The Master Of Confessions: The Making Of A Khmer Rouge Torturer by Thierry Cruvellier. Translated by Alex Gilly. (Ecco/HarperCollins) Cruvellier, who has reported on some of the world’s most notorious war crimes, recounts the trial of Duch, the director of the Khmer Rouge’s S-21 prison, where thousands of people were killed. His exhaustive account includes a sly commentary on the whims and limits of the international justice system.
An Unnecessary Woman by Rabih Alameddine. (Grove) Divorced and childless, 72-year-old Aaliya lives in her Beirut apartment alone, deemed “unnecessary” by the rest of her family. Her life may appear solitary, but she is kept company by stacks of favorite books, one of which she chooses to translate into Arabic every year. Although her life is physically grounded in her home, Aaliya’s memories roam through chapters of Beirut’s history and span decades of literature.
On Leave by Daniel Anselme. Translated by David Bellos. (Faber & Faber) First published in 1957 during the Algerian War, “On Leave” follows three French soldiers who return from North Africa to a society coolly uninterested in their wartime experiences. Bellos’ translation gives new life to the book, which was never reprinted and largely disappeared from the French literary landscape.
My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff. (Vintage) After leaving graduate school, Rakoff found a job as an assistant in a stubbornly anachronistic literary agency whose most celebrated client was J.D. Salinger. Tasked with responding to Salinger’s fans with an outdated form letter (Salinger himself had stopped responding decades earlier), Rakoff chose to write back herself.
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Spoiled Brats: Stories by Simon Rich. (Back Bay/Little, Brown) Often based on surreal premises (the opening story is narrated by a traumatized classroom hamster), the tales in Rich’s latest collection add up to a hilarious portrait of the millennial generation. Rich, a frequent contributor to The New Yorker and a millennial himself, makes occasional cameo appearances here, too.
Infinitesimal: How A Dangerous Mathematical Theory Shaped The Modern World by Amir Alexander. (Scientific American/Farrar, Straus & Giroux) Alexander, who studies mathematical theory in a cultural context, offers an overview of infinitesimals, a reflection of the idea that a continuous line is composed of an infinite number of small, distinct parts. The math is settled now, but in the 16th and 17th centuries, the concept pitted Jesuits against Protestants and was the subject of a decadeslong debate between Thomas Hobbes and his mathematical adversaries. Alexander’s book shows how something infinitely small by definition can have profound effects on history.
Friendswood by René Steinke. (Riverhead) A small Texas community, modeled on Steinke’s hometown, suffers collective amnesia about its toxic waste, in a novel that abounds with questions of moral responsibility.
New York Times