Assistant Editor, Books
LUCKY BREAKS, by Yevgenia Belorusets. Translated by Eugene Ostashevsky. (New Directions, paper, $14.95.) These offbeat stories — about the effects of war on poor women in Ukraine’s industrial east — arrive in the English-speaking world amid blanket coverage of that region. But when the book was first published in 2018, it highlighted an overlooked conflict. Some of Belorusets’s characters are internal refugees who have resettled in a Kyiv that regards them with apathy or suspicion. Others live in disputed territories, eking out a life against the backdrop of active warfare or its devastating aftermath. “In these spellbinding stories, Belorusets is more interested in effect than cause,” Jennifer Wilson writes in her review. “What’s the use of finding out how we got here when we know we’ll be back again?”
EVERY GOOD BOY DOES FINE: A Love Story, in Music Lessons, by Jeremy Denk. (Random House, $28.99.) The concert pianist’s lucid memoir has its share of private sorrow and conflict, but dwells longest and most happily inside the studio, where a succession of teachers guide him to musical maturity. Denk also traces his erotic awakening as a gay man with acuity and humor. Denk “finds memorable ways to illuminate music theory,” Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim writes in her review. “Most important, he explains abstract concepts with empathy and precision.”
LAST CALL AT THE HOTEL IMPERIAL: The Reporters Who Took On a World at War, by Deborah Cohen. (Random House, $30.) In the years before World War II, four foreign correspondents — John Gunther, H.R. Knickerbocker, Jimmy Sheean and Dorothy Thompson — tried to sound the alarm, as Cohen details in this group portrait. “It would be hard to overstate the collective power and visibility of these reporters in their heyday,” Lesley M.M. Blume writes in her review. And yet, in the face of ever more desperate conditions, the correspondents despaired at the continued denial and complacency of their American readers. “Grim reminders abound about the cyclical nature of history: how racial and economic resentments can lead to monstrous movements; and, above all, how human beings remain impervious to even the starkest of warnings. On a more cynical note, ‘Hotel Imperial’ also reminds readers that the news industry was, and remains, a business.”
PORTRAIT OF AN UNKNOWN LADY, by María Gainza. Translated by Thomas Bunstead. (Catapult, $24.) This twisty, dreamy mystery is set in Buenos Aires’s art-forgery underworld. Shady characters abound, along with secret back stories, unsubstantiated rumors and the occasional crocodile. As one character muses, “Can a forgery not give as much pleasure as an original?” Angus Trumble writes in his review: “The naughty pleasure of this novel is bound up in our fascination with fakes, especially when executed in the cavalier mode of Robin Hood.”
THE TRIALS OF HARRY S. TRUMAN: The Extraordinary Presidency of an Ordinary Man, 1945-1953, by Jeffrey Frank. (Simon & Schuster, $32.50.) As this beguiling new biography explains, Harry Truman seemed like an ordinary man, but he had the native self-confidence that marks a person as a leader. Frank gives us this ebullient, bookish, often cantankerous man in full. “Frank does not so much puncture the Truman myth as let out just enough air to settle the man back to earth,” James Traub writes in his review.