Spice of Life: Books to Savor

Mario de Carvalho
"Winner of the 1996 Pegasus Prize for Literature, this fiction presents a fascinating tale of political rivalries, war, religion, philosophy, and social unrest in the twilight of the Roman Empire. It is a timeless tale of a good man struggling to maintain sense and order in his public and private lives and to uphold justice as he understands it."
Julian Barnes
An eccentiric, playfully skewed, surprisingly comprehensive chronicle of life on Planet Earth. A novel whose threads of coincidence and hidden connection are woven into a narrative tapestry brilliant with wit, intelligence, and emotion.
Kaye Gibbons

"A family without men, the Birches live gloriously offbeat lives in the lush, green backwoods of North Carolina. Radiant, headstrong Sophia and her shy, brilliant daughter, Margaret, possess powerful charms to ward off loneliness, despair, and the human misery that often beats a path to their door. And they are protected by the eccentric wisdom and muscular love of the remarkable matriarch Charlie Kate, a solid, uncompromising, self-taught healer who treats everything from boils to broken bones to broken hearts.

 

"Sophia, Margaret, and Charlie Kate find strength in a time when women almost always depended on men, and their bond deepens as each one experiences love and loss during World War II."

Katherine Dunn

"...the story of the Binewskis, a carny family whose mater- and paterfamilias set out–-with the help of amphetamine, arsenic, and radioisotopes–-to breed their own exhibit of human oddities. There’s Arturo the Aquaboy, who has flippers for limbs and a megalomaniac ambition worthy of Genghis Khan . . . Iphy and Elly, the lissome Siamese twins . . . albino hunchback Oly, and the outwardly normal Chick, whose mysterious gifts make him the family’s most precious–-and dangerous–-asset. As the Binewskis take their act across the backwaters of the U.S., inspiring fanatical devotion and murderous revulsion; as its members conduct their own Machiavellian version of sibling rivalry, Geek Love throws its sulfurous light on our notions of the freakish and the normal, the beautiful and the ugly, the holy and the obscene. Family values will never be the same."

Marilynne Robinson

"In 1956, toward the end of Reverend John Ames's life, he begins a letter to his young son, an account of himself and his forebears. Ames is the son of an Iowa preacher and the grandson of a minister who, as a young man in Maine, saw a vision of Christ bound in chains and came west to Kansas to fight for abolition: He 'preached men into the Civil War,' then, at age fifty, became a chaplain in the Union Army, losing his right eye in battle. Reverend Ames writes to his son about the tension between his father - an ardent pacifist--and his grandfather, whose pistol and bloody shirts, concealed in an army blanket, may be relics from the fight between the abolitionists and those settlers who wanted to vote Kansas into the union as a slave state. And he tells a story of the sacred bonds between fathers and sons, which are tested in his tender and strained relationship with his namesake, John Ames Boughton, his best friend's wayward son.

"This is also the tale of another remarkable vision--not a corporeal vision of God but the vision of life as a wondrously strange creation. It tells how wisdom was forged in Ames's soul during his solitary life, and how history lives through generations, pervasively present even when betrayed and forgotten."

Haruki Murakami

"There ought to be a name for the genre Murakami ... has invented, and it might be the literary pyrotechno-thriller. ... Embellished with witticisms, wordplay and allusions to such figures as Stendhal heroes and Lauren Bacall, the tale is set in a Tokyo of the near future. Thanks to a wonderland of technology, an intelligence agent has had his brain implanted with a 'profoundly personal drama' that allows him to 'launder' and 'shuffle' classified data, and all that he knows of the drama is its password, The End of the World.

"But after interference from a scientist and from the Semiotecs, a rival intelligence unit, the subconscious story is about to replace the agent's own perceptions of reality. Intertwined with the agent's attempts to understand his plight are scenes from The End of the World. Murakami's ingenuity and inventiveness cannot fail to intoxicate; this is a bravura performance."

William Kennedy
"Francis Phelan, ex-ballplayer, part-time gravedigger, full-time drunk, has hit bottom. Years ago he left Albany in a hurry after killing a scab during a trolley workers' strike; he ran away again after accidentally - and fatally - dropping his infant son. Now, in 1938, Francis is back in town, roaming the old familiar streets with his hobo pal, Helen, trying to make peace with the ghosts of the past and the present..."
Kobo Abe

"In the last novel written before his death in 1993, one of Japan's most distinguished novelists proffered a surreal vision of Japanese society that manages to be simultaneously fearful and jarringly funny. The narrator wakes one morning to discover that his legs are growing radish sprouts, an ailment that repulses his doctor but provides the patient with the unusual ability to snack on himself. In short order, Kobo Abe's unraveling protagonist finds himself hurtling in a hospital bed to the very shores of hell. Abe has assembled a cast of oddities into a coherent novel, one imbued with unexpected meaning.”

