NONFICTION

by Erich Krauss

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In describing the lives and hardships of four Thai families who survived the Dec. 26, 2004 tsunami, Wave of Destruction captures both the enormity of the disaster and the inadequacy of the response. Set in Nam Khem, a lawless tin-mining town on the coast, Krauss's story delves first into the families' histories, recounting their lives with an impossible, almost surreal level of detail, before re-creating their experiences of the tsunami with a terrifying specificity: "A 40-foot wall of blackness approached, grumbling so loud it bled out all but the most horrendous of Prakong's screams. Wimon knew the wave was a devil in disguise because only the devil could make such a hideous sound." Krauss, who lives in both California and Thailand, arrived on a relief truck 12 days after the disaster and spent months helping to reconstruct Nam Khem. Informed by his experiences, Wave of Destruction personalizes the tragedy, though Krauss's take on Thai culture is simplistic and at times his writing is sugary: "Finishing her chores by 7 o'clock, [Dang] went to the bed, peeled back the mosquito net, and gently woke the children, who greeted her with loving smiles." He's clearly emotionally invested in subjects like Dang, who struggles to save her community from ruthless developers—and whose story could be spun off into a riveting screenplay or documentary—but Krauss's writing style unfortunately lends his book a tabloid quality. That said, Wave of Destruction is both a knowledgeable account of survivor stories and something of a page-turner, even if readers ache for the happy ending that never materializes.

Get a Life

by Nadine Gordimer

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It is fitting—if not inevitable—that Nobel Prize winner Gordimer should write novels that conflate the personal and the political. In her generation of South Africans, no family has been untouched by the tumultuous struggle for democracy.

Get a Life is set in the post-apartheid period, yet the Bannerman family strains under its conflicting commitments to the wider world. Paul, a passionate environmentalist, questions the values of his wife, Benni, a successful ad executive. His mother, Lyndsay, a civil rights attorney appointed to the bench, misjudges the sacrifice her husband, Adrian, made when he put aside his passion for archeology to become a businessman. When Paul is diagnosed with thyroid cancer, one marriage breaks down; the other strengthens. The book's bouts of introspection can become ponderous—as when Lyndsay, musing on a past affair, invokes Simone de Beauvoir's concept of "contingent loves"—but so are the issues Gordimer's characters bring home to dinner.

NOVEL

by David Albahari

REVIEWED BY FRANCINE PROSE

CRITIC'S CHOICE

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When the anonymous narrator of Albahari's haunting new novel learns that many of his Jewish relatives were killed during WWII, he becomes obsessed with the desire to understand the men who helped murder them.

The book takes its title from the names of two SS officers, Götz and Meyer, whose job required them to pick up truckloads of Jews from a concentration camp in a former fairgrounds in Belgrade.

Afterward they would drive across the river, where the truck would be filled with lethal gas, and the dead would be hastily buried. As the protagonist, a teacher, revisits these horrific events, the novel illuminates a relatively little-known aspect of the Holocaust: the extermination of the Serbian Jews. And Albahari gives us a dazzling meditation on history, memory, identity and the nature of evil—and on the hearts and minds of two ordinary men who cared more about their truck than about the lives of thousands of innocent human beings.

Celeb Bios
Olivier by Terry Coleman
In the juiciest of the dozen or so works about Sir Laurence, Coleman sheds light on subjects including the affair with actor Henry Ainley.

Lee Miller: A Life by Carolyn Burke
The story of the model turned photographer who knew Hitler (check out the shot of her in his bathtub) and loved Man Ray.

Belushi by Judith Belushi Pisano and Tanner Colby
25 years after The Blues Brothers, Belushi's widow coedits a dishy oral history with previously unseen photos.

The Autobiography by Donovan Leitch
The singer offers a lively account of the "Mellow Yellow" '60s—and asserts that he was "more creative and influential" than Bob Dylan.

Hattie McDaniel: Black Ambition, White Hollywood by Jill Watts
A look at the truncated career of Gone with the Wind's Mammy, the first African-American to win an Oscar.

MEMORIES OF SURVIVAL by Esther Nisenthal Krinitz and Bernice Steinhardt
The striking story of Krinitz's struggle to elude the Nazis as a teenager, illustrated by her hand-stitched panels (above).

MEET WILD BOARS by Meg Rosoff and Sophie Blackall
Bracingly ill-mannered, the boars who run amok in this clever picture book (left) make kid friends seem...tame.

INKSPELL by Cornelia Funke
For tweens, the fun follow-up to Funke's bestselling medieval fantasy Inkheart.

DOG TRAIN by Sandra Boynton
The creator of Philadelphia Chickens returns with this rockin' book and CD sung by Alison Krauss, Kate Winslet and others.

ONCE UPON A TIME, THE END by Geoffrey Kloske and Barry Blitt
Silly, sound-bite versions of bedtime standbys.

THE GIFT OF NOTHING by Patrick McDonnell
For the kid who has everything, a sweet tale with a Zen message from the creator of the comic Muffs.

  • Contributors:
  • Jonathan Durbin,
  • Lee Aitken,
  • Francine Prose.