The Wasted Vigil

Nadeem Aslam (Maps for Lost Lovers, Season of the Rainbirds) delves into the conflict-ridden reality of modern Afghanistan. From the Soviet invasion of 1979 to the U.S. war effort in the aftermath of September 11th, Afghanistan has been a battleground of opposing ideologies for decades now. The story takes place in the house of Marcus Caldwell, a British doctor who has made his home in Usha, a town near Jalalabad, since marrying an Afghan doctor. Both Qatrina, his wife, and Zameen, their daughter, have been lost to the tyranny of the Taliban, yet Marcus continues to live there like "a prophet in wreckage." Over the course of the story, several people will visit his house -- a Russian from St. Petersburg searching for her soldier brother, a young Islamic fundamentalist taking cover for a few days, a former CIA man much disillusioned with his role as a spy, and others. Aslam's writing gradually unravels the histories of the cast of characters and takes us into a civilization that, even though we learn more and more about it with every passing day, is still inscrutable to the Western eye. A pragmatist, Aslam takes no sides in the fight between Islam and the West, even as he approaches a rigid stance against terrorism. The softly gleaming beauty of his prose is immediately reminiscent of Michael Ondaatje, and the moral clarity of his concerns heralds a brave new voice in the mold of Salman Rushdie.

July 23: Jessica Mitford died on this day in 1996.

Crime fiction legends Dennis Lehane and Michael Connelly discuss the new book that unites their beloved sleuths Patrick Kenzie and Harry Bosch.

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Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
Paradise and Elsewhere

Canadian short story marvel Kathy Page emerges as the Alice Munro of the supernatural from these heartfelt tales of shapeshifting swimmers, mild-mannered cannibals, and personality-shifting viruses transmitted through kisses.

Pastoral

When a persuasive pastor arrives in a sleepy farm town, his sage influence has otherworldly results (talking sheep, a mayor who walks on water). But can he pull off the miracle of finding kindly local Liz Denny the love of her life?  Small wonder looms large in this charmer from Andre Alexis.

The Hundred-Year House

When a poetry scholar goes digging through the decrepit estate of his wife's family to uncover a bygone arts colony's strange mysteries, he awakens a tenacious monster: his mother-in-law. A wickedly funny take on aging aristocracies from author Rebecca Makkai (The Borrower).