Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Liz Is Recommending:
From the author of Never Let Me Go and the Booker Prize-winning The Remains of the Day

The Romans have long since departed and Britain is steadily declining into ruin. But, at least, the wars that once ravaged the country have ceased. Axl and Beatrice, a couple of elderly Britons, decide that now is the time, finally, for them to set off across this troubled land of mist and rain to find the son they have not seen for years, the son they can scarcely remember. They know they will face many hazards—some strange and otherworldly—but they cannot foresee how their journey will reveal to them the dark and forgotten corners of their love for each other. Nor can they foresee that they will be joined on their journey by a Saxon warrior, his orphan charge, and a knight—each of them, like Axl and Beatrice, lost in some way to his own past, but drawn inexorably toward the comfort, and the burden, of the fullness of a life’s memories.

Sometimes savage, sometimes mysterious, always intensely moving, Kazuo Ishiguro’s first novel in a decade tells a luminous story about the act of forgetting and the power of memory, a resonant tale of love, vengeance, and war.
An extraordinary book that masterfully illuminates the dreamlike writing world of Tennessee Williams, revealing the heart and soul of artistic inspiration and the unwitting collaboration between playwright and actor, playwright and director.

At a moment in Tennessee Williams' life when he felt he had been relegated to a "lower artery of the theatrical heart," when critics were proclaiming his work overrated, he summoned to New Orleans a young twenty-year-old hopeful writer, James Grissom, who had written an unsolicited letter to the great playwright asking for advice. After long, intense conversation, Williams sent Grissom on a journey on his behalf to find out if he, Williams, or his work, had ever mattered to those who had so deeply mattered to him, those who had kept him going to face another day, another judgment. 
Among the more than seventy women and men with whom Grissom talked, giants of the American theater and film: Lillian Gish, (she was "the escort who brought me to Blanche") . . . Maureen Stapleton, Serafina of The Rose Tattoo . . . Jessica Tandy, the original Blanche DuBois on Broadway . . . Eva Le Gallienne ("She was a stone," said Williams, "against which I could rub my talent and feel that it became sharper") . . . Julie Harris . . . Geraldine Page, Alma of Summer and Smoke . . . Elia Kazan, Marlon Brando, John Gielgud . . .
From one of our most deeply admired storytellers, author of the richly acclaimed Gallatin Canyon, his first collection in nine years.

Set in Thomas McGuane’s accustomed Big Sky country, with its mesmeric powers, these stories attest to the generous compass of his fellow feeling, as well as to his unique way with words and the comic genius that has inspired comparison with Twain and Gogol. 
The ties of family make for uncomfortable binds: A devoted son is horrified to discover his mother’s antics before she slipped into dementia. A father’s outdoor skills are no match for an ominous change in the weather. But complications arise equally in the absence of blood, as when lifelong friends on a fishing trip finally confront their deep dislike for each other. Or when a gifted traveling cattle breeder succumbs to the lure of a stranger’s offer of easy money. 
McGuane is as witty and large-hearted as we have ever known him—a jubilant, thunderous confirmation of his status as a modern master.
A hugely important book that solely and fully explores for the first time the complex partnership during World War II between FDR and Stalin, by the editor of My Dear Mr. Stalin: The Complete Correspondence of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Joseph V. Stalin (“History owes a debt to Susan Butler for the collection and annotation of these exchanges”—Arthur Schlesinger, Jr).

Making use of previously classified materials from the Russian State Archive of Social and Political History, and the Archive of the Foreign Policy of the Russian Federation, as well as the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library and three hundred hot war messages between Roosevelt and Stalin, Butler tells the story of how the leader of the capitalist world and the leader of the Communist world became more than allies of convenience during World War II. Butler reassess in-depth how the two men became partners, how they shared the same outlook for the postwar world, and how they formed an uneasy but deep friendship, shaping the world’s political stage from the war to the decades leading up to and into the new century.

Roosevelt and Stalin tells of the first face-to-face meetings of the two leaders over four days in December 1943 at Tehran, in which the Allies focused on the next phases of the war against the Axis Powers in Europe and Asia; of Stalin’s agreement to launch another major offensive on the Eastern Front; and of his agreement to declare war against Japan following the Allied victory over Germany.

Butler writes of the weeklong meeting at Yalta in February of 1945, two months before Roosevelt’s death, where the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany was agreed on and postwar Europe was reorganized, and where Stalin agreed to participate in Roosevelt’s vision of the United Nations.

The book makes clear that Roosevelt worked hard to win Stalin over, pursuing the Russian leader, always holding out the promise that Roosevelt’s own ideas were the best bet for the future peace and security of Russia; however, Stalin was not at all sure that Roosevelt’s concept of a world organization, even with police powers, would be enough to keep Germany from starting a third world war, but we see how Stalin’s view of Roosevelt evolved, how he began to see FDR as the key to a peaceful world.

Butler’s book is the first to show how FDR pushed Stalin to reinstate religion in the Soviet Union, which he did in 1943; how J. Edgar Hoover derailed the U.S.-planned establishment of an OSS intelligence mission in Moscow and a Soviet counterpart in America before the 1944 election; and that Roosevelt had wanted to involve Stalin in the testing of the atomic bomb at Alamogardo, New Mexico.

We see how Roosevelt’s death deeply affected Stalin. Averell Harriman, American ambassador to the Soviet Union, reported that the Russian premier was “more disturbed than I had ever seen him,” and said to Harriman, “President Roosevelt has died but his cause must live on. We shall support President Truman with all our forces and all our will.” And the author explores how Churchill’s—and Truman’s—mutual mistrust and provocation of Stalin resulted in the Cold War.

A fascinating, revelatory portrait of this crucial, world-changing partnership.
The poet Patrick Phillips joins our list with a stunning collection of elegies that bear witness to the small beauties and inevitable losses of our transient life.

Elegy for a Broken Machine is a son's lament for his father. It takes us from the luminous world of childhood to the fluorescent glare of operating rooms and recovery wards, and into the twilight lives of those who must go on. In one poem Phillips watches his sons play "Mercy" just as he did with his brother: hands laced, the stronger pushing the other back until he grunts for mercy "a game we played / so many times / I finally taught my sons, / not knowing what it was, / until too late, / I'd done." Phillips documents the unsung joys of midlife, the betrayals of the human body, and his realization that as the crowd of ghosts grows, we take our places, next in line. The result is a twenty-first-century memento mori, fashioned not just from loss but also from praise, and a fierce love for the world in all its ruined splendor.

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