Irish novelist Colum McCann’s 10th novel, Apeirogon (it means a shape with a “countably infinite” number of sides), is based on the real-life friendship between Rami, an Israeli whose daughter was killed by suicide bombers, and Bassam, a Palestinian whose daughter was shot dead by an Israeli soldier. Despite their grief and anger, both men are fiercely committed to peace.
McCann tells their story in 1001 short chapters, rich in cultural references – including Sinead O’Connor, the Crusades, Sigmund Freud and Schindler’s List – and historical detail about the Arab-Israeli conflict, seen from both perspectives. A superbly crafted testament to the power of empathy and forgiveness.
Canadian writer Emily St. John Mandel, whose bestselling novel Station Eleven about a post-apocalyptic world now seems eerily timely, has set her new one, The Glass Hotel, in a different milieu – the world of high finance, glamorous hotels and gorgeous women. New York high-flyer Jonathan Alkaitis walks into the bar of his luxury hotel on Vancouver Island and is immediately taken by Vincent, a beautiful young bartender with a troubled past. He whisks her away and introduces her to a life of wealth and prestige, but it turns out the foundations are shaky. A page-turner.
For the foodie
If there was ever a time to tap into your inner domestic goddess, this is it. The shortage of sugar and flour on supermarket shelves suggests I’m not the only one comfort baking, and two new books provide endless inspiration. Now for Something Sweet, the latest offering from the Monday Morning Cooking Club, is a lovingly curated collection of sweet recipes from Jewish households around the world, accompanied by the heart-warming stories of their origins. From almond meringue torte for entertaining to Persian shortbread to dip into a cup of tea, there’s something in this glorious selection of biscuits, cakes, tarts and slices to tempt even the most reluctant baker.
In Natalie Paull’s Beatrix Bakes, named after her much-loved bakery in North Melbourne, she shows how to create her amazing cakes and desserts, with illustrated instructions on how to make dough, assemble a layer cake and bake the perfect cookie. Whether your mum wants to wow them at a dinner party with lemon curd cream crepe cake or spoil the grandkids with two-bite jammy tartlets, this book will bring a smile to her face.
If your mum likes flavoursome, nourishing food with a hint of the exotic, give her Falastin: a Cookbook, featuring Palestinian recipes by Sami Tamimi, co-founder of the Yotam Ottolenghi empire, and Tara Wigley, who helps write Ottolenghi recipes. There are new twists on old favourites such as shakshuka as well as uniquely Palestinian recipes like chicken musakhan, and the recipes are both accessible and achievable. With its evocative photography and powerful stories about the region and its people, Falastin is as much a cultural history as a cookbook.
For the Oz-Lit addict
Suzanne Leal’s third novel, The Deceptions, is about a relationship between Hana, a young Jewish woman in the Theresienstadt ghetto in Czechoslovakia during World War II, and Karel, one of her guards. Karel, a married man, is besotted; Hana, more pragmatic, is grateful for his kindness and needs his protection. When she loses it, she faces the horrors of the concentration camps. Meanwhile, in modern Australia, Tessa is having an affair with her married boss when she meets Jon, a kind, attentive Englishman who shows her what a good relationship looks like. The threads of these two stories are woven together seamlessly in a cracker of an ending. A powerful story, sensitively told.
Award-winning writer Anna Goldsworthy’s first novel, Melting Moments, is a charming, highly engaging story about the life of Ruby Jenkins, which opens during World War II and is set in Melbourne and Adelaide. Ruby does the right thing all her life – she marries kind, dependable Arthur, becomes a devoted mother, enjoys gardening and cooking and manages her tricky mother-in-law. On the surface her life is perfect, but she wonders sometimes if there might be something more out there. Goldsworthy writes beautifully and has created a memorable character in Ruby. A joy to read.
For the bibliophile
The mum who enjoys literary biography and Australian women’s writing will devour acclaimed biographer Brenda Niall’s Friends & Rivals, about the intersecting lives of four Australian writers between the 1890s and 1920s. Ethel Turner and Henry Handel Richardson are well known, Barbara Baynton and Nettie Palmer (a book critic) less so, but Niall’s lively account of their personal and writing lives and their relationships with each other at a time when women’s writing was undervalued is as entertaining as it is illuminating.
Unfinished Business: Notes of a Chronic Re-reader, a collection of essays by New York City memoirist Vivian Gornick, is about the joys of returning to old favourites at different stages in life. Gornick examines her own reading life, noting that she reads D.H. Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers quite differently in her mature years compared to how she first read it at 20. Similarly, as a new cat owner, Gornick found that Doris Lessing’s Particularly Cats did not speak to her, but after many years of feline companionship, she reads it in one sitting. A fascinating insight into a book lover’s reading habits and the books she returns to.
Grandmothers, edited by journalist Helen Elliott, is a collection of 24 essays by well-known Australian women about being, and having, grandmothers. For Helen Garner, being one means feeling useful and entertained. Jane Caro likes who she is with her grandchildren; more patient than she was as a mother. Elizabeth Chong appreciates the joy of unconditional love without the stress of responsibility. Maggie Beer rolls pasta, reads poetry and picks herbs with her grandchildren. Perfect for the grandma in your life.
Rarely has a book been as perfectly timed and desperately needed as Julia Baird’s third book, Phosphorescence: on Awe, Wonder and Things That Sustain You When the World Goes Dark. Drawing on her own experience of surviving three major cancer surgeries, Baird offers hard-won insights into what gets you through when times are tough. She writes of the joy to be found in communing with nature, celebrating imperfection, valuing friendship, paying attention – and the importance of holding on to hope. Exquisitely written and perfectly pitched.