Shelf Awareness for Thursday, May 31, 2018

Yen Press: The God of Nishi-Yuigahama Station by Takeshi Murase, Translated by Guiseppe Di Martino

Peachtree Publishers: Erno Rubik and His Magic Cube by Kerry Aradhya, Illustrated by Kara Kramer

Beacon Press: Kindred by Octavia Butler

Inkshares: Mr. and Mrs. American Pie by Juliet McDaniel

Tundra Books: On a Mushroom Day by Chris Baker, Illustrated by Alexandria Finkeldey

Simon & Schuster: Register for the Simon & Schuster Fall Preview!

St. Martin's Press: Sacrificial Animals by Kailee Pedersen


Len Riggio at BookExpo: Bookselling Not a 'Zero-Sum Game'

Len Riggio at BookExpo

"No one is more pleased than I am that independent bookstores are opening their doors again," said Len Riggio, Barnes & Noble's executive chairman, during his opening address on the first day of BookExpo 2018 in New York City. "I do not see them [indie bookstores] as being in mortal competition with Barnes & Noble, any more than we were in mortal competition with them when we were opening 50 stores each year."

Throughout his keynote address on Wednesday morning, Riggio emphasized that there "could never be too many bookstores in America," including everything from large and small independent bookstores to superstores and even airport book kiosks. He said the industry needs to "open more bookstores than we close, and Barnes & Noble intends to do its part." Individually and collectively, bricks-and-mortar stores are better than any search engine or online platform in terms of creating demand for books. More bookstores equal more demand, and more bookstores "lead to a more informed public and a healthier and more upwardly mobile society."

He added: "Opening bookstores is always a good thing. Mortal combat it is not."

Riggio also strove to "expose the persistent mythology which holds that selling books is a zero-sum game," saying that having two bookstores in a single market will create more total demand for books, and should one of those stores close it will "surely reduce demand," without the other store simply gaining those sales. He recalled that when Borders Books & Music closed in 2011, Barnes & Noble did see some increased sales, especially at locations that were right across the street from Borders stores, but not equal to the amount of all of Borders's lost sales. The chain's closure was a "net loss" to the industry and "not a cause for celebration."

"In fact, of the hundreds of stores where we shared proximity to Borders, we hardly picked up 30% to 40% of their business," said Riggio. "So 60% to 70% of their business went poof."

At the same time, Riggio continued, when independent bookstores have opened in markets with existing Barnes & Noble locations, the stores have seen a small loss in sales but not near the amount of total business that the new indies are doing. While he acknowledged that he "would rather not have independent stores in all of our parking lots," he said the proliferation of new stores still amounts to a "net gain to the society and a net gain to the publishing industry."

Discussing his early days in the book industry and the paperback revolution, Riggio admitted that although he liked to think of himself as an agent of change, "wrestling this change in the bookselling world was one of the easiest undertakings of my career." All it took to be successful, he said, was to give customers what they asked for, and they were asking for paperback books. The new format allowed working class people to afford books, and featuring "paperback books in our stores later became my obsession."

"Years later I was accused of being a mass-marketer," Riggio said. "And even though we carried 100,000 titles in our superstores, some said we homogenized bookselling and thereby limited choices. I never did understand that logic."

Riggio also warned against the rising cost of paperback books, pointing out that when he got started in bookselling, they were only 1.5 times the hourly minimum wage. Today they stand at 2.5 times the hourly minimum wage, and he wondered how "sustainable" that can be in an era when Google promises "all the world's information for free." He asked too whether the industry could afford to go back to a time and a place when "physical books can only be afforded by the carriage trade" and whether we've "already arrived at that place."

He implored publishers to continue to serve the mass market, saying it was of "critical importance to the future of our industry." Books at mass market serve as a "gateway to a lifetime of reading" for many and especially for younger people, who need to learn "the joys of reading books." He warned that the "laws of supply and demand will always hold," and that as more prices go up, fewer books will be sold, and more of those will be sold online.

