Barbara’s Picks, May 2012, Pt. 4: Freudenberger, Irving, and More

Freudenberger, Nell. The Newlyweds. Knopf. May 2012. 336p. ISBN 9780307268846. $25.95. CD: Random Audio. LITERARY FICTION
Freudenberger is truly a reader’s writer; people I know who love good books tend to utter her name with some enthusiasm. She debuted with the PEN/Malamud Award‚ winning story collection, Lucky Girls, and followed up successfully with her first novel, The Dissident. That was in 2006, and here, finally, is a new novel. This tale of cross-continental star-crossed love features an American man and a Bangladeshi woman who meet online and soon marry, only to discover that each has secrets that undermine the marriage. So, a modern take on the age-old hidden complexities of love. With a four-city tour to Boston, New York, San Francisco, and Seattle and a 75,000-copy first printing; get it wherever there are serious readers.

Irving, John. In One Person. S. & S. May 2012. 448p. ISBN 9781451664126. $28. CD/downloadable: S. & S. Audio. LITERARY FICTION
Billy, the bisexual protagonist of Irving’s 13th novel, is what Irving called a sexual suspect in his classic The World According to Garp. Indeed, as he switches publishers, it looks as if Irving is also taking a leap back to the intense sexual and political concerns of his earlier works. Here, Billy narrates the ups and downs, ins and outs of a bittersweet life led over a half-century. More details I can’t give you, except to say that you should expect a cast of typical Irving-wonderful crazies. Irving is loved.

Kanon, Joseph. Istanbul Passage. Atria: S. & S. May 2012. 480p. ISBN 9781439156414. $26; eISBN 9781439164822. THRILLER
With Turkey neutral during World War II, Istanbul swarms with refugees, spies, and businessmen like Leon Bauer, an American who does the occasional odd job for the Allies. He has one last job after the war ends, but it goes badly, and he finds himself trapped in spiraling intrigue (remember, this is the town that gave us the word byzantine), as he faces both impossible moral choices and the advent of love. Sounds deliciously atmospheric, a good enough recommendation, but what intrigues me here is the suggestion of postwar twistiness that defined the last half-century in a setting that couldn’t be more au courant. With a reading group guide.

Ingrassia, Paul. Engines of Change: A History of the American Dream in Fifteen Cars. S. & S. May 2012. 448p. ISBN 9781451640632. $30. HISTORY/TECHNOLOGY
The manufacturing boom, geographical and social mobility, suburbanization, march- and concert-going hippies, then the ongoing oil crisis and environmental degradation‚ they’ve all been helped along by the car, as has our general passion for the unfettered life. A Pulitzer Prize winner for his reporting on GM management crises in the early 1990s, Reuters deputy editor in chief Ingrassia uses 15 cars, from the Model-T Ford to the Corvette to the BMW 3 series, to show how the car defined 20th-century American history. Essential for car nuts, but it’s bigger than that.

Wasserstein, Bernard. On the Eve: The Jews of Europe Before the Second World War. S. & S. May 2012. 448p. ISBN 9781416594277. $30. HISTORY
Ulrich and Harriet Meyer Professor of Modern European Jewish History at the University of Chicago, Wasserstein chronicles European Jewry in the decade before the war, boldly exploring problems within the community as well as the external pressures of anti-Semitism. He ranges widely, from Vilna (the Jerusalem of Lithuania) to Amsterdam (the Jerusalem of the West) to Judeo-Espa√±ol-speaking Salonica in Greece while profiling bankers, revolutionaries, yeshiva bokhers, and more. I suspect that we think we know all there is to know about this subject, but we don’t; Wasserstein should have us covered. Important.

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.