In the hot listless last days of summer, many of us find ourselves longing for an adventure.
For those who crave escape but can’t get out of town, The Offing’s fiction department rounded up a series of August titles that offer passports: to Iran, Soviet Russia, and Afghanistan; to the worlds imagined by a writer dubbed “Turkey’s Kafka”; to an expedition across Europe, the South Pacific, and Siberia; and into deepest, darkest America, from the battlefields of the Civil War to the far-flung immigrant communities of the 21st century.
Happy reading — and bon voyage.
When the Moon Is Low by Nadia Hashimi (William Morrow)
“Mahmoud’s passion for his wife Fereiba, a schoolteacher, is greater than any love she’s ever known. But their happy, middle-class world — a life of education, work, and comfort — implodes when their country is engulfed in war, and the Taliban rises to power.”
Nadia Hashimi is a Maryland-based author and physician of Afghan descent. She is a graduate of Brandeis University holding degrees in both Middle Eastern Studies and Biology. Hashimi’s first novel, The Pearl That Broke Its Shell, was selected as a finalist for the Goodreads Best Book of 2014 (Fiction and Debut Author).
In Last Mass, Iredell navigates the complex history of colonial California, his own personal history as a Catholic growing up in that state, and the process of writing itself, with all its pitfalls and revelations.
Jamie Iredell is the author of the books I Was a Fat Drunk Catholic School Insomniac, The Book of Freaks, and Prose. Poems. A Novel. His writing has appeared in many magazines, among them The Collagist, The Literary Review, The Rumpus, and PANK. He lives in Atlanta where he teaches creative writing. Read his essay on belief in Continent.
Reckless by Hasan Ali Toptaş (Bloomsbury USA)
“Thirty years after completing his military service, Ziya flees the spiraling turmoil and perplexing chaos of the city where he lives to seek a peaceful existence in a remote village — of which he has heard dreamlike tales. Greeted by his old friend from the army, Kenan, who has built and furnished a vineyard house for him, Ziya grows accustomed to his new surroundings and is welcomed by Kenan’s family. However, the village does not provide the serenity Ziya yearns for, and old memories of his military service on the treacherous Syrian/Turkish border flood his thoughts. As he battles specters of the past, his rejection of village life provokes an undercurrent of ill feeling among the locals, not least towards Kenan, who has incurred heavy debts by his generosity to the man who may have saved his life.”
Reckless is acclaimed Turkish writer Hasan Ali Toptaş’ first novel to be translated into English (he has written ten others). Read a review in The Toronto Star.
The Girl from the Garden by Parnaz Foroutan (Ecco)
“An extraordinary new writer makes her literary debut with a suspenseful novel of desire, obsession, power, and vulnerability, in which a crisis of inheritance leads to the downfall of a wealthy family of Persian Jews in early 20th-century Iran. Parnaz Foroutan’s The Girl from the Garden unfolds the complex, tragic history of a family in a long-lost Iran of generations past. Haunting and inspired by events in the author’s own family, it is an evocative and poignant exploration of sacrifice, betrayal, and the indelible legacy of the families that forge us.”
Born in Iran, Jewish-Iranian author Parnaz Foroutan has received a PEN USA Emerging Voices fellowship as well as fellowships from Hedgebrook and the Elizabeth George Foundation. Read the Los Angeles Magazine interview with the author here.
The Americans by Chitra Viraraghavan (HarperCollins)
“Expertly woven together, The Americans tells the stories of eleven Indians, whose lives span the country from Louisville to Chicago to Los Angeles to Portland, to Boston, all navigating life in a foreign land. A systems administrator uncovers a government plot to deport him. A woman discovers life is no romance novel. A teenager flees the nets of family. A housekeeper wakes up from the American dream. [The novel] illuminates questions of race, ethnicity and point of origin, and explores the puzzles of identity, place and human connection.”
Chitra Viraraghavan was born in Chennai, India and was educated in Hyderabad, Kodaikanal, Madras and Boston. She has been an editor at Oxford University Press India, and has taught freshman English at Tufts University in Boston. The Americans is her first novel. Watch her read from and discuss it here.
I Was a Revolutionary: Stories by Andrew Malan Milward (Harper)
“Grounded in place, spanning the Civil War to the present day, the stories in I Was a Revolutionary capture the roil of history through the eyes of an unforgettable cast of characters who haunt the past and present landscape of the state of Kansas.”
A Kansas native and Iowa Writer’s Workshop graduate, Andrew Malan Milward received the Juniper Prize in Fiction for his debut collection of stories, The Agriculture Hall of Fame. He lives in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, where he is a Visiting Writer at the University of Southern Mississippi and editor-in-chief of Mississippi Review. Read “The Americanist” from I Was a Revolutionary in Guernica.
You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine by Alexandra Kleeman (Harper)
“A woman known only by the letter A lives in an unnamed American city with her roommate, B, and boyfriend, C. Meanwhile B is attempting to make herself a twin of A, who hungers for something to give meaning to her life, something aside from Cs pornography addiction, and becomes indoctrinated by a new religion spread throughout a web of corporate franchises, which moves her closer to the decoys that populate her television world, but no closer to her true nature. An intelligent and madly entertaining debut novel that is at once a missing-person mystery, an exorcism of modern culture, and a wholly singular vision of contemporary womanhood from a terrifying and often funny voice of a new generation.”
