Return to Latvia




Building upon her celebrated autobiography Distant Fathers, Italian author Marina Jarre returns to her native Latvia for the first time since she left as a ten-year-old girl in 1935. In Return to Latvia—a masterful collage-like work that is part travelogue, part memoir, part ruminative essay—she looks for traces of her murdered father whom she never bid farewell. Jarre visits the former Jewish ghetto of Riga and its southern forest, where tens of thousands were slaughtered in a 1941 mass execution by Nazi death squads with active participation by Latvian collaborators. Here she attempts to reconcile herself with her past, or at least to heal the wounds of a truncated childhood. Piecing together documents and memories, Return to Latvia explores immense guilt, repression, and the complicity of Latvians in the massacres of their Jewish neighbors, highlighting vast Holocaust atrocities that occurred outside the confines of death camps and in plain view.

Distant Fathers




This singular autobiography unfurls from author Marina Jarre’s native Latvia during the 1920s and ’30s and expands southward to the Italian countryside. In distinctive writing as poetic as it is precise, Jarre depicts an exceptionally multinational and complicated family: her elusive, handsome father—a Jew who perished in the Holocaust; her severe, cultured mother—an Italian Lutheran who translated Russian literature; and her sister and Latvian grandparents. Jarre tells of her passage from childhood to adolescence, first as a linguistic minority in a Baltic nation and then in traumatic exile to Italy after her parents’ divorce. Jarre lives with her maternal grandparents, French-speaking Waldensian Protestants in the Alpine valleys southwest of Turin, where she finds fascist Italy a problematic home for a Riga-born Jew. This memoir—likened to Speak, Memory by Vladimir Nabokov or Annie Ernaux’s The Years and now translated into English for the first time—probes questions of time, language, womanhood, belonging, and estrangement, while asking what homeland can be for those who have none, or many more than one.

Watch an insightful discussion of Distant Fathers with translator Ann Goldstein and Italian novelist Marta Barone, sponsored by Rizzoli Bookstore. Click here for video.

Download the Distant Fathers Reading Group Guide.

 

The Vanished Collection




It all started with a list of paintings. There, scribbled by a cousin she hadn’t seen for years, were the names of the masters whose works once belonged to her great-grandfather, Jules Strauss: Renoir, Monet, Degas, Tiepolo, and more. Pauline Baer de Perignon knew little to nothing about Strauss, or about his vanished, precious art collection. But the list drove her on a frenzied trail of research in the archives of the Louvre and the Dresden museums, through Gestapo records, and to consult with Nobel laureate Patrick Modiano. What happened in 1942? And what became of the collection after Nazis seized her great-grandparents’ elegant Parisian apartment? The quest takes Pauline Baer de Perignon from the Occupation of France to the present day as she breaks the silence around the wrenching experiences her family never fully transmitted, and asks what art itself is capable of conveying over time.

Watch a video of author Pauline Baer de Perignon telling experts at Sotheby’s auction house how she obtained the restitution of a valuable French masterpiece plundered from her great-grandfather and that later hung for decades in a museum in Dresden, Germany. Click here to view.

Roundabout of Death




Set in Aleppo in 2012, when everyday life was metronomically punctuated by bombing, Roundabout of Death offers powerful witness to the violence that obliterated the ancient city’s rich layers of history, its neighborhoods, and medieval and Ottoman landmarks. The novel is told from the perspective of an ordinary man, a teacher of Arabic for whom daily errands become life-threatening tasks. He experiences the wide-scale destruction wrought upon the monumental Syrian metropolis as it became the stage for a vicious struggle between warring powers. Death hovers ever closer while the teacher roams Aleppo’s streets and byways, minutely observing the perils of urban life in an uncanny twist on Baudelaire’s flâneur. The novel, a literary edifice erected as an unflinching response to the erasure of a once great city, speaks eloquently of the fragmentation of human existence and the calamities of war.

The Bishop’s Bedroom




Summer 1946. World War Two has just come to an end and there’s a yearning for renewal. A man in his thirties is sailing on Lake Maggiore in northern Italy, hoping to put off the inevitable return to work. Dropping anchor in a small, fashionable port, he meets the enigmatic owner of a nearby villa who invites him home for dinner with his older wife and beautiful widowed sister-in-law. The sailor is intrigued by the elegant waterside mansion, staffed with servants and imbued with mystery, and stays in a guest room previously occupied by a now deceased bishop related to his host. The two men form an uneasy bond, recognizing in each other a shared taste for idling and erotic adventure. But suddenly tragedy puts an end to their revels and shatters the tranquility of the villa. A sultry, stylish psychological thriller executed with supreme literary finesse.

