The Fortunes: A Novel by Peter Ho DaviesFour interlinked stories examine the Chinese-American experience from the 19th century to the present. "Gold" follows a mixed-race immigrant from the Pearl River Delta who becomes the valet of a railroad baron. "Silver" introduces 1930s Hollywood actress Anna May Wong, whose career ambitions are thwarted by institutional racism. "Jade," set against the backdrop of 1980s Detroit's struggling auto industry, recounts a hate crime, while the contemporary "Pearl" describes a biracial writer's adoption of a child from China. Like The Welsh Girl, author Peter Ho Davies' debut novel, The Fortunes sensitively explores issues of identity and belonging.
The Ballroom: A Novel by Anna HopeInvoluntarily committed to Yorkshire's Sharston Asylum in 1911, factory girl Ella Fay endures a grueling regimen of solitary confinement and hard labor. Her only respite is a weekly dance held for the inmates in the institution's ballroom; here she meets John Mulligan, an Irishman suffering from "melancholia" since the death of his wife and child. A clandestine correspondence fuels their forbidden passion, while resident physician Charles Fuller's obsession with eugenics threatens their safety. Fans of Sebastian Barry's The Secret Scripture, also set in a mental hospital, should appreciate this moving story of love and loss.
Napoleon's Last Island: A Novel by Thomas KeneallyImprisoned on the British-controlled island of Saint Helena in 1815, Napoleon Bonaparte endures his banishment under the supervision of the Balcombe family. Although 13-year-old Betsy Balcombe inititally dubs him The Great Ogre, she ultimately bonds with the emperor-in-exile, forming an unlikely friendship that will have far-reaching consequences for Betsy and her family. For another fictional treatment of Napoleon and Betsy's unconventional relationship, check out Brooks Hansen's The Monsters of St. Helena.
The Blind Astronomer's Daughter: A Novel by John PipkinAfter astronomer Arthur Ainsworth plummets from his rooftop observatory, his daughter Caroline learns that she's adopted, a discovery that forever alters the course of her life. Unfolding alongside Caroline's story is the parallel narrative of the elder Ainsworth's rival, musician-turned-astronomer William Herschel, and his sister and assistant, also named Caroline. At once a compelling family drama and an examination of Enlightenment-era scientific inquiry, The Blind Astronomer's Daughter may appeal to readers who enjoyed Carrie Brown's The Stargazer's Sister, which focuses on the Herschels.
The Other Einstein: A Novel by Marie BenedictOne of the few women at the Swiss Federal Polytechnic School in Zurich, Mileva Marić is the only female physics student in her class. Accustomed to being lonely and misunderstood, she's thrilled to find an intellectual and romantic partner in fellow student Albert Einstein. Then she becomes pregnant. Although Albert (eventually) agrees to marry her, he insists that she give up her research in order to focus on domestic duties. Meanwhile, her husband's womanizing ways cause her to reflect on how much she's sacrificed for the sake of marital harmony.
Focus on: Literary Characters
Nelly Dean: A Return to Wuthering Heights by Alison CaseThe daughter of a servant, Nelly Dean grows up at Wuthering Heights alongside the Earnshaw children, Catherine and Hindley. Although she realizes that she is not her companions' social equal, she's treated more or less as such...until the arrival of a strange orphan boy called Heathcliff, which sets in motion a series of tragic events familiar to fans of Emily Brontë's haunting novel. Fans of Jo Baker's Longbourn, which retells Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice from the servants' perspective, may be interested in Nelly Dean.
Havisham by Ronald FrameThe daughter of a wealthy brewer, Catherine Havisham is sent to London to stay with the aristocratic Chadwyck family, an arrangement that her father hopes will enable her to marry a suitable gentleman. All goes according to plan until Catherine meets the charming Charles Compeyson. As readers of Dickens' Great Expectations already know, their romance does not have a happy ending, but how does the beautiful young heiress become the embittered recluse of the tomb-like Satis House? To find out, read this "intelligently imagined" (Kirkus Reviews) prequel to a classic novel.
Angel and Apostle by Deborah NoyesPearl, precious daughter of The Scarlet Letter's Hester Prynne, comes of age in 17th-century New England. Ostracized by colonial Boston's Puritan community for her mother's adultery and her own illegitimate birth, Pearl -- dubbed "witch-baby" by the townsfolk -- struggles to understand her place in the world. She finds a soulmate in Simon, the blind son of a sea captain, but as they grow to adulthood, Pearl discovers that the events of the past continue to exert their influence on her future. For another sequel to Nathaniel Hawthorne's classic novel, try Paula Reed's Hester.
The Cosmopolitans by Sarah SchulmanSet in Greenwich Village in the 1950s, this adaptation of Honoré de Balzac's Cousin Bette (by way of James Baldwin's Giovanni's Room) introduces Bette, a Midwestern transplant turned "spinster" secretary, and Earl, a gay, African-American struggling actor who works in a meatpacking plant. Rejected by their families of origin and unlucky in love, Bette and Earl are next-door neighbors who have built a strong friendship over the past three decades. Although the drama centers around the unexpected arrival of Bette's cousin, Hortense, the heart of the novel lies in its penetrating psychological portraits of the main characters and the vividly rendered urban setting they inhabit.
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