Barbara’s Picks: October 2012, Pt. 1: From Keilson to Mignola/Golden to Ackroyd

Keilson, Hans. Life Goes On. Farrar. Oct. 2012. 288p. ISBN 9780374191955. pap. $15; eISBN 9781429947763. LITERARY FICTION
Born in 1909, Keilson practiced medicine in his native Germany until the Nuremberg Laws forced him out. He fled to the Netherlands, serving in the Dutch Resistance during World War II and working as a psychotherapist with traumatized orphans after the war ended; he kept up his medical career almost until his death in 2011. Though much of Keilson’s fiction was published after World War II, including the 2010 National Book Critics Circle Award nominee Comedy in a Minor Key, he began his writing career between the wars. This, his partly autobiographical first novel, relates the story of a Jewish shopkeeper and his family struggling with the economic crisis and increasingly hostile politics of that era. It was banned by the Nazis in 1934, reason enough to investigate it. An even better reason is Keilson’s stellar writing.

Mignola, Mike & Christopher Golden. Father Gaetano’s Puppet Catechism: A Novella. St. Martin’s. Oct. 2012. 176p. ISBN 9780312644741. $19.99; eISBN 9781250018595. HORROR
Famed for creating Hellboy, Mignola again teams with the best-selling Golden to offer what might be called heart-rending horror. (Their books include the acclaimed Baltimore, or, The Steadfast Tin Soldier and the Vampire and Joe Golem and the Drowning City, released last month.) During World War II, young Father Gaetano finds himself the only priest assigned to the Church of San Domenico in the tiny, sea-lapped Sicilian village of Tringale. Among his responsibilities is the orphanage hastily set up in the rectory, and he teaches the children their catechism through the use of elegantly carved puppets left behind by a former caretaker. Alas, these puppets won’t stay put, coming out at night and wreaking havoc because they believe too steadfastly in the word of God. Never mind that I’m too easily scared to read horror; this sounds great.

Petterson, Per. It’s Fine by Me. Graywolf. Oct. 2012. 208p. ISBN 9781555976262. $22. LITERARY FICTION
Anyone who knows and loves good literature knows and loves Out Stealing Horses, Norwegian author Petterson’s 2007 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award winner. Among the books he has published here since winning that award is 2010’s quietly inflected I Curse the River of Time, featuring luckless Arvid Jensen, simultaneously facing the end of his marriage, of communism, and of his mother’s life. This book backtracks to Arvid’s youth, when he befriends the iconoclastic new boy Audan, who reads Hemingway, refuses to relinquish his sunglasses, and has his doubts about school. Essential for upmarket readers.

Villalobos, Juan Pablo. Down the Rabbit Hole. Farrar. Oct. 2012. 96p. ISBN 9780374143350. pap. $12; eISBN 9780374709037. POP FICTION
Lucky Tochtli: he lives in a palace, his every whim indulged; now he wants a pygmy hippopotamus for his private zoo. He’s not a prince, though, but the son of a Mexican drug lord, and he’s surrounded not by courtiers but by hit men, prostitutes, and a few politicians gone bad. This brief but punchy book by Mexican-born Villalobos, who now lives in Spain, was shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Award and chosen by Sarah Churchwell as Book of the Year for the New Statesman. We’re a long way from magic realism with the new narco lit.

Achebe, Chinua. There Was a Country: A Personal History of Biafra. Penguin Pr: Penguin Group (USA). Oct. 2012. 352p. ISBN 9781594204821. $27.95. CD: Penguin Audio. MEMOIR
Winner of the 2007 Man Booker International Prize, among numerous other awards, Nigerian-born Achebe is best known for the novel Things Fall Apart, which has sold ten million copies in 50 languages since it appeared in 1958. Achebe lived through the Nigerian civil war of 1967‚ 70, when Biafra attempted to secede and found its borders blockaded, with mass starvation the result; a Biafran, Achebe served the nascent state as roving ambassador. After 40 years of resolute silence, spent in academic posts in America, Achebe recalls the horror of what he saw. More than memoir, more than history, this book is an argument that literature must bear witness.

Ackroyd, Peter. Foundation: The History of England, Vol. I. St. Martin’s. Oct. 2012. 496p. ISBN 9781250003614. $29.99; eISBN 9781250013675. HISTORY
An award-winning novelist, poet, and biographer, Ackroyd offers the first in a six-volume history of England, moving from primeval forests and the appearance of Stonehenge through the Roman, Viking, Saxon, and Norman conquests to the start of the Tudor dynasty in 1509. Given his eye for detail and the near-mythic writing in books like Thames: Sacred River, Ackroyd’s latest‚ not surprisingly, a huge best seller in England‚ promises to be an original read. For all those Anglophiles.

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.