 

And the Bride Closed the Door




A young bride shuts herself up in a bedroom on her wedding day, refusing to get married. In this moving and humorous look at contemporary Israel and the chaotic ups and downs of love everywhere, her family gathers outside the locked door, not knowing what to do. The bride’s mother has lost a younger daughter in unclear circumstances. Her grandmother is hard of hearing, yet seems to understand her better than anyone. A male cousin who likes to wear women’s clothes and jewelry clings to his grandmother like a little boy. The family tries an array of unusual tactics to ensure the wedding goes ahead, including calling in a psychologist specializing in brides who change their mind and a ladder truck from the Palestinian Authority electrical company. The only communication they receive from behind the door are scribbled notes, one of them a cryptic poem about a prodigal daughter returning home. The harder they try to reach the defiant woman, the more the despairing groom is convinced that her refusal should be respected. But what, exactly, ought to be respected? Is this merely a case of cold feet? A feminist statement? Or a mourning ritual for a lost sister? This provocative and highly entertaining novel lingers long after its final page.

 

Exposed




A French teacher on the verge of retirement is invited to a glittering opening that showcases the artwork of his former student, who has since become a celebrated painter. This unexpected encounter leads to the older man posing for his portrait. Possibly in the nude. Such personal exposure at close range entails a strange and troubling pact between artist and sitter that prompts both to reevaluate their lives. Blondel, author of the hugely popular novel The 6:41 to Paris, evokes an intimacy of dangerous intensity in a tale marked by profound nostalgia and a reckoning with the past that allows its two characters to move ahead into the future.

 

Allmen and the Pink Diamond




An unimaginably valuable pink diamond has gone missing and a mysterious Russian residing in Switzerland is suspected of having made off with the treasured jewel. But the investigative duo of Johann Friedrich von Allmen and his Guatemalan butler Carlos are on the case. Their search leads from London to Zurich to a grand hotel on the Baltic coast. Amorous adventures and diverting mishaps litter the path through a world of European high culture and luxury, with hard-knuckle forays into global financial markets and high tech moves to manipulate them. This is the second in a series of fast-paced detective novels devoted to a memorable gentleman thief who, with his trusted sidekick, runs an international detective agency to recover stolen precious objects. Don’t miss the first in the series, Allmen and the Dragonflies.

What’s Left of the Night




In June 1897, the young Constantine Cavafy arrives in Paris on the last stop of a long European tour, a trip that will deeply shape his future and push him toward his poetic inclination. With this lyrical novel, tinged with a hallucinatory eroticism that unfolds over three unforgettable days, celebrated Greek author Ersi Sotiropoulos depicts Cavafy in the midst of a journey of self-discovery across a continent on the brink of massive change. He is by turns exhilarated and tormented by his homosexuality; the Greek-Turkish War has ended in Greece’s defeat and humiliation; France is torn by the Dreyfus Affair, and Cavafy’s native Alexandria has surrendered to the indolent rhythms of the East. A stunning portrait of a budding author—before he became C.P. Cavafy, one of the 20th century’s greatest poets—that illuminates the complex relationship of art, life, and the erotic desires that trigger creativity.

—WINNER OF THE 2019 NATIONAL TRANSLATION AWARD—

Allmen and the Dragonflies




A thrilling art heist escapade infused with European high culture and luxury that doesn’t shy away from the darker side of human nature.

Johann Friedrich von Allmen, a bon vivant of dandified refinement, has exhausted his family fortune by living in Old World grandeur despite present-day financial constraints. Forced to downscale, Allmen inhabits the garden house of his former Zurich estate, attended by his Guatemalan butler, Carlos. When not reading novels by Balzac and Somerset Maugham, he plays jazz on a Bechstein baby grand. Allmen’s fortunes take a sharp turn when he meets a stunning blonde whose lakeside villa contains five Art Nouveau bowls created by renowned French artist Émile Gallé and decorated with a dragonfly motif. Allmen, pressured to pay off mounting debts, absconds with the priceless bowls and embarks on a high-risk, potentially violent bid to cash them in. This is the first of a series of humorous, fast-paced detective novels devoted to a memorable gentleman thief who, with his trusted sidekick Carlos, creates an investigative firm to recover missing precious objects.

Martin Suter’s novel The Last Weynfeldt was published by New Vessel Press in 2016.

The Year of the Comet




From the critically acclaimed author of Oblivion comes The Year of the Comet, a story of a Russian boyhood and coming of age as the Soviet Union is on the brink of collapse. An idyllic childhood takes a sinister turn. Rumors of a serial killer haunt the neighborhood, families pack up and leave town without a word of warning, and the country begins to unravel. Policemen stand by as protesters overtake the streets, knowing that the once awe-inspiring symbols of power they wear on their helmets have become devoid of meaning. Lebedev depicts a vast empire coming apart at the seams, transforming a very public moment into something tender and personal, and writes with stunning beauty and shattering insight about childhood and the growing consciousness of a boy in the world.

