8 Books to Enjoy This Summer
As you pack your carry-on for the beach or for travel to more exotic locales, stick in one, two or more of these absorbing new books.
By Sandee Brawarsky
You’ll find hints of summer in these new titles: lakeside cabins, family reunions, lifeguards, bicycles and more. All are great stories that will make a long summer afternoon pass quickly but memorably. As is our tradition, they are written by women, but we couldn’t resist also including Joshua Henkin’s absorbing new book, set in a country house on a summer holiday weekend.
Ruth Wasserman would have rather been a blonde cheerleader than the smart, slightly overweight curly-haired young Jewish woman she is. She’s smart and outspoken in a conservative town in Alabama. Zoe Fishman’s accomplished novel Saving Ruth (Morrow) is a coming-of-age story, set when Ruth returns home after a year in college and is working as a lifeguard alongside her popular brother David. A near-drowning on their watch forces the siblings to face some difficult truths about themselves and their family. Fishman, who grew up in the South, is the author of Balancing Acts, a much praised first novel.
Victoria Hislop, bestselling author of The Island, sets her latest novel, The Thread, in Thessaloniki, Greece, or Salonika, as it is known, a city where Christians, Jews and Muslims live together in peace when the book opens in 1917. She follows, over the course of the 20th century, the lives of two lovers, through civil wars, turbulence, persecutions, and Nazi presence, intertwining politics and history with a love story. She captures the complexity of Greek history along with the spirit and light of the Mediterranean.
Poet, short story writer and novelist Alice Mattison also sets her story against decades of history, in this case, events in America from the Great Depression to the present. In When We Argued All Night, Mattison creates unforgettable (and familiar) characters in Artie Saltzman and Harold Abramowitz, two friends from Brooklyn who support and argue with each other through their marriages and experiences raising families. Mattison has said that these are characters who “wanted” to be written about. Her earlier novels include The Book Borrower and Nothing is Quite Forgotten in Brooklyn.
A lyrical debut novel, I am Forbidden by Anouk Markovits (Hogarth) is set in the usually closed world of Satmar Hasidim, from small towns in Transylvania during World War II to Williamsburg, Brooklyn in the present. Markovits portrays characters whose lives are marked by tragedy, devotion, religiosity and yearning, with much compassion and honesty, in an original voice. The author was born into a Satmar family in Paris, and left at age 19 rather than entering into an arranged marriage. She now lives in New York.
Cyclists will be inspired in many ways by Road to Valor: A True Story of World War II Italy, The Nazis, and the Cyclist Who Inspired a Nation by Aili and Andres McConnon (Crown). The brother-and-sister writing team presents the untold story of Gino Bartali, an Italian sports legend and war hero. Known as the “Lion of Tuscany,” Bartali won the Tour de France twice (1938 and 1948) and still holds the record for the longest time span between victories. Little has been written until now about his efforts to save more than 800 Jews during the Holocaust. The book is based on ten years of research in France, Italy and Israel. Bartali was born in a poor town in Tuscany and worked and saved to buy his own first bicycle. A devout Catholic, he worked for the Italian resistance, hiding documents in the frame of his bicycle, and sheltering a Jewish family in an apartment through his cycling winnings.
A family reunion is at the heart of Joshua Henkin’s new novel, The World Without You. Three generations of the Frankel gather in their Berkshire summer home to mark the first anniversary of the tragic death of Leo. Leo, the youngest of four siblings, was a journalist who was killed on assignment in Iraq, and may remind readers of the tragic story of Daniel Pearl. One sister is struggling with infertility, another is angry, and the other is newly Orthodox and living in Israel (and feeling out of place, although the parents made sure to arrange for kosher meals). Each person, including Leo’s wife, arrives with heartaches, struggles, questions and complexities that unravel over the course of the three days. The author of Matrimony and Swimming Across the Hudson, Henkin directs the fiction writing program at Brooklyn College in New York City.
The Invitation (Norton) by Anne Cherian also involves a reunion. Here, college friends gather at the invitation of Vikram, for the graduation of his son from MIT. A first generation Indian immigrant, Vikram is now the owner of a successful company. Understandably, his son isn’t particularly pleased with the reunion plans. For Vikram and his friends, it’s the 25th anniversary of their own graduation, which raises the inevitable class with unmet expectations. Lali, one of the friends, tries to keep quiet the fact that her marriage is in trouble as her American husband is discovering his Jewish roots. Cherian is the author of A Good Indian Wife.
A debut novel, The Year of the Gadfly (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) by Jennifer Miller is a coming-of-age story set in a New England prep school. Iris, an aspiring journalist, is moved to a new school after her best friend dies, and works to expose the school’s secret society and blackmail schemes. Miller, the author of Inheriting the Holy Land: An American’s Search for Hope in the Middle East, was inspired in part by the loss of a close friend when she was in high school.