15 Books to Watch For in September
15 Books to Watch For in September
‘Agent Sonya: Moscow’s Most Daring Wartime Spy,’ by Ben Macintyre (Crown, Sept. 15)
When readers meet Ursula Kuczynski Burton, a.k.a. Agent Sonya, a decorated intelligence agent and colonel in Russia’s Red Army, she’s living undercover as a housewife in a small English village. All that her neighbors know about her is that she makes great scones; they don’t realize she’s funneling atomic secrets from Britain and the U.S. to the Soviet Union. Macintyre, the best-selling author of several books about spies, offers a rich portrait of Burton, who was involved in some of the 20th century’s most famous espionage operations.
‘Conditional Citizens: On Belonging in America,’ by Laila Lalami (Pantheon, Sept. 22)
Lalami, who was born in Morocco, became an American citizen in 2000, but soon found that her relationship to the state was affected by the fact that she is Muslim, an Arab and a woman. But she soon came to think of herself and those like her as “conditional citizens,” learning how “a country to embrace you with one arm, and push you away with the other.” Her book, a blend of memoir and criticism, suggests America’s attitude toward immigration can be conflicted: The country is founded on immigrants — but only the “acceptable” kind.
‘Homeland Elegies,’ by Ayad Akhtar (Little, Brown, Sept. 8)
In his second novel, Akhtar, who is also a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, bestows some of his own biography to his narrator, also named Ayad. He, too, is an award winning dramatist of Pakistani heritage who comes of age after 9/11 in an America steeped in Islamophobia. At the book’s core are Ayad’s relationship with his father — a Trump supporter and fervent patriot — and their conflicting visions of America.
‘If Then: How the Simulmatics Corporation Invented the Future,’ by Jill Lepore (Liveright, Sept. 15)
Starting in 1959, a team of social scientists began work on the “People Machine,” trying to learn how to predict human behavior and decisions. Over time, the team did work for the Kennedy presidential campaign, the Department of Defense and The New York Times. In many ways, it was a precursor to big tech and its relentless hunger for user data: Lepore calls the company “Cold War America’s Cambridge Analytica.”
‘Jack,’ by Marilynne Robinson (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Sept. 29)
In her new novel, Robinson returns to the fictional universe she created with her 2004 book “Gilead.” Now, she tells the story of Jack Boughton, the son of a preacher, who’s trying to make a life with a Black schoolteacher, Della Miles. Like the three earlier books in this series, this novel is a meditation on human decency and the capacity for redemption.
‘JFK: Coming of Age in the American Century, 1917-1956,’ by Fredrik Logevall (Random House, Sept. 8)
The first of a projected two-volume project, this book traces President John F. Kennedy’s formative years, from his childhood through his decision to run for president. Logevall, a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian and Harvard professor, even devotes space to Kennedy’s college thesis.
‘Just Us: An American Conversation,’ by Claudia Rankine (Graywolf, Sept. 8)
Rankine follows her award-winning poetry collection, “Citizen,” with an investigation of race in the United States, bringing together verse, essays, visuals and more. She draws on her experiences (including her relationship with her husband, who is white) to make a case for people to cultivate an “empathetic imagination.”
‘The Last Million: Europe’s Displaced Persons from World War to Cold War,’ by David Nasaw (Penguin Press, Sept. 15)
Over one million people were stranded in Germany after 1945, many without homes to return to, including Jewish concentration camp survivors, Nazi collaborators and forced laborers. Nasaw offers a broad look at how political indecision left the fate of these people in limbo for years. Lingering prejudices, especially unfounded links between Jews and Communism, meant that many Nazi collaborators were resettled before Jewish Holocaust survivors.
‘The Lying Life of Adults,’ by Elena Ferrante. Translated by Ann Goldstein. (Europa Editions, Sept. 1)
When Giovanna, the protagonist of this new novel, overhears her father say that she is becoming ugly like his loathsome sister, her sense of self is rattled, and she decides she must meet her aunt and decide for herself. Fans of Ferrante’s earlier novels will recognize some familiar themes in her new book, which unfolds in Naples and focuses on a young woman’s coming of age.
‘The Man Who Ran Washington: The Life and Times of James A. Baker III,’ by Peter Baker and Susan Glasser (Doubleday, Sept. 29)
James Baker has been behind the scenes at some of the most critical political junctures of the past 40 years, from Gerald Ford’s presidential campaign to Ronald Reagan’s White House to the 2000 Florida ballot recount. His close friendship with George Bush is what brought him to Washington; their relationship, which could stray into rivalry, defined their lives and careers. Through his story, the authors — Peter Baker, a White House correspondent at The Times, and Susan Glasser, a writer at The New Yorker — offer a fascinating look at political power.
‘The Meaning of Mariah Carey,’ by Mariah Carey with Michaela Angela Davis (Andy Cohen Books/Henry Holt, Sept. 29)
Details are scant about this memoir, which promises an unvarnished look at the singer’s trials and triumphs. For Carey, it’s an opportunity to tell her own story in her own voice. As she writes, “It’s been impossible to communicate the complexities and depths of my experience in any single magazine article or a 10-minute television interview. And even then, my words were filtered through someone else’s lens, largely satisfying someone else’s assignment to define me.”
‘Monogamy,’ by Sue Miller (Harper, Sept. 8)
The marriage at the heart of this story appears to be spectacularly mismatched: Graham is a larger-than-life man of appetites, while Annie, a photographer prone to self-doubt, is more reserved. It’s not a spoiler to say that Graham dies, which is the catalyst for Annie and her loved ones to reconsider their lives.
‘The Quiet Americans: Four CIA Spies at the Dawn of the Cold War — a Tragedy in Three Acts,’ by Scott Anderson (Doubleday, Sept. 1)
Anderson, a contributor to the Times Magazine and the author of the best seller “Lawrence in Arabia,” spins a darkly entertaining tale about American espionage, set in an era when Washington’s fear and skepticism about the agency resembles our climate today.
‘The Spymasters: How the CIA Directors Shape History and the Future,’ by Chris Whipple (Scribner, Sept. 15)
Drawing on interviews with several former directors, Whipple offers a detailed portrait of the agency and its work. Often, their biggest adversary is the federal bureaucracy: “We can overthrow foreign governments,” one official told Whipple, “but we have a more difficult time dealing with our own.”
‘Transcendent Kingdom,’ by Yaa Gyasi (Knopf, Sept. 1)
Gyasi follows her highly acclaimed debut novel, “Homegoing,” with another moving family story. At Stanford, Gifty, a Ph.D. candidate and daughter of Ghanaian immigrants, is determined to better understand addiction, the illness that killed her brother. As she explores the roots of her family suffering, she longs for the evangelical faith of her youth — and the salvation it promised her.