A captivating portrait of a remote region of the world that many readers may know nothing about.

THE AMUR RIVER

BETWEEN RUSSIA AND CHINA

The celebrated British travel writer takes us on a fascinating journey along the Amur River.

In his latest adventure, octogenarian Thubron planned to follow the river “as it flows through south-east Siberia then meets China, then breaks for the Pacific.” For more than 1,000 of its 2,600 miles (which includes its source river, the Argun), the Amur forms the border between the Russian Far East and northeastern China. The Chinese call it Heilongjiang, which means “Black Dragon River, for the dragon’s imperial grandeur.” One of his first guides, a Mongolian horseman, warned him about the dangerous, “almost impassable” landscape. Shortly after starting out, the author suffered an injury, which forced him to question his body’s ability to keep up—yet, as always, he persevered. Standing out as a foreigner in a region that rarely hosts travelers, Thubron became the object of covert attention. Often, this curiosity resulted only in extended gazes and innocent questions, but he also endured numerous police interrogations and a nagging fear that he was being followed. Accompanied by various guides, the author made his way through this vast, unforgiving territory by car, boat, and train, evoking with beautiful detail and compassion its rich history and culture. Though the region is shrouded with mistrust, Thubron effectively brings it to life. Throughout his trip, the author engaged in discussions with local residents, who openly shared their personal feelings and histories as if they were longtime friends. Many villagers lamented the loss of their native cultures and offered conflicting views about the ownership of the region. The Chinese spoke of Russian land grabs and the profound unease of Chinese artifacts lying inside Russian borders, while Mongolians and Russians claimed that the Chinese were stripping the land and infiltrating every aspect of business. Thubron also laments the demise of the region’s Indigenous cultures and languages. Readers will, too, as they savor this enthralling travel narrative.

A captivating portrait of a remote region of the world that many readers may know nothing about.

Pub Date: Sept. 21, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-06-309968-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 18, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2021

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This rewarding literary Baedeker will inspire readers to discover new places.

AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 BOOKS

A modern-day Phileas Fogg circumnavigates the globe in books.

Damrosch, chair of the department of comparative literature at Harvard and founder of its Institute for World Literature, mimics Jules Verne’s ambitious itinerary of world travel from east to west as he delves into 16 geographical groups of five books “that have responded to times of crises and deep memories of trauma,” navigating “our world’s turbulent water with the aid of literature’s map of imaginary times and places.” As he moves along, delving into plots, characters, and themes, and both prose and poetry, over centuries, he creates a vast, fascinating latticework of books within books. He begins in London, with “one of the most local of novels” and “one of the most worldly books ever written,” Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, which depicts a city that “bears more than a passing reference to Conrad’s heart of darkness.” Paris and Krakow are followed by “Venice–Florence,” with the old (Marco Polo, Dante, and Boccaccio) and the modern, Italo Calvino’s “magical, unclassifiable” Invisible Cities. Just like Damrosch’s own book, Calvino’s work views “the modern world through multiple lenses of worlds elsewhere.” Orhan Pamuk’s My Name Is Red is “a vibrant hybrid that re-creates a vanished Ottoman past for present purposes,” while Jokha Alharthi’s Celestial Bodies “portrays life in a fully globalized Oman.” Traveling along at a brisk pace, Damrosch takes us to the Congo, Israel/Palestine, Calcutta and “Shanghai–Beijing,” before arriving in Tokyo, where he examines Japan’s “greatest, and strangest” writer, Yukio Mishima, and the “incommensurabilityof ancient and modern eras, Asian and European traditions, that fuels” his work. Brazil is home to one of the “most worldly of local writers,” Clarice Lispector, whose “remarkable short story collection,” Family Ties, the author admires. In Robert McCloskey’s One Morning in Maine, Damrosch fondly revisits a book he enjoyed as a child. Other writers serving as stops on his international tour include Joyce, Atwood, Voltaire, Rushdie, and Soyinka.

This rewarding literary Baedeker will inspire readers to discover new places.

Pub Date: Nov. 9, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-29988-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Sept. 18, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2021

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In this meticulously detailed and evocative book, history comes alive, and it isn’t pretty.

THE ORDER OF THE DAY

A meditation on Austria’s capitulation to the Nazis. The book won the 2017 Prix Goncourt.

Vuillard (Sorrow of the Earth: Buffalo Bill, Sitting Bull and the Tragedy of Show Business, 2017, etc.) is also a filmmaker, and these episodic vignettes have a cinematic quality to them. “The play is about to begin,” he writes on the first page, “but the curtain won’t rise….Even though the twentieth of February 1933 was not just any other day, most people spent the morning grinding away, immersed in the great, decent fallacy of work, with its small gestures that enfold a silent, conventional truth and reduce the entire epic of our lives to a diligent pantomime.” Having established his command of tone, the author proceeds through devastating character portraits of Hitler and Goebbels, who seduced and bullied their appeasers into believing that short-term accommodations would pay long-term dividends. The cold calculations of Austria’s captains of industries and the pathetic negotiations of leaders who knew that their protestations were mainly for show suggest the complicated complicity of a country where young women screamed for Hitler as if he were a teen idol. “The bride was willing; this was no rape, as some have claimed, but a proper wedding,” writes Vuillard. Yet the consummation was by no means as smoothly triumphant as the Nazi newsreels have depicted. The army’s entry into Austria was less a blitzkrieg than a mechanical breakdown, one that found Hitler stalled behind the tanks that refused to move as those prepared to hail his emergence wondered what had happened. “For it wasn’t only a few isolated tanks that had broken down,” writes the author, “not just the occasional armored truck—no, it was the vast majority of the great German army, and the road was now entirely blocked. It was like a slapstick comedy!” In the aftermath, some of those most responsible for Austria’s fall faced death by hanging, but at least one received an American professorship.

In this meticulously detailed and evocative book, history comes alive, and it isn’t pretty.

Pub Date: Sept. 25, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-59051-969-1

Page Count: 144

Publisher: Other Press

Review Posted Online: June 18, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2018

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