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In her fascinating memoir, Prague Winter: A Personal Story of Remembrance and War, 1937-1948, Madeleine Albright looks back at her childhood, the discovery of her Jewish ancestry and a Europe torn by conflict. Albright was born in Prague in 1937. Her father, Joseph Korbel, was a diplomat who managed to move the family to England before the Nazi invasion of Czechoslovakia. It was only after she was tapped by Bill Clinton to become America’s first female secretary of state in 1997 that Albright learned a deeply hidden family secret: Though she was raised as a Roman Catholic, her family was Jewish and more than 20 of her relatives, including three of her grandparents, died in the Holocaust. That revelation, she writes, “provided the impetus for this book,” which combines her family’s story of life in exile with the events that shook her home country during and after World War II. Filled with intriguing insights into a crucial era that shaped her life, Albright’s memoir is historical yet intimate.
A REFUGEE’S STRUGGLE
The Book of Jonas, Stephen Dau’s impressive debut novel, tells the touching story of a young Muslim boy who tries to adjust to life in the United States. Adopted by an American couple after his family is killed in the Middle East, 15-year-old Jonas is faced with big changes, from high school to a budding romance. Meanwhile, memories of the past haunt him, including the disappearance of Christopher Henderson, the American soldier who saved his life back home. When Jonas is introduced to Rose, Christopher’s mother, he meets a grieving parent who’s determined to speak out on behalf of families with children in the military. But their encounter brings a terrible truth to light, teaching Jonas important lessons about life during wartime. Dau writes in an unembellished style that suits the starkness of his subject matter, yet there’s a warmth to his portrayal of Jonas and a deep emotional quality to the novel overall. Dau’s sense of craftsmanship is clear throughout. This is a remarkably mature first novel from a promising writer.
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Funny, compassionate and deeply perceptive regarding matters of the human heart, Nell Freudenberger’s latest novel, The Newlyweds, is a delight from start to finish. Amina Mazid, a 24-year-old woman from Bangladesh, relocates to Rochester, New York, to marry George, a man she met on an online dating site. The opportunity to embark on a new life in America is alluring to Amina, whose parents also stand to benefit from her marriage. George loves the fact that Amina is clear-headed and straightforward—someone who knows what she wants and doesn’t waste time. But, despite their fortuitous meeting, both George and Amina have ties to the past that prevent them from moving forward. When Amina goes back to Bangladesh, her return puts their relationship to the test. Freudenberger has created complex, believable characters whose inner lives ring true. This timely novel is a poignant exploration of the clash of different cultures and the nature of contemporary romance.