January 20, 2014 12:00 PM

RADIANCE OF TOMORROW

by Ishmael Beah |

NOVEL

Seven years after fleeing their town of Imperi during Sierra Leone’s brutal civil war, a group of survivors returns. They pick up the bones of slaughtered neighbors and family, replant crops and try to remember the joys of yesterday instead of their unspeakable sorrows. Beah’s bestselling memoir A Long Way Gone chronicled his days as a child soldier in Sierra Leone; woven into this debut novel are the threads of what his life might have been had he not immigrated to America. Touchingly, Imperi’s residents show empathy to the former child soldiers who creep back and live like quiet but uncannily competent ghosts on the outskirts of town. Yet overall the vision is far from radiant. While Beah writes in the gentle, inviting voice of one sharing a fable, his characters are continually tormented by crime, poverty and corruption – the malfeasance of the mining company that takes over Imperi would make Sinclair Lewis shudder. The rushed ending suggests a first-time novelist not in complete control of the narrative, but Beah’s message is haunting. Things fall apart, and sometimes they cannot be repaired.

–REVIEWED BY MARY POLS

THE TRIP TO ECHO SPRING

by Olivia Laing |

NON-FICTION

“My stories written when sober are stupid … all reasoned out, not felt,” F. Scott Fitzgerald once told a friend. Excuse for alcoholism or truth—and does it matter? No one can satisfactorily answer that, but in this beautiful, fascinating meditation on the relationship between drinking and great writing, travel writer Laing tries her damnedest. Tracing the steps of Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, John Cheever, Raymond Carver and John Berryman, she argues that, while alcohol may have often gone hand in hand with their personal destruction, it also calmed anxiety, quelled (but also caused) chronic insomnia and muted terrors about sexuality, mortality and their own talents. Alcohol may not have helped these writers write, but it helped them live—until it didn’t.

–REVIEWED BY JUDITH NEWMAN

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