The Library Book by Susan Orlean – Atlantic Books


In Susan Orlean’s enthralling and inspirational account of the Los Angeles Public Library, she alludes to a common euphemism used by the Senegalese when someone dies, namely that “his or her library has burned”. This poetic expression, implying the loss of a great store of knowledge, came into literal focus on 29 April 1986, when the LA library caught fire, destroying more than 400 000 books and devastating the community reliant on its resources. Yet, like a phoenix, it rose from the flames, greater and more beloved than ever. This book by an award-winning reporter and bestselling author is a homage not just to the spirit and resilience of those who rebuilt the library, but also to all those whose lives are transformed by these public places of reading, on both sides of the lending desk.

Once upon a River by Diane Setterfield – Doubleday

Diane Setterfield haunts familiar ground in this eerily mystic tale of a mute child who captivates the local townspeople after she’s seemingly brought back from the dead. The author of the bestselling The Thirteenth Tale begins this account on a winter solstice more than 100 years ago. A near-drowned stranger arrives at a rural inn, grievously injured and carrying a young girl who, to all appearances, has already died. Despite the child’s corpse-like state, however, the local nurse, Rita, discovers a pulse. Though the girl is revived, the stranger lapses into unconsciousness and so the mysteries quickly stack up like branches snagged in the river: What accident befell him? How was he saved? Who is the child? How did she die and then live again? Most importantly, to whom does she belong?

Professor Chandra follows his Bliss by Rajeev Balasubramanyam – Penguin Random House

In his follow-up to In Beautiful Disguises, Balasubramanyam demonstrates with insight and a dash of humour that it’s possible to turn one’s life around after everything goes wrong. Perfectionist Cambridge Professor Chandra is in the running for a Nobel Prize in Economics, but someone else gets the award, and shortly thereafter he is hit in a bicycle hit-and-run and has a heart attack. He misses his ex-wife, who’s now remarried; two of his children have rejected him and a third is adrift and involved with drugs. Things change when – part dare, part bribe – the professor takes a three-day self-awareness course at a spiritual retreat centre. Balasubramanyam makes a winning case for how meditation, restraint, self-reflection and owning one’s character flaws can bring transformation, joy and satisfaction to life.

The New Silk Roads by Peter Frankopan – Bloomsbury

The ‘Silk Road Economic Belt’, a wildly ambitious set of Chinese-backed infrastructure projects stretching through the steppes of central Asia to the Baltic Sea, has come to define China’s radical ambitions to upend a world order long dominated by Americans and Europeans. The New Silk Roads by dashing Oxford academic, Peter Frankopan, is a slimmer ‘sibling’ volume to the weighty and widely acclaimed bestseller, The Silk Roads (published in 2015), detailing the flow of goods and ideas that are now sweeping once again from east to west, many of them along the same routes traversed in antiquity by Marco Polo. The world’s past has been shaped by what happens along the silk roads, he writes. So too will its

The Mastermind by Evan Ratliff – Penguin Random House

The incredible true story of the decade-long quest to bring down Paul le Roux, the creator of a powerful cartel who merged the ruthlessness of a drug lord with the technological savvy of a Silicon Valley entrepreneur. It all started as an online prescription drug network before growing into a sprawling multinational conglomerate engaged in almost every conceivable aspect of criminal mayhem. The man behind it all, pulling the strings from a laptop in Manila, was a reclusive programmer turned criminal genius. Mastermind is a riveting and unprecedented account by award-winning investigative journalist Evan Ratliff, who spent four years chasing Le Roux’s empire and his shadowy henchmen around the world, conducting hundreds of interviews and uncovering thousands of documents.  –

The Rise and Demise of the Afrikaners by Hermann Giliomee – Tafelberg

Acclaimed historian Hermann Giliomee explains the dramatic ascent – and possible demise – of a small minority group that dominated 20th-century South Africa. The Afrikaners are unique in the world in that they successfully mobilised ethnic entrepreneurship without state assistance, controlled the government for almost 50 years, and then yielded power without military defeat. Giliomee takes a hard, analytical look at the Afrikaners’ fortunes over the past 100 years. Topics range from political parties’ use of the coloured vote, ethnic entrepreneurship, Bantu education and the Rubicon speech, to Nelson Mandela’s relationship with the last Afrikaner leaders. Finally, he examines the most likely future for this contentious group and the nature of its imprint on South Africa.

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