Barbara’s Picks, Dec. 2012, Pt. 2: Sebastian Faulks, Scott W. Berg, George Howe Colt

Faulks, Sebastian. A Possible Life: A Novel in Five Parts. Holt. Dec. 2012. 304p. ISBN 9780805097306. $25. POP FICTION
The author of international best sellers like Birdsong and Charlotte Gray‚ not to mention a media personality who’s done a four-part television series Faulks on Fiction for the BBC and served as team caption on BBC Radio 4’s The Write Stuff‚ Faulks is noted for his sensitive handling of historical material. And, indeed, four of the five linked stories here tread historical ground, but one is set in the near future. Among Faulks’s protagonists are a young prisoner of war in World War II Poland who imagines going to bat on a cricket field, a man in Victorian times desolate because he has given away his son, a servant in 19th-century France suddenly grasping the meaning of a Bible story, and a girl in the 1970s Catskills whose music mesmerizes. Then there’s the futurist story about a scientist in Italy drawing parallels between time and the human brain and her lover’s novel and his life. All juicily readable stuff.

Berg, Scott W. 38 Nooses: Lincoln, Little Crow, and the Beginning of the Frontier’s End. Dec. 2012. Pantheon. 384p. ISBN 9780307377241; eISBN 9780307907394. $27.95. HISTORY
Not a lot of us know about the Dakota War of 1862, but it was one of the bloodier events in U.S. history. Resisting broken treaties and encroachment on their lands, the Dakota rose up against white soldiers and settlers on the Minnesota frontier. The fighting left hundreds dead, and, once the Dakota were put down, a military tribunal condemned more than 300 to death for murder. Ensconced in the Civil War, President Lincoln nevertheless intervened to save 285 Dakotas, but 38 hung in the largest government-ordered execution this country has seen. Berg, a George Mason University literature professor, tells this sorrowful story partly through the personalities involved, including Dakota leader Little Crow and the few whites who advocated for the Indians. Here’s one I consider important.

Colt, George Howe. Brothers: George Howe Colt on his Brothers and Brothers in History. Scribner. Dec. 2012. 320p. ISBN 9781416547778. $30. MEMOIR/HISTORY
A best-selling author and National Book Award winner for The Big House, the story of his family and the house his great-grandfather built in 1903 on Cape Cod, Colt returns to his family in this meditation on the meaning of being a brother. Colt discusses how growing up in a family of four brothers has shaped him while also considering famous brothers throughout history. Among them: celebrated 19th-century American actor Edwin Booth and his younger brother, John, who assassinated Abraham Lincoln, and artist Vincent Van Gogh and caretaker brother Theo. Highlighted by Nan Graham at the Day of Dialog’s Editors’ Picks Panel; I’m eager to see.


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.