Riggio said that while the bookselling industry has so far managed to weather every storm that was supposed to finish it off, from television to digital books, the industry should "keep the cork on the bottle of champagne for now," as technology remains "perpetually at its infancy." And though he couldn't say what the book business of the future will look like, he said "the degree to which we grow and prosper will depend on how nimble we all are," and "the degree to which we can create change."

American Booksellers Association CEO Oren Teicher, who introduced Riggio before the keynote, remarked that "not so long ago" it would have been "impossible to imagine" an ABA executive getting on stage to welcome the head of Barnes & Noble. But, Teicher said, they now "stand together in common cause" to promote and support bricks-and-mortar bookstores, and he reiterated the point that a healthy, thriving Barnes & Noble is in the "long term interest of the overall book business." --Alex Mutter

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BookExpo 2018: Pictures from an Exhibition, Day One

The reimagined BookExpo opened yesterday, with a full day of speeches, panels, education sessions, the annual Celebration of Bookselling--and, of course, parties!

At Flatiron's BookExpo Eve party: Will Schwalbe; Macmillan executive v-p, editorial development and content innovation; Mitchell Kaplan, Books & Books, Miami, Fla.; Vivien Jennings, Rainy Day Books, Fairway, Kan., Jonah Zimiles, [words], Maplewood N.J.

Barnes & Noble executive chairman Len Riggio drew a crowd for his opening address on the first day of BookExpo 2018.

Among the dozens of authors in the ABA Lounge yesterday: Chris Finan, former director of American Booksellers for Free Expression (ABFE), signed his book Drunks: The Story of Alcoholism and and the Birth of Recovery (Beacon); and Adam Silvera, whose new YA novel is They Both Die at the End (HarperCollins).

More authors in the ABA Lounge: Nic Stone (l.), author of the YA novel Odd One Out (Crown) and Kadir Nelson (r.), illustrator of I Have a Dream (Schwartz & Wade), with ABA Board member Kris Kleindienst, co-owner of Left Bank Books in St. Louis, Mo.

Stopping for a moment yesterday near the PGW aisle (l.-r.): Jim Nichols, v-p, sales, Consortium Book Sales & Distribution, with Nancy Scheemaker, Jessica Wood and Chris Linendoll of the Northshire Bookstore, Manchester Center, Vt., and Saratoga Springs, N.Y.

At Scholastic's celebration of 20 Years of Harry Potter: Christine Onorati, owner of WORD Bookstore, Brooklyn, N.Y., and Jersey City, N.J., and Scholastic's Arthur A. Levine.

At Other Press's rooftop cocktails: director of marketing Terrie Akers (l.) hosting two of the Booksellers Without Borders Scholarship winners: Nick Buzanski of Book Culture in New York City and Anna Thorn of Busboys and Poets, Washington, D.C.

GLOW: Torrey House Press: Life After Dead Pool: Lake Powell's Last Days and the Rebirth of the Colorado River by Zak Podmore

Adventure Books & More Opens in Gloversville, N.Y.

Adventure Books and More, a new and used bookstore, opened recently on 30 S. Main St. in Gloversville, N.Y. Co-owners Theresa and Jeff Walters told the Leader-Herald they are eager to make up for the city's lack of a bookstore, as they feel it is something every town should have.

"We started asking around," Jeff Walters said. "The city doesn't have a bookstore. The nearest one is in Johnstown, and from there you have to go to Saratoga, Schenectady, Albany. The more we started asking, the more interest there seemed to be.... We started buying used books. Then we started researching a source for new books. And we said, 'Well, we've got to do more than just books.' So then we started talking to local crafters. We have a girl in Amsterdam that makes candles. My stepmother does the gift baskets. We have a girl in Mayfield that makes jewelry. And it all kind of fits in a theme of what we're doing."

The decision to open a bookstore in downtown Gloversville came after many years of working in other sectors. "We both always worked, and it seemed like for years we were on different planets," he noted. "The bookstore is something that we can do together."

