Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Briefly Noted Book Reviews | The New Yorker

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The Silence of the Choir, by Mohamed Mbougar Sarr (Europa). In this ambitious, Goncourt Prize-winning novel, seventy-two African asylum seekers arrive in a fictional town in rural Sicily after a harrowing journey, only to find themselves at the center of an ideological battle that splinters the community. Sarr moves adroitly between the viewpoints of a wide cast of characters—refugees, politicians, advocacy workers, xenophobic vigilantes, a priest, an eminent poet—while probing the complexities of Europe’s debate over asylum. Ultimately, the novel suggests that it is not only members of the far right, “obsessed with their phobia,” who deserve excoriation but also those more sympathetic to migrants’ plights who nonetheless “reduce a refugee to a walking tragedy.”

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In Tongues, by Thomas Grattan (MCD x FSG). The protagonist of this moody novel is a young man attempting to make a fresh start in New York City at the outset of the twenty-first century, seeking—through dead-end jobs, anonymous sexual encounters, and a gradual infiltration of the art-world élite—a new way to be seen. Amid his adventures, he wonders whether self-scrutiny is anything more than self-obsession, and if answering questions like that one is really a path to maturity. Grattan casts early adulthood as a period of inertia, in which a person is trapped between the urge to be present and the desire to move on—a time of life whose outward expressions are, above all, absurd.

Miniature figure perched on a book reading.

Illustration by Rose Wong

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