In the Russian translation world, Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky are Mick Jagger and Madonna. Uncontested rock stars. Their mission is clear: to bring the original Russian into English in its raw, vibrant, honest form. Their work on Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky is much known and lauded, and has redefined the way we read these beloved authors today. But in Novels, Tales, Journeys: The Complete Prose of Alexander Pushkin (Knopf, $30) it’s clear that Pevear and Volokhonsky have really met their linguistic match. Pushkin’s muscular prose and so-real-they’re-breathing characters pop off the page in these new translations. “The Captain’s Daughter” is a special treat, the tender bravado of Pushkin at its finest in this novella about a love affair during Pugachev’s Rebellion.
When you think of warm and fuzzy holiday cheer, Jeanette Winterson is not the first author that comes to mind. But it turns out that the experimental British novelist, known for her explosive, fractured language (in such novels as Sexing the Cherry and The Passion) and her searing family memoir Why Be Happy When You Could be Normal? has a doozy of a secret: she is a full-on Christmas devotee, bursting with affection for our idiosyncratic traditions and personalized rituals around the holidays. Christmas Days (Grove, $24) is a compilation of the holiday stories Winterson has been writing annually for the past twelve years and it delights in shattering expectations. It is positively cozy. Filled with recipes (Kathy Acker’s custard recipe!) and stories, it’s the Christmas book every person who eschews Hallmark has been waiting for. It glows with full-bodied, non-ironic joy.
Let’s be honest: when a celebrity puts out a memoir it often seems nothing more than an easy way to cash in on their moment. I confess I wasn’t expecting that much from Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime (Spiegel & Grau, $28) outside of a few laughs. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Born a Crime is a revelation, and easily one of my favorite books of 2016. Noah tells his extraordinary story of growing up bi-racial in apartheid South Africa, and while there are gut-busting set pieces involving bad dates and cultural misunderstandings, the true heartbeat of this memoir is Noah’s complex and fiercely devoted mother who guides him through a childhood of painful—and sometimes violent—situations. Superstar editor Chris Jackson (Just Mercy, Between the World and Me) has worked his magic again—the prose here is raw and wrenchingly smart and it flows beautifully from one section to the next. Born a Crime is the book to take on a family vacation this year: pass it all around the cabin—everyone, from the pre-teen son to the family matriarch, will find something to connect to in this heartbreaking, hysterical, warm, and unforgettable book.