Barbara’s Picks, May 2012, Pt. 2: Carey, Hanif, Figes, Lewis-Kraus, Quindlen

Carey, Peter. The Chemistry of Tears. Knopf. May 2012. 288p. ISBN 9780307592712. 288p. $26; eISBN 9780307958395. LITERARY
Twice a Booker Prize winner and a Commonwealth and Miles Franklin honoree as well, the incomparable Carey returns with a story of secret grief assuaged. A museum conservator in London, Catherine learns that her lover and colleague has died but hides her pain because he was a married man. Her boss, the only person who knew of her affair, seeks to help by having her work alone on a project involving a 19th-century automaton. When she discovers the diaries of Henry Brandling, the man who build the automaton, she enters into an understanding of the desire for invention, the magic of creation, and the healing power of love. An A-plus purchase.

Hanif, Mohammed. Our Lady of Alice Bhatti. Knopf. May 2012. 256p. ISBN 9780307958310. $25.95. LITERARY
Having made a name for himself with the bitterly funny A Case of Exploding Mangoes, about the unexplained plane crash that killed the Pakistani dictator, General Zia, in 1988, Hanif returns with a story at once intimate and likely as biting as his debut. Just out of prison and Catholic in Karachi, which isn’t easy, Alice Bhatti gets a job as a junior nurse at Sacred Heart Hospital‚ a last-resort public hospital for the homeless, addicted, and gunned-down poor. There, she and violence-prone, off-and-on police goon Teddy Butt fall in love. A novel of hope in a dark world, relevant to us all.

Figes, Orlando. Love in the Gulag: Love and Survival in the Gulag. Metropolitan: Holt. May 2012. 352p. ISBN 9780805095227. $27. HISTORY
Now this is a great love story. Imprisoned first in a Nazi concentration camp as a Soviet soldier and then falsely charged with treason and imprisoned in the Gulag above the Arctic Circle, 29-year-old Lev Mischenko unexpectedly received a letter from his beloved, Sveta. Over the next eight years, they managed to exchange 1500 letters, and Sveta even had herself smuggled into the camp to see Lev. Recently discovered, these letters serve as the basis for this new book from Wolfson History Prize winner Figes (Natasha’s Dance), who specializes in Russian culture. A window like no other on the Gulag and hence valuable reading to anyone interested in history.

Lewis-Kraus, Gideon. A Sense of Direction: Pilgrimage for the Restless and the Hopeful. Riverhead: Putnam. May 2012. 336p. ISBN 9781594487255. $25.95. MEMOIR
Looking for the anything-goes environment that might have been appreciated by his father, a gay rabbi closeted until midlife, Lewis-Kraus moved to Berlin but then opted for a little more structure by accepting a friend’s invitation to walk the Camino de Santiago, the 1000-year-old pilgrimage route across Spain. Subsequently, he visited all 88 Buddhist temples on the Japanese island of Shikoku by himself and, with his father and brother, joined an annual mass pilgrimage to the tomb of a celebrated Hasidic mystic in Ukraine. Not a tourist, Lewis-Kraus was instead trying to understand how we move forward despite the weight of the past; Gary Shteyngart describes this book as Eat, Pray, Love as written by David Foster Wallace. Doubtless smart reading‚ Lewis-Kraus actually got to Berlin on a Fulbright fellowship‚ and the author’s good connections as a journalist will get his work out there; media interest is already perking.

Quindlen, Anna. Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake. Random. May 2012. 208p. ISBN 9781400069347. $26. lrg. prnt. eISBN 9780679604006. CD: Random Audio. MEMOIR
Before she published six best-selling novels (e.g., Every Last One); before she wrote her million-copy best seller, A Short Guide to the Happy Life; before she won a Pulitzer Prize for commentary for her New York Times column Public and Private, Quindlen attracted eager readers with her Times column Life in the 30s. Now she’s in her fifties and ready to use past and present experiences as well as future dreams to talk about what life is like for women of all ages. Will this be big? Just check out the eight-city tour to New York, Washington, DC, Miami, Chicago, St. Louis, Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles; the NPR campaign; the book club, Goodreads, and LibraryThing outreach; the ALA midwinter push; and the special essay written for the viral email campaign.

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.