8 New Books We Recommend This Week

For various reasons — we’re fighting colds, Times Square is stumbling through the usual post-holiday blahs, our colleagues in the Travel section just unveiled their latest sumptuous list of 52 places to visit — we’ve got globe-trotting on the mind this week. If you do too, might we recommend some short stories from Argentina? Or a new bayou murder mystery from James Lee Burke? A novel about Somali immigrants in Norway, or a collection of Ruth Prawer Jhabvala’s precise character studies of expats and emigrants? You’ll find all of those below, along with Paul Collier’s nonfiction book about retaining a sense of community in a globalized world. Closer to home, we offer a couple of food memoirs, and a natural history of the domestic biome that may have you urgently planning your next vacation to a technologically engineered cleanroom facility with a protective suit and a book. The cleanroom would be a mistake, our review makes clear. But a book is always a good idea.

Gregory Cowles
Senior Editor, Books

MOUTHFUL OF BIRDS: Stories, by Samanta Schweblin. Translated by Megan McDowell. (Riverhead, $26.) This collection by the Argentine writer Samanta Schweblin, among the most acclaimed Spanish-language writers of her generation, has the surrealist echoes of her contemporaries Kelly Link and Jesse Ball. “But, to me, her true ancestor could only be David Lynch; her tales are woven out of dread, doubles and confident loose ends,” our critic Parul Sehgal writes. “Her stories are obsessed with notions of purity and danger; with the ways people can be deformed, very early on, in the name of tenderness, teaching and care.”

THE NEW IBERIA BLUES, by James Lee Burke. (Simon & Schuster, $27.99.) In the latest Dave Robicheaux mystery, Burke’s lawman hero contends with multiple visitors to his Louisiana bayou parish: a murderer fleeing prison; a Hollywood director returning to his roots for a movie; a woman nailed to a wooden cross that washes up from the bay. It’s brutal and chaotic, but engrossing. “Does anyone really read Burke expecting a coherent narrative? We’re hanging on for Robicheaux’s pensées,” Marilyn Stasio writes in her crime column. “We’re keeping an eye out for vivid characters. … Maybe most of all, we’re waiting for those angry outbursts when Robicheaux lets it rip.”

NORTH OF DAWN, by Nuruddin Farah. (Riverhead, $27.) The war between the middle-aged Somali couple in Farah’s new novel, set in middle-class Norway, is a proxy for the global clash between fundamentalism and secularism. “In the hands of a younger, brasher novelist, we might expect high drama, but here, instead, is a nuanced, quietly devastating family soap opera,” our reviewer, Melanie Finn, writes. Farah “uses the intimate as allegory for the national. If we cannot understand why a family falls apart, then neither can we understand why a nation does — a truth those of us weary from holiday-dinner-table political arguments may appreciate.”

THE FUTURE OF CAPITALISM: Facing the New Anxieties, by Paul Collier. (Harper/HarperCollins, $29.99.) Collier, who has devoted his career to the uplift of the global poor, argues that national loyalty is a firmer foundation for global justice than abstract cosmopolitanism, which too often masks unrestricted selfishness. “How does Collier intend to repair the bonds of affection in the rich democracies? ‘The Future of Capitalism’ is rife with inventive proposals,” Reihan Salam writes in his review. “Though I wouldn’t endorse Collier’s manifesto in every detail, his ‘hard centrism’ has much to offer.”

AT THE END OF THE CENTURY: The Stories of Ruth Prawer Jhabvala.(Counterpoint, $26.) A posthumous collection from the novelist and screenwriter best known for her precise accounts of individuals caught between different societies, seeking to find an elusive sense of home. “Her work anticipates a world of displaced people,” Megan O’Grady notes in her review, “where, as the half-British, half-Indian narrator of one of her stories puts it, everyone is ‘moving more freely’ as ‘refugees or emigrants or just out of restless curiosity’ and where there are ‘at least two generations of people in whom several kinds of heritage are combined.’ … The stories — all of them elegantly plotted and unsentimental, with an addictive, told-over-tea quality — are largely character studies of people isolated, often tragically, by custom or self-delusion.”

NEVER HOME ALONE: From Microbes to Millipedes, Camel Crickets, and Honeybees, the Natural History of Where We Live, by Rob Dunn. (Basic, $30.) Dunn has been involved in an obsessive quest to document the tiny inhabitants of indoor environments. News from the showerhead biome is just one part of this fact-filled, occasionally disgusting, slightly alarming book. “There’s a real sense of ‘gee-whiz’ in this book,” our reviewer, Robin Marantz Henig, writes, “but it’s mostly in service of Dunn’s overarching goal: to preach the preservation of biodiversity, not only in the lush forests and streams that fit our traditional image of nature’s abundance, but in the most humble places, too, where the vast majority of us will have most of our cross-species encounters — our basements, mattresses, refrigerator drawers and showerheads.”

THE BREAD AND THE KNIFE: A Life in 26 Bites, by Dawn Drzal. (Arcade, $19.99.) In this alphabet of autobiographical, gastronomical essays, Drzal traces the delicate emotions packed into a scene with the precision of a miniaturist. Irina Dumitrescu reviews the book alongside two other food memoirs. “While food provides the hooks for Drzal’s memories, the collection thrums for other reasons,” Dumitrescu writes: “her moments of unflinching but forgiving self-criticism, descriptions of place that transport readers with a minimum of detail, and a knack for metaphors so perfect as to seem inevitable.”

KITCHEN YARNS: Notes on Life, Love, and Food, by Ann Hood. (Norton, $24.95.) A novelist offers meditations on food and life, served with the easy intimacy of a friend. “Hood’s essays are like hot chocolate, cozy and warm,” Irina Dumitrescu writes in her review. “Her collection of meditations on food and life touches the big themes: grief for a brother and a small child gone suddenly, two divorces and the end of a grand affair. … The recipes closing each chapter hint that every heartache can be soothed by the deft application of cheese and carbohydrates.”

[“source=nytimes”]