Describing The Buddha in the Attic (Anchor, $13.95) as merely “poetic” would be damning with faint praise. Julie Otsuka’s writing is spare but manages to conjure up incredible detail with well-selected phrases that bring to mind great poetry. But the novel surpasses line and verse; the women of the story live and breathe and suffer, and the reader can feel their beating pulses. Winner of a PEN/Faulkner Prize and finalist for the National Book Award, this novel tells the story of Japanese women who came to America to marry men they had never seen. The narrative carries the wives’ stories forward through assimilation into American society and conveys the indignity of their internment during the Second World War. The individual voices of these women are combined by the author into a finely wrought chorus, both beautiful and heartbreaking.
The Borrower (Penguin, $15), by Rebecca Makkai, is a charming tale of the cockamamie road trip of a librarian and her favorite ten-year-old patron. Librarian Lucy Hull is both kidnapper and kidnapped when Ian, precocious and stifled by his family, blackmails Lucy into driving him across the country. This humorous novel has children’s story elements and a cast of characters that includes Russian mobsters, ferrets, and the ghosts of the Green Mountain Boys. Makkai’s debut novel is smartly written and wise as Lucy considers the many moral and legal conundrums she has gotten herself into. In this, the season of road trips, The Borrower is a novel not to be missed by anyone who has ever wished to run away with books—or maybe with their favorite librarian or bookseller.