Uncommon Arrangements: Seven Marriages by Katie Roiphe: Katie Roiphe’s stimulating work has made her one of the most talked about cultural critics of her generation. Now this bracing young writer delves deeply into one of the most layered of subjects: marriage. Drawn in part from the private memoirs, personal correspondence, and long-forgotten journals of the British literary community from 1910 to the Second World War, here are seven “marriages à la mode”—each rising to the challenge of intimate relations in more or less creative ways. Jane Wells, the wife of H.G., remained his rock, despite his decade-long relationship with Rebecca West (among others). Katherine Mansfield had an irresponsible, childlike romance with her husband, John Middleton Murry, that collapsed under the strain of real-life problems. Vera Brittain and George Gordon Catlin spent years in a “semidetached” marriage (he in America, she in England). Vanessa Bell maintained a complicated harmony with the painter Duncan Grant, whom she loved, and her husband, Clive. And her sister Virginia Woolf, herself no stranger to marital particularities, sustained a brilliant running commentary on the most intimate details of those around her.
Every chapter revolves around a crisis that occurred in each of these marriages—as serious as life-threatening illness or as seemingly innocuous as a slightly tipsy dinner table conversation—and how it was resolved…or not resolved. In these portraits, Roiphe brilliantly evokes what are, as she says, “the fluctuations and shifts in attraction, the mysteries of lasting affection, the endurance and changes in love, and the role of friendship in marriage.” The deeper mysteries at stake in all relationships.
Ghost Soldiers: The Epic Account of World War II’s Greatest Rescue Mission by Hampton Sides: This haunting, moving and highly evocative account of one of the most dramatic aspects of the War in the Pacific powerfully redefines our understanding of the nature of heroes, heroism, and sacrifice, while it eloquently explores the triumph of the human spirit.
Hampton Sides, a gifted writer, masterfully interweaves a complex tapestry of three stories. The first recounts Japan’s initial military triumphs throughout Asia and the South Pacific and the subsequent emergency evacuation of Allied troops from Bataan in 1942. The second describes the horror faced by those who were captured, as they struggled to stay alive in the POW camp at Cabanatuan as survivors of the hideous Bataan Death March. The third story re-creates the daring liberation of the 513 British and American soldiers who clung to life in the infamous camp at the jungle’s edge. This January 1945 rescue mission was led by the U.S. Army’s Sixth Ranger Battalion, which grappled with a retreating Japanese Army that possessed a vast superiority in numbers.
Richly detailed and deeply evocative, Ghost Soldiers stands as a meaningful testimonial to those who served and those who were sacrificed, as well as a stark reminder that even in the darkest hours, humanity can exhibit one of its greatest skills: the ability to persevere against all odds.
Prague by Arthur Phillips: A novel of startling scope and ambition, Prague depicts an intentionally lost Lost Generation as it follows five American expats who come to Budapest in the early 1990s to seek their fortune. They harbor the vague suspicion that their counterparts in Prague have it better, but still they hope to find adventure, inspiration, a gold rush, or history in the making.
Learning to Swim by Sara J. Henry: When she witnesses a small child tumbling from a ferry into Lake Champlain, Troy Chance dives in without thinking. Harrowing moments later, she bobs to the surface, pulling a terrified little boy with her. As the ferry disappears into the distance, she begins a bone-chilling swim nearly a mile to shore with a tiny passenger on her back. Surprisingly, he speaks only French. He’ll acknowledge that his name is Paul; otherwise, he’s resolutely mute. Troy assumes that Paul’s frantic parents will be in touch with the police or the press. But what follows is a shocking and deafening silence. And Troy, a freelance writer, finds herself as fiercely determined to protect Paul as she is to find out what happened to him. What she uncovers will take her into a world of wealth and privilege and heedless self-indulgence—a world in which the murder of a child is not unthinkable. She’ll need skill and courage to survive and protect her charge and herself.