The Thousand Autumns Of Jacob De Zoet
by David Mitchell
You know right off that this is going to be an extraordinary novel because of its setting: The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet opens in 1799 on an island called Dejima in the harbor of Nagasaki, Japan. An outpost of commerce packed with spies, prostitutes, sailors, slaves and con men, wedged up against resolute feudalism, it's the province of the Dutch East Indies Company. Young Jacob is to serve five years there as a bookkeeper, after which he hopes to have amassed enough money to marry the wealthy fiancee waiting for him back in Amsterdam. Except that he falls hard for a young Japanese woman who runs into his warehouse chasing an ape carrying a severed human leg, in the kind of exuberant screwball plot twist that Mitchell revels in. Despite some missteps when the plot turns to this young woman's adventures, it's a beautiful novel, full of life and authenticity, atmosphere and characters that breathe.
512 pages, $15, Random House
by Sam Lipsyte
It's been seven years since Sam Lipsyte's novel Home Land first started causing isolated bursts of laughter on various forms of public transit. Lovers of quiet commutes should gird themselves for a renewed affront: In Lipsyte's new novel, The Ask, protagonist Milo Burke is a frustrated artist/sad sack recently fired from his position as a development officer raising funds for an unremarkable New York City university, where people pay "vast sums of money so that their progeny [can] take hard drugs in suitable company." When the school is contacted by one of Milo's oldest — and now insanely successful — friends, they give Milo a second chance: Get this guy to donate, and donate big, and you can have your old job back. Though more conventional in structure than Home Land and more slowly plotted, the language in The Ask is still effortlessly funny: "I stared at my own hands, soft, expressive things, gifted, even, like specially bred, lovingly shaved gerbils."
320 pages, $15, Picador
by China Mieville
Things start to go downhill for Billy Harrow as soon as his giant squid turns up missing. Someone, somehow, has managed to steal his perfectly preserved 25-foot-long Architeuthis specimen from London's Natural History Museum, an act that draws the hapless cephalopod expert into an urban underworld of death cults, dark magic and a criminal, mollusk-worshipping conspiracy that may be trying to bring about The End of All Things. That might lead you to think that Kraken's just another plot-driven exercise like The Da Vinci Code. But fans of British fantasist Mieville's previous books know that he's careful to couch his Big Ideas in rich, haunting, frequently playful language. As the repercussions of the "squidnapping" play out, and Billy explores the magical London behind and beneath the London we know, the reader will be reminded, often, of Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere. Though the two books share several conceits, Mieville's voice is distinctly his own and will keep you devouring the pages of this lovingly crafted Lovecraftian epic.
528 pages, $16, Del Rey
Made For Goodness
by Desmond Tutu and Mpho Tutu
In the era of apartheid, Archbishop Desmond Tutu railed against the injustice and inhumanity of South Africa's government, and his passionate advocacy helped make the change that came to that country in the 1990s. Now 78, he offers his reflections on faith and forgiveness in Made for Goodness — written with his daughter Mpho Tutu, also an Anglican priest. More than a decade after his faith-building experience as chair of his country's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Tutu tells Renee Montagne that his sense of his relationship to the divine is still evolving. "I am learning to shut up more in the presence of God," he says, laughing. One model of prayer, he acknowledges, is that "you have a kind of shopping list that you bring to God" — and even Desmond Tutu confesses that "I still do." But more and more for him, he says, communion with God is about "trying to grow, in just being there. Like when you sit in front of a fire in winter — you are just there in front of the fire," he says. "You don't have to be smart or anything. The fire warms you."
224 pages, $15.99, HarperOne
Why Translation Matters
by Edith Grossman
Best known for her translation of Miguel de Cervantes' Don Quixote, Edith Grossman says that when she translates a text, she begins to feel a closeness to the author. "The more talented the writer, the more open the door is into his or her mind," she explains. Grossman says she had a lot of fear when she began translating Don Quixote. She spent two weeks on the first sentence alone, because she felt everything else would fall into place if she could only do justice to Cervantes' opening line. Yet the key to unlocking what the author intended, says Grossman, can always be found in the text itself. And while she believes there will always be tension between literature and translation, she says "they are inseparable ... they need and nurture each other. Their long-term relationship, often problematic, but always illuminating, will surely continue for as long as they both shall live."