Jeffrey Eugenides

"This book begins with the narrator, Calliope Stephanides, explaining that he was "born twice," first as a baby girl in 1960, then as a teenage boy in 1974. To explain his situation, Cal starts in 1922, when his grandparents came to America. In his role as the "prefetal narrator," he tells the love story of this couple, who are brother and sister; his parents are blood relatives as well. Then he tells his own story, which is that of a female child growing up in suburban Detroit with typical adolescent concerns. The story questions what it is that makes us who we are and concludes that one's inner essence stays the same, even in light of drastic outer changes."

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

"In the city of Enugu, Nigeria, fifteen-year-old Kambili and her older brother, Jaja, lead a privileged life. Their Papa is a wealthy and respected businessman; they live in a beautiful house; and they attend an exclusive missionary school. But, as Kambili reveals in her tender-voiced account, their home life is anything but harmonious. Her father, a fanatically religious man, has impossible expectations of his children and wife, and severely punishes them if they're less than perfect. Home is silent and suffocating. When Kambili's loving and outspoken Aunty Ifeoma persuades her brother that the children should visit her in Nsukka, Kambili and Jaja take their first trip away from home.

"Once inside their Aunty Ifeoma's flat, they discover a whole new world. Books cram the shelves, curry and nutmeg permeate the air, and their cousins' laughter rings throughout the house. Jaja learns to garden and work with his hands, and Kambili secretly falls in love with a young charismatic priest. When a military coup threatens to destroy the country and Kambili and Jaja return home changed by their newfound freedom, tension within the family escalates."

Michael Chabon

"In deep retirement in the English country-side, an eighty-nine-year-old man, vaguely recollected by locals as a once-famous detective, is more concerned with his beekeeping than with his fellow man. Into his life wanders Linus Steinman, nine years old and mute, who has escaped from Nazi Germany with his sole companion: an African gray parrot. What is the meaning of the mysterious strings of German numbers the bird spews out--a top-secret SS code? The keys to a series of Swiss bank accounts perhaps? Or something more sinister? Is the solution to this last case -- the real explanation of the mysterious boy and his parrot--beyond even the reach of the once-famed sleuth?"

Khaled Hosseini

Traces the unlikely friendship of a wealthy Afghan youth and a servant's son in a tale that spans the final days of Afghanistan's monarchy through the atrocities of the present day.

David Czuchlewski

"The lives of three recent Princeton graduates--Jake Burnett, a reporter for a small Manhattan weekly; Andrew Wallace, a troubled genius convinced of worldwide conspiracies and cover-ups; and Lara Knowles, ex-girlfriend to both--weave together in a search to uncover the identity of the reclusive master of the modern novel, Horace Jacob Little.  A violent act lands Andrew in the Overlook Psychiatric Institute, also known as the Muse Asylum, a haven for the artistically gifted with mental illness. He spends his days working on his autobiography, the story of the Horace Jacob Little conspiracy, and his own efforts to protect his true love, Lara, from the dangerous author. But when Jake--trying to make a name for himself by unmasking Horace Jacob Little--goes to visit Andrew, he finds himself caught in a game of cat and mouse, where victim becomes stalker and hunter becomes prey.

"After Jake inadvertently sets him onto the trail of the author, Andrew spirals deeper into madness. And only then does Jake fathom the author's secret, and the lengths to which Horace Jacob Little will go to protect it.  Part love story and part journey into the psychology of genius, The Muse Asylum is a tale of stunning reversals and reflections in a world where things are never quite what they seem."

Paul Auster

"Paul Auster’s great trilogy of 1985–1986 broke ground in its mix of serious fictional techniques and detective and mystery genres. Since that time it has become one of the most successful series of novels of the last decades..."

In the first of the trilogy, City of Glass, a detective novelist makes a phone call and finds himself enmeshed in suddenly puzzling reality.

Shena Mackay

“Set in the small English village of Stonebridge in the Fifties, this is the story of eight-year-old April Harlency's coming of age in a place where the charm of the local landscape contrasts sharply with the prejudices, vicious gossip, and vagaries of what we would now call child abuse. As the Harlency family moves from their rented rooms to run the Copper Kettle Tearoom (poorly), their ex-landlord hangs a notice on the window: 'No Blacks. No Irish. No Pets.'

"April befriends the red-headed, energetic Ruby who lives above her parents' butcher shop where, as April says, 'I learned the fate of Pansy Pig and all her pink litter and burst into tears.' The two girls form an immediate and fast friendship. April also befriends the lonely Mr. Greenridge who presses his unwanted sexual advances on her. To escape the pressures of daily life, April and Ruby find a hideaway in the middle of an orchard where, together, they build the 'camp of our dreams.'"

Mary Doria Russell

The Sparrow is a novel about a remarkable man, a living saint, a life-long celibate and Jesuit priest, who undergoes an experience so harrowing and profound that it makes him question the existence of God. This experience--the first contact between human beings and intelligent extraterrestrial life--begins with a small mistake and ends in a horrible catastrophe.

John Irving

"Irving's classic is filled with stories inside stories about the life and times of T. S. Garp, novelist and bastard son of Jenny Fields--a feminist leader ahead of her time. Beyond that, The World According to Garp virtually defies synopsis." -- Publisher's description