Set in Rome in 2007, The Love of My Youth focuses on two Americans, Adam and Miranda, who haven't seen each other in nearly 40 years but are brought together for a dinner by a mutual friend. Having fallen in love at 16 and remained together after college, they parted when Adam betrayed Miranda. They married other people. But as Maureen Corrigan notes, "much more is at stake in Gordon's novel than the suspense of a possible holiday hookup. Gordon's characters explore the hard costs of maturing, and share the dazed epiphany of late middle age — namely, that it takes so long to grow up, and then you die."
After a 10-year hiatus, popular Swedish writer Henning Mankell has returned with what is likely to be the his last book about moody Swedish police detective Kurt Wallander, The Troubled Man. Based on a Cold War incident involving Sweden and the Soviet Union, it involves the father-in-law of Wallander's daughter, a Swedish submariner who goes missing. Yet as Wallander tries to solve the crime, his health is slowly worsening. "I believe that life is very complicated," Mankell says. "And the only way you can show life in a truthful way is to show ... [the] relation between a complicated life and the complications you have inside you."
In April 1961, a brigade of around 1,500 CIA-trained soldiers stormed the beach in Cuba's Bay of Pigs. It was the opening phase of a secret mission to overthrow Fidel Castro and, President John F. Kennedy hoped, halt the spread of communism throughout the world. Things did not go as planned. In his new book, The Brilliant Disaster, JimRasenberger suggests that the debacle marked the start of the Vietnam era, when Americans began to question whether the country was run by competent men engaged in worthwhile enterprises. "Not only did [the Bay of Pigs] appear immoral to many people," Rasenberger says, "but it was also incompetent."
In The Dressmaker of Khair Khana, journalist Gayle Tzemach Lemmon tells the story of how an Aghani woman opened a small business in the midst of civil war and political repression. It begins in September 1996, when Kamila Sidiqi was a teenager and the Taliban overtook Kabul, prompting her father and a brother to flee for political reasons. The Taliban soon forbade women to work outside the home or to attend school, leaving those without a husband, father or brother to support themselves in secret. So Sidiqi asked her sister to teach her to sew — and eventually grew a sewing business out of her home that employed more than 100 women from her neighborhood.
In 2009, Harvard University professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. was arrested in front of his home in Cambridge, Mass., on charges of disorderly conduct that were dismissed four days later. One of the first people Gates called after his arrest was his colleague at Harvard, Charles Ogletree. The Presumption of Guilt is Ogletree's book about the arrest and its aftermath. He argues that the incident should serve as a lesson on the abuse of power by police, and law enforcement's systemic suspicions about black men. "I think that some of this is a traditional town/gown problem," he says. On one side, there is the working-class police officer, and on the other the well-known Harvard professor.
Meghan O'Rourke's memoir, The Long Goodbye, chronicles her mother's cancer and eventual death based on a series of essays that appeared in Slate. As critic Alice Gregory observes: "She poetically situates her own grief within a larger examination of mourning rituals in contemporary American life, or rather our lack of mourning rituals. She envies her Jewish friends who sit shiva and wonders why certain co-workers refuse to ask how she's doing. 'Although our culture has become more open about everything from incest to sex addiction,' she writes, 'grief seemed to me like the last taboo. In our culture of display, the sadness of death is largely silent.' The book itself is a mourning ritual, the writing process one that summons sweet memories, forces unfair questions and provokes difficult introspection."
Charlotte Abbott edits "New in Paperback." A contributing editor for Publishers Weekly, she also leads a weekly chat on books and reading in the digital age every Friday from 4-5 p.m. ET on Twitter. Follow her at @charabbott or check out the #followreader hashtag.