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A Monthly Culture Matrix For the Cosmopolitan Traveler

How do you reconcile personal anxiety with catastrophes that loom beyond the horizon? It’s a question everyone is likely asking themselves these days; it’s also a theme at the heart of Weather, the new novel by Jenny Offill (Dept. of Speculation), which captures, Christian Lorentzen writes in his review for Air Mail, “the feeling of the world ending.” If you’re looking for something even more prescient, pre-order Pulitzer Prize-winning author Lawrence Wright’s The End of October, out on April 28, about a killer virus taking over the world. Who was it that said there are no coincidences?

Meanwhile, for books that take you back to the pandemic-free times of Henry VIII or Francisco Franco, read The Mirror & the Light, the final installment of Hilary Mantel’s Thomas Cromwell trilogy, here reviewed by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Geraldine Brooks, or A Long Petal of the Sea by Isabel Allende (The House of the Spirits), set in exile from civil-war-ravaged Spain in the late 1930s.

Lily King (Euphoria, The English Teacher) takes us closer to the present with Writers and Lovers, her compelling new novel about a young woman on the brink of adulthood. Meanwhile, across the pond in a Glasgow housing project, a young boy and his siblings are forced to grow up early because of their alcoholic mother—the book is Shuggie Bain, a moving debut by Douglas Stuart. Another not-to-miss debut, Meng Jin’s Little Gods, transports readers to Beijing, where it explores age-old themes like the bond between mother and daughter and the immigrant experience in new ways.

From China it’s back to the American Midwest, where The Topeka School by Ben Lerner (10:04, Leaving the Atocha Station) contextualizes, among other things, the rise of the New Right. In the political-literary sphere there’s also National Book Award-winning author Colum McCann’s Apeirogon, a novel based on the real-life friendship between an Israeli and a Palestinian. “Nobody wins,” writes Helen Schulman in her poignant review of the book for Air Mail: “We learn that, by the cruelest twist of fate, each man had a young daughter who was murdered by the other side.” The National Book Award-winning author James McBride’s turns to another cauldron of unrest, 1969 New York City, where he tests the characters of his newest novel, Deacon King Kong, reviewed for Air Mail by Lit Hub editor Dan Sheehan.

On the mystery front, a scheming, dysfunctional family reminiscent of the Roys from Succession is the subject of Joseph Finder’s House On Fire; Lisa Henricksson reviews this and many others in the genre for Air Mail.

Finally, get up to date on the current literary-world drama by reading Jeanine Cummins’s American Dirt. It was called “masterful” by Sandra Cisneros (The House on Mango Street) and chosen for Oprah’s book club; then, Cummins was accused of cultural appropriation and racism. Oprah, naturally, took the opportunity to host the author and some of her critics—Esther J. Cepeda, Julissa Arce, and Reyna Grande—in conversation.

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