The main thing Adventure Books and More offers "is a chance for customers to step away from their hectic, technology-driven lives in favor of a quiet moment with a book," the owners said. Theresa added: "We have our little coffee area. It's a place to socialize and relax, rather than just finding a book on a website and buying it."

"My background was rough," Jeff said. "I was a welder and fabricator. I beat steel for a living. But I always liked to read. So it doesn't matter what your background is. Knowledge is everything. Sometimes you want a feel-good book, and sometimes you want to learn about history, and sometimes you want more knowledge from a textbook. It's all here."

Harpervia: Only Big Bumbum Matters Tomorrow by Damilare Kuku

Amazon Blocks Australian Customers From Buying Abroad

Amazon is reacting to a new Australian law requiring it to collect 10% GST (goods and services tax) on orders shipped from overseas to Australian customers in typical Amazon style: instead of simply complying with the law, which goes into effect tomorrow, it is blocking such sales.

As reported by Reuters, Amazon's official response was: "While we regret any inconvenience this may cause customers, we have had to assess the workability of the legislation as a global business with multiple international sites." A spokesperson claimed the move was made to comply with the legislation and not to avoid collecting tax.

The new law applies to orders under A$1,000 (about US$760). Companies had been exempt from collecting GST on orders under that amount, even though the tax applied. That had made imported products cheaper than similar products sold by Australian retailers.

Australian Treasurer Scott Morrison commented: "The second-biggest company in the world, run by the richest man in the world, shouldn't get a leave pass from paying tax in Australia. If multinationals aren't forced to pay their fair share of tax, they will have a competitive advantage over retailers here in Australia."

Some speculate that the move is in part to drive Australian customers to Amazon's relatively new Australian website, which many say has far fewer products available than its U.S. site.

Obituary Note: Gloria Weiner

Gloria Weiner

Longtime bookseller, publisher and salesperson Gloria Weiner died on Sunday at the age of 89. She began her career in 1970 at the Palisades Bookshop in Pacific Palisades, Calif., and then worked at other stores in California and New York: Hunter's Bookstore, Campbell's, Brentano's, Classic Bookshop and the Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Bookstore. She eventually moved into publishing, working for W.W. Norton, Aperture, Basil Blackwell, Feminist Press, Routledge, the Central Conference of American Rabbis and Newmarket Press, among others. She became a special sales expert, often hired to sell a specific title to bookstores around the country as well as to nontraditional outlets, with specialties in Judaica, African-American and LGBTQ subjects. After retirement, she continued her work, often selling a special book for a publisher.

Gloria was dedicated to fighting for civil rights, world peace, feminism, social and economic justice, and equality for all, supporting many progressive and humanitarian organizations. She is the founder of the Rose Koenig and Gloria Weiner Fund for Women's Studies at the New York Public Library.

She is the mother of Andy Weiner, national account director and western indie sales manager at Abrams, to whom we offer our deepest condolences.

Anyone wishing to pay tribute to her memory is invited to make a donation to the nonprofit organization of one's choice within the areas of social justice and change.


'Around the World in 13 Cookbook Shops'

Food52 took readers on a trip "around the world in 13 cookbook shops," observing: "There's something magical about a cookbook shop, especially when everyone seems to be sharing their recipes on Instagram and the treasured cookbooks that come out make their ways into homes via online orders. Cookbook shops freeze time, forever embracing the excitement of thumbing through a rare title or finding that book your mom always talked about, as well as the endless possibilities before you on a shelf of titles about dim sum and profiteroles and cheese pairings.

"Stepping into these stores is like stepping into precious clubs for those who simply love food in any capacity, except these clubs are all-welcoming.... They can also serve as windows into life in their cities, highlighting local cooking or activist missions and gathering customers in back kitchens for fresh-cooked meals."

