Briefly Noted Book Reviews | The New Yorker

Conquer the Pacificby Andrés Reséndez (Mariner). In the mid-16th century, Spain and Portugal were vying for access to the Asian silk and spice trade. Resendez’s taut reconstruction of the first recorded west-to-east crossing of the Pacific tracks a Spanish fleet from the Americas to Asia and back, focusing on African-Portuguese pilot Lope Martin. His ship, the San Lucas, sailed in the choppy Pacific gyre, connecting the world’s major land masses, though there is no common standard for measuring longitude. Martin’s naval talent was not rewarded. After being accused of deserting the expedition fleet in order to self-enrichment, he is eventually left deserted on an island in the Pacific Ocean.

vanishingBy Janine DiGiovanni (@PublicAffairs). These letters, by a longtime war correspondent, document the erosion of Christianity in the Middle East. Two Orthodox Christian sisters in Gaza refuse to let a world shrink around them. The religious leaders of a town in Syria swear, in vain, that it will not be affected by sectarian turmoil. The book illustrates the delicate balance in which many of these societies are now stuck, and examines how violence, economic instability, persecution, and immigration lead to the disintegration of cultures shaped by both land and religion. “This is a book about dying societies,” admits Di Giovanni. “But it’s also about faith.” Even after the demolition of Mosul’s churches, its people continued to worship them.

making incarnationby Tom McCarthy (Knopf). The legacy of time and motion studies invigorates this moving and thought-provoking novel, which centers on a search across London, Indiana, and Latvia for a missing entry from the archives of Lillian Gilbreth, a pioneer of work automation. Set in anonymous conference rooms, hotel lobbies, and archives where scientific breakthroughs are published, the book uses technical jargon for both comic and scary effect. By framing multiple lines around the story of “Incarnation,” a baroque space opera that employs legions of CGI experts and consultants, McCarthy interrogates the indifferent way in which scientific advances transcend public understanding and the pervasive systems that render human activity as raw data.

My MonticelloBy Jocelyn Nicole Johnson (Henry Holt). This official début experimental collection of stories deals with the shadow of slavery in America. In one story, a black college professor wrote to his son, who made his life a case study measuring the privileges of white American men. The title story, set in the apocalyptic near future, is told by a young black woman of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemmings. After fleeing a white supremacist attack, she and her neighbors take refuge at an abandoned Jefferson ranch. As they prepare to defend themselves against their stalker, she reckons with her legacy in Monticello, as well as her relationship with her white boyfriend: “Why do we love what we love?”

Leave a Comment