Agony and ecstasy—12 months of turmoil, disaster, death, rescue, victory, and celebration
Culture Notable Books
Ana Juric was 10 years old when the war between Serbia and Croatia began, upending her world overnight. Cigarette brands and last names separated friend from enemy. Serb bombers rained death from the sky, but death came to Ana’s family during a roadside stop on the highway from Sarajevo to Zagreb. In this compelling novel, war shatters a child’s world and forces her to take up arms. When family friends sneak Ana out of Croatia and into an adoptive American family, she gains physical peace and emotional respite, but it comes at a cost. Occasional R-rated violence and language.
The 3rd Woman
As she celebrates publication of her undercover sweatshop story, prize-winning reporter Maddy Webb learns of her younger sister’s murder and begins to investigate. Was her sister’s death a suicide, a random act, or one of a series of murders? Freedland portrays a dystopian Los Angeles, where impenetrable smog reduces visibility and China exerts behind-the-scenes control on the press, public officials, and policy. He stretches his sleepless protagonist beyond the breaking point, surrounds her with people she cannot trust, and piles on plot complications. This tautly written thriller has a sex scene and some R-rated language.
What if Americans and Soviets who wanted to avoid war used a comely African-American college student to carry back-channel messages between Kennedy and Khrushchev during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis? Suspicious minds would assume she was one of Kennedy’s many mistresses. That’s the setup for Carter’s scrupulously researched Cold War thriller set in early-1960s Washington. Carter draws characters from the black upper class and sets in motion high-stakes moves and countermoves, which results in both an entertaining and an informative read.
One Night in Winter
Just after World War II, some students at the elite Josef Stalin Commune School 801 form a secret society to celebrate Aleksandr Pushkin’s romantic worldview. As they act out the duel from Eugene Onegin, something goes fatally wrong. Police interrogate and jail the students. They make a simple crime of passion out to be an intended coup against the state, dragging in more and more people to testify against siblings and well-connected parents. This riveting Stalin-era novel intermingles historical characters—including Stalin, his generals, and members of the Politburo—with fictional ones. It does include several brief sexual descriptions and occasional R-rated language.
It’s hard to recall the Detroit that is the protagonist of the bittersweet Once in a Great City (Simon & Schuster, 2015). Presidential biographer David Maraniss zeros in on the years 1963 and 1964 when nearly everything was coming up roses for the Motor City. Music upstart Motown had discovered its formula and was cranking out hits, engineers at Ford were putting the finishing touches on the Mustang, city fathers were vying for the Olympics, and Martin Luther King Jr. united diverse groups into a peaceful march for civil rights months before the March on Washington. In this extensively researched book, Maraniss recreates personalities and projects from this optimistic period. He also shows the unintended consequences on Detroit’s black middle class of urban renewal and a crackdown on organized crime. —S.O.