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War and peace
2006: The year ahead in Books
BY JOHN FREEMAN

Since September 11, publishers have been rushing to supply Americans with non-fiction books about the war on terror, the war in Iraq, and anything relating to the upheavals in the Middle East. Theyíve been much slower about supplying us with imaginative tales from these regions, but the trickle has begun. The winter of 2006 features several new imports that are safer than a trip to Ramallah and almost as intense.

FICTION

The most notable of these works is The Gate of the Sun (Archipelago, February 1), a novel by Elias Khoury thatís set during the events of 1948, when Palestinians were displaced during the creation of Israel. As the book begins, two Palestinian men remain behind, keeping vigil at the bedside of a leader of the resistance movement. One of them begins a story about whatís just happened, and it gradually expands into a Sheherazade-like yarn of astonishing beauty.

Another superb novel to arrive on these shores from the Arab world is Tahar Ben Jellounís The Last Friend (translated from the French; New Press, February 1), which describes the friendship between a Moroccan doctor and a professor. The brain drain that resulted from the Islamic revolution in Iran is the focus of Farnoosh Moshiriís Against Gravity (Penguin, just out December 27), where the lives of a dying intellectual, a social worker, and an Iranian immigrant overlap in Houston.

Closer to these parts, Elizabeth Strout braves the topic of spirituality in Abide with Me (Random House, March 14), which conjures a Maine minister whoís beginning to doubt his faith. New England also figures heavily in Justin Tussingís debut novel, The Best People in the World (HarperCollins, February 7), in which a young man falls in love with his high-school history teacher and runs off to the woods of Vermont.

The most eagerly awaited British import of the spring is Julian Barnesís page-turning Booker finalist, Arthur & George, (Knopf, January 14), which is based on a true story involving Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Emily Barton also takes readers back in time with her second novel, Brookland (FSG, March 1), which lures readers to 18th-century Brooklyn, where a woman dreams of a bridge connecting her borough to Manhattan.

Family drama can be found in Ali Smithís Booker finalist, The Accidental (Pantheon, January 10), which portrays a neurotic English family who shelter an odd guest. And the devout Catholic clan of the Santerres come back to life in Maile Meloyís second novel, A Familyís Daughter (Scribner, February 14).

Allegra Goodmanís latest, Intuition (Dial Press, March 7), is the suspenseful tale of a Cambridge research institute that gets embroiled in the (perhaps fraudulent) success of one of its fellows. The blue tint of genre also hangs over Kathryn Davisís The Thin Place (Little, Brown, January 26), in which three girls come across a body in the woods.

Murder likewise kicks off Giller Prize finalist Camilla Gibbís latest, Sweetness in the Belly (Penguin Press, March 18), which jumps into a gallop when eight-year-old Lilyís parents leave her at a Sufi shrine in Morocco and never return. What follows is a peripatetic journey as Lily attempts to find a home in a world where sheís always a foreigner.

Short-story fans wonít feel left out this winter as Deborah Eisenberg returns to form with Twilight of the Superheroes (FSG, February 2) and so does Antonya Nelson with Some Fun, (Scribner, March 21). Rebecca Brown might earn a few new fans with The Last Time I Saw You (City Lights, February 1), stories that read like the literary equivalent of yanking a tablecloth from a countertop without bringing the cutlery down with it.

POETRY

For the past few decades, some of Elizabeth Bishopís work remained in several boxes at the special collections room at Vassar College. New Yorker poetry editor Alice Quinn has searched through 3500 pages of this material to create Edgar Allan Poe & the Juke Box: Uncollected Poems, Drafts and Fragments (FSG, March 7), which features poems from her youth so sparkling and lustrous, one feels the pang of her absence all over again.

Franz Wright publishes Godís Silence (Knopf, March 27), his first volume since winning the Pulitzer Prize several years ago. Major Jackson dribbles into the paint and scores with Hoops (Norton, March 3), the best verbal poetry on basketball (and other matters) since we heard Rabbit Angstrom bounce-bounce a ball on macadam in the opening of Rabbit, Run.

NON-FICTION

Just as Rabbit was beginning to covet his first extramarital affair, America was tipping in to the civil-rights movement. Taylor Branch has chronicled this period for more than two decades. At Canaanís Edge (Simon & Schuster, February 1) concludes his mammoth, three-volume "America in the King Years" with a narrative drenched in hope but bookended by assassination.

Precursors to this period can be found in the story of The Devilís Own Work (Walker, January 10), Barnet Schecterís lucid history of the draft riots that erupted during the Civil War. Richard Carwardine tells us what the Great Emancipator would have been thinking around this time in Lincoln: A Life of Purpose and Power (Knopf, January 13).

If you think the Civil War was a hard time for Americans, check out Catherine Merridaleís Ivanís War: Life and Death in the Red Army, 1939Ė1945 (Metropolitan, February 2), which reveals that Russians have top bragging rights when it comes to soldierly masochism. And life in Italy was no piece of cake either, as R.J.B. Bosworth shows in Mussoliniís Italy (Penguin Press, February 6), not to mention Kabul in the present day, which travel writer Ann Jones depicts in Kabul in Winter: Life without Peace in Afghanistan (Metropolitan, March 1)

January 27 marks the 250th year since Mozartís birth, so Jane Gloverís Mozartís Women (HarperCollins, January 3) is arriving just in time. And Tullio Kezich gives one of Italyís great filmmakers a biography worthy of his genius, Federico Fellini: His Life and Work (Faber & Faber, March 14).

Italians worship filmmakers; we adore our hillbillies. Itís not such a bad thing, according to Jeff Biggers in The United States of Appalachia: How Southern Mountaineers Brought Independence, Culture and Enlightenment to America (Shoemaker & Hoard, January 1), but if Erik Reeceís Lost Mountain: A Year in the Vanishing Wilderness (Riverhead, February 2) is as true as it seems, strip mining will soon strip us of Appalachia.

And the hullabaloo over pilgrimages? It will make more sense after you read A Season in Mecca (Hill & Wang, January 10), Moroccan-American writer Abdellah Hammoudiís chronicle of traveling to Islamís holy sites as a "secular Muslim."

LETTERS

Readers tend to forget that Albert Camus was part Algerian, but they certainly wonít when they read his journalism and op-ed pieces for a resistance newspaper, which are now available in Camus at Combat: Writing 1944Ė1947 (Princeton, February 1). A similarly outraged warble can be heard in the plays of Arthur Miller, which are being issued by the Library of America in a handsome omnibus edition, Collected Plays: 1944Ė1961 (Library of America, February 11).

Finally, Don DeLillo has an all-new play of his own, Love-Lies ó Bleeding (Scribner, January 1). Boasting laconic yet liquid dialogue, it presents a family whoíre circling the wagons around paterfamilias Alex, whoís suffered a stroke. Here are all the dark desert flowers of death ó the feeding tubes and the bathing needs, the Nembutal and the applesauce ó and also the silence of the hospital. "What good is a life that doesnít experience some trace of all possible lives?" asks a character toward the playís conclusion. "Whatís the point of being only who we are?" Indeed, and this is why we read.


Issue Date: December 30, 2005 - January 5, 2006
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