In the span of less than a year, novelist Aatish Taseer's father, a Pakistani politician, was slain by a religious fundamentalist, and his brother, a businessman, was kidnapped in Lahore and hasn't been heard from since. That's the violent and turbulent Pakistan Taseer writes about in Noon. The novel takes place in the fictional Port bin Qasim, a city beset by Islamic extremism: "There were Shias and Sunnis, of course, but among them, too, there were innumerable divisions and subdivisions," Taseer writes. "They planted bombs at each other's meetings, they rioted at the slightest provocation, they dug themselves into breeze-blocked ghettos that stretched for miles along the periphery of the city." Taseer tells NPR's David Greene that he was trying to show that religion is being "distorted to suit everyone's particular end."
A long distance runner from Rwanda who is struggling to reach the Olympics is at the center of Naomi Benaron's first novel. Running the Rift follows John Patrick as he runs through his youth, trains with a Hutu coach and courts a girl from a Hutu neighborhood near his university. All the while, his country lurches toward tragedy. NPR reviewer Alan Cheuse declares that "Benaron, with her fusion of research and firsthand observation of Rwandan society, knows how to tie the reader in knots as she develops Patrick's life-affirming story while the reader waits for the inevitable genocide. At one point, as the killings begin to spread, John Patrick finds that the blood smell was overmuch in his nostrils. And he wonders if it would ever wash away. I know that thanks to this novel, I won't soon forget it."
In the year after the Sept. 11 attacks, former CIA intelligence officer Glenn Carle was enlisted to interrogate a man suspected of being a top member of al-Qaida. His account of that experience, The Interrogator, does not include any specifics about the detainee's name or nationality or the location. What readers do learn is Carle's feelings about the situation he was in. Carle came to believe that the man he interrogated didn't have the intimate connections or the critical knowledge that would have marked him as a member of al-Qaida. But the CIA did not appear to receive his reports, leaving Carle deeply disturbed. "Americans need to know what we've done to ourselves," he tells NPR's Mary Louise Kelly. "We have coarsened ourselves and weakened our laws, and I think what we did is not at all what I took an oath to serve."
A literary risk-taker with a reputation for pushing genres to their limits and beyond, Jonathan Lethem is best known for his noir detective novel Motherless Brooklyn and his semi-autobiographical best-seller, The Fortress of Solitude, about a white kid growing up in a black neighborhood. But for all of Lethem's genre-hopping, his varied writings are often infused with certain recognizable obsessions, including comic book art, the novels of Philip K. Dick and the music of Bob Dylan and Rick James. In The Ecstasy of Influence, he argues that imitation is not just a form of flattery but lies at the core of the creative process.
The Russian language has a word for light blue and a word for dark or navy blue, but no word for a run-of-the-mill generic shade of blue. So when translators are tasked with converting "blue" from English to Russian, they're forced to choose a specific shade. This particular choice might not seem to have any serious implications, but interpreters are constantly translating concepts into other languages with words that have no exact match. In Is That a Fish in Your Ear?, David Bellos explores the history, the future and the complexity of translation — from the tangled web of simultaneous translation at the United Nations to the limits of Google Translate.
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.