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New books that are strong on location – April 2023

11th March 2023

Here are our top three recommended location-based reads for April 2023:

Jimi Hendrix Live in Lviv by Andrey Kurkov – UKRAINE

A hugely entertaining romp through the beautiful city of Lviv, by the author of Death and the Penguin and Grey Bees, now reporting widely on the Russian invasion of Ukraine, his home country.

Strange things are afoot in the cosmopolitan city of Lviv, western Ukraine. Seagulls are circling and the air smells salty, though Lviv is a long way from the sea . . .

A ragtag group gathers round a mysterious grave in Lychakiv Cemetery – among them an ex-KGB officer and an ageing hippy he used to spy on. Before long, Captain Ryabtsev and Alik Olisevych are teaming up to discover the source of the “anomalies”. Meanwhile, Taras ­- who makes a living driving kidney-stone patients over cobblestones in his ancient Opel Vectra – is courting Darka, who works nights at a bureau de change despite being allergic to money. They young lovers don’t know it, but their fate depends on two lonely old men, relics of another era, who will stop at nothing to save their city.

Shot through with Kurkov’s unique brand of black humour and vodka-fuelled magic realism, Jimi Hendrix Live in Lviv is an affectionate portrait one the world’s most intriguing cities.

The Forgotten Girls: An American Story by Monica Potts – ARKANSAS

Growing up gifted and working-class in the foothills of the Ozarks, Monica and Darci became fast friends. Bonding over a shared love of learning, they pored over the giant map in their classroom, tracing their fingers over the world that awaited them, vowing to escape their broken town. In the end, Monica left Clinton for university and fulfilled her dreams. Darci, along with many in their circle of friends, did not.

Years later, working as a journalist covering poverty, Monica discovers what she already intuitively knew about the women in Arkansas. Their life expectancy had steeply declined — the sharpest such fall in a century. As she returns to Clinton to report the story, she reconnects with Darci, and finds that her once talented and ambitious best friend is now a statistic: a single mother of two, addicted to meth, jobless and nearly homeless. Deeply aware that Darci’s fate could have been hers, she retraces the moments in each of their lives that led such similar women toward such different destinies. Why did Monica make it out while Darci became ensnared in a cycle of poverty and opioid abuse?

Gripping and unforgettable, The Forgotten Girls is a story of friendship and lost promise in 21st century America.

The Five Sorrowful Mysteries of Andy Africa by Stephen Buoro – NIGERIA

Fifteen-year-old Andrew Aziza lives in Kontagora, Nigeria, where his days are spent about town with his droogs, Slim and Morocca, grappling with his fantasies about white girls – especially blondes – and wondering who his father is. When he’s not in church, at school or attempting to form ‘Africa’s first superheroes’, he obsesses over mathematical theorems, ideas of black power and HXVX: the Curse of Africa.

Sure enough, the reluctantly nicknamed ‘Andy Africa’ soon falls hopelessly and inappropriately in love with the first white girl he lays eyes on, Eileen. But at the church party held to celebrate her arrival, multiple crises loom. An unfamiliar man claims, despite his mother’s denials, to be Andy’s father, and the gathering of an anti-Christian mob is headed for the church – both set to shake the foundations of everything Andy knows and loves.

The Five Sorrowful Mysteries of Andy Africa announces a dazzling, distinctive, new literary voice. Profound, exhilarating and highly original, this tragicomic novel is a stunning exploration of the contemporary African ‘condition’, the relentless infiltration of Western culture and, most of all, the ordinary but impossible challenges of coming of age in a turbulent world.

And a few more recommendations:

Greek Lessons by Han King – SEOUL

A powerful novel of the saving grace of language and human connection, from the celebrated author of The Vegetarian

In a classroom in Seoul, a young woman watches her Greek language teacher at the blackboard. She tries to speak but has lost her voice. Her teacher finds himself drawn to the silent woman, for day by day he is losing his sight.

Soon they discover a deeper pain binds them together. For her, in the space of just a few months, she has lost both her mother and the custody battle for her nine-year-old son. For him, it’s the pain of growing up between Korea and Germany, being torn between two cultures and languages.

Greek Lessons tells the story of two ordinary people brought together at a moment of private anguish – the fading light of a man losing his vision meeting the silence of a woman who has lost her language. Yet these are the very things that draw them to one another. Slowly the two discover a profound sense of unity – their voices intersecting with startling beauty, as they move from darkness to light, from silence to expression.

