Balzac & the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie-The Cultural Revolution of Chairman Mao Zedong altered Chinese history in the 1960s and '70s, forcibly sending hundreds of thousands of Chinese intellectuals to peasant villages for "re-education." This moving, often wrenching short novel by a writer who was himself re-educated in the '70s tells how two young men weather years of banishment, emphasizing the power of literature to free the mind. Sijie's unnamed 17-year-old protagonist and his best friend, Luo, are bourgeois doctors' sons, and so condemned to serve four years in a remote mountain village, carrying pails of excrement daily up a hill. Only their ingenuity helps them to survive. The two friends are good at storytelling, and the village headman commands them to put on "oral cinema shows" for the villagers, reciting the plots and dialogue of movies. When another city boy leaves the mountains, the friends steal a suitcase full of forbidden books he has been hiding, knowing he will be afraid to call the authorities. Enchanted by the prose of a host of European writers, they dare to tell the story of The Count of Monte Cristo to the village tailor and to read Balzac to his shy and beautiful young daughter. Luo, who adores the Little Seamstress, dreams of transforming her from a simple country girl into a sophisticated lover with his foreign tales. He succeeds beyond his expectations, but the result is not what he might have hoped for, and leads to an unexpected, droll and poignant conclusion.
The Shack by William Young-Mackenzie Allen Philips' youngest daughter, Missy, has been abducted during a family vacation and evidence that she may have been brutally murdered is found in an abandoned shack deep in the Oregon wilderness. Four years later in the midst of his Great Sadness, Mack receives a suspicious note, apparently from God, inviting him back to that shack for a weekend. Against his better judgment he arrives at the shack on a wintry afternoon and walks back into his darkest nightmare. What he finds there will change Mack's world forever. In a world where religion seems to grow increasingly irrelevant "The Shack" wrestles with the timeless question, "Where is God in a world so filled with unspeakable pain?" The answers Mack gets will astound you and perhaps transform you as much as it did him. You'll want everyone you know to read this book!
A Child Called It: One Child's Courage to Survive by David Pelzer-David J. Pelzer's mother, Catherine Roerva, was, he writes in this ghastly, fascinating memoir, a devoted den mother to the Cub Scouts in her care, and somewhat nurturant to her children--but not to David, whom she referred to as "an It." This book is a brief, horrifying account of the bizarre tortures she inflicted on him, told from the point of view of the author as a young boy being starved, stabbed, smashed face-first into mirrors, forced to eat the contents of his sibling's diapers and a spoonful of ammonia, and burned over a gas stove by a maniacal, alcoholic mom. Sometimes she claimed he had violated some rule--no walking on the grass at school!--but mostly it was pure sadism. Inexplicably, his father didn't protect him; only an alert schoolteacher saved David. One wants to learn more about his ordeal and its aftermath, and now he's written a sequel, The Lost Boy, detailing his life in the foster-care system.
Sway by Ari and Rom Brafman-What makes people act irrationally? In a timely but thin collection of anecdotes and empirical research, the Brafman brothers—Ari, a business expert, and Rom, a psychologist—look at sway, the submerged mental drives that undermine rational action, from the desire to avoid loss to a failure to consider all the evidence or to perceive a person or situation beyond the initial impression and the reluctance to alter a plan that isn't working. To drive home their points, the authors use contemporary examples, such as the pivotal decisions of presidents Lyndon B. Johnson and George W. Bush, coach Steve Spurrier and his Gators football team, and a sudden apparent epidemic of bipolar disorder in children (which may be due more to flawed thinking by doctors making the diagnoses). The stories are revealing, but focused on a few common causes of irrational behavior, the book doesn't delve deeply into the psychological demons that can devastate a person's life and those around him.
The Wapshot Chronicles by John Cheever-The Wapshot Chronicle is the telling of the history and circumstances of the eclectic Wapshot family. The small, perhaps antiquated, New England river town of St. Botolphs is the home of the Waphot family: Honora, born on Oahu of missionary parents but raised by her paternal Uncle Lorenzo; Leander, an aging and gentle ferryboat operator and would-be suicide; his wife Sarah (Coverly) Wapshot, mother of Moses, the errant and mischievous elder brother to Coverly, the adoring and somewhat lambent brother. "The Wapshot Chronicle is an exploration of the clash between pious and bourgeois respectability, the slippery mores of a new and vigorously changing America and the inner drives of hearty, small-town New England stock.