A Brooklyn-based writer and scholar, Alexandra Kleeman has written for publications including the Paris Review, Zoetrope, Guernica, Tin House, and n+1. She received her MFA in fiction from Columbia University and has received grants and scholarships from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and the Santa Fe Art Institute. She is currently completing a PhD in Rhetoric at UC Berkeley. Read an excerpt on Electric Literature then pick up the novel that Rivka Galchen says “has eaten up our whole culture…and transubstantiated it into wry, brilliant, undeniable literary truth.”
Landfalls by Naomi J. Williams (Farrar Straus Giroux)
“[A] wildly inventive debut novel…reimagines the historical La Pérouse expedition, a voyage of exploration that left Brest in 1785 with two frigates, two hundred men, and overblown Enlightenment ideals and expectations, in a brave attempt to circumnavigate the globe for science and the glory of France. . . By turns elegiac, profound, and comic, Landfalls reinvents the maritime adventure novel for the twenty-first century.”
Naomi J. Williams was born in Japan. She lives with her family in Northern California, where she’s at work on her second book, a novel about the early 20th-century Japanese poet Yosano Akiko. Read her interview with Book Keeping.
A Manual For Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin (Farrar Straus & Giroux)
“With her trademark blend of humor and melancholy, Berlin crafts miracles from the everyday, uncovering moments of grace in the cafeterias and Laundromats of the American Southwest, in the homes of the Northern California upper classes, among switchboard operators and struggling mothers, hitchhikers and bad Christians. Lovers of the short story will not want to miss this remarkable collection from a master of the form.”
Lucia Berlin (1934-2004) was an American short story writer. She worked brilliantly but sporadically throughout the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. Read Lydia Davis’ consideration of Berlin’s life and work here.
In A Woman Loved, “Oleg Erdmann, a young Russian filmmaker, seeks to discover and portray Catherine the Great’s essential, emotional truth… His first screenplay just barely makes it past the Soviet film board and is assigned to a talented director, but the resulting film fails to avoid the usual clichés. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, as he struggles to find a place for himself in the new order, Oleg agrees to work with an old friend on a television series that becomes a quick success — as well as increasingly lurid, a far cry from his original vision.”
Brief Loves The Live Forever depicts a Sovient Russia where “the desire for freedom is also a desire for the freedom to love. Lovers live as outlaws, traitors to the collective spirit, and love is more intense when it feels like an act of resistance. Now entering middle age, an orphan recalls the fleeting moments that have never left him: a scorching day in a blossoming orchard with a woman who loves another; a furtive, desperate affair in a Black Sea resort…As the dreary Brezhnev era gives way to perestroika and the fall of Communism, the orphan uncovers the truth behind the life of Dmitri Ress, whose tragic fate embodies the unbreakable bond between love and freedom.”
Andrei Makine was born in 1957 in Serbia and has lived in France for more than twenty years. His previous novels include Dreams of My Russian Summer and The Life of an Unknown Man. Read Julia Livshin’s take on the novels, at the New York Times Book Review.
Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh (Penguin Press)
“Eileen Dunlop, [is] an unassuming yet disturbed young woman trapped between her role as her alcoholic father’s caretaker…and a day job as a secretary at the boy’s prison . . . When the bright, beautiful, and cheery Rebecca Saint John arrives on the scene as the new counselor at Moorehead, Eileen is enchanted and proves unable to resist what appears at first to be a miraculously budding friendship. In a Hitchcockian twist, her affection for Rebecca ultimately pulls her into complicity in a crime that surpasses her wildest imaginings. A mordant, harrowing tale of obsession and suspense.”
Ottesa Moshfegh is a fiction writer from Boston. She was awarded the Plimpton Prize for her stories in The Paris Review and is currently a Wallace Stegner fellow at Stanford. Read her interview with writer Sarah Gerard for Hazlitt.
Bright Lines by Tanwi Nandini Islam (Penguin Books)
“Ella has longed to feel at home. Orphaned as a child after her parent’s murder, and afflicted with hallucinations at dusk, she’s always felt more at ease in nature than with people. She traveled from Bangladesh to Brooklyn to live with the Saleems: her uncle Anwar, aunt Hashi, and their beautiful daughter, Charu, her complete opposite. One summer, when Ella returns home from college, she discovers Charu’s friend Maya — an Islamic cleric’s runaway daughter — asleep in her bedroom. As the girls have a summer of clandestine adventure and sexual awakenings, Anwar has his own secrets, threatening his thirty-year marriage . . . To keep his family from unraveling, Anwar takes them on a fated trip to Bangladesh, to reckon with the past, their extended family, and each other.”
Tawni Nandini Islam is a writer, multimedia artist, and founder of Hi Wildflower Botanica, a natural perfume and skincare line.
Photo Copyright Horia Varlan 2008, via Flickr CC