Greek Lessons is a tender love letter to human intimacy and connection, a novel to awaken the senses, vividly conjuring the essence of what it means to be alive.

A House for Alice by Diana Evans – LONDON

After fifty years in London, Alice wants to live out her days in the land of her birth. Her three children are divided on whether she stays or goes, and in the wake of their father’s death, the imagined stability of the family begins to fray.

Meanwhile youngest daughter Melissa has never let go of a love she lost, and Michael in return, even within the sturdy walls of his marriage to the sparkling Nicole, is haunted by the failed perfection of the past. As Alice’s final decision draws closer, all that is hidden between Melissa and her sisters, Michael and Nicole, rises to the surface . . .

Set against the shadows of a city and a country in turmoil, Diana Evans’s ordinary people confront fundamental questions. How should we raise our children? How to do right by our parents? And how, in the midst of everything, can we satisfy ourselves?

Biography of X by Catherine Lacey – UNITED STATES

When X – an iconoclastic artist, writer and polarizing shape-shifter – dies suddenly, her widow, wild with grief, hurls herself into writing a biography of the woman she deified. Though X was recognised as a crucial creative force of her era, she kept a tight grip on her life story. Not even CM, her wife, knew where X had been born, and in her quest to find out, she opens a Pandora’s box of secrets, betrayals and destruction. All the while she immerses herself in the history of the Southern Territory, a fascist theocracy that split from the rest of the country after World War II, as it is finally, in the present day, forced into an uneasy reunification.

A masterfully constructed, counter-factual literary adventure, complete with original images assembled by X’s widow, Biography of X follows a grieving wife seeking to understand the woman who enthralled her. CM traces X’s peripatetic trajectory over decades, from Europe to the ruins of America’s divided territories, and through her collaborations and feuds with everyone from David Bowie and Tom Waits to Susan Sontag and Kathy Acker. And when she finally understands the scope of X’s defining artistic project, CM realises her wife’s deceptions were far crueller than she imagined.

Pulsing with suspense and intellect, Biography of X is a roaring epic that plumbs the depths of grief, art and love, and that introduces an unforgettable character who shows us the fallibility of the stories we craft for ourselves.

The Memory of Animals by Claire Fuller – LONDON

Neffy is a young woman running away from grief and guilt, and the one big mistake that has derailed her career. When she answers the call to volunteer in a controlled vaccine trial, it offers her a way to pay off her many debts and, perhaps, to make up for the past.

But when the London streets below her window fall silent, and all external communications cease, only Neffy and four other volunteers remain in the unit. With food running out, and a growing sense that the strangers she is with may be holding back secrets, Neffy has questions that no one can answer. Does safety lie inside or beyond the unit? And who, or what is out there?

While she weighs up her choices, she is introduced to a pioneering and controversial technology which allows her to revisit memories from her life before: a childhood divided between her enigmatic mother and her father in his small hotel in Greece. Intoxicated by the freedom of the past and the chance to reunite with those she loves, she increasingly turns away from her perilous present. But in this new world where survival rests on the bonds between strangers, is she jeopardising any chance of a future?

The Memory of Animals is a taut and emotionally charged novel about freedom and captivity, survival and sacrifice and whether you can save anyone before you save yourself.

Happy Place by Emily Henry – MAINE

A couple who broke up months ago pretend to still be together for their annual weeklong vacation with their best friends in this glittering and wise new novel from #1 New York Times bestselling author Emily Henry.

Harriet and Wyn have been the perfect couple since they met in college—they go together like salt and pepper, honey and tea, lobster and rolls. Except, now—for reasons they’re still not discussing—they don’t.

They broke up five months ago. And still haven’t told their best friends.

Which is how they find themselves sharing a bedroom at the Maine cottage that has been their friend group’s yearly getaway for the last decade. Their annual respite from the world, where for one vibrant, blissful week they leave behind their daily lives; have copious amounts of cheese, wine, and seafood; and soak up the salty coastal air with the people who understand them most.

Only this year, Harriet and Wyn are lying through their teeth while trying not to notice how desperately they still want each other. Because the cottage is for sale and this is the last week they’ll all have together in this place. They can’t stand to break their friends’ hearts, and so they’ll play their parts. Harriet will be the driven surgical resident who never starts a fight, and Wyn will be the laid-back charmer who never lets the cracks show. It’s a flawless plan (if you look at it from a great distance and through a pair of sunscreen-smeared sunglasses). After years of being in love, how hard can it be to fake it for one week…in front of those who know you best?

Enjoy your April location-based reading!

Tony for the TripFiction team

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