11 New Books We Recommend This Week


MISSIONARIES, by Phil Klay. (Penguin Press, $28.) The four converging narratives of this astounding novel (Klay’s first, after his National Book Award-winning story collection “Redeployment”) capture the complexities of Colombia’s five-decade war. Klay does not shy away from the thorny moral questions and psychological impacts of conflict, and the result is at once terrifying and thought-provoking. “Missionaries” is “skeptical at best” about the prospects for a “good war,” Juan Gabriel Vásquez writes in his review. “It does believe, however, in fiction’s ability to illuminate these dark places. And so the novel goes on, undeterred, exploring and revealing whole human worlds that would remain inaccessible without it.”

THE BUTTERFLY LAMPSHADE, by Aimee Bender. (Doubleday, $26.95.) In this compact surrealist memory box of a novel, we learn that three times during the protagonist’s childhood she witnessed a sort of mystic reification of an object, and she spends the rest of the novel trying to comprehend these visitations. The book “stakes its ground early, and remains there,” Kevin Brockmeier writes in his review. “Yet its particular quality of stillness hums with so much mystery and intensity that the book never feels static. It is a measure of the book’s success that as I reached the conclusion, I felt considerably more altered by the experience than I often am by novels that travel much further from their beginnings.”

THE DUKE WHO DIDN’T, by Courtney Milan. (Self-published, 241 pp., e-book, $4.99.) By turns consciously tender and fiercely witty, this is an unalloyed charmer about Chloe Fong, a stubborn Chinese-British sauce maker, and Jeremy Yu, the half-Chinese Duke of Lansing, who’s head over heels for her, but can’t seem to say so. “One of the best things to come out of the hellscape that is 2020,” Olivia Waite writes of the book in her latest romance column. “We’ve reached the point in the quarantine experience where casually sharing space and food with loved ones feels like unattainable hedonism; the palpable warmth of community and care in this story seems as luxurious and aspirational as any silk gown or starched cravat ever could.”

A PECULIAR INDIFFERENCE: The Neglected Toll of Violence on Black America, by Elliott Currie. (Metropolitan, $27.99.) This comprehensive study by a veteran legal scholar argues that the extraordinary violence against Black lives is a result of the nation’s refusal to address the structural roots of the problem. Khalil Gibran Muhammad, in his review, calls it “a smart, timely, deeply disturbing and essential book. … This is not a Black crisis but a national emergency, according to Currie.”

WAGNERISM: Art and Politics in the Shadow of Music, by Alex Ross. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $40.) With enormous intellectual range and subtle artistic judgment, Ross’s history of ideas probes the nerve endings of Western society as they are mirrored in more than a century of reaction to Richard Wagner’s oeuvre, from George Eliot to “Apocalypse Now.” The author’s strategy “is to use Wagner as a kind of ur-source out of which spring a multitude of artistic, social and political movements,” John Adams writes in his review. “In so doing, Ross has dug deep into some of the most fertile (and occasionally most bizarre) terrain of Western culture, examining and bringing to light the struggles for individuation and self-discovery of a host of reactive minds.”


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