Briefly Noted Book Reviews – The New Yorker

Rebel Cinderella, by Adam Hochschild (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). This vibrant biography portrays the riveting charisma of the socialist activist Rose Pastor Stokes. A Russian-Jewish immigrant and a cigar-factory worker, Pastor Stokes became an overnight celebrity when, in 1905, she married into one of the nations wealthiest families. For the next fifteen years, she was a tireless crusader for workers and womens rights, fighting to decriminalize birth control. She also hosted a stream of socialist luminaries, including W.E.B.Du Bois and Maxim Gorky, on her private island. Moving between glittering estates and squalid tenements, Hochschild captures the improbability and idealism of both Pastor Stokes and her era, a time when it seemed that stark divisions of class, race, and gender might be erased, in an instant, by love.

Yellow Bird, by Sierra Crane Murdoch (Random House). In 2012, at the height of the North Dakota oil boom, a young white truck driver working in the oil fields disappeared from the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation. The case seemed fated to languish unsolved, but it found a champion in Lissa Yellow Bird, an obsessive amateur detective. Yellow Birda member of the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation, a recovering addict, a former prison guard, an ex-convict, and a mother of fiveuncovered the truth with impressive persistence and guile. Murdochs sprawling narrative explores the womans past, the terrible history of Americas treatment of indigenous peoples, and the impact of sudden wealth on a place that has suffered decades of deprivation and mismanagement.

Little Gods, by Meng Jin (Custom House). This dbut novel begins on the eve of the Tiananmen crackdown, in 1989, with the birth of a baby girl. Her parents, a physicist and a doctor in Shanghai, are upwardly mobile transplants from a neighboring province, whose lives are soon tossed into chaos. Told from three perspectives, including that of a young American who travels to China to trace her mothers life, the book is populated by stubborn characters who are balancing on thin wires of ambition or nostalgia. As the narratives merge, tying together history and the present, Jins richly textured, unsparing writing questions whether a self can exist unmarked by the past.

Blue Flowers, by Carola Saavedra, translated from the Portuguese by Daniel Hahn (Riverhead). One winter day, a resentful, recently divorced man receives a letter from a mysterious woman, who signs the missive with A. Its a mistake: the intended recipient, A.s ex-lover, was the previous tenant of the mans apartment. Letters continue to arrive, and the man becomes fixated on A.s passionate meditations about her relationships end and the web of tenderness, hostility, and submission in which it has left her. He halts his normal life to find her, and Saavedra, a lauded Brazilian writer, twists this search deftly. As A.s correspondence unfolds, it explores languages insufficiencies, and its power: This letter will be opened, and all the world that it contains will open, too.

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Briefly Noted Book Reviews - The New Yorker

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