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The Kindly Ones | Jonathan Littell
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Recommended by Vladimir Sorokin
 
“Sixty years after the Second World War, Littell creates a lively, hypnotically attractive portrait of total evil, which takes control of a hero of that time like a virus, forcing the reader to make torturous choices, to suffer, to feel indignation, to be enchanted, and, finally, to resist.
 
About the Book
 
A former Nazi officer, Dr. Maximilien Aue has reinvented himself, many years after the war, as a middle-class family man and factory owner in France. An intellectual steeped in philosophy, literature, and classical music, he is also a cold-blooded assassin and the consummate bureaucrat. Through the eyes of this cultivated yet monstrous man we experience in disturbingly precise detail the horrors of the Second World War and the Nazi genocide of the Jews. Eichmann, Himmler, Göring, Speer, Heydrich, Höss—even Hitler himself—play a role in Max’s story. An intense and hallucinatory historical epic, The Kindly Ones is also a morally challenging read. It holds a mirror up to humanity—and the reader cannot look away.
 
 

A Severed Head | Iris Murdoch
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Recommended by Ari M. Brostoff
 
“Iris Murdoch was interested in the question of what it means to be good in a world shaped by amoral desire, and A Severed Head—a very funny and also deadly serious philosophy joke barely disguised as a comedy of manners—is a deeply provocative, and truly bonkers, attempt at an answer.
 
About the Book
 
Martin Lynch-Gibson believes he can possess both a beautiful wife and a delightful lover. But when his wife, Antonia, suddenly leaves him for her psychoanalyst, Martin is plunged into an intensive emotional reeducation. He attempts to behave beautifully and sensibly. Then he meets a woman whose demonic splendor at first repels him and later arouses a consuming and monstrous passion. As his Medusa informs him, "this is nothing to do with happiness."
 
 
 
 

From Hell | Alan Moore & Eddie Campbell
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Recommended by Nausicaa Renner
 
“Jack the Ripper and the grotesque psychogeography of his time, True Detective before True Detective. An amazing use of setting to move the story forward.
 
About the Book
 
From the squalid alleys of the East End to the Houses of Parliament, from church naves to dens of the occult, all of London feels the uniquely irresistable blend of fascination, revulsion, and panic that the Ripper offers. The city teeters on the brink of the twentieth century, and only the slightest prodding is necessary to plunge it into a modern age of terror.
 

Traces of Violence: Writings on the Disaster in Paris, France | Robert R. Desjarlais & Khalil Habrih
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Recommended by Elias Rodriques
 
“A dialogic account of policing in Paris after the disaster, haunting in its prose, life affirming in its commitment to collaboration.
 
About the Book
 
In this highly original work, Robert Desjarlais and Khalil Habrih present a dialogic account of the lingering effects of the terroristic attacks that occurred in Paris in November 2015. Situating the events within broader histories of state violence in metropolitan France and its colonial geographies, the authors interweave narrative accounts and photographs to explore a range of related phenomena: governmental and journalistic discourses on terrorism, the political work of archives, police and military apparatuses of control and anti-terror deterrence, the histories of wounds, and the haunting reverberations of violence in a plurality of lives and deaths. Traces of Violence is a moving work that aids our understanding of the afterlife of violence and offers an innovative example of collaborative writing across anthropology and sociology.
 

Three Poems | Hannah Sullivan
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Recommended by Rachel Ossip
 
“Sullivan’s poetry is undeniably contemporary, but with an attention to music, form, and meter that feels rare today. I mean, when was the last time you read rhyming poetry that wasn’t in a birthday card (and, more impressively, didn’t feel stuffy or sentimental)? Don’t worry if that’s not your thing; not all of it rhymes. But even you rhyme-haters out there might be enticed by these: after all, who couldn’t love a rhyme that remains linguistically stunning while skewering San Francisco tech bros “looking for authentic Mission dives”? (“Angel investors underwrite it all; / The shit-stained can, the iPhone afterlives.”)
 
About the Book
 
“You, Very Young in New York” paints the portrait of a great American city, paying close attention to grand designs as well as local details, and coalescing in a wry and tender study of romantic possibility, disappointment, and the obduracy of innocence. “Repeat Until Time” shifts the scene to California and combines a poetic essay on the nature of repetition with an enquiry into pattern-making of a personal as well as a philosophical kind. “The Sandpit After Rain” explores the birth of a child and death of a father with exacting clarity.
 

Women as Lovers | Elfriede Jelinek
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Recommended by Tess Edmonson
 
“This book is written in a very formal, faux-naive allegorical register, which is deeply annoying, but in a way that Jelinek somehow weaponizes towards the most devastating and tragic possible ends.
 
About the Book
 
The setting is an idyllic Alpine village where a woman's underwear factory nestles in the woods. Two factory workers, Brigitte and Paula, dream and talk about finding happiness, a comfortable home and a good man. They realize that their quest will be as hard as work at the factory.
 

