“The Course of Love” by Alain de Botton

By the time 31-year-old Rabih Khan leaves London to work for an urban-design firm in Edinburgh, he has yet to find what proponents of Romanticism would call “a comprehensive answer to the unspoken questions of existence”: the so-called perfect mate. But Khan, an architect and atheist of Muslim descent, thinks he has found her when he meets Kirsten McClelland, an Inverness native who is the client contact on a construction project. Their relationship is the basis for The Course of Love, philosopher Alain de Botton’s first novel since 1993’s Essays in Love. Continue reading ““The Course of Love” by Alain de Botton”

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“American War” by Omar El Akkad

In 2074, America is as divided as ever. Some details differ from our time: The Southwest has turned to embers, and rising waters have submerged the coasts. Omar El Akkad’s debut novel, American War, begins in the early 22nd century, with narration by an old man who has devoted his life to studying “this country’s bloody war with itself,” but not the one readers might expect. His focus is the Second American Civil War, which began in 2074. Continue reading ““American War” by Omar El Akkad”

“A Thousand Miles from Nowhere” by John Gregory Brown

Hurricane Katrina ruined thousands of lives in 2005, but for Henry Garrett, a 41-year-old New Orleans native and former high school English teacher, “he had already managed, before the hurricane, to lose everything.” When he leaves the city before the levees break, he doesn’t yet know that tragedy will shatter his hometown. The only disaster he knows is the life he’s escaping. “A Thousand Miles from Nowhere,” the new novel by John Gregory Brown, is a quiet examination of the mistakes Henry has made, the family curses he can’t control, and the challenges of dealing with grief and personal failings. Continue reading ““A Thousand Miles from Nowhere” by John Gregory Brown”

The Dirty Dust, by Máirtín Ó Cadhain

Among the many pleasures of being a book critic is that you receive in the mail all sorts of books you weren’t expecting. A recent novel I received is one of the most enjoyable, funniest, and most creatively profane books I have ever read: The Dirty Dust, a 1949 novel written in Irish by Máirtín Ó Cadhain. The book is now appearing in English for the first time, thanks to Yale University Press and a marvelous translation by Alan Titley. Continue reading “The Dirty Dust, by Máirtín Ó Cadhain”

The Lost Child, by Caryl Phillips

My first review for BookPage is a review of The Lost Child, the new novel by Caryl Phillips. Phillips is the author of such works as the novels Crossing the River and A Distant Shore and the essay collections A New World Order and Colour Me English. He is known for works about the African diaspora. The subject of his latest work, however, may strike some readers as a departure: a reimagining of the Emily Brontë classic Wuthering Heights. Continue reading “The Lost Child, by Caryl Phillips”

Suspended Sentences, by Patrick Modiano

I look forward to each year’s announcement of the Nobel Prize in Literature not in the hope that the members of the Swedish Academy will validate my tastes but that they’ll introduce me to authors with whom I’m unfamiliar. As critics and supporters have noted, for every Alice Munro and Mario Vargas Llosa who receives the prize, the Academy also bestows its honor on writers many readers have never heard of, such as China’s Mo Yan, the 2012 winner, or J.M.G. Le Clezio, the French laureate from 2008. Continue reading “Suspended Sentences, by Patrick Modiano”

The Wisdom of José Saramago

In 1953, 31-year-old José Saramago, then an unknown author, submitted Skylight, a novel, to a Portuguese publishing house. (The novel appears in English translation this month for the first time. My review will appear on Bookreporter’s site soon.) He received no response. He was so distraught by the publisher’s dismissive attitude that he didn’t write again for 20 years. Continue reading “The Wisdom of José Saramago”