Barbara’s Picks, Feb. 2013, Pt. 1: New Thriller Author Saville, plus Gretel Ehrlich, James Lasdun, & Alexander Stille

Saville, Guy. The Afrika Reich. Holt. Feb. 2013. 400p. ISBN 9780805095937. $26. CD: Macmillan Audio. THRILLER
Alternative history at its scariest: Germany has emerged victorious after World War II and has divided up the Continent with Britain, which settled for an unhappy peace after the disaster that was Dunkirk. The Germans have also swallowed up much of Africa, with the SS enslaving the native populations under the iron-fisted rule of Walter Hochburg. As 1952 rolls around, Hochburg has plans that threaten Britain’s few remaining African colonies and could mean real terror for everyone in Africa, black and white. That’s when former assassin Burton Cole is asked to eliminate the guy. Published last year in the U.K. to some stunning reviews, this debut novel was picked as a “Book of the Year” by the Economist—along with just a handful of other novels that included Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84, Jeffrey Eugenides’s The Marriage Plot, and Téa Obreht’s The Tiger’s Wife. So we really should pay attention. 

Ehrlich, Gretel. Facing the Wave: A Journey in the Wake of the Tsunami. Pantheon. Feb. 2013. 240p. ISBN 9780307907318. $25. NATURAL SCIENCE/CURRENT EVENTS
From fiction (Heart Mountain) to poetry (Arctic Heart: A Poem Cycle) to, especially, creative nonfiction that is both deeply observant of the natural world and imbued with personal understanding (The Solace of Open Spaces), Ehrlich offers always startling work that has deservedly won her a PEN New England’s Henry David Thoreau Prize for excellence in nature writing. Here, she explains how a fascination with Japanese art and poetry drove her to Japan’s devastated Tohoku coast after last year’s tsunami. Ehrlich spoke with fishermen, farmers, teachers, monks, and an 84-year-old geisha to understand how they have survived in the wreckage of both their natural and their social worlds, as the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power complex glowers threateningly nearby. I think we can expect first-rate observation offered with intimate insight.

Lasdun, James. Give Me Everything You Have: On Being Stalked. Farrar. Feb. 2013. 224p. ISBN 9780374219079. MEMOIR
Lasdun is a splendid writer, as evidenced by his probing, complex novels (The Horned Man was an Economist Best Book of the Year and a New York Times Notable Book), his short fiction (“The Anxious Man” won the inaugural U.K./BBC Short Story Prize in 2006, and the collection It’s Beginning To Hurt is one of my favorite books), and his award-winning poetry (Landscape with Chainsaw was a Times Literary Supplement International Book of the Year). So I’d anticipate this book no matter what. But Lasdun’s subject matter is particularly arresting. Here, he describes being stalked by a former student who vowed to ruin him as she fired off violently anti-Semitic hate mail and publicly posted accusations of plagiarism and sexual misconduct. Lasdun expands on his personal story to consider complex issues of race, madness, and the shifting sands of privacy, respect, and reputation in the Internet age. And that’s relevant for us all.

Stille, Alexander. The Force of Things: A Marriage in War and Peace. Farrar. Feb. 2013.    432p. ISBN 9780374157425. $28. MEMOIR
“One evening in May 1948, my mother went to a party in New York with her first husband and left it with her second, my father.” Honestly, if that opening doesn’t grab your attention, nothing will. The author of numerous books, including the Los Angeles Times Book Award winner Benevolence and Betrayal, and a frequent contributor to The New Yorker and the New York Review of Books, Stille presents more than the portrait of a tempestuous marriage. Mikhail Kamenetzki, better known as Ugo Stille, was a celebrated journalist whose family had emigrated to Italy from revolutionary Russia; he served as New York correspondent for Milan’s Corriere della Sera for 40 years. His wife, Elizabeth Bogert, was a charming Midwestern WASP, and their life story captures the sweep of the 20th century, the crossing of cultures, and a world in upheaval.

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.