Bending Adversity: Japan and the Art of Survival, by David Pilling. (Penguin) A magnitude-9 earthquake hit Japan in 2011, creating a deadly tsunami and triggering a nuclear plant meltdown. Taking these disasters as a starting point, Pilling, The Financial Times’ Tokyo bureau chief from 2002 to 2008, engages with the social, spiritual, financial and political life of contemporary Japan to make sense of this “stubbornly resistant nation with a history of overcoming successive waves of adversity.”
The Black-Eyed Blonde: A Philip Marlowe Novel, by Benjamin Black. (Picador) Black (the mystery-writing pseudonym of Irish novelist John Banville) reanimates Raymond Chandler’s hard-boiled Los Angeles private eye. It’s the early 1950s and a long-legged perfume heiress wants Marlowe to find her former lover; the twists and turns involve Mexican hit men, easy-to-anger cops and one of the city’s richest, and most ruthless, families.
Five Came Back: A Story of Hollywood and the Second World War, by Mark Harris. (Penguin) In “Pictures at a Revolution,” Harris used the best-picture nominees of 1967 to explore how movies reflected and were transformed by the tumultuous 1960s. Now he tells the story of how five auteurs – John Ford, George Stevens, John Huston, William Wyler and Frank Capra – became part of a U.S. propaganda campaign during World War II and how, in turn, the war changed them.
The Quick, by Lauren Owen. (Random House) Set in Victorian London, Owen’s multiperspective vampire novel follows James and Charlotte, a would-be poet and his sheltered sister, from their provincial beginnings to the city’s supernatural netherworld, whose undead include Dickensian urchins and the pale-faced elite of a secret society.
The Bright Continent: Breaking Rules and Making Change in Modern Africa, by Dayo Olopade. (Mariner/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) This refreshing study of development in sub-Saharan Africa, by a Nigerian-American journalist, sees a region of ambitious reformers and social entrepreneurs driven by the concept of kanju, an ethos that makes it possible to get things done in the face of crumbling infrastructure and corrupt bureaucracy.
Boy, Snow, Bird, by Helen Oyeyemi. (Riverhead) Oyeyemi’s fifth novel brilliantly recasts “Snow White” as a story of beauty, vanity, family secrets and racial conflict that drives a family apart. When a white woman in 1950s Massachusetts gives birth to an undeniably “colored” child, she discovers that her new husband – a widower raising a winsome daughter, Snow – has been passing as white.
Overwhelmed: How to Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time, by Brigid Schulte. (Picador) Why do Americans today feel so swamped? Using her own harried life as an example, Schulte, a journalist and mother of two, captures the conundrum of workplace culture and gender roles that has made leisure feel like a thing of the past – and offers practical advice on restructuring our exhausting, overscheduled lives.
New York Times