The Grimkesby Kerri K. Greenidge (Liveright). This multi-layered history traces the branches of a Southern slave-owning family. On one side are the abolitionist sisters Angelina Grimke Weld and Sarah Grimke; on the other, stemming from his brother’s relationship with a slave named Nancy Weston, are Archibald Grimke, co-founder of the NAACP, and his daughter, the writer Angelina Weld Grimke. The story begins in the 1820s, when the sisters leave South Carolina and go to Philadelphia, where they encounter a vibrant black-led abolitionist movement; they only acknowledged their black relatives much later. Greenidge faithfully documents the sisters’ activism, but her real concern is exploring the limits of white sympathy, a story vividly animated by her nuanced biographical portraits.
White mosqueSofia Samatar (Catapult). Born to an American Mennonite mother and a Somali-born father, the author of this “palimpsestic quest” through Central Asia follows a group of nineteenth-century Mennonites who traveled from Ukraine to Uzbekistan to await Jesus’ return. Samatar combines a travelogue with a larger meditation on faith, community, and colonization. She details the sense of alienation felt by many non-white Mennonites, including her own experiences with racist taunts at school and the patronizing attitudes that can support charitable efforts in developing countries. But she also acknowledges the sense of “tradition, community, mutual aid” that the faith offers. As a companion reminds her, “You can’t be Mennonite alone.”
Read our reviews of notable new fiction and nonfiction this year.
They will love youMeg Howrey (Doubleday). “What I did was forgivable“, insists the narrator of this ruminative novel. Her transgression, which many years ago led to a break with her father, is not immediately revealed. Now a former dancer trying to make it as a choreographer, she grapples with her father’s impending death by recalling wide-eyed adolescent visits to the Greenwich Village brownstone where he and his boyfriend nurtured gay artists at their peak AIDS crisis. A lifelong sense of being “nobody’s bestie” has resulted in a series of close relationships between adults, she realizes, but her careful staging of a final goodbye produces a belated desire for love and reconciliation.