Consortium Adds Five Publishers

Consortium is adding five new distribution clients, effective June 1:

Dottir Press, New York City, a feminist publisher founded by Jennifer Baumgardner, an activist, journalist and co-founder of the speaker's bureau Soapbox Inc. (one of the largest feminist speakers bureaus in the world) and the co-creator of Feminist Camp. Dottir focuses on children's books, feminist theory and books that "heal our fractured culture and connect communities." New titles include children’s books Not My Idea by Anastasia Higginbotham, the latest in the Ordinary Terrible Things Series, and The Nightlife of Jacuzzi Gasket by 2018 Whiting Award Winner Brontez Purnell.

Floris Books, an independent British publisher of children's books from around the world. Its Kelpies imprint publishes children's books with a Scottish twist. The nonfiction list includes books on holistic gardening methods, philosophy and spirituality, health, and well-being, alternative education and parenting. New children's titles include the picture book The House of Lost and Found by Martin Widmark and Emilia Dziubak and The North American Maria Thun Biodynamic Almanac 2019 by Mattias Thun, the 57th edition of the organic planting calendar.

Hazy Dell Press, in the Pacific Northwest, which publishes titles that "promote empathy, diversity and imagination," including Monster ABC, Goodnight Krampus, Get Dressed, Sasquatch!, Hush Now, Banshee! and Don't Eat Me Chupacabra! / ¡No Me Comas, Chupacabra!.

New Europe Books, Williamstown, Mass., which publishes trade fiction and nonfiction from Europe, both in translation and in original English editions. Its founder and publisher, Paul Olchváry, is a translator of Hungarian literature. Titles for fall 2018 include Notes from Cyberground: Trumpland and My Old Soviet Feeling by Mikhail Iossel, a contributor to the New Yorker, and The Most Beautiful Night of the Soul by Sándor Jászberényi, a collection of short stories set in the Middle East.

World Editions, with offices in Amsterdam, London and New York, an independent publisher of translated international literature launching with 10 titles in the fall. Its lead title is Always Another Country by Sisonke Msimang, whose TED Talk, "If a story moves you, act on it" has been viewed more than a million times. World Editions is led by publishing director Judith Uyterlinde, a European publisher; Karin Wessel, previously of Europa Editions; and U.S. director Christine Swedowsky, most recently a marketing director at Penguin Random House.

Personnel Changes at Catapult/Counterpoint/Soft Skull

Sarah Jean Grimm has joined Catapult/Counterpoint/Soft Skull as publicity manager. Previously she was a senior publicist at the Crown Publishing Group.

Media and Movies

Media Heat: Ken Auletta on CBS This Morning

CBS This Morning: Ken Auletta, author of Frenemies: The Epic Disruption of the Ad Business (and Everything Else) (Penguin Press, $30, 9780735220867).

The Real: Retta, author of So Close to Being the Sh*t, Y'all Don't Even Know (St. Martin's Press, $26.99, 9781250109347).

Movies: The Sisters Brothers

A "rip-roaring trailer" has been released for The Sisters Brothers, a "Wild West genre-hybrid" based on Patrick deWitt's book," Entertainment Weekly reported. Directed by Jacques Audiard (Dheepan), the film stars Joaquin Phoenix, John C. Reilly, Riz Ahmed, Jake Gyllenhaal, Rutger Hauer, Carol Kane and Rebecca Root. The Sisters Brothers will be released in theaters this fall.

This Weekend on Book TV: Bernie Sanders

Book TV airs on C-Span 2 this weekend from 8 a.m. Saturday to 8 a.m. Monday and focuses on political and historical books as well as the book industry. The following are highlights for this coming weekend. For more information, go to Book TV's website.

Saturday, June 2
5:30 p.m. Sam Kleiner, author of The Flying Tigers: The Untold Story of the American Pilots Who Waged a Secret War Against Japan (Viking, $28, 9780399564130), at Kramerbooks and Afterwords in Washington, D.C. (Re-airs Sunday at 11:10 p.m.)

6:30 p.m. Ted Dintersmith, author of What School Could Be: Insights and Inspiration from Teachers across America (Princeton University Press, $24.95, 9780691180618).

