Memory, the narrator of Petina Gappah’s The Book of Memory, is an albino woman languishing in Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison in Harare, Zimbabwe, after being sentenced for murder. As part of her appeal, her lawyer insists that she write down what happened as she remembers it. The death penalty is a mandatory sentence for murder, and Memory is, both literally and metaphorically, writing for her life. As her story unfolds, Memory reveals that she has been tried and convicted for the murder of Lloyd Hendricks, her adopted father. But who was Lloyd Hendricks? Why does Memory feel no remorse for his death? And did everything happen exactly as she remembers?
Moving between the townships of the poor and the suburbs of the rich, and between past and present, the 2009 Guardian First Book Award–winning writer Petina Gappah weaves a compelling tale of love, obsession, the relentlessness of fate, and the treachery of memory.
Respected professor Jack Owens brought his son, Danny, to Gilbert, Indiana, to escape a betrayal too painful to endure anywhere but in this quiet midwestern college town. After ten years, Jack believed they were safe. But on a seemingly ordinary day, the world Jack thought he knew and the future he anticipated abruptly come apart at the seams, leaving him haunted by the questions: Why? and What next? Redemption, however, could come with the arrival of an unexpected friend whose prescient understanding slowly helps Jack cope with the unacceptable. But with healing comes clarity—and secrets best left unrevealed by the stark, glaring light of day.
As if the reader were riding shotgun, this intensely vivid novel captures a life on the lam. “L’astragale” is the French word for the ankle bone Albertine Sarrazin’s heroine Anne breaks as she leaps from her jail cell to freedom. As she drags herself down the road, away from the prison walls, she is rescued by Julien, himself a small-time criminal, who keeps her hidden. They fall in love. Fear of capture, memories of her prison cell, claustrophobia in her hideaways: every detail is fiercely felt.
Astragal burst onto the French literary scene in 1965; its fiery and vivacious style was entirely new, and Sarrazin became a celebrity overnight. But as fate would have it, Sarrazin herself kept running into trouble with the law, even as she became a star.
She died from a botched surgery at the height of her fame. Sarrazin’s life and work (her novels are semi-autobiographical) have been the subject of intense fascination in France; a new adaptation of Astragal is currently being filmed. Patti Smith, who brought Astragal to the attention of New Directions, contributes an enthusiastic introduction to one of her favorite writers.
The hardcover publication of A Meal in Winter established Hubert Mingarelli as one of the most exciting new voices in international fiction.
Mingarelli’s timeless novel begins one morning in the dead of winter, during the darkest years of World War II, with three German soldiers heading out into the frozen Polish countryside. They have been charged by their commanders with tracking down and bringing back for execution “one of them”—a Jew. Having flushed out a young man hiding in the woods, they decide to rest in an abandoned house before continuing their journey back to the camp. As they prepare food, they are joined by a passing Pole whose virulent anti-Semitism adds tension to an already charged atmosphere. Before long, the group’s sympathies begin to splinter when each man is forced to confront his own conscience as the moral implications of their murderous mission become clear.
Described by Liberation as “impossible to put down,” A Meal in Winter, with its ”simple declarative sentences and crystalline, cinematic vignettes” (Publishers Weekly) is a “masterpiece of empathy and horror” (The Guardian) that recalls the cinema of Polanski and Hitchcock, the work of Isaac Babel and Ernest Hemingway, and Louis Begley’s Wartime Lies.