9 New Books We Recommend This Week

This week’s recommended titles tilt heavily toward world affairs, although just for fun we throw in at least one book about the extramarital kind as well. First the global stuff: Charles Moore concludes his magisterial biography of Margaret Thatcher with a third volume, “Herself Alone”; Thant Myint-U shows how Burma’s colonial history plays into that country’s current spasms toward democracy; James Verini offers a look at the battle against the Islamic State and the long history of the city of Mosul; and the artist Odyr interprets George Orwell’s classic “Animal Farm,” an allegory of authoritarian rule and Stalinist repression. On the home front, Adrienne Brodeur’s memoir, “Wild Game,” recounts how her mother enlisted her as an adolescent to help cover up her torrid affair. Other books we recommend this week include novels by Lara Vapnyar and Carol Anshaw, and memoirs by the nurse Molly Case and the “Queer Eye” grooming expert Jonathan Van Ness.

Gregory Cowles
Senior Editor, Books
Twitter: @GregoryCowles

THE HIDDEN HISTORY OF BURMA: Race, Capitalism, and the Crisis of Democracy in the 21st Century, by Thant Myint-U. (Norton, $27.95.) This book’s focus is on the convulsions of the last 15 years, from a seemingly unshakable military dictatorship to the beginnings of democratic rule, but examining the legacy of Burma’s colonial past is crucial to grasping what’s happened more recently. It is “an urgent book about a heavy subject,” our critic Jennifer Szalai writes, by “a writer with a humane sensibility and a delicate yet pointed touch.”

MARGARET THATCHER: The Authorized Biography — Herself Alone, by Charles Moore. (Knopf, $40.) The third, and concluding, volume of this enormous biographical project, taking Thatcher from her third election victory in 1987 to her death in 2013, reveals a complex figure who had a lasting and lastingly controversial impact on her country and on history. Benjamin Schwarz, reviewing it, says that Moore “has produced a scrupulously evenhanded work. His use of evidence, absorbed from vast archival sources and hundreds of interviews, is punctilious, his judgments measured, his wit dry and sympathetic, his prose classically balanced. This sonorous, authoritative biography makes no empty claim to definitiveness. But it is a work for the ages: It will be the font from which every serious appraisal of Thatcher and Thatcher’s Britain draws.”

DIVIDE ME BY ZERO, by Lara Vapnyar. (Tin House, $24.95.) The narrator of Vapnyar’s deeply affecting but playful dark novel, a Russian immigrant staking out a new life in New York, uses her dying mother’s unfinished math project as a distraction to help her cope with two lovers, a husband and the novel she should be writing. Our reviewer, Jamie Fisher, says that the novel “hits its stride midway as a brutally sad romantic comedy. … ‘Divide Me by Zero’ is a mordant tribute to lost loves, none more beloved or irretrievably lost than Katya’s mother.”

WILD GAME: My Mother, Her Lover, and Me, by Adrienne Brodeur. (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $27.) Brodeur’s powerful personal history recounts her struggle to disentangle herself from her mother, a textbook narcissist. Her message is poignant and profound: A person need not totally untangle from her family in order to reject inherited patterns of relationship. It’s an “exquisite and harrowing memoir,” Emily Rapp Black writes in her review: “The book is so gorgeously written and deeply insightful, and with a line of narrative tension that never slacks, from the first page to the last, that it’s one you’ll likely read in a single, delicious sitting.”

OVER THE TOP: A Raw Journey to Self-Love, by Jonathan Van Ness, read by the author. (HarperAudio.) There is plenty to laugh at in the ways “Queer Eye”’s grooming expert frames his story, but it’s the battles he’s waged against the darker corners of his soul to become the bright light we know today that provide the necessary context for this book to shine. “His candid articulation of his evolving relationship with himself, his acceptance of who he is … brings the one-liners their sweetness,” Kristen Arnett writes in her review. “His narration, as pithy and ‘over the top’ as his beloved TV persona, is incredibly endearing.”

THEY WILL HAVE TO DIE NOW: Mosul and the Fall of the Caliphate, by James Verini, read by Ray Porter. (HighBridge.) The journalist who covered the 2016-17 battle to retake Mosul from the Islamic State for The Times Magazine and National Geographic has written not only a deeply human account of the conflict but also a fascinating historical investigation of Mosul itself. “Verini is a skilled observer of combat,” our reviewer, Elliot Ackerman, writes. “His descriptions are sharp,” and “in the audiobook version, Ray Porter’s forceful narration heightens the propulsive quality of Verini’s writing, while also highlighting the general and enduring absurdities of war.”

RIGHT AFTER THE WEATHER, by Carol Anshaw. (Atria, $27.) Set in the months surrounding the 2016 election, Anshaw’s novel features a witty Chicago woman puzzled by her own unexpected heroics and muddling through a conflicted middle age. Anshaw seems intent on shaking us awake from our little narcissisms, our devout solipsisms. In the words of our reviewer, Leah Hager Cohen, the novel “does a very good — which is to say very uncomfortable — job of exploring the way our desire for connection and approval swims against the tide of our propensity to judge and feel judged by those who are close to us.” The ending, she adds, “like a sudden break in the weather, astonishes with the force of its unexpected beauty.”

ANIMAL FARM: The Graphic Novel, adapted and illustrated by Odyr. (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $22.) This brightly colored homage to George Orwell’s timely allegory is heartbreaking and elegant. “Odyr’s images of animals casting off their bonds and then living with the results of their revolution are painterly and evocative, both loose and illuminating,” Hillary Chute writes in her Graphic Content column, reviewing the book with a handful of other graphic adaptations of classics. “Instead of a reduction of the original, Odyr’s imagined barnyard world adds to the depth of the characters: His pigs, horses, sheep and hens have expressive faces and postures, revealing both sweetness and malevolence.”

HOW TO TREAT PEOPLE: A Nurse’s Notes, by Molly Case. (Norton, $25.95.) In her memoir, Case — a British nurse, poet and spoken-word artist — writes movingly about what care means on the most basic human level. “Threaded through the stories of patients is that of Case’s father, who suffers a stroke, needs emergency heart surgery and ends up on her cardiac ward,” Tina Jordan notes, evaluating the book alongside two other medical memoirs. “His recovery is difficult, and as Case writes about it, she illuminates the fascinating and never-ending loop of care in a hospital: Doctors and nurses tend to their charges for hours, often without a break, then hand them over to the next shift, and on and on and on, shuttling patients as best they can through a balky, imperfect health care system.”

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