We have dynasties on the mind this week. From Sarah Gristwood, “The Tudors in Love: Passion and Politics in the Age of England’s Most Famous Dynasty.” From Orlando Figes, “The Story of Russia,” in which the Romanovs inevitably play a starring role. And from Natalie Livingstone, “The Women of Rothschild: The Untold Story of the World’s Most Famous Dynasty.” Think of it as nepo baby week at the Book Review.
Also up: a look at the effect ice has had on human civilization; a poetry collection and account of political protest from Belarus; and, in fiction, two novels and two story collections. Happy reading.
THE TUDORS IN LOVE:
Passion and Politics in the Age of England’s Most Famous Dynasty
The codes of “courtly love” — elaborate rituals dating to the 12th century — ruled the public lives of the Tudor monarchs. But as Gristwood makes clear, the royals paid closer heed to the grim realities of politics.
“Forget the romantic trope of the knightly rescue of a damsel in a tower. In 16th-century Europe, the subjugation of women rarely included deliverance. … Courtly love may have seemed the apotheosis of gallantry; the political consequences were anything but.”
From Tina Brown’s review
St. Martin’s | $29.99
THE STORY OF RUSSIA
Keeping an eye on both past and present, this sweeping historical survey excavates national myths that have been shaped over centuries, concluding that Vladimir Putin has tapped into central tropes of Russia’s traditional political culture to pose as his country’s sole savior.
“If and when Putinism collapses, we would do well to learn from the past and not treat the country simply as a blank canvas on which to project Western-style democracy. Read Figes.”
From Gregory Feifer’s review
Metropolitan | $29.99
Poems and Protest Diary
Cimafiejeva, a Belarusian poet and translator, grapples in her work with questions of language, nationalism and oppression. This collection, her first to appear in English (in a translation by Valzhyna Mort and Hanif Abdurraqib), also includes a prose account of the Minsk anti-government protests of 2020.
“The real legacy of speech in Belarus is that it has been unfree, in all languages, for far too long. … In ‘Motherfield,’ Cimafiejeva has proved herself to be a bad student of fear. She wields her flexed, forceful verses like that mightiest of muscles — the tongue.”
From Jennifer Wilson’s review
Deep Vellum | Paperback, $18.95
OF ICE AND MEN:
How We’ve Used Cold to Transform Humanity
This freewheeling history of frozen water, by an idiosyncratic polymath and raconteur, addresses everything from Popsicles to global warming. Human civilization is inexplicably linked to ice, Hogge argues; our ultimate fate as a species may be, too.
“Hogge does the truly unexpected: He ties the book up beautifully. … The book opens with the harrowing exploration of the frozen Arctic frontier and then, in part because of two centuries of ice inventions, the same Arctic frontier is melting.”
From Mark Kurlansky’s review
Pegasus | $27.95
Soysal’s novel, first published in 1975 and translated into English for the first time this year, by Maureen Freely, begins with the raid of an anarchists’ dinner in Turkey, then turns to the interior lives of several attendees. The story’s power lies in its chorus of wounded, angry voices.
“Soysal’s last completed novel and crowning literary achievement. … No one is spared the narrator’s roving curiosity, and everyone, even the police officers who browbeat and torture their detainees, turns out to be vulnerable and complex.”
From Ayten Tartici’s review
Archipelago | Paperback, $20
THE WOMEN OF ROTHSCHILD:
The Untold Story of the World’s Most Famous Dynasty
They were wealthy and connected, but as Livingstone shows in this ambitious group biography of more than a dozen female members of the banking family, the Rothschild women have included talented scientists, political activists and patrons of avant-garde art.
“Setting aside the 20th century’s more adventurous female Rothschilds, what made these wives and daughters special? The answer, in surprisingly large part, lies in the boldness of a handful of Rothschild girls who opted to marry out.”
From Miranda Seymour’s review
St. Martin’s | $39.99
NOW IS NOT THE TIME TO PANIC
In Wilson’s largehearted depiction of American teenagerhood, a couple of bored and artsy friends in 1996 Tennessee create a cryptic, moody poster they photocopy and hang all over their small town, inadvertently setting off a fatal moral panic.
“Wilson adeptly evokes what it was like to be a creative kid in the 1990s, having to fend for inspiration (books, images, films, lyrics, zines) on your own, or through a sibling or a friend, and then follow the trail. He captures the nonlinear absorption of culture before listicles.”
From Sloane Crosley’s review
Ecco | $27.99
SELF-PORTRAIT WITH GHOST:
Following widows and migrant workers, sixth-grade girlfriends and the specter of a dead aunt, the 10 stories in this intoxicating collection by the author of “Little Gods” are united by a deadpan preoccupation with catastrophe.
“Allegorical and delightfully weird … reflects the inescapable paranoia of modern times. Sentimental or not, the stories contain moments of undeniable tenderness.”
From Weike Wang’s review
Mariner | $27.99
TOMORROW IN SHANGHAI:
And Other Stories
Set across China, America and Mars, this collection depicts the toll of migration on families strained by physical distance and sacrifice. Across all the stories Chai builds remarkable tension, masterfully arranging all the pieces on the board to hook the reader.
“Slim but powerful. … Forced resolutions seem to reflect an underlying need in all of Chai’s characters. Far from home and family, they seek their own kinds of closure against the unknown.”
From Weike Wang’s review
Blair | Paperback, $17.95