Correspondence | Paul Celan & Ingeborg Bachmann
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Recommended by Tess Edmonson
 
“I often recommend this book to friends who are anxious about balancing their ambitions to write or make art with the necessity of working for money. Ingeborg Bachmann prepared her first volume of poetry in the off hours from her day job at a radio station. After that title brought her recognition in the postwar German-language literary world, she wrote for money, and worked on her novel trilogy, Death Styles, when she could. Correspondence, a collection of letters exchanged by Bachmann and Paul Celan over the course of their decades-long love affair, is a very romantic book, but the passages I find the most special are those that open so many of Bachmann's letters to Celan: I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to write back, I am the worst, work has been sewwww crazy.
 
About the Book
 
Paul Celan (1920–70) is one of the best-known German poets of the Holocaust; many of his poems, admired for their spare, precise diction, deal directly with its stark themes. Austrian writer Ingeborg Bachmann (1926–73) is recognized as one of post–World War II German literature’s most important novelists, poets, and playwrights. It seems only appropriate that these two contemporaries and masters of language were at one time lovers, and they shared a lengthy, artful, and passionate correspondence.

Collected here for the first time in English are their letters written between 1948 and 1961. Their correspondence forms a moving testimony of the discourse of love in the age after Auschwitz, with all the symptomatic disturbances and crises caused by their conflicting backgrounds and their hard-to-reconcile designs for living—as a woman, as a man, as writers. 
 

The Unconsoled | Kazuo Ishiguro
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Recommended by Mark Krotov
 
“Amit Chaudhuri’s editors at the London Review of Books gave his infamous review of The Unconsoled a brutal title—‘Unlike Kafka’—that always calls to mind the scene in The Royal Tenenbaums when a despondent Owen Wilson asks why a reviewer would “make the point of saying someone’s not a genius.” James Wood, meanwhile, wrote that the novel ‘invents its own category of badness.’ Yeah, well, you know, that’s just like, your opinion, men. The Unconsoled is great! So much art is described as adhering to dream logic, but this book gets closer than most: a pianist named Ryder arrives in a European city and spends the next five hundred or so pages getting stymied, flummoxed, disoriented, bewildered, etc. Ishiguro constructs Ryder’s missed encounters, non-encounters, and anti-encounters with such steady confidence that it’s impossible to lose interest in the narrative, even as it’s clear that the narrative will go nowhere. Because The Unconsoled is an elusive novel, it has been saddled with many unfortunate covers. The only edition that captures the mystery within is the mid-’90s Vintage paperback with the Jean Dieuzaide photo. $4.99 on eBay!
 
About the Book
 
The Unconsoled is at once a gripping psychological mystery, a wicked satire of the cult of art, and a poignant character study of a man whose public life has accelerated beyond his control. The setting is a nameless Central European city where Ryder, a renowned pianist, has come to give the most important performance of his life. Instead, he finds himself diverted on a series of cryptic and infuriating errands that nevertheless provide him with vital clues to his own past.

The Price of Peace: Money, Democracy, and the Life of John Maynard Keynes | Zachary D. Carter
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Recommended by Nausicaa Renner
 
“If you like left-wing economics and sounding savvy in D.C.
 
About the Book
 
At the dawn of World War I, a young academic named John Maynard Keynes hastily folded his long legs into the sidecar of his brother-in-law's motorcycle for an odd, frantic journey that would change the course of history. Swept away from his placid home at Cambridge University by the currents of the conflict, Keynes found himself thrust into the halls of European treasuries to arrange emergency loans and packed off to America to negotiate the terms of economic combat. The terror and anxiety unleashed by the war would transform him from a comfortable obscurity into the most influential and controversial intellectual of his day—a man whose ideas still retain the power to shock in our own time.
 
 

The Naked Don't Fear the Water | Matthieu Aikins
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Recommended by Hari Kunzru
 
“This is an extraordinary narrative that took serious bravery to write. The author, a war correspondent, goes undercover to acompany his Afghan friend and former translator along the smuggler’s road from Afghanistan to Europe.
 
About the Book
 
In 2016, a young Afghan driver and translator named Omar makes the heart-wrenching choice to flee his war-torn country, saying goodbye to Laila, the love of his life, without knowing when they might be reunited again. He is one of millions of refugees who leave their homes that year. Matthieu Aikins, a journalist living in Kabul, decides to follow his friend. In order to do so, he must leave his own passport and identity behind to go underground on the refugee trail with Omar. Their odyssey across land and sea from Afghanistan to Europe brings them face to face with the people at heart of the migration crisis: smugglers, cops, activists, and the men, women and children fleeing war in search of a better life. As setbacks and dangers mount for the two friends, Matthieu is also drawn into the escape plans of Omar's entire family, including Maryam, the matriarch who has fought ferociously for her children's survival.
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