Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Briefly Noted Book Reviews | The New Yorker

Must Read

Faraway the Southern Sky, by Joseph Andras, translated from the French by Simon Leser (Verso). This brief but layered novel follows a nameless figure wandering around Paris searching for traces of Ho Chi Minh, who lived there as a young revolutionary, near the end of the First World War. Ho is glimpsed through police files, plaques, and publications on his unlikely path to political power, working as a cook and a photo enlarger while managing his ceaseless political agitation. During the search, scenes of contemporary Parisian life are overlaid with memories of past struggle. In Andras’s depiction, the city’s history emerges as a deep record of past disruptions—and, perhaps, the stuff of present inspiration (the gilets jaunes make an appearance), if an observer is able to draw connections between the eras.

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The Ministry of Time, by Kaliane Bradley (Avid Reader). In this compelling début novel, set in the near future, the British government has created a time machine and used it to retrieve a handful of people from other periods of history, referred to as “expats.” The book’s narrator is a minder for one of them: a nineteenth-century Royal Navy commander and polar explorer. Complications ensue when the narrator, who is Cambodian English, begins to fall in love with her charge, while also closing in on the truth of the mysterious extraction program. Throughout, Bradley meditates on mortality, grief, and imperialism. “Everything that has ever been could have been prevented and none of it was,” she writes. “The only thing you can mend is the future.”

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