Barbara’s Picks: October 2012, Pt. 2: Banville, Cronin, Harris, Pamuk, Bizot, Brands, Dobbs

Banville, John. Ancient Light. Knopf. Oct. 2012. 304p. ISBN 9780307957054. $25.95; eISBN 9780307960832. CD/downloadable: Random Audio. LITERARY
At the end of a stuttering career, suddenly revived by a role-of-a-lifetime movie turn, actor Alexander Cleave looks back at his first and probably only love, a charged and ultimately catastrophic passion at age 15 for his best friend’s mother. Then there’s his daughter, whose own uncertain turn of mind he cannot understand. Always an honored writer, Banville has gained a bigger audience here since winning the Man Booker Prize for The Sea, so this probing study of memory’s shiftiness will be anticipated. With a reading guide and a six-city tour to Boston, New York, Portland (OR), San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington, DC.

Cronin, Justin. The Passage Trilogy: Bk. 2: The Twelve. Ballantine. Oct. 2012. 560p. ISBN 9780345504982. $28; eISBN 9780345534897. CD: Random Audio. LITERARY THRILLER
After racking up honors like the PEN/Hemingway Award for his literary fiction, Cronin wrote a dystopian thriller called The Passage‚ and sold 600,000 copies while claiming awed reviews and best book nods, including from LJ. Here we see three strangers bonding over the chaos created by the U.S. government experiment gone awry that kicked off the first book, and, 100 years hence, we again meet Amy, Peter, Alicia, and the others as they track the 12 virals that started all the trouble. Alas, their quest is based on some assumptions that no longer hold. With a 15- to 20-city tour and a huge multimedia campaign.

Harris, Joanne. Peaches for Father Francis. Viking. Oct. 2012. 352p. ISBN 9780670026364. $26.95. CD: Penguin Audio. POP FICTION
With Harris’s beloved chocolatière, Vianne Rocher, we return to the lovely French village of Lansquenet, where Vianne first opened up shop in Harris’s multi-million-best-selling Chocolat. Now the town is changed, with veiled women walking the streets and a minaret rising across the river, and‚ big surprise!‚ fierce, resistant Father Francis needs Vianne’s help. Charm and important social context; a recent New York Times editorial reports that France has Europe’s largest Islamic minority, which has caused headline-making tensions recently. The editorial goes on to explain that inclusive Marseille has no such troubles. Perhaps little Lansquenet will emulate its big brother.

Pamuk, Orhan. Silent House. Knopf. Oct. 2012. 320p. ISBN 9780307700285. $26.95; eISBN 9780307958556. LITERARY
Before he won the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, before he won the Nobel Peace Prize, Pamuk wrote this, his second novel‚ only now available in English. In the summer before the 1980 military coup, the widow Fatima anticipates her grandchildren’s annual visit to her home in Cennethisar, now a fancy resort near Istanbul but once a fishing village where Fatima’s physician husband settled to serve the poor. She reminisces with ever-loyal servant Recep, a dwarf who happens to be her husband’s illegitimate son, even as Recep’s dedicatedly nationalist cousin draws the entire family dangerously close to the looming political crisis. With a reading group guide; a good way to understand the Turkey of today.

Bizot, François. Facing the Torturer. Knopf. Oct. 2012. 224p. ISBN 9780307273505. $25; eISBN 9780307960870. HISTORY
Director of studies at Paris’s √âcole Pratique des Hautes études and chair of Southeast Asian Buddhism at the Sorbonne, Bizot was a young scholar studying pottery and Buddhist ritual in Cambodia when he was imprisoned by the Khmer Rouge for three months in 1973, an experience he recounted searingly in The Gate. (Bizot was the only Westerner to survive Khmer Rouge imprisonment.) His captor was the infamous Duch, ultimately responsible for the deaths of more than 10,000 people. Duch was arrested for his crimes in 1999, and Bizot bore witness at his trial‚ an unimaginable act of courage that he revisits here with this book. Note that it’s classified as history‚ Bizot clearly turns the spotlight from himself to a horrifically dark time in human history.

Brands, H.W. The Man Who Saved the Union: Ulysses Grant in War and Peace. Doubleday. Oct. 2012. 736p. ISBN 9780385532419. $35; eISBN 9780385532426. CD: Random Audio. BIOGRAPHY
A New York Times best-selling historian/biographer who’s given us firm portraits of Benjamin Franklin, Andrew Jackson, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, among others, Brands here takes on Civil War general and two-term president Ulysses Grant. Grant’s reputation suffered after the war, partly because of Southern resentment, and Brands is out to given us a fairer, better picture. He shows us a first-rate general and a President who was both popular and compassionate, working hard to protect the rights of freedmen; Brands calls him last presidential defender of black civil rights for nearly a century. I’m betting on this one.

Dobbs, Michael. Six Months in 1945: FDR, Stalin, Churchill, and Truman‚ from World War to Cold War. Knopf. Oct. 2012. 448p. ISBN 9780307271655. $28.95; eISBN 9780307960894. Downloadable: Random Audio. HISTORY
In February 1945, when Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin met in Yalta, the alliance that had helped rout Hitler was already showing strains, and the start of the Cold War lay only months away. Dobbs, a Washington Post reporter who covered the fall of communism and authored the best-selling One Minute to Midnight, about nuclear brinkmanship, should have the perspective to cover this story. Lots of in-house enthusiasm.

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.