by Mollie Weisenfeld
A new year brings the usual slew of new releases listicles, and who are we to buck tradition? Here for your TBR pleasure are five Bloomers with books coming out in 2018.
Aminatta Forna was born in Bellshill, Scotland in 1964 to a Sierra Leonean father and Scottish mother. When Forna was six months old, her family moved to Sierra Leone where her father worked as a physician and then in the government, but later resigned in protest of corruption. He was imprisoned from 1970-1973, then hanged on charges of treason in 1975 when Forna was eleven years old.
Forna studied law at University College London, then UC Berkeley. In 2013 she joined the Creative Writing Faculty at Bath Spa University. She was awarded the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for services to literature in 2017. In addition to writing and teaching, she is involved with The Rogbonko Project, promoting initiatives to help the Sierra Leoneon village of Rogbonko support itself.
The Devil That Danced on Water (Grove Press) was Forna’s first book—a memoir published in 2002, when she was thirty-eight years old—and an exploration of her father’s execution as well as the politics and war in Sierra Leone. The book was broadcast on BBC Radio and was the runner-up for the Samuel Johnson Prize for nonfiction.
Her latest work is the novel Happiness and was published by Atlantic Monthly Press on March 8th. It centers on a Ghanaian psychiatrist named Attila and an American urban wildlife biologist, Jean, who collide twice on the Waterloo Bridge and get swept up in the search for Attila’s friend’s missing son.
Luís Alberto Urrea was born in 1955 in Tijuana, Mexico, to a Mexican father and American mother. Though the family moved to San Diego, California, in 1958, they frequently traveled back across the border to Mexico to visit family. Urrea earned an undergraduate degree in writing from UC San Diego in 1977 and a graduate degree from the University of Colorado, Boulder.
Urrea served as a missionary in Tijuana, then a teacher’s aid in the Chicano Studies department of Mesa College before receiving a Teaching Fellowship to Harvard to teach expository writing and fiction workshops. In 2005 he was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Nonfiction for his book The Devil’s Highway. Urrea is a member of the Latino Literature Hall of Fame.
His first book was a memoir published in 1993, when he was thirty-eight years old. Across the Wire: Life and Hard Times on the Mexican Border (Knopf Doubleday) detailed the life of Mexican refugees living on the border and Urrea’s job as a translator for relief workers in Tijuana. The work was named a New York Times Notable Book and won the Christopher Award.
Urrea’s latest is a novel from Little, Brown and was published on March 6th. The House of Broken Angels spends two days with the de la Cruz family as they honor the death of their matriarch, and the birthday—and impending passing—of her son. The clan is a mix of white gringos and Mexican Americans, and they mash together cultures, history, and tradition as they uncover what it means to be family.
Lucy Hughes-Hallett was born in London in 1951. Her father was a Lieutenant in the Scots Guards, a regiment of the British Army. She and six other children who lived in the area were homeschooled by Hughes-Hallett’s governess, Mrs. Shaw, who lived in the attic of the family home. There was a brief, miserable stint at boarding school, followed by home tutoring through her A-levels, then failure to get into Oxford, and a gap year in Florence. Eventually she studied English at Bedford College, then got a job writing profiles for Vogue. She now writes regular reviews for The Sunday Times.
Cleopatra: Histories, Dreams, and Distortions was Hughes-Hallett’s first book, published in 2006 by Pimlico, when the author was fifty-five. Rather than a traditional biography, Cleopatra is instead an account of the various ways generations have viewed Cleopatra in her own lifetime and in the 2,000 years since her death. The book was the winner of the Fawcett Prize and the Emily Toth Award.
Since then, Hughes-Hallett has published a biography of Gabriele d’Annunzio as well as a treatise titled Heroes: A History of Hero Worship. Her most recent book is also her first novel: Peculiar Ground was published by Harper in January and chronicles the centuries at Wychwood, an Oxfordshire estate, and the people—from aristocrats, laborers, visitors, villagers, students, and more—who live within and without its walls.
Helen DeWitt was born in Maryland in 1957. Her parents worked in the diplomatic service, and she spent much of her childhood in Latin America—Mexico, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador. DeWitt earned her undergraduate degree in classics, then her D.Phil from the University of Oxford. She wanted to be an old-style Oxford classicist, writing on Socrates and Plato and studying, but discovered that even at Oxford, such stylings were no longer in vogue.
DeWitt met her husband and found his love of literature and language to be the perfect inspiration for her writing. Though they are now divorced, she still cites him as her best reader. While writing her manuscripts, DeWitt worked odd jobs such as a dictionary text tagger, a copytaker, a Dunkin Donuts server, and a legal secretary.
DeWitt’s debut novel, The Last Samurai, was her fiftieth manuscript. It was published by Miramax in 2000 when she was forty-three years old, and was infamous for both its quality and its dramatic publishing journey: a battle with a copyeditor, faulty typesetting because of the use of foreign languages set in untransliterated fonts, confusion over whether the publisher owed her money or vice versa, and the tedious slog to secure permissions for the use of the many outside works quoted in the work. The novel is told in the voices of Sibylla and her classically educated son, Ludo, and is about his quest to discover his parentage—Sibylla has kept his father’s identity from him.
After battles with agents, editors, publishers, and herself, and the publication of a wildly different second novel, Lightning Rods—her first novel was inspired by the film The Seven Samurai, whereas her second was motivated by Mel Brooks’ satire—the author’s new work is a collection of thirteen stories called Some Trick. The volume will be published May 30th by New Directions.
Mark Sarvas was born in 1964 and first rose to recognition as the host of the blog, “The Elegant Variation,” a space that fostered in-depth literary criticism, conversations, and shed light on underappreciated authors. Sarvas also recommended books, publicized events and award submissions, and posted writing advice. He teaches advanced novel writing in the UCLA Extension Writers Program and is in the process of earning his MFA from Bennington. He also writes book reviews and criticism that appear in The New York Times Book Review and Huffington Post, among others.
His first novel, Harry, Revised, was published by Bloomsbury in 2008 and was a finalist for the Southern California Independent Booksellers Association’s 2008 Fiction Award as well as a Denver Post 2008 Good Read. It centers on Harry, a widower who tries to reinvent himself after his wife’s unexpected death. At publication, Sarvas was forty-four years old.
Sarvas’ second novel, Memento Park, was published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux on March 13th. The protagonist, Matt Santos, receives news from the Australian consulate that they have in their possession a painting that was likely looted from his Hungarian Jewish family during WWII. To recover the painting, Matt must confront his estranged relationship with his father, explore his Jewish identity, and travel to Budapest to learn the painting’s history.
Mollie Weisenfeld is an Editorial Assistant at Hachette Books and an Editor at Curiosity Quills Press. Her poetry has been published in Folio, Lilith, and Guildscript, and her children’s story is forthcoming from Ember: A Journal of Luminous Things. Visit her Facebook @MollieWeisenfeldAuthor for updates on her mocha addiction, worldwide quest for the perfect writing café, and attempts to write everything except the next Great American Novel. Also Twitter @TheMollieJean and tumblr @ChrisMiracle.