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What We're Reading, April 13-19

Another animal fable from Life of Pi author Yann Martel; New Yorker editor David Remnick shows how President Barack Obama's life intersects with the story of race in America; and permissive parents cope with sex, drugs and a rebellious teen in Anne Lamott's Imperfect Birds.


Beatrice and Virgil

A Novel

By Yann Martel

Yann Martel, the Canadian author of the Booker Prize-winning Life of Pi, enchanted readers around the world with his picaresque tale about Pi Patel, an optimistic 16-year-old Indian boy who survives a shipwreck and 227 days aboard a lifeboat with a 450-pound Bengal tiger. With his new novel, Beatrice and Virgil, Martel takes on a more ambitious and darker theme as he attempts to find a way to write imaginatively about the Holocaust. His narrator this time is an author named Henry who, like Martel, has written a hugely successful book. As with Pi, Martel divides his tale into multiple parts — an introductory discussion of Henry's failed attempts to create a part-fact, part-fiction book about the Holocaust; a midsection in which he meets a sinister taxidermist, also named Henry, who asks him to collaborate on a Beckett-style play in which a donkey (Beatrice) and a howler monkey (Virgil) are starved and tortured; and a coda that describes horrific human practices in the concentration camps.


Hardcover, 224 pages; Spiegel & Grau; list price, $24; publication date, April 13

The Bridge

The Life and Rise of Barack Obama

By David Remnick

Largely told through the prism of race, David Remnick's The Bridge is an exhaustive history of America's first African-American president. The New Yorker editor takes the reader from colonial Kenya, where Barack Obama's father grew up, to the gritty world of South Side Chicago politics, where Obama cut his political teeth, to the historic presidential race in 2008. Based on numerous on-the-record interviews with friends, associates and Obama himself, The Bridge is the most expansive look yet at where Obama came from, how he came to train his eye on the presidency and how he executed that vision.

Hardcover, 672 pages; Knopf; list price, $29.95; publication date, April 6


Imperfect Birds

A Novel

By Anne Lamott

In Imperfect Birds, Lamott dips back into the life of Rosie Ferguson, a beautiful, brilliant 17-year-old who has appeared in two earlier books. Rosie's loving, permissive mother, Elizabeth, and slightly harder-line stepfather, James, think they're living well and happily in the cosseted liberal affluence of Marin County, Calif. Elizabeth is a stay-at-home mom who is diligently tending to her own hard-won sobriety. James is a writer who lives to get weekly commentaries aired on NPR. (Really.) They see their lives as pretty complete. What Elizabeth and James don't see is that Rosie, like most teens, has a life she carefully keeps hidden from them. Her assertion of independence takes a horrifying form: use of a nightmare kaleidoscope of drugs, everything from pot to swilling cough syrup and sniffing plastics. After Rosie breaks their trust repeatedly, Elizabeth and James make the hard decision to send her to an outdoor-survival-based rehab program in Utah. And that's when all three Fergusons start to grow up.

Hardcover, 288 pages; Riverhead; list price, $25.95; publication date, April 6

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