By Anderson McKean
Fall is one of those seasons I look forward to all summer long, anxiously awaiting the sultry days to give way to crisp, cooler temperatures. I feel that same anticipation when expecting a new novel from a beloved author. Thankfully, this fall is packed with releases from four of my favorites — engaging, thought provoking stories showcasing mastery of their craft. Here are a few of those highly-anticipated books that were worth the wait.
by Emma Donoghue
AKIN is a moving, eloquently written tale of love, loss and family. As she did in her groundbreaking novel Room, bestselling author Emma Donoghue provides poignant observations on the lessons we learn from the past, and the imprint we make on those who come after us. Donoghue creates two wholly opposite yet akin characters, Noah, an 80-year old retired professor and Micheal, his surly teenage grand-nephew. Readers travel alongside this unlikely pair as they explore present day and wartime Nice. Unearthing details about their family’s past, Noah and Micheal begin to understand the sacrifices their loved ones made and find that family over everything is a motto to live by.
The Last Train To London
by Meg Waite Clayton
In her latest novel, Beautiful Exiles author Meg Waite Clayton tells the true story of how one Dutch woman changed the lives of thousands of children in 1938-1939. Geertruida Wijsmuller, aka Tante Truus, made it her life work to rescue Jewish children, an effort known as Vienna Kindertransport. Marrying meticulous research with raw emotion, Clayton captures Truus’ unyielding love and dedication to the thousands she rescued. Beautifully written and filled with hope, this powerful story will keep readers on the edge of their seats, even as the last train prepares to leave.
This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger
A quintessential Midwestern American fable, William Kent Krueger’s This Tender Land is an impeccably written, poignant tribute to faith, family and forgiveness. His prose is simply unparalleled; vividly describing the harsh, unforgiving Midwest terrain as skillfully as the despair reflected in the eyes of a hungry child. As he did in his award winning novel Ordinary Grace, Krueger’s cast of richly formed characters make an indelible mark on both the reader and the novel. The journey of four resilient orphans – Odie, Mose, Albert and Emmy – from childhood to adulthood is fraught with challenges and choices, trials and leaps of faith. Readers will cheer them on every step of the way.
The World That We Knew
by Alice Hoffman
From the bestselling author of The Dovekeepers Alice Hoffman comes the story of three remarkable women who must act with courage and love to survive the darkest hours of WWII. In Berlin, Hanni knows she must shelter her daughter Lea from the Nazi regime. A rabbi’s daughter offers salvation by creating a mystical Jewish creature, a golem, whose sole purpose is to protect Lea. Once the golem is brought to life, they become forever linked, their fortunes entwined. A blend of historical fiction, Jewish lore and her signature magical realism, Hoffman’s writing transcends. It is both elegant and haunting, and quite simply, stunning.
Q&A with Sarah Blake
By Alice Hoffman
Sarah Blake is the author of the novels Grange House and the New York Times bestseller The Postmistress. She lives in Washington, D.C., with her husband, the poet Joshua Weiner, and two sons. Her latest novel, The Guest Book, is a beautifully written, powerful story examining the changing social and political landscape across three generations of one American family. Sarah took time out of her busy touring schedule to chat with PORTICO about the inspiration behind The Guest Book.
Q: The Guest Book, a multigenerational saga, is different from The Postmistress, a World War II novel. What led you to write The Guest Book?
I’ve always wanted to write a big, juicy family saga in the vein of Isabel Allende’s House of The Spirits, or Virginia Woolf’s The Years, or John Galsworthy’s The Forsyte Saga, and so I knew that’s where I was going after handing in The Postmistress. And, like those three, I wanted to tell the story of one family across a century and through generations and follow how their lives reflected the larger story of their country and its times. This was right around the time that Barack Obama gave his speech in Philadelphia in 2008 directly addressing race and the way in which the past was cuing the present moment. His remarks came to me both as an inspiration and a relief—a call to break the silences I’d grown up in around race. I wanted to interrogate my own family’s place in that silence: white, North-eastern, and old-moneyed. I was especially interested in exploring how the half-truths of family memory get passed down, creating the false myths families live by, and show how that is mirrored in the way this country “remembers” its collective racial past. If memory is the history we carry in our bodies, how do the layers of the past walk and talk inside us?
Q: Your novel is set off the coast of Maine on Crockett Island, a summer home where the family convenes each summer. Do you think it is important for families to have a place they return to year after year?
Places hold us in a way that often other people cannot; people forget, or their memory is distorted by their own experience. But when we return to a place, especially one that is shared by many generations, we are thrust back into all the layers of ourselves. The place remembers us: it sets the child we were walking alongside the person we are. And the cracks and overlaps between past and present are made real—realized, brought alive—by the place. As far as I’m concerned, that’s just literary gold. My imagination was trained in and by those cracks. I spent so much time as a child sitting around the table at my grandparents’ summer house, listening, watching how they spoke to us, to each other, of the world. And very early on, I understood the connection between that place and my family’s sense of its place in the world. The two reinforced each other. I understood how a family place can bind and define the family it belongs to, and saw the lengths a family might go to hold onto the vision of itself the place conveys. A place can hold both the false myth, and the true.
Q: As you follow the Milton family, your novel encapsulates the politics and racial tension that ebbed and flowed through the ‘30s, the ‘50s and today. Tell us about the research you conducted to capture these time periods.
All I knew when I began was that I wanted to set the novel in 1959, what I saw as a tipping point year, when the civil rights movement and the feminist movement were coming, but not yet fully on the surface of the culture, as I find the moments just before a historical moment of change to be the most interesting. So, as I usually do, I started reading both the history and the fiction of the time: Halberstam’s The Fifties, Nabokov’s Lolita, Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover, and Uris’ Exodus. I read John Cheever’s journals and short stories. And always, through all the years of the writing of this novel, I was reading James Baldwin, his essays and his novels.But meanwhile, as my characters were taking shape, it became more and more clear that the foundational generation—Ogden and Kitty Milton—and their time period needed to ground the novel. So I began to do the same kind of historical and cultural reading of the 1930s. And the connection between American investment and German industry—the uneasy bedfellows that made with the Nazis—began to seem more and more vital as both a point of history, what the 50s and the present rest on and repeat, and as a point of narrative.
Q: What is the last really great book you read? What books are on your bedside table?
Last great books: Call Them by Their True Names, Rebecca Solnit. The Mere Wife, Maria Headley, As I Lay Dying, by WIlliam Faulkner, which I’d never read before!
On my bedsidetable: Having just finished Eric Foner’s Reconstruction, I can’t wait to dig into Jill Lepore’s These Truths. Also waiting there is Le Carre’s The Perfect Spy.
Q: What are you currently working on?
A spy novel, but one that (hopefully) subverts the genre while all at the same time keeping the delicious secrets.