New in Paperback: ‘Homeland Elegies’ and ‘Friends and Strangers’

By Jennifer Krauss

THE SHAPELESS UNEASE: A Year of Not Sleeping, by Samantha Harvey. (Grove, 192 pp., $16.) Harvey’s memoir of her 2016 insomnia is “like a small and well-worn eiderdown quilt,” our reviewer, Alexandra Jacobs, wrote. “It might not cover everything, but it both cools and warms, lofts and lulls, settling gradually on its inhabitant with an ethereal solidity.”

HOMELAND ELEGIES, by Ayad Akhtar. (Back Bay, 368 pp., $16.99.) Like Akhtar, the narrator of this “moving and confrontational” novel — one of the Book Review’s 10 Best Books of 2020 — is a Pulitzer Prize-winning dramatist. His elegies, about the particular wound inflicted by 9/11 on American Muslims who had felt they were “at home,” are “sung,” as our reviewer, Hari Kunzru, put it, for a lost Whitmanesque dream combining selfhood and “national belonging.”

THE DEATH OF VIVEK OJI, by Akwaeke Emezi. (Riverhead, 256 pp., $17.) Set in a small Nigerian town, this “dazzling, devastating story of coming-of-age and coming out” explores whether the blindness of a young man’s family to his gender identity led to his death. Our Group Text columnist, Elisabeth Egan, called it “a puzzle wrapped in beautiful language,” raising tantalizingly important questions.

FRIENDS AND STRANGERS, by J. Courtney Sullivan. (Vintage, 496 pp., $17.) While Sullivan covers “a lot of terrain” in this novel about the “intricate relationship” between a babysitter and her employer — from “the true definition of privilege” to “the politics of suburban book clubs” — what stands out, our reviewer, Claire Lombardo, noted, is her “spot-on minutiae,” her “honest rendering of what happens behind closed doors.”

THE INEVITABILITY OF TRAGEDY: Henry Kissinger and His World, by Barry Gewen. (Norton, 496 pp., $18.95.) This “timely and acute defense of the great realist’s actions, values and beliefs,” by a longtime editor at the Book Review, is also “a thoughtful rumination on human behavior, philosophy and international relations,” according to our reviewer, John A. Farrell.

TEARS WE CANNOT STOP: A Sermon to White America by Michael Eric Dyson. (St. Martin’s Griffin, 240 pp., $16.99.) Our reviewer, Patrick Phillips, referred to this “urgent book,” in which the ordained Baptist minister and sociologist speaks to his white congregants in “tender, intimate terms,” as “one of the most searing discussions of race I have ever read,” deserving a place alongside James Baldwin’s “The Fire Next Time” and Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Why We Can’t Wait.”

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