 

 

If Venice Dies




What is Venice worth? To whom does this urban treasure belong? This eloquent book by internationally renowned art historian Salvatore Settis urgently poses these questions, igniting a new debate about the Queen of the Adriatic and cultural patrimony at large. Venetians are increasingly abandoning their hometown—there’s now only one resident for every 140 visitors—and Venice’s fragile fate has become emblematic of the future of historic cities everywhere as it capitulates to tourists and those who profit from them. In If Venice Dies, a fiery blend of history and cultural analysis, Settis argues that “hit-and-run” visitors are turning landmark urban settings into shopping malls and theme parks. He warns that Western civilization’s prime achievements face impending ruin from mass tourism and global cultural homogenization. This is a passionate plea to secure the soul of Venice, written with consummate authority, wide-ranging erudition, and élan.

The Last Supper




Alarmed by scant attention paid to the hardships endured by the 7.5 million Christians in the Middle East, journalist Klaus Wivel traveled to Iraq, Lebanon, Egypt, and the Palestinian territories on a quest to learn more about their fate. He found an oppressed minority, constantly under threat of death and humiliation, increasingly desperate in the face of rising Islamic extremism and without hope that their situation will improve, or that anyone will come to their aid. Wivel spoke with priests whose churches have been burned, citizens who feel like strangers in their own countries, and entire communities whose only hope for survival may be fleeing into exile. With the increase of religious violence in the past few years, this book is a prescient and unsettling account of a severely beleaguered religious group living, so it seems, on borrowed time. Wivel asks, Why have we not done more to protect these people?

Animal Internet




A bestial Brave New World is on the horizon: Some 50,000 creatures around the globe—including whales, leopards, flamingoes, bats and snails—are being equipped with digital tracking devices. The data gathered and studied by major scientific institutes about their behavior will not only aid in conservation efforts and warn us about tsunamis, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, but radically transform our relationship to the natural world. With a broad cultural and historical lens, this book examines human ties with animals, from domestic pets to the soaring popularity of bird watching and kitten images on the Web. Will millennia of exploration soon be reduced to experiencing wilderness via smartphone? Contrary to pessimistic fears, author Alexander Pschera sees the Internet as creating a historic opportunity for a new dialogue between man and nature.

Foreword by Martin Wikelski, Director, Max Planck Institute for Ornithology. The book includes eight color photos and an index.

Excerpted in Scientific American magazine.

The Last Weynfeldt




Adrian Weynfeldt is an art expert in an international auction house, a bachelor in his mid-fifties living in a grand Zurich apartment filled with costly paintings and antiques. Always correct and well-mannered, he’s given up on love until one night—entirely out of character for him—Weynfeldt decides to take home a ravishing but unaccountable young woman. The next morning, he finds her outside on his balcony threatening to jump. Weynfeldt talks her down, then soon finds himself falling for this damaged but alluring beauty and his buttoned-up existence swiftly comes unraveled. As their two lives become entangled, Weynfeldt gets embroiled in an art forgery scheme that threatens to destroy everything he and his prominent family have stood for. This refined page-turner moves behind elegant bourgeois facades into darker recesses of the heart.

 

Click here to download The Last Weynfeldt Reading Group Guide.

Oblivion




In one of the first 21st century Russian novels to probe the legacy of the Soviet prison camp system, a young man travels to the vast wastelands of the Far North to uncover the truth about a shadowy neighbor who saved his life, and whom he knows only as Grandfather II. What he finds, among the forgotten mines and decrepit barracks of former gulags, is a world relegated to oblivion, where it is easier to ignore both the victims and the executioners than to come to terms with a terrible past. This disturbing tale evokes the great and ruined beauty of a land where man and machine worked in tandem with nature to destroy millions of lives during the Soviet century. Emerging from today’s Russia, where the ills of the past are being forcefully erased from public memory, this masterful novel represents an epic literary attempt to rescue history from the brink of oblivion.

Best Translated Book Award finalist and Wall Street Journal Top 10 Novel of the Year

On the Run with Mary




Shining moments of tender beauty punctuate this story of a youth on the run after escaping from an elite English boarding school. At London’s Euston Station, the narrator meets a talking dachshund named Mary and together they’re off on escapades through posh Mayfair streets and jaunts in a Rolls-Royce. But the youth soon realizes that the seemingly sweet dog is a handful; an alcoholic, nymphomaniac, drug-addicted mess who can’t stay out of pubs or off the dance floor. In a world of abusive headmasters and other predators, the erotically omnivorous youth discovers that true friends are never needed more than on the mean streets of 1960s London, as he tries to save his beloved Mary from herself. On the Run with Mary mirrors the horrors and the joys of the terrible 20th century. Jonathan Barrow’s original drawings accompany the text.