9 p.m. Salena Zito and Brad Todd, authors of The Great Revolt: Inside the Populist Coalition Reshaping American Politics (Crown Forum, $28, 9781524763688).

10 p.m. Jonah Goldberg, author of Suicide of the West: How the Rebirth of Tribalism, Populism, Nationalism, and Identity Politics Is Destroying American Democracy (Crown Forum, $28, 9781101904930). (Re-airs Sunday at 9 p.m. and Monday at 3 a.m.)

11 p.m. Senator Bernie Sanders, author of Where We Go from Here (Thomas Dunne, $27.99, 9781250163264), at BookExpo America. (Re-airs Sunday at 4 p.m.)

Sunday, June 3
12 a.m. John Sedgwick, author of Blood Moon: An American Epic of War and Splendor in the Cherokee Nation (Simon & Schuster, $30, 9781501128714).

12 p.m. Live In-Depth q&a with Gish Jen, author of Typical American (Vintage, $15.95, 9780307389220) and Mona in the Promised Land (Vintage, $15.95, 9780679776505). (Re-airs Monday at 12 a.m.)

7:45 p.m. Blondy Baruti, co-author of The Incredible True Story of Blondy Baruti: My Unlikely Journey from the Congo to Hollywood (Simon & Schuster, $26, 9781501164996), at Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe, Ariz.

10 p.m. Michael Pollan, author of How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence (Penguin Press, $28, 9781594204227).

Books & Authors

Awards: Children's & Teen Choice; Commonwealth Short Story

Winners of the Children's and Teen Choice Awards, sponsored by Every Child a Reader and picked by readers, were announced yesterday at BookExpo in a ceremony hosted by children's book creators Selina Alko and Sean Qualls. A Silent Art Auction of 150 original works of art followed the ceremony, with Ashley Bryan as this year's honoree. The 2018 Children's and Teen Choice Award winners are:

K-2nd Grade Book of the Year: Poor Louie, written and illustrated by Tony Fucile (Candlewick Press)
3rd-4th Grade Book of the Year: 50 Wacky Things Animals Do by Tricia Martineau Wagner, illustrated by Carles Ballesteros (Quarto/Walter Foster Jr.)
5th-6th Grade Book of the Year: The Loser's Club by Andrew Clements (Random House Children's Books)
Teen Book of the Year: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (HarperCollins/Blazer + Bray)


The shortlist has been announced for the 2018 Commonwealth Short Story Prize, recognizing the best piece of unpublished short fiction in English--including entries translated into English--from the Commonwealth. This year 24 stories from 14 countries were selected by an international judging panel from 5,182 entries. You can see the complete list of finalists here.

Attainment: New Titles Out Next Week

Selected new titles appearing next week.

Monday, June 4:

The President Is Missing: A Novel by James Patterson and Bill Clinton (Little, Brown/Knopf, $30, 9780316412698) is a political thriller co-written by two of the biggest names in both those arenas.

Tuesday, June 5:

Reporter: A Memoir by Seymour M. Hersh (Knopf, $27.95, 9780307263957) is the memoir of the Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist.

The World as It Is: A Memoir of the Obama White House by Ben Rhodes (Random House, $30, 9780525509356) is the memoir of President Obama's deputy national security advisor.

First in Line: Presidents, Vice Presidents, and the Pursuit of Power by Kate Andersen Brower (Harper, $28.99, 9780062668943) explores the modern era of the Vice Presidency.

Autumn in Venice: Ernest Hemingway and His Last Muse by Andrea Di Robilant (Knopf, $26.95, 9781101946657) looks at the later years of Hemingway's life and his relationship with a young Venetian woman.

Visible Empire by Hannah Pittard (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $25, 9780544748064) chronicles the fictionalized aftermath of a real 1962 plane crash that killed more than 100 of Atlanta's wealthiest citizens.

Something in the Water: A Novel by Catherine Steadman (Ballantine, $27, 9781524797188) is a psychological thriller about a honeymooning couple who make a dangerous discovery while diving in Bora Bora.

