Short noted book reviews | New Yorkers

The morning star, by Karl Ove Knausgaard, translated from Norwegian by Martin Aitken (Penguin Press). In his first work of fiction since the six volumes of “My Struggle”, Knausgaard replaces his encouraging autobiographical mode with a ravishing form of theological fabulism. A mysterious celestial body appears in the sky in late August, accompanied by biblical warnings, hallucinations, and increasingly sinister events in the natural world. Knausgaard traces the lives of nine interconnected characters and sets these enigmatic phenomena up against the details of everyday life. This combination of the universal and the intimate enables the novel to approach weighty topics – death and dying, faith and despair – with both a push in a suspense narrative and the depth of a philosophical study.

Imminent, by Mariana Dimópulos, translated from Spanish by Alice Whitmore (Transit). “I’m not a lady,” says Irina, the protagonist of this disturbing short story, which takes place during a single tense evening in Buenos Aires, a love interest. “I’m not a woman either.” Irina’s sense of alienation – from family, friends, boyfriends and the social expectations of femininity – permeates her stream-of-consciousness narrative. After a life-threatening postpartum infection, she is haunted by memories: of a close friend who died tragically young; of a long-term boyfriend, with whom it ended badly; of an eerie relative, the Cousin, who pursues her across time and space. Recurring themes and images from her relationship create a morally ambiguous ending, marked by violence, within the domestic sphere.

Things I have withheld, by Kei Miller (Grove Press). In fourteen dynamic essays, including memoirs, reports, and open letters, the author, who is Jamaican, explores personal and professional moments in which silence revealed a truth about race and oppression. Miller analyzes stories “overheard when aunts thought you weren’t listening,” white colleagues’ assumptions about his homeland, a painful debate with friends about the friction between #MeToo and racist criminal justice, his grandmother’s revelation of an explosive family secret. Miller admits that he is afraid to express his private judgments, but explains that “each of these essays is an act of faith, an attempt to put my trust in words again.”

Orwell’s roses, by Rebecca Solnit (Viking). “In the spring of 1936, a writer planted roses,” writes Solnit after a visit to George Orwell’s former garden in England, where she is amazed to find flowers that have long survived the man who planted them. The following is a far-reaching meditation on Orwell’s life and on the cultural significance of roses. In a special Orwellian episode, Solnit visits a rose “factory” in Bogotá, where working conditions are poor and the flowers appear “eerily unnatural.” Most touching is the surprising hopefulness implicit in a political writer’s passion for nature: “Orwell did not believe in permanent happiness or the politics that sought to realize it, but he affectionately believed in moments of joy, even rapture.”

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