The first fiction from Between the World and Me author, Ta-Nehisi Coates; Ann Patchett returns with a story of two moneyed siblings whose lives are upended when their stepmother ousts them from the only home they’ve ever known; Alice Hoffman puts a supernatural spin on a WWII novel, and more.
Learn more about these and all of our picks for the Best Books of the Month.
The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Ta-Nehisi Coates is the author of one of the most important nonfiction books of this decade, Between the World and Me, which means that his fiction debut arrives with a great amount of anticipation. Would the urgency of his nonfiction writing come through in a novel? Would he be as nimble in a made-up world? Would it be good? The answer to all of these questions is a resounding yes. Coates’s novel is the story of Hiram Walker, who was born into slavery on a Virginia plantation that is owned by his white father and experiencing a slow decline. Although Hiram is gifted with a photographic memory, his mother—who was sold away when he was young—is the one thing he cannot remember. Indeed, many of the women in his life are taken away from him too early—a fact that will guide his actions later in the novel. The story blends the brutality of history with more imaginative elements: for example, white people are called the Quality, black people are called the Tasked; and Hiram possesses powers that fall into the spectrum of magical realism. As the novel moves north to Philadelphia, where Hiram grows into his own and begins working for the Underground, and eventually turns back to his southern birthplace, the fantastical elements only give greater power to the story. The Water Dancer is a stirring debut, and Coates is the novelist we were hoping he would be. --Chris Schluep
The Dutch House by Ann Patchett
The best authors make the pages they write come to life: their words and characters shimmer with authenticity, motivation, and desire. The story can be simple or complex, familiar or otherworldly, but without connection, it is nothing. In Ann Patchett’s eighth novel, The Dutch House, everyone and everything bustles with vitality. It is a story about the interminable bond between siblings and it is an absolute joy to read. The novel follows a brother and sister who grow up in a fairy tale—a huge house, a loving father, and a caring staff. The only thing that’s missing is their mother, who had a more fraught existence, and fled the pressures of managing the household when they were young. When their father dies and leaves his fortune to their stepmother, the kids are left to fend for themselves, going on to live a drastically different life than they had imagined. The house of their youth haunts them through adulthood, and revenge is their desire—but not in the way you imagine. The Dutch House is moving and thoughtful—a quietly brilliant novel that has quickly become a favorite. —Al Woodworth
The World That We Knew by Alice Hoffman
Alice Hoffman's novel is a beautiful union of history and myth in a world gone wrong. As The World That We Knew begins in Berlin in the spring of 1941, Hanni Kohn is left with no choice but to get her 12-year-old daughter, Lea, out of Germany if she has any hope of saving her life. Hanni will do anything to for Lea, even something as dangerous as soliciting the creation of a mystical golem to act as her protector. Ettie is a rabbi's daughter, wise beyond her years, and when Hanni comes to her home pleading for help, Ettie takes matters into her own hands. Ettie, Lea, and the golem they name Ava make their way to Paris, Ava and Lea following one path and Ettie another. Hoffman’s tale of these three lives is one of love and sacrifice, kindness and cruelty, and throughout it all the Angel of Death fills book after book with the names of those murdered by the Nazis. The World That We Knew is exquisite and hopeful, a reminder that even when life as we know it has disappeared, and evil seems to have inexplicably won the upper hand, love will always find a way. --Seira Wilson
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