Zabor, or the Psalms, by Kamel Daoud, translated from the French by Emma Ramadan (Other Press). This second novel by the celebrated Algerian author of “The Meursault Investigation” is a deeply imaginative allegory about the possibilities of language. Zabor, the narrator, proclaims that writing—not “prayer, medicine, magic”—is “the only effective ruse against death.” After losing his mother at a young age and being abandoned by his father, Zabor is sent to live with an aunt. He develops a passion for reading and writing in Arabic and French, and becomes convinced that writing about a person can delay that person’s mortality. When he is summoned to his father’s deathbed, he grapples with whether to use his power to save the man who spurned him.
Milk Blood Heat, by Dantiel W. Moniz (Grove). Set largely in Jacksonville, Florida, this début short-story collection focusses on the monstrous. Two thirteen-year-old girls fantasize about death, until one goes too far; a woman who recently miscarried sees “little legs dancing” on a counter; a mother punishes a teacher who tries to seduce her teen-age daughter. The characters, mostly women and adolescent girls, know that they harbor dark yearnings, and that you can “be a ghost in your own life” or “a glorious creature, spare and glowing.” Moniz illuminates the uncanny interior lives of women who are connected “in an unbroken chain from the center of time, connected by milk and blood.”
Why the Innocent Plead Guilty and the Guilty Go Free, by Jed S. Rakoff (Farrar, Straus & Giroux). The author, a federal judge, examines the failures of a judicial system that currently incarcerates more than two million people (five times more than four decades ago), forty per cent of whom are Black men. Politicians want to appear “tough on crime,” even though incarceration’s role in crime reduction is unclear. Harsh sentences lead the vast majority of defendants, including an estimated hundred thousand innocent people, to opt for plea bargains, a process that lacks oversight. Meanwhile, prosecutors fail to hold high-level executives accountable for serious offenses. The government is allowing corporations to make gestures toward self-rehabilitation while denying ordinary citizens their day in court.
The Disordered Cosmos, by Chanda Prescod-Weinstein (Bold Type). Physics and astronomy are often seen as abstract and universal, but this wide-ranging corrective, by a particle cosmologist, emphasizes the fact that they are also “a human, social enterprise,” shaped by the same racism and sexism that plague society as a whole. Prescod-Weinstein, a Black woman, charts the way that the hostility she faced throughout her career tempered her enthusiasm for particle physics, and charges the scientific culture with ignoring the contributions and concerns of ethnic and gender minorities—including Native Hawaiians who oppose the construction of a new telescope on Mauna Kea. The ability to “know and understand the night sky” is a human right, she argues, and should be far more accessible to Black and indigenous children.
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