April-May fiction preview: Six must-read novels

Last month I posted a preview of a dozen novels being published in February, March, and early April. Today, I’m previewing a half-dozen books coming out in April and May. So far, 2022 is looking like a rich and rewarding year for readers.

April 5: Emily St. John Mandel – Sea of Tranquility (Knopf)

Mandel’s star continues to rise, after the critical and commercial success of Station Eleven (2014) and The Glass Hotel (2020) and the recent mini-series based on Station Eleven. This time around, she’s written a novel that traverses time and space, from 1912 British Columbia to a moon colony in 2401. HarperCollins Canada describes Sea of Tranquility as “a remarkable feat of storytelling that delves into themes that will be familiar to Mandel’s many readers — time, art, love, wilderness, what makes the world real — and introduces readers to a remarkable cast of characters.” Sounds like it could be this year’s Cloud Cuckoo Land, which I loved.

April 19: Vanessa Hua – Forbidden City (Ballantine Books)

Hua’s short story collection Deceit and Other Possibilities (2016) is a book I regularly recommend, and her first novel, River of Stars (2019), depicted the lengths to which Chinese immigrants would go to get a shot at the American Dream. Forbidden City is the story of Mei, a 16-year-old village girl who is recruited for a dance troupe that entertains at Mao Zedong’s events. Her intelligence and ambition make an impression on Mao, who takes her under his wing. But her devotion to Mao will eventually be tested in this novel of coming of age during the Cultural Revolution.  

You can support this blog by ordering these and other books through my shop on Bookshop.org. https://bookshop.org/shop/openbook

April 19: Donatella Di Pietrantonio – A Sister’s Story (Europa Editions)

If you’ve devoured everything by Elena Ferrante, there’s a good chance you’ll like the work of Di Pietrantonio. (In fact, both authors’ books are translated by Ann Goldstein.) Start with her 2020 novel, A Girl Returned, in which a 13-year-old girl is suddenly returned to her birth family. A Sister’s Story explores similarly fraught domestic territory when Adriana appears at her sister’s house in the middle of the night with her baby. A return to their hometown–and their shared history–uncovers the story behind Adriana’s circumstances.

May 3: Mieko Kawakami – All the Lovers in the Night (Europa Editions)

After the international success of Breasts and Eggs (2020) and Heaven (2021), Kawakami may be the hottest Japanese writer around. Her coolly analytical approach gets deep inside her very human characters, whom she never fails to treat with compassion. The protagonist of All the Lovers of the Night is a single, introverted copy editor in her mid-thirties who realizes one day that her life needs a rewrite. The narrative moves back and forth between her past and present as she tries to construct a better future.

May 24: Elif Batuman – Either/Or (Penguin Press)

Batuman’s latest is a sequel to her Pulitzer Prize finalist, The Idiot (2017). Selin, the daughter of Turkish immigrants, is now a sophomore at Harvard in search of knowledge about the world and herself. Her complex relationship with Hungarian mathematics student Ivan led her to spend the summer of 1996 teaching in a small town in Hungary. Selin returns to school more confused than ever about her feelings for Ivan and continues her struggle to live a life worthy of the protagonist of a great classic novel. Batuman’s writing is smart, observant, and drily humorous.

May 24: Marie Myung-Ok Lee – The Evening Hero (Simon & Schuster)

Dr. Yungman Kwak has been an obstetrician at a rural hospital in Minnesota for 50 years. He immigrated after the Korean War and built a life that would appear to exemplify the American Dream fulfilled. But a secret from the past catches up with him, forcing him to choose between the high cost of protecting his life or the potentially higher cost of revealing it. This late-in-life crossroads calls into question his life as a physician, immigrant, and American. The Evening Hero is a rich, complex, and occasionally biting examination of the cost of the American Dream.


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