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Book clubs: Memories of a POW
Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North is a gripping, complex novel about war, love and loss. Tasmanian physician Dorrigo Evans is 77, an age that’s ripe for reflection, and his recollections provide the underpinning for an expansive narrative. Dorrigo’s affair with Amy Mulvaney, his uncle’s wife, and his experience as a prisoner in the hands of the Japanese during World War II are the formative experiences of his life. As a POW, he worked on the Thailand-Burma Railway in the Burmese jungle, performing backbreaking labor that takes its toll on him and his fellow prisoners, a varied cast of men that Flanagan brings to memorable life. The narrative moves fluidly through time, shifting backward to Dorrigo’s childhood and moving forward again into wartime. Dorrigo’s postwar years are filled with memories of Amy and of the comrades who toiled beside him in the jungle. Winner of the Man Booker Prize, this impressive novel has earned Flanagan much-deserved acclaim. He writes with deep compassion about heartbreak, the horrors of war and the difficulties of escaping the past.
Euphoria by Lily King is a fascinating blend of fact and fiction based on the life of Margaret Mead. British anthropologist Andrew Bankson has been doing research in New Guinea for years. Mulling over the death of his brothers and feeling discouraged by his work, Andrew is gripped by loneliness and despair. His outlook changes when he crosses paths with fellow anthropologists Nell Stone and her capricious husband, Fen. Nell is ardent about her work, and her presence inspires Andrew. His discovery of a new tribe kindles passions among the trio, as Andrew becomes fixated on his new discovery—and on Nell. Named one of the 10 best books of the year by the New York Times Book Review, Euphoria is an adventure-filled novel written with authority and lyrical grace—a book that transports the reader through sheer narrative drive even as it offers an insightful look at a formative era in anthropological research. This is an unforgettable book that enriches Mead’s biography.
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Winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize, Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch is at once an epic coming-of-age novel and a sophisticated art-world thriller. The narrator, Theo Decker, is 13 when the novel opens and struggling with the loss of his mother. After her death in an explosion at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, a valuable Dutch painting ends up in Theo’s hands—a rare work that changes the course of his life. Growing up, Theo lives with the family of a school chum on Park Avenue, then moves in with his father in Las Vegas, where he befriends Boris, a Ukrainian. He eventually makes his way back to New York to work at an antiques store, where he finds himself in the middle of an international mystery, related to the painting, of course. Danger, under-the-table art deals and an appealing protagonist make this novel—Tartt’s third—a true page-turner.