10 Great Reasons to Read Fiction in April 2017

There are so many great books arriving this month! Here are ten of the best.

American War
by Omar El Akkad
In 2074, the United States is rocked by all manner of disasters in this bleak and all-too-plausible dystopian novel: rising sea levels, plague, drought, severe storms, military occupation and civil war. Sarat is a six- year-old refugee from mostly-underwater Louisiana whose family is forced into a camp. She grows up to become a radicalized warrior who will help lead a rebellion against the north. Author El Akkad is an Egyptian-born, Qatar-raised Canadian war reporter who has covered the war in Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay and the Arab Spring. “His familiarity with the United States’ war on terror informs this novel on every level, from his shattering descriptions of the torture endured by one of his main characters to his bone-deep understanding of the costs of war on civilians, who suddenly find themselves living in combat zones or forced into refugee camps with no other future on the horizon... a novel that not only maps the harrowing effects of violence on one woman and her family, but also becomes a disturbing parable about the ruinous consequences of war on ordinary civilians.” (New York Times)

No One Is Coming to Save Us
by Stephanie Powell Watts
In an economically depressed North Carolina town, Sylvia and her adult daughter Ava are gainfully employed but frustrated by their relationships and the elusiveness of the American dream. In walks JJ Ferguson, an old family friend who has returned with a newfound fortune after a long absence. Billed as an African American retelling of The Great Gatsby, “Watts has written a sonorous, complex novel that’s entirely her own.” (Washington Post) “Watts' lyrical writing and seamless floating between characters' viewpoints make for a harmonious narrative chorus. This feels like an important, largely missing part of our ongoing American story.” (Booklist) Watts is the winner of a Pushcart Prize, a Whiting Award and an Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence, and the author of the short-story collection We Are Taking Only What We Need (2011).

Oakland Noir
Edited by Jerry Thompson and Eddie Muller
Our beloved town grabs the spotlight in this long running crime anthology series from Akashic books, featuring noir stories by local authors including Nayomi Munaweera, Judy Juanita, Keenan Norris, Kim Addonizio, and our own Oakland History Room Librarian and author Dorothy Lazard. “Thompson and Muller have taken such pains to choose stories highlighting Oakland's diversity and history that the result is a volume rich in local culture as well as crime.” (Kirkus Reviews)

What It Means When a Man Falls From the Sky
by Lesley Nneka Arimah
Three of the stories from Arimah’s debut collection have won acclaim so far: the African Commonwealth Prize, the Caine Prize for African Writing and a spot as a National Magazine Award finalist (you can read that one on the New Yorker website here). “In her powerful and incisive debut collection, Arimah shuttles between continents and realities to deliver 12 stories of loss, hope, violence, and family relationships.” (Publishers Weekly) “Stingingly fresh and complexly affecting.” (Booklist)

My Cat Yugoslavia
by Pajtim Statovci, translation by David Hackston
Bekim is a lonely, young, Muslim, gay, Albanian refugee who lives in Finland. Bekim buys a pet boa constrictor to defy his fear of snakes and meets a talking cat in a gay bar. Alternating chapters tell the stories of the destruction of Islamic Albania and the unhappy marriage of his parents. “Winner of Finland's highest literary honor for best debut novel, an elegant, allegorical portrait of lives lived at the margin, minorities within minorities in a new land… a fine debut, layered with meaning and shades of sorrow.” (Kirkus)  Statovci “knows how to disorient—and disarm… This dark debut has a daring, irrepressible spirit.” (The Atlantic)

Marlena
by Julie Buntin
Fifteen-year-old Cat’s newly divorced mom has moved their family from a Detroit suburb to rural northern Michigan. There Cat meets Marlena and starts a new phase of rebellion and daring. Marlena is magnetic, troubled, wild, and easy to anger, and their intense friendship will change Cat forever. “Sensitive and smart and arrestingly beautiful, debut novelist Buntin's tale of the friendship between two girls in the woods of Northern Michigan makes coming-of-age stories feel both urgent and new… Buntin creates a world so subtle and nuanced and alive that it imprints like a memory. Devastating; as unforgettable as it is gorgeous.” (Kirkus)

The Golden Legend
by Nadeem Aslam
In a community in northern Pakistan dominated by religious conflict, Nargis and Massud are idealistic architects, husband and wife and professional collaborators. On the eve of the opening of a library they designed, Massud is tragically killed by gunfire involving an American. When a threatening military officer insists that Nargis publicly forgive the killer, her refusal may expose her darkest secret while jeopardizing the safety of her Christian friends next door.  “Man Booker Prize long-listed and Dublin short-listed Aslam uses lush, sensuous prose to create beauty from ugliness, calm from chaos, and love from hatred, offering hope to believers and nonbelievers alike. This thoughtful, thought-provoking read will enthrall lovers of international fiction.” (Library Journal) Aslam’s novels include The Wasted Vigil (2008) and The Blind Man’s Garden (2013).

Music of the Ghosts
by Vaddey Ratner
Teera is thirty-seven when she returns to Cambodia for the first time since fleeing as a child with her aunt, the only members of their family to survive the Khmer Rouge. She confronts the past as she seeks answers about her father from an old musician who knew him when they were imprisoned together, and begins an unexpected affair with a former monk. “Picking up many themes from her 2012 In the Shadow of the Banyan, Ratner's captivating novel is a tragic odyssey of love, loss, and forgiveness in the wake of unspeakable horrors… a moving tale of hope and heartbreak that will accompany readers long after they finish the last page.” (Publishers Weekly)

Long Black Veil
by Jennifer Finney Boylan
Thirty years ago, Quentin, Casey, Wailer and three other college friends decided to explore an abandoned prison, a thrilling idea until Wailer disappeared. Now her remains have been found and Casey has become a murder suspect. Quentin now lives as Judith—and she knows something that could prove Casey’s innocence. But sharing it would expose her own secrets and force her to come out to everyone, including her husband and her child. “Boylan uses the murder mystery as a frame for interrogating our ideas about identity in ways that are both thoughtful and darkly comic.” (Kirkus) “Boylan's twisty and entertaining thriller takes a hard look at questions of identity, love, and trust.” (Library Journal) Boylan is an activist and author of fifteen books, including the bestselling memoir She’s Not There: a Life in Two Genders (2003).

The Last Days of Cafe Leila
by Donia Bijan
It’s been three decades since Noor visited her native Iran. When she visits with her very American teenage daughter, she finds that much has changed. Thankfully she can count on Café Leila, the restaurant her family has run for three generations. “This lyrical debut novel, an immigrant saga and coming-of-age story, provides a tantalizing look at Iran pre- and post-revolution… Poignant and absorbing.” (Kirkus Reviews) Debut novelist Donia Bijan is a Bay Area chef and author of the memoir Maman's Homesick Pie (2011).

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