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The 10 Best New Books to Read This February

The 10 Best New Books to Read This February


As the president closes borders and builds walls, American readers will open their bookshelves this February to writers from all over the world, both living in the United States and abroad. Min Jin Lee was born in South Korea, and now lives in New York City. Juan Martinez was born in Colombia, and now calls Chicago home. And Viet Thanh Nguyen is a refugee whose family fled from Vietnam in 1975. Along with a translation of the acclaimed Japanese novelist Hideo Yokoyama, here are February’s 10 best new books.

9780374282103_b809eUniversal Harvester by John Darnielle
FSG, February 7

“Jeremy works at the counter of Video Hut in Nevada, Iowa. It’s a small town—the first ‘a’ in the name is pronounced ay—smack in the center of the state. This is the late 1990s, pre-DVD, and the Hollywood Video in Ames poses an existential threat to Video Hut. But there are regular customers, a predictable rush in the late afternoon. It’s good enough for Jeremy: It’s a job; it’s quiet and regular; he gets to watch movies; he likes the owner, Sarah Jane; it gets him out of the house, where he and his dad try to avoid missing Mom, who died six years ago in a car wreck.”

“But when Stephanie Parsons, a local schoolteacher, comes in to return her copy of Targets, starring Boris Karloff—an old movie, one Jeremy himself had ordered for the store—she has an odd complaint: ‘There’s something on it,’ she says, but doesn’t elaborate. Two days later, Lindsey Redinius brings back She’s All That, a new release, and complains that there’s something wrong with it: ‘There’s another movie on this tape.'”

9780802126399_db599The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen
Grove Press, February 7

“Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Sympathizer was one of the most widely and highly praised novels of 2015, the winner not only of the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, but also the Center for Fiction Debut Novel Prize, the Edgar Award for Best First Novel, the ALA Carnegie Medal for Fiction, the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature, and the California Book Award for First Fiction. Nguyen’s next fiction book, The Refugees, is a collection of perfectly formed stories written over a period of twenty years, exploring questions of immigration, identity, love, and family.”

“With the coruscating gaze that informed The Sympathizer, in The Refugees Viet Thanh Nguyen gives voice to lives led between two worlds, the adopted homeland and the country of birth. From a young Vietnamese refugee who suffers profound culture shock when he comes to live with two gay men in San Francisco, to a woman whose husband is suffering from dementia and starts to confuse her for a former lover, to a girl living in Ho Chi Minh City whose older half-sister comes back from America having seemingly accomplished everything she never will, the stories are a captivating testament to the dreams and hardships of immigration. The second piece of fiction by a major new voice in American letters, The Refugees is a beautifully written and sharply observed book about the aspirations of those who leave one country for another, and the relationships and desires for self-fulfillment that define our lives.”

9781455563937_1d20ePachinko by Min Jin Lee
Grand Central, February 7

“Profoundly moving and gracefully told, Pachinko follows one Korean family through the generations, beginning in early 1900s Korea with Sunja, the prized daughter of a poor yet proud family, whose unplanned pregnancy threatens to shame them. Betrayed by her wealthy lover, Sunja finds unexpected salvation when a young tubercular minister offers to marry her and bring her to Japan to start a new life. So begins a sweeping saga of exceptional people in exile from a homeland they never knew and caught in the indifferent arc of history. In Japan, Sunja’s family members endure harsh discrimination, catastrophes, and poverty, yet they also encounter great joy as they pursue their passions and rise to meet the challenges this new home presents. Through desperate struggles and hard-won triumphs, they are bound together by deep roots as their family faces enduring questions of faith, family, and identity.”

9781941040515_89675Swimming Lessons by Claire Fuller
Tin House Books, February 7

“Ingrid Coleman writes letters to her husband, Gil, about the truth of their marriage, but instead of giving them to him, she hides them in the thousands of books he has collected over the years. When Ingrid has written her final letter she disappears from a Dorset beach, leaving behind her beautiful but dilapidated house by the sea, her husband, and her two daughters, Flora and Nan. Twelve years later, Gil thinks he sees Ingrid from a bookshop window, but he’s getting older and this unlikely sighting is chalked up to senility. Flora, who has never believed her mother drowned, returns home to care for her father and to try to finally discover what happened to Ingrid. But what Flora doesn’t realize is that the answers to her questions are hidden in the books that surround her. Scandalous and whip-smart, Swimming Lessons holds the Coleman family up to the light, exposing the mysterious truths of a passionate and troubled marriage.”

9780399576102_61944A Separation by Katie Kitamura
Riverhead, February 7

“A young woman has agreed with her faithless husband: it’s time for them to separate. For the moment it’s a private matter, a secret between the two of them. As she begins her new life, alone, she gets word that her ex has gone missing in a remote region in the rugged southern Peloponnese; she reluctantly agrees to go and search for him, still keeping their split to herself. In her heart, she’s not even sure if she wants to find him. Adrift in the wild and barren landscape, she traces the failure of their relationship, and finds that she understands less than she thought about the man she used to love. A story of intimacy, infidelity, and compassion, A Separation is about the gulf that divides us from the lives of others and the narratives we create to mask our true emotions. As the narrator reflects upon her love for a man who may never have been what he appeared, Kitamura propels us into the experience of a woman on the brink of catastrophe. A Separation is a riveting stylistic masterpiece of absence and presence that will leave the reader astonished, and transfixed.”