Us Against You: A Novel by Fredrik Backman (Atria, $28, 9781501160790) is the second book set in the hockey-obsessed village of Beartown, Sweden.

Death Notice: A Novel by Zhou Haohui, translated by Zac Haluza (Doubleday, $26.95, 9780385543323) is a Chinese thriller about a vigilante killing criminals.

Brief Cases by Jim Butcher (Ace, $28, 9780451492104) continues the urban fantasy Dresden Files series.

We Are Gathered by Jamie Weisman (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $24, 9781328793294) tells the story of an interfaith wedding through multiple perspectives.

The Whole Smiths Good Food Cookbook: Whole30 Endorsed, Delicious Real Food Recipes to Cook All Year Long by Michelle Smith (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $30, 9781328915092) adds more recipes to the Whole30 program.

Dork Diaries 13: Tales from a Not-So-Happy Birthday by Rachel Renée Russell (Aladdin, $13.99, 9781534426382) is the newest installment in the series.

Monday's Not Coming by Tiffany D. Jackson (Katherine Tegen Books, $17.99, 9780062422675) follows one teen's quest to solve the mystery of her friend's disappearance.

Manhattan Beach: A Novel by Jennifer Egan (Scribner, $17, 9781476716749).

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine: A Novel by Gail Honeyman (Penguin Books, $16, 9780735220690).

The Hot Body Diet: The Plan to Radically Transform Your Body in 28 Days by Michelle Lewin and Samar Yorde (Celebra, $18, 9780399585449).

The Burning Girl: A Novel by Claire Messud (Norton, $15.95, 9780393356052).

IndieBound: Other Indie Favorites

From last week's Indie bestseller lists, available at, here are the recommended titles, which are also Indie Next Great Reads:

My Ex-Life: A Novel by Stephen McCauley (Flatiron, $25.99, 9781250122438). "This story of loves both great and small is most certainly not saccharine sweet. My Ex-Life reminds us that there is a reason for everything, and that sometimes it's wise to go back to the familiar (albeit old) parts of ourselves to remind us just how far we've come. Stephen McCauley writes like your best friend--the one who always says what you're thinking but you'd never have the guts to utter out loud. His perception of even the mundane tasks of life reveals a witty tone dripping with self deprecation and amusement. This book is most certainly one you should put at the top of your to-be-read pile!" --Jordan Arias, Anderson's Bookshop, Naperville, Ill.

First, We Make the Beast Beautiful: A New Journey Through Anxiety by Sarah Wilson (Dey Street, $25.99, 9780062836786). "First, We Make the Beast Beautiful evokes the strange and magical feeling of having discovered a personal journal in a public place. It is first and foremost a memoir that tackles difficult subjects, touching on many experiences, both traumatic and constructive, that the author feels have affected her journey through anxiety. A great deal of the book is spiritual and suggests that anxiety is the product of an unrest in the soul. Fans of Rupi Kaur will enjoy the candid rawness of this book, as it pulls them through a journey that is perhaps all too painfully familiar." --Kaitie Radel, The Oxford Exchange, Tampa, Fla.

Wicked River: A Novel by Jenny Milchman (Sourcebooks Landmark, $15.99, 9781492658993). "I am a huge Jenny Milchman fan, so I had high expectations for this book. My expectations were met and surpassed. Doug and Natalie both have secrets and issues with trust. Add in debts to old friends and a wedding not celebrated by all, and complications are everywhere. The honeymoon in the wilderness is the stuff of nightmares and will keep your heart pounding. Any fan of a good thriller with psychological twists will love this book." --Jackie Willey, Fiction Addiction, Greenville, S.C.

For Ages 4 to 8
Alma and How She Got Her Name by Juana Martinez-Neal (Candlewick, $15.99, 9780763693558). "Names can be a powerful reminder of our family history, as debut author/illustrator Juana Martinez-Neal shows in this beautiful story about a little girl with a very long name. Alma complains about her name (didn't we all as kids?) but slowly changes her mind as her father explains which relative each of her names honors. Dreamy illustrations with a limited color palette show Alma and her ancestors with quirky, engaging details. Whether you have a long, short, common, or unique name, this book will make you think a little bit about your name and smile. A treasure." --Cecilia Cackley, East City Bookshop, Washington, D.C.

