Briefly Rated Book Reviews | The New Yorker

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Conquering the Pacific, by Andrés Reséndez (Marin). In the mid-16th century, Spain and Portugal competed for access to the Asian silk and spice trade. Reséndez’s tense recreation of the first Pacific crossing from west to west is recorded traces a Spanish fleet from the Americas to Asia and back again, focusing on Afro-Portuguese pilot Lope Martín. His ship, the San Lucas, sailed the capricious Pacific Gyre, connecting the world’s major landmasses, despite the lack of a common standard for measuring longitude. Martín’s nautical talent went unrewarded. After being accused of escaping the mission’s fleet to enrich himself, he was ultimately abandoned on an island in the Pacific.

Disappearance, by Janine di Giovanni (Public Affairs). These dispatches, written by a longtime war reporter, document the erosion of Christianity in the Middle East. Two Orthodox Christian sisters from Gaza refuse to leave a shrinking world around them; the religious leaders of a city in Syria swear, in vain, that it will never be affected by sectarian upheavals. The book illustrates the fine balance in which many of these communities are suspended today, examining how violence, economic instability, persecution and emigration lead to the dissolution of cultures forged both by land and by religion. “It’s a book about dying communities,” admits di Giovanni. “But it’s also a question of faith.” Even after Mosul’s churches were razed to the ground, its people continued to worship.

The factory of the incarnation, by Tom McCarthy (Knopf). The legacy of the studies of time and movement animates this propulsive and stimulating novel, which centers on a quest in London, Indiana and Latvia for a missing entry in the archives of Lillian Gilbreth, a pioneer of the automation of work. Set in anonymous conference rooms, hotel lobbies, and archives where scientific breakthroughs are broadcast, the book uses technical jargon that is both comical and creepy. Framing several plots around the story of “Incarnation,” a baroque space opera employing legions of CGI experts and consultants, McCarthy questions the selfless way in which scientific progress bypasses public understanding and the ubiquitous systems that make it up. human activity raw data.

My Monticello, by Jocelyn Nicole Johnson (Henry Holt). This first formally experimental collection of stories addresses the shadow of slavery in America. In one story, a black college professor writes to his son, whose life he made a case study to measure the privileges of white American men. The title novel, set in the near apocalyptic future, is narrated by a young black woman descended from Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings. After fleeing a white supremacist attack, she and her neighbors take refuge in the abandoned Jefferson plantation. As they prepare to defend against their pursuers, she reflects on her heritage in Monticello, but also on her relationship with her white boyfriend: “Why do we love what we love?”

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