My book club had its last meeting of the year last night. Below is a list of the books we read in 2013 with a bit of information about each. See whether any of them catch your interest. If you want to order from Amazon, just click on the link. (Yes, I am an Amazon affiliate.) Read on!
1. Imperium – Author Robert Harris lures readers back in time to the compelling life of Roman Senator Marcus Cicero. The re-creation of a vanished biography written by his household slave and right-hand man, Tiro, Imperium follows Cicero’s extraordinary struggle to attain supreme power in Rome.
2. The Black Count – General Alex Dumas is almost unknown today, yet his story is strikingly familiar—because his son, the novelist Alexandre Dumas, used his larger-than-life feats as inspiration for such classics as The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers. But hidden behind General Dumas’s swashbuckling adventures was an even more incredible secret: he was the son of a black slave—who rose higher in the white world than any man of his race would before our own time.
3. The Fixer – Set in Kiev in 1911 during a period of heightened anti-Semitism, the novel tells the story of Yakov Bok, a Jewish handyman blamed for the brutal murder of a young Russian boy. Bok leaves his village to try his luck in Kiev, and after denying his Jewish identity, finds himself working for a member of the anti-Semitic Black Hundreds Society. When the boy is found nearly drained of blood in a cave, the Black Hundreds accuse the Jews of ritual murder. Arrested and imprisoned, Bok refuses to confess to a crime that he did not commit.
4. The Natural – This is Malamud’s first novel, published in 1952. It’s also the first—and some would say still the best—novel ever written about baseball. In it Malamud, usually appreciated for his unerring portrayals of postwar Jewish life, took on very different material—the story of a superbly gifted “natural” at play in the fields of the old daylight baseball era—and invested it with the hardscrabble poetry, at once grand and altogether believable, that runs through all his best work.
5. Tenth of December – One of the most important and blazingly original writers of his generation, George Saunders is an undisputed master of the short story, and Tenth of December is his most honest, accessible, and moving collection yet. (I loved and recommended this book. It was not well received by most book club members. But that’s one reason to join a book club. It forces you to read books you wouldn’t read otherwise, and it provides insights into what makes other members tick. I thought these stories were well told with interesting, sometimes macabre, twists. Read it!)
6. HHhH – The title is an abbreviation of the German sentence, “Himmlers Hirn heisst Heydrich,” or “Himmler’s brain is called Heydrich.” The most lethal man in Hitler’s cabinet, Reinhard Heydrich seemed indestructible—until two exiled operatives, a Slovak and a Czech, killed him and changed the course of history. The novel follows Gabčík and Kubiš from their dramatic escape from Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia to their fatal attack on Heydrich and their own brutal deaths in the basement of a Prague church.
7. The Orphan Master’s Son – Adam Johnson’s novel accomplishes the seemingly impossible: an American writer has masterfully rendered the mysterious world of North Korea with the soul and savvy of a native, from its orphanages and its fishing boats to the kitchens of its high-ranking commanders. It’s a fascinating look at life in a totalitarian society.
8. Out Stealing Horses – In this quiet but compelling novel, Trond Sander, a widower nearing 70, moves to a bare house in remote eastern Norway, seeking the life of quiet contemplation that he has always longed for. A chance encounter with a neighbor—the brother, as it happens, of his childhood friend Jon—causes him to ruminate on the summer of 1948, the last he spent with his adored father, who abandoned the family soon afterward. Trond’s recollections center on a single afternoon, when he and Jon set out to take some horses from a nearby farm; what began as an exhilarating adventure ended abruptly and traumatically in an act of unexpected cruelty.
9. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – Through Huck and the fugitive slave Jim, Mark Twain looks at important issues of marginality, not just for people of color, but for people of all sorts who live outside social norms, either by accident of race and class, by virtue of fate, or by a choice they have made. Some are outlaws and con men. Others are honest souls whose luck just ran out. Still others are merely independent-minded people who refuse to bend to stereotypes of race, class and gender. All share circumstances that put them outside of the societal norm and onto the road less traveled.
10. The Citadel – Set in the 1920s and ’30s of Britain, this novel recounts the evolution of a young Scottish doctor embarking upon his career. The book follows his struggles from the mines of Wales to posh London and beyond. Committed to helping mankind, hard working though of modest means, Andrew Manson arrives fresh out of medical school with all the enthusiasm and idealism of youth. But he is buffeted by fate for many years; although lucky in his choice of a life partner (school teacher Christine Barlow), he encounters opposition at every turn from employers, institutions, quacks and busybodies.
11. Replay – Jeff Winston, forty-three, didn’t know he was a replayer until he died and woke up twenty-five years younger in his college dorm room; he lived another life. And died again. And lived again and died again — in a continuous twenty-five-year cycle — each time starting from scratch at the age of eighteen to reclaim lost loves, remedy past mistakes, or make a fortune in the stock market. A novel of gripping adventure, romance, and fascinating speculation on the nature of time, Replay asks the question: “What if you could live your life over again?”
If you read any of these, let me know what you think.