 Mary-int-5Mary-int-3

The 6:41 to Paris




Cécile, a stylish 47-year-old, has spent the weekend visiting her parents in a provincial town southeast of Paris. By early Monday morning, she’s exhausted. These trips back home are always stressful and she settles into a train compartment with an empty seat beside her. But it’s soon occupied by a man she instantly recognizes: Philippe Leduc, with whom she had a passionate affair that ended in her brutal humiliation 30 years ago. In the fraught hour and a half that ensues, their express train hurtles towards the French capital. Cécile and Philippe undertake their own face to face journey—In silence? What could they possibly say to one another?—with the reader gaining entrée to the most private of thoughts. This is a psychological thriller about past romance, with all its pain and promise.

Click Here to Download The 6:41 to Paris Reading Group Guide

 

Killing Auntie




A young university student named Jurek, with no particular ambitions or talents, finds himself with nothing to do. After his doting aunt asks the young man to perform a small chore, he decides to kill her for no good reason other than, perhaps, boredom. Killing Auntie follows Jurek as he seeks to dispose of the corpse—a task more difficult than one might imagine—and then falls in love with a girl he meets on a train. Can he tell her what he’s done? Will that ruin everything?

“I’m convinced—simply—that we are all guilty,” says Jurek, and his adventures with nearsighted relatives, false-toothed grandmothers, meat grinders, and love-making lynxes shed light on how an entire society becomes involved in the murder and disposal of dear old Auntie. This is a short comedic masterpiece that combines elements of Dostoevsky, Sartre, Kafka, and Heller, coming together in the end to produce an unforgettable tale of murder and—just maybe—redemption.

Alexandrian Summer




Alexandrian Summer is the story of two Jewish families living their frenzied last days in the doomed cosmopolitan social whirl of Alexandria just before fleeing Egypt for Israel in 1951. The conventions of the Egyptian upper-middle class are laid bare in this dazzling novel, which exposes startling sexual hypocrisies and portrays a now vanished polyglot world of horse racing, seaside promenades and elegant nightclubs. Hamdi-Ali is an old-time patriarch with more than a dash of strong Turkish blood. His handsome elder son, a promising horse jockey, can’t afford sexual frustration, as it leads him to overeat and imperil his career, but the woman he lusts after won’t let him get beyond undoing a few buttons. Victor, the younger son, takes his pleasure with other boys. But the true heroine of the story – richly evoked in a pungent upstairs/downstairs mix – is the raucous, seductive city of Alexandria itself. Published in Hebrew in 1978, Alexandrian Summer appears now in translation for the first time.

The novel features an introduction by André Aciman, author of Out of Egypt, Call Me by Your Name and Harvard Square.

Download the Alexandrian Summer Reading Group Guide

Guys Like Me




Dominique Fabre, born in Paris and a lifelong resident of the city, exposes the shadowy, anonymous lives of many who inhabit the French capital. In this quiet, subdued tale, a middle-aged office worker, divorced and alienated from his only son, meets up with two childhood friends who are similarly adrift, without passions or prospects. He’s looking for a second act to his mournful life, seeking the harbor of love and a true connection with his son. Set in palpably real Paris streets that feel miles away from the City of Light, Guys Like Me is a stirring novel of regret and absence, yet not without a glimmer of hope.

All Backs Were Turned




In this novel of breathtaking tension and sweltering love, two desperate friends on the edge of the law—one of them tough and gutsy, the other small and scared—travel to the southern Israeli city of Eilat to find work. There, Dov Ben Dov, the handsome native Israeli with a reputation for causing trouble, and Israel, his sidekick, stay with Ben Dov’s recently married younger brother, Little Dov, who has enough trouble of his own. Local toughs are encroaching on Little Dov’s business, and he enlists his older brother to drive them away. It doesn’t help that a beautiful German widow named Ursula is rooming next door. What follows is a story of passion, deception, violence, and betrayal, all conveyed in hardboiled prose reminiscent of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, with a cinematic style that would make Bogart and Brando green with envy.

 

I Called Him Necktie




Twenty-year-old Taguchi Hiro has spent the last two years of his life living as a hikikomori—a shut-in who never leaves his room and has no human interaction—in his parents’ home in Tokyo. As Hiro tentatively decides to reenter the world, he spends his days observing life around him from a park bench. Gradually he makes friends with Ohara Tetsu, a middle-aged salaryman who has lost his job but can’t bring himself to tell his wife, and shows up every day in a suit and tie to pass the time on a nearby bench. As Hiro and Tetsu cautiously open up to each other, they discover in their sadness a common bond. Regrets and disappointments, as well as hopes and dreams, come to the surface until both find the strength to somehow give a new start to their lives. This beautiful novel is moving, unforgettable, and full of surprises. The reader turns the last page feeling that a small triumph has occurred.