9780374265519_14171Six Four by Hideo Yokoyama
Translated by Jonathan Lloyd-Davies
FSG, February 7

“The nightmare no parent could endure. The case no detective could solve. The twist no reader could predict. For five days in January 1989, the parents of a seven-year-old Tokyo schoolgirl sat and listened to the demands of their daughter’s kidnapper. They would never learn his identity. They would never see their daughter again. For the fourteen years that followed, the Japanese public listened to the police’s apologies. They would never forget the botched investigation that became known as Six Four. They would never forgive the authorities for their failure. For one week in late 2002, the press officer attached to the police department in question confronted an anomaly in the case. He could never imagine what he would uncover. He would never have looked if he’d known what he would find.”

9780393285895_9b20cThe Dark and Other Love Stories by Deborah Willis
W. W. Norton, February 14

“The characters in these thirteen masterful and engaging stories exist on the edge of danger, where landscapes melt into dreamscapes and every house is haunted. A drug dealer’s girlfriend signs up for the first manned mission to Mars. A girl falls in love with a man who wants to turn her into a bird. A teenaged girl and her best friend test their relationship by breaking into suburban houses. A wife finds a gaping hole in the floor of the home she shares with her husband, a hole that only she can see. Full of longing and strange humor, these subtle, complex stories—about the love between a man and his pet crow, an alcoholic and his AA sponsor, a mute migrant and a newspaper reporter—show how love ties us to each other and to the world. The Dark and Other Love Stories announces the emergence of a wonderfully gifted storyteller whose stories enlarge our perceptions about the human capacity to love.”

See Also

9780812995343_73f0aLincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
Random House, February 14

“On February 22, 1862, two days after his death, Willie Lincoln was laid to rest in a marble crypt in a Georgetown cemetery. That very night, shattered by grief, Abraham Lincoln arrives at the cemetery under cover of darkness and visits the crypt, alone, to spend time with his son’s body. Set over the course of that one night and populated by ghosts of the recently passed and the long dead, Lincoln in the Bardo is a thrilling exploration of death, grief, the powers of good and evil, a novel – in its form and voice – completely unlike anything you have read before. It is also, in the end, an exploration of the deeper meaning and possibilities of life, written as only George Saunders can: with humor, pathos, and grace.”

9781618731241_94710Best Worst American by Juan Martinez
Small Beer Press, February 21

“Imaginary countries. Real countries. The best and worst of both in short, cutting, refreshing stories. These are the best Americans, the worst Americans. In these stories (these cities, these people) there are labyrinths, rivers, wildernesses. Voices sound slightly different than expected. There’s humor, but it’s going to hurt. In “On Paradise,” a petshop manager flies with his cat to Las Vegas to meet his long-lost mother and grandmother, only to find that the women look exactly like they did forty years before. In “The Spooky Japanese Girl is There For You,” the spooky Japanese girl (a ghost) is there for you, then she is not. These refreshing and invigorating stories of displacement, exile, and identity, of men who find themselves confused by the presence or absence of extraordinary women, jump up, demand to be read, and send the reader back to the earth changed: reminded from these short stories how big the world is.”


A Shadow Map edited by Joanna C. Valente
Civil Coping Mechanisms, February 28

“The essays and poems contained within this anthology are not only compelling but also harrowing stories of sexual assault. None of these pieces were easy to write–and were born out of traumatizing and terrible experiences. CCM believes in providing a safe space within the literary community where we can not only talk about painful experiences and issues but also necessary considering the current political climate.”

“Contributors include Hillary Leftwich, Prerna Bakshi, Mila Jaroniec, lauren samblanet, Erin Taylor, Stephen Furlong, Lillian Ann Slugocki, Maggie Queeney, Christopher Morgan, Geula Geurts, Sarah Lilius, Omotara James, Lauren Milici, Shannon Elizabeth Hardwick, Stephanie Valente, Isobel O’Hare, Shevaun Brannigan, Amy Jo Trier-Walker, Marty Cain, Jennifer Maritza, McCauley, Alaina Leary, Alexis Groulx, Patty Paine, Abigail Welhouse, Stephanie Berger, jacklyn janeksela, Christine Stoddard, Nicole McCarthy, Lynn Melnick, Ashley Miranda, Leza Cantoral, Corinne Manning, CAConrad, Danielle Perry, Annie Virginia, Claudia Cortese, Kelley O’Brien, Jessica Lynn Suchon, Hannah Kucharzak, Sarah Madges, Staci R. Schoenfeld, Alexis Smithers, Agnes Vittstrand, Freke Räihä, Jason Phoebe Rusch, Leah Mueller, MW Murphy, Katie Clark, Christoph Paul, Lora Nouk, and Diane Payne.”

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