The five women featured in the nine stories of Susi Wyss’s debut, The Civilized World (Holt, $15), are from various cultures and countries linked by the commonalities of life: longing, fear, love, grief. As the stories progress, the women’s lives intersect and the novelistic aspects of the book emerge. In “Names,” Ophelia, the wife of an American Foreign Service Officer, writes down the names of Malawians she meets—a desperate attempt to manage the emotions around her infertility. Ophelia reappears in “Waiting for Solomon” as she tours Ethiopia with Janice while both women wait for child adoptions to be finalized. In the last story, “There Are No Accidents,” Janice happens upon a beauty salon in Ghana run by her former employee, Adjoa, whose twin brother robbed Janice’s house. Wyss’s humane portrait of modern Africa and African women is carefully drawn and astutely, beautifully delivered.
The orphaned nephew of a pastor, Jacob de Zoet is an earnest and naïve clerk with the Dutch East Indies Company. As he arrives on the tiny island of Dejima off the coast of Japan, his goals are two-fold: to prove his worth to his intended’s father and to wipe clean the corruption rampant in the Company. While the Europeans are strictly isolated from the Japanese population, Jacob nonetheless falls in love with a Japanese midwife, Orito, and her story widens the plot into a suspenseful saga of power and passion. David Mitchell is a spellbinding author and The Thousand Autumns Of Jacob De Zoet (Random House, $15), like Jacob himself, is an endearing creation.
Grab a sketchbook and some pencils and pens! Ivan Brunetti will lead you through a fifteen- week course on how to create your own comics. Cartooning: Philosophy and Practice (Yale Univ., $13) is a small, thin book—but packed with ideas, tips, and exercises. You will begin with doodles to find your own “visual handwriting,” and progress through single-panel cartoons all the way to a four-page story. Brunetti has many clever exercises (condense your favorite novel into a drawing), but always stresses the hard, continuing work of daily drawing. “Practice is philosophy,” he says, and if you follow the course (or even try it for a few weeks), good things will happen.