11 New Books We Recommend This Week


THE GREAT MISTAKE, by Jonathan Lee. (Knopf, $26.95.) Lee’s new novel is about the life and unusual death of Andrew Haswell Green, who was murdered in front of his Park Avenue home in 1903, when he was 83. Green is not much remembered now, despite the fact that he was an integral force behind the creation of Central Park, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and other postcard destinations in the city. The book’s chapters toggle between Green’s biography and the investigation of his murder. “Lee’s imagining of Green’s childhood on a struggling Massachusetts farm has precise emotional contours,” our reviewer John Williams writes. “The book’s accomplishment is less in making us ‘see’ him, like some kind of historical hologram, than in making us inhabit him.”

BETTER TO HAVE GONE: Love, Death, and the Quest for Utopia in Auroville, by Akash Kapur. (Scribner, $27.) This profound memoir, by a man who grew up in an intentional community in India and returned to live there with his wife and children, is a sensitive excavation of fraught family history as well as a philosophical meditation on the utopian impulse. “A haunting, heartbreaking story, deeply researched and lucidly told, with an almost painful emotional honesty,” Amy Waldman writes in her review. “I kept wanting to read ‘Better to Have Gone’ because I found it so gripping; I kept wanting not to read it because I found it so upsetting. The image that came to mind, again and again, was of human lives being dashed against the rocks of rigid belief.”

WHAT STRANGE PARISE, by Omar El Akkad. (Knopf, $26.) El Akkad’s second novel examines opposing sides of a migrant crisis from the point of view of two children: a boy who washes up on an island after a doomed ship passage, and the girl who takes him in and tries to get him to safety. In a compassionate but nuanced telling, the novel effectively effaces assumptions of superiority and inferiority, good and bad. “This extraordinary book carries a message,” Wendell Steavenson writes in her review, “not of a trite and clichéd hope, but of a greater universal humanism, the terrifying idea that, ultimately, there are no special distinctions among us, that in fact we are all very much in the same boat.”

THE LETTERS OF SHIRLEY JACKSON, edited by Laurence Jackson Hyman in consultation with Bernice M. Murphy. (Random House, $35.) Collected by her son, the author’s letters reveal that she had not one but two authorial identities, and they appeared to be polar opposites, switching between merry, humorous accounts of life at home and the darker, more enigmatic mode of her celebrated fiction. “Any hope that Jackson’s private writing might convey a more unified sense of self seems quixotic,” Laura Miller writes in her review. Some of the letters in this collection were written to a fan who shared Jackson’s taste in books, and “it’s only in reading these letters,” Miller says, “that it becomes evident how lonely Jackson was. Her confessions and enthusiasms come gushing forth as if she were a teenager who had finally, finally found a best friend.”

BUILD YOUR HOUSE AROUND MY BODY, by Violet Kupersmith. (Random House, $27.) This novel, about a half-Vietnamese American in Vietnam, is preoccupied with the body and its violations — both the sexual trauma experienced by the female characters and the ravages of colonial occupation and war upon the body of Vietnam. “This is a big, packed novel,” Alexis Schaitkin writes in her review. “Reading it provides a sensation not unlike riding on a motorbike overloaded with passengers and wares: It careens, it tilts and at times I wondered if it would reach its destination without a crash. But Kupersmith proves herself a fearless driver who revels in the daunting challenge she has set for herself. There are so many ways this novel could have lost its balance; instead, its too-much-ness makes for a thrilling read, acrobatic and filled with verve.”