For Ages 9 to 12
The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson (Arthur A. Levine Books, $16.99, 9780545946179). "Absolutely brilliant. A great balance between the satisfaction of solving a mystery along with the stark reality of life in the Jim Crow South, with a side helping of showing how people are able to change--for better or worse--at all stages of life." --Sarah Rettger, Porter Square Books, Cambridge, Mass.

For Teen Readers
Not If I Save You First by Ally Carter (Scholastic Press, $18.99, 9781338134148). "Ally Carter has done it again! I don't know how she manages to so perfectly balance a kick-ass teenage girl with just a pinch of over-the-top girliness, but she nails it every time. Basically, this can be considered a contemporary retelling of The Paper Bag Princess, where the prince is the U.S. president's son, the princess is the son's former best friend and daughter of the president's former body guard, and the dragon is a Russian operative. Oh, and the setting is winter in Alaska. And because it's Ally Carter, while the girl clearly saves the day and rescues the boy, she also ends up with the boy because teenage love conquers all. I read this in one sitting and recommend you do, too." --BrocheAroe Fabian, Quail Ridge Books, Raleigh, N.C.

[Many thanks to IndieBound and the ABA!]

Book Review

Review: The Secrets Between Us

The Secrets Between Us by Thrity Umrigar (Harper, $27.99 hardcover, 368p., 9780062442208, June 26, 2018)

After nearly 20 years working as a maid for a wealthy Mumbai family, Bhima has been abruptly dismissed. Though she did the right thing in speaking out about a shameful situation, she is left with no income to support herself and her college-age granddaughter, Maya. As Bhima struggles to adjust to her new reality, she finds an unexpected business partner in Parvati, a sharp-tongued elderly woman who ekes out a living selling cauliflower at the nearby market. Both women have spent their lives on the knife edge of poverty. Their bitter experiences, professional and personal, and their fierce pride make them wary of trusting others, but they set up a vegetable stand together and gradually come to rely on one another. Thrity Umrigar's eighth novel, The Secrets Between Us, traces the intertwined journeys of Bhima, Parvati and their loved ones in acutely observed prose.
Readers of Umrigar's 2006 novel, The Space Between Us, will recognize Bhima and Maya, as well as Bhima's longtime employer, Sera, and the circumstances of Bhima's dismissal. But The Secrets Between Us stands alone: its focus is squarely on Bhima, who must confront not only her financial worries but her long-held prejudices related to class and other social divisions. Umrigar takes readers inside the Mumbai slums, vividly evoking both the cramped living conditions and Bhima's deep shame at having to live there.
While she longs for Maya to escape the neighborhood's crushing poverty, Bhima also fears the day her educated granddaughter will disappear from her life. She knows that social codes are changing rapidly in Mumbai, but she is also unsure how to navigate a new world where the rules are different. A subplot involving a client and her artist partner shows both Bhima's deep discomfort with shifting norms and her eventual willingness to open her mind to new ideas.
Umrigar also gradually reveals more of Parvati's background, including her experiences as a young woman and her unhappy marriage. Both women have been hardened by difficult events in their lives, but they find surprising tenderness and strength in their tenuous friendship. Umrigar draws her characters with a keen and compassionate hand--not only her protagonists but her supporting characters as well, like Rajeev, who makes deliveries for the vegetable stand and watches over both women like a devoted son. Even Maya, despite her tendency to act like a spoiled child, is more complex than she first appears.
Packed with sensory details and tart dialogue, Umrigar's novel deftly evokes the complicated realities of poverty, love, hard work, guilt, grief and friendship in modern-day Mumbai. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams
Shelf Talker: Two women living in the slums of Mumbai form a tentative business partnership and friendship.

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