son goes missing. As they desperately hunt for him, they discover that the desert is hardly empty; in an isolated town called the Pinnacles, they encounter a host of unusual characters, including a wasted British rock star, a former UFO cultie, and a black marine who has befriended an adolescent Iraqi immigrant serving as a villager in a military simulation exercise. Top of the pile for me.

de Botton, Alain. Religion for Atheists: A Non-Believer’s Guide to the Uses of Religion. Pantheon. Mar. 2012. 320p. ISBN 9780307379108. $26.95; eISBN 9780307907103. RELIGION/PHILOSOPHY
The author of How Proust Can Change Your Life and The Consolations of Philosophy is at it again. Here, he interrupts the argument between God-is-all believers and religion-is-dangerous nonbelievers to propose the following: so God doesn’t exist, but religion was still dreamed up for reasons that remain germane (consider the comforting rituals and ethical focus). To make it work for us, we simply need to separate cant from helpful content. Perhaps easier said than done, but in a time of tragedy it worked for me. With a five-city tour to Boston, Lawrence (KS), New York, San Francisco, and Seattle.

Strayed, Cheryl. Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail. Knopf. Mar. 2012. 336p. ISBN 9780307592736. $25.95; eISBN 9780307957658. MEMOIR
So many heal-myself memoirs are available that initially I hesitated about this account of Strayed’s efforts to right her life by taking a 1100-mile solo hike along the Pacific Crest Trail, from the Mojave Desert to Washington State. Then I considered the source. Strayed is the author of Torch, a lyric yet tough-minded first novel that got some attention‚ it was a Great Lakes Book Award finalist, for instance. And the story is arresting. Shattered at 26 by her mother’s death, her family’s fragmenting, and the end of her marriage, Strayed upped and decided to do something way out of the realm of her experience, and here she discusses confronting snowstorms and rattlesnakes even as she confronts her personal pain. Wish I had her guts.

Barbara Hoffert About Barbara Hoffert

Barbara Hoffert (, @BarbaraHoffert on Twitter) is Editor, LJ Prepub Alert; past chair of the Materials Selection Committee of the RUSA (Reference and User Services Assn.) division of the American Library Association; and past president, treasurer, and awards chair of the National Book Critics Circle.