Book Stack: 10 reads to wrap up July

PHOTOS: GRANTA BOOKS, WH ALLEN

SINGAPORE - In this monthly feature, The Sunday Times picks out 10 books from around the world that have just hit shelves.

1. Scattered All Over The Earth

PHOTO: GRANTA BOOKS

By Yoko Tawada, translated by Margaret Mitsutani
Fiction/Granta Books/Paperback/224 pages/$29.95/Buy here
3 out of 5

Japan ceases to exist in a not-so-distant future dreamt up by award-winning writer Yoko Tawada, who this time goes one step further than in her previous novel, The Last Children Of Tokyo (2018, buy here), when she made the capital so polluted that it has become uninhabitable.

In Scattered All Over The Earth, the entire archipelago has mysteriously sunk into the ocean in an unspecified disaster, though the dystopian setting does not give rise to a parable about climate change.

Instead, Tawada puts a rather buoyant spin in her focus on one refugee's hopeful quest to find a compatriot with whom she can once more converse in Japanese, a language that has become critically endangered.

The protagonist, Hiruko, is a citizen of nowhere - passport renewal is impossible because Japan has vanished, known reductively only as the "land of sushi" with the dish exoticised to the point of kitsch by Westerners.

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2. Femina: A New History Of The Middle Ages, Through The Women Written Out Of It

PHOTO: WH ALLEN

By Janina Ramirez
Non-fiction/WH Allen/Paperback/464 pages/$31.23/Buy here

Oxford historian Janina Ramirez reexamines the lives of influential women from the middle ages - the polymath Hildegard of Bingen and Anglo-Saxon ruler Aethelflaed, as well as lesser-known figures such as the Loftus Princess, who was buried in present-day North Yorkshire, and the Birka Warrior Woman, who was a Viking.

Many of these women chose an alternative way of life - stepping out of their domestic roles and thriving in spaces such as monasteries and workshops, Ramirez writes.

"That they could do this is testament not only to how formidable they were as individuals, but also to the fact that the mediaeval period was perhaps more accommodating than we think."

3. The Wrath To Come: Gone With The Wind And The Lies America Tells

PHOTO: APOLLO

By Sarah Churchwell
Non-fiction/Apollo/Hardcover/464 pages/$58.32/Buy here

Margaret Mitchell's Gone With The Wind, an epic romance set during the American Civil War and its aftermath, was a bestseller when it came out in 1936. The film version starring Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh is considered one of the greatest movies of all time.

But the famous story - with its problematic treatment of race, class and women - is also a kind of "skeleton key" to America's insidious myths and illusions about itself, argues literature professor Sarah Churchwell.

"When we understand the dark truths of American experience that have been veiled by one of the nation's favourite fantasies," she writes, "we can see how the country travelled from the start of the Civil War in 1861 to parading the flag of the side that lost the war through the US Capitol in 2021."

Examining Mitchell's tale amid a resurgence of white nationalism and Trumpism, Churchwell tries to answer the question: What has happened to America?

4. The Messenger: Moderna, The Vaccine, And The Business Gamble That Changed The World

PHOTO: HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW PRESS

By Peter Loftus
Non-fiction/Harvard Business Review Press/Hardcover/272 pages/$52.25/Buy here

This is the inside story of how biotech company Moderna, which developed one of the world's first Covid-19 vaccines, went from waning biotech unicorn to household name during the pandemic. Wall Street Journal reporter Peter Loftus based the book on interviews with more than 150 people, including Moderna's employees, co-founders and investors.

5. Complicit

PHOTO: ORION

By Winnie M. Li
Fiction/Orion/Paperback/464 pages/$29.95/Buy here

College lecturer Sarah Lai looks back regretfully on her past life in the film industry, after she is approached by a journalist investigating film producer Hugo North. Lai tells the journalist about her experiences working with North, and his appetite for women and drugs.

Complicit, a thriller about the people who inflict, suffer from and turn a blind eye to sexual assault, is American author Winnie M. Li's second novel. Her 2017 debut, Dark Chapter, was inspired by her own rape in 2008.

6. Tomorrow, And Tomorrow, And Tomorrow

PHOTO: CHATTO & WINDUS

By Gabrielle Zevin
Fiction/Chatto & Windus/Paperback/416 pages/$29.95/Buy here/Borrow here

This is the story of Sadie and Sam, two friends bound by a love of video games. They first meet in a hospital gaming room in the 1980s. As college students, they bump into each other again at a train station, sparking a creative partnership where they design video games together.

Their first game, Ichigo, is a blockbuster hit. More releases follow and the virtual worlds they build with the help of Sam's roommate, Marx, bring them money, fame as well as tragedy.

The title of this book by American author Gabrielle Zevin comes from Shakespeare's Macbeth, but overturns the bleak connotations of the original line.

A game, Marx says, is "tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow. It is the possibility of infinite rebirth, infinite redemption. The idea that if you keep playing, you could win. No loss is permanent, because nothing is permanent, ever".

7. Cult Classic

PHOTO: BLOOMSBURY PUBLISHING

By Sloane Crosley
Fiction/Bloomsbury Publishing/Paperback/304 pages/$29.15/Buy here/Borrow here

One night in New York, Lola is out for dinner with former colleagues when she runs into ex-boyfriend after ex-boyfriend.

First, there is Amos - now a "famous Amos" whose writing career has taken off. Later in the evening, Willis the long-jumper rears his head. Next up is Dave the jogger, who had tried, unsuccessfully, to get her into activities such as polar bear plunges.

These events are not coincidental, but the machinations of a contemporary cult run by Lola's former boss, a magazine editor-turned-mystical guru.

8. Hearts & Bones: Love Songs For Late Youth

PHOTO: PICADOR

By Niamh Mulvey
Fiction/Picador/Hardcover/176 pages/$31.23/Buy here

Ireland-born writer Niamh Mulvey's debut collection contains 10 stories about relationships - between children and parents, brothers and sisters, and a woman and her lovers. The titular story, which takes its name from a Paul Simon song, is about a teenage girl who becomes pregnant while the abortion debates rage on in Ireland.

9. A Taste Of Gold And Iron

PHOTO: TOR

By Alexandra Rowland
Fantasy/Tor/Paperback/512 pages/$29.28/Buy here

Shortly after Prince Kadou becomes an uncle, he is called away to deal with a break-in at his kingdom's Shipbuilder's Guild. Keen to regain the trust of the queen, Kadou decides to investigate the break-in. He is assisted by new bodyguard Evemer Hoskadem and a romance eventually develops.

This fantasy novel by Alexandra Rowland, a Hugo Award-nominated podcaster, unfolds against a backdrop of political intrigue.

10. Rebel Skies

PHOTO: WALKER BOOKS

By Ann Sei Lin
Young adult fantasy/Walker Books/Paperback/352 pages/$17.92/Buy here

In a land of flying ships and sky cities, servant girl Kurara toils away on the Midori, the empire's first airborne banqueting hall.

Fortunately for her, she has the coveted power to make paper come to life, which allows her to escape her old life and join the crew of a skyship as a Crafter, where she learns to hunt shikigami (wild paper spirits).

This debut is the first in a fantasy adventure trilogy by London-based writer and librarian Ann Sei Lin.

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