It is twelve months until the US inaugurates its next president. It feels like yet another generation-defining year.
With that in mind, January sees the release of three stunning novels by American women which dissect the country’s culture and expose the sharp societal and cultural divides that are shaping history.
First up is ‘American Dirt‘ by Jean Cummins, a searing exploration of the plight of the Central American migrant. The novel opens with Lydia, an Acapulco bookshop owner, hiding in her bathroom with her eight-year-old son Luca as the local cartel slaughters the rest of their family in the garden. What follows is a harrowing and an epic journey as mother and son head north, aiming for the US border and a salvation that may not exist.
Told with unbearable tension and electrifying pace, it is both a tale of human endurance and a stunning picture of motherly love. It has justifiably earned comparison with Steinbeck’s ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ and is one of the best books I have read in years.
In ‘Long Bright River’, Liz Moore mines the dark underbelly of her home city of Philadelphia to bring us the legacy of the US opiod crisis. Cop Mickey Fitzpatrick has worked the city’s Kensington district for quarter of a century. For most of that time her sister Kacey has sold herself for drugs in the district’s back streets. Their paths rarely cross but Mickey’s contacts give her regular updates. Still, she’s shown up at every emergency call fearing the next OD victim will be Kacey. Now, just as Mickey’s personal life is plunged into chaos, her sister has gone missing. ‘Long Bright River’ is at once a gripping mystery, a tender story of divided families and an unflinching examination of a city in the grip of a drug addiction crisis.
Lastly, Steph Cha’s ‘Your House Will Pay‘ (not quite published as this is written and hence not in the picture) lays bare the little-known legacy of the black/Korean racial divide following the 90s LA riots. It is 2019 and Ray is fresh out of jail and trying to adjust to normal life again while still haunted by the death of his cousin almost three decades earlier. Grace, a Korean-American, engrosses herself in Black Lives Matter protests while also seeking to uncover the secrets around her sister’s estrangement from their parents. These two lives are about to collide as events from the past come hurtling violently into the present day. Based on the real-life killing of teenager Latasha Rawlins by a Korean shopkeeper, ‘Your House Will Pay’ is a powerful, urgent and necessary read.