Anne Applebaum’s Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1944-1956 (Doubleday, $35) describes the origins of the Soviet Bloc, a now defunct geopolitical entity consisting of European states that fell under the control of the USSR after World War II. Focusing specifically on Hungary, Poland, and East Germany, Applebaum investigates wartime and post-war factors that made the establishment of the Soviet regime possible. She draws on newly opened East European archives, interviews, and personal accounts translated for the first time. This fantastic study of a “totalitarian mindset, Soviet priorities and Soviet thinking” should be required reading for any Soviet- or 20th-centuryhistory buff.
Barbara Kingsolver’s new novel Flight Behavior (HarperCollins, $28.99) opens with a young unhappy housewife finding her plans for romance interrupted by a miraculous event. The marvel of a fire in the forest changes lives and recasts the future, and raises many questions of science and faith, reason and wonder, along with homing in on the interactions between humans and nature. Set in Kingsolver’s native rural Appalachia, this story did what I want every work of fiction to do: It offered a glimpse into a way of life that was new to me by using characters that seem eerily familiar. Once again, Kingsolver proves a master of this genre.