Barbara’s Picks, Aug. 2013, Pt. 4: Ghost Brides, 1700s Debauchery, and a Trip to Calcutta

Chaudhuri, Amit. Calcutta: Two Years in the City. Knopf. Aug. 2013. 320p. ISBN 9780307270245. $25.95. ebk. ISBN 9780307962171. HISTORY
What to read after you have finished reading Katherine Boo’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Chaudhuri’s blend of memoir and history as he profiles magnificent, wayward Calcutta, where he lived for two years. Chaudhuri details rich and poor, past and present to sum up a city that has not lost its distinct sensibility in the face of leveling globalization. The author of not just of nonfiction but admirable fiction (Freedom Song: Three Novels won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize), Chaudhuri should deliver lovely reading, and India is hot in so many ways.

Choo, Yangsze. The Ghost Bride. Morrow. Aug. 2013. 368p. ISBN 9780062227324. $24.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062227386. HISTORICAL/PARANORMAL FICTION
In 1890s Malaysia, penniless Li Lan agrees to become the “ghost bride” of a wealthy family’s recently deceased son, following an ancient but rarely evoked Chinese custom meant to pacify an anguished spirit. But even as she moves into her in-laws’ luxurious home, where she’s attracted to the new heir, Li Lan finds her husband’s spirit intruding darkly on her dreams. She must therefore enter the stilly dread of the Chinese afterlife to set things right, discovering some dark family secrets along the way. Romance, folklore, intrigue, and a handsome guardian spirit to boot—what more can you ask for? A big debut novel with a 75,000-copy first printing and a reading group guide.

Irwin, Michael. The Skull and the Nightingale. Morrow. Aug. 2013. 416p. ISBN 9780062202352. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062202376. LITERARY/HISTORICAL FICTION
I’ve been anticipating this book since last May, when Morrow executive editor David Highfill talked it up at LJ’s Day of Dialog, comparing it to Patrick Süskind’s darkly atmospheric Perfume. In late 1700s London, young Richard Fenwick has neither money nor family, but he does have a godfather in Worcestershire willing to pay for some vicarious thrills. Richard therefore agrees to engage in outré behavior (mostly sexual) and report back in luscious detail. As his manipulations get increasingly close to the edge, Richard falls for one of his conquests. Irwin, a University of Kent emeritus professor specializing in 18th- and 19th-century literature, should get the feeling right, and who says professors are stodgy? With a 75,000-copy first printing and a reading group guide.

Kachka, Boris. Hothouse: The Art of Survival and the Survival of Art at America’s Most Celebrated Publishing House, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux. S. & S. Aug. 2013. 400p. ISBN 9781451691894. $27; ebk. ISBN 9781451691924. PUBLISHING
One thinks of Farrar, Straus, and Giroux in lofty terms—after it, it publishes more Nobel prize winners than any other house worldwide, and its authors range from T.S. Eliot to Jonathan Franzen—so it’s intriguing to see this account described as juicy. Kachka, a contributing editor at New York magazine, draws on five years’ worth of research (including 200 interviews) to tell the story of the two men who made FSG an unshakeable force in postwar culture: tough-minded founder-owner Roger Straus and sharp, quiet editor Robert Giroux. Your chance to visit not just an institution but an entire, energized era and the people who made you think.

Pessl, Marisha. Night Film. Random. Aug. 2013. 624p. ISBN 9781400067886. $28; ebk. ISBN 9780679643913. CD/downloadable: Random Audio. THRILLER
And now for something completely different from the author of Special Topics in Calamity Physics, the eye-popping 2006 debut that won awards and sold nearly 190,000 copies. Pessl’s second effort is a literary thriller that opens with the discovery of pretty young Ashley Cordova’s body in a lower Manhattan warehouse. Investigative journalist Scott McGrath scoffs at claims of suicide and wonders if there’s any connection to Ashley’s father, cult horror film director Stanislas Cordova, said to be holed up somewhere in the Adirondacks. Major, major publicity and a ten-city tour; don’t miss.

Pinsky, Robert. Singing School: Learning To Write (and Read) Poetry by Studying with the Masters. Norton. Aug. 2013. 160p. ISBN 9780393050684. $25.95. POETRY
“Nor is there singing school but studying/ Monuments of its own magnificence.” So said William Butler Yeats in “Sailing to Byzantium,” and his point is well taken: we come to understand not just art but the very act of creation by studying the greats. A former U.S. poet laureate, now poetry editor of Slate, Pinsky picks up on the idea in a collection offering 80 poems, by authors from George Herbert to Emily Dickinson to Wallace Stevens, with headnotes that clarify compositional aspects so that we can feel what it was like to have written each piece. Pinsky’s reputation will draw readers.

von Schirach, Ferdinand. The Collini Case. Viking. Aug. 2013. 208p. ISBN 9780670026524. $25.95. LEGAL THRILLER
Finally, American readers get to read a courtroom drama that’s been a best seller in Germany since its 2011 release and has enjoyed rights sales to 17 countries. Fledging defense lawyer Caspar Leinen despairs over his client, retired and retiring Fabrizio Collini, who admits to the murder of a leading industrialist at a classy Berlin hotel but offers no explanation. To understand what happened, Leisen must eventually untangle unpleasant truths about the German legal system stretching back to World War II. Not just entertaining but historically significant; Der Spiegel called it magnificent, the Specataor (UK) important, and the Toronto Star elegant, precise, and lean.

Yanagihara, Hanya. The People in the Trees. Doubleday. Aug. 2013. 384p. ISBN 9780385536776. $26.95; ebk. ISBN 9780385536783. LITERARY FICTION
Having joined an expedition to the Micronesian island Ivu’ivu in search of a lost tribe, a young doctor named Norton Perina is intrigued when the anthropologists he’s with discover yet another tribe, exceptionally long-lived if ultimately wrenchingly senile, whom they call the Dreamers. Perina believes that the Dreamers owe their longevity to the meat of a rare turtle, but smuggling out some of the meat nearly destroys his life. Likened to Norman Rush’s Mating and Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible, this debut is generating some heat, and an initial read proved enthralling.

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.