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nella larsen   Nella Larsen's two exquisite portraits of the black bourgeoisie, Quicksand and Passing, made her the foremost novelist of the Harlem Renaissance. Anchor Books recently re-released her collected works as The Complete Fiction of Nella Larsen, underscoring the rich literary inheritance that Larsen bequeathed to contemporary writers like Toni Morrison. One aspect of Larsen's carefully constructed yet endlessly readable fiction that continues to stand out is the psychological depth, latent eroticism, and intellectual complexity that she grants her female characters and their relationships with each other. In the following section of Passing, two girlhood friends meet in a chance encounter while both are "passing" for white. For the reader, watching these two women watch each other is thrilling and thought-provoking.
w.g. sebald   W.G. Sebald's Austerlitz entrancingly explores the melancholia of man, called Jacques Austerlitz, who is in search of his true identity. Austerlitz's search unfolds in a series of conversations with an unnamed narrator, who wades with the reader through the complex issues of self, history, trauma, and origin. The following passage, which details some of the narrator's earliest encounters with Austerlitz, also points to the titular character's mysterious nature.
robert kaplan   In his book The Coming Anarchy, Robert Kaplan presciently described a post-Cold War world where disorder reigns and terrorist networks like Al Queda flourish. His chilling vision of how the world might develop is especially relevant today, and is a warning to the civilized world that failed states breed savagery and danger that no nation is safe from.
allan gurganus   Allan Gurganus' The Practical Heart contains four novellas, bound together by a voice that recalls both the timeless figure of the traveling storyteller and the flowing, Southern prose of William Faulkner. The following selection, from "The Impractical Truth," explores family history and personal fantasy, demonstrating that the gap between fact and fiction is often an interesting story in and of itself.
nancy mitford   "Here come the Mitford girls!" cheered the Guardian recently. Indeed, that celebrated set of beautiful eccentrics--Nancy the writer, Pamela the countrywoman, Diana the fascist, Unity the Nazi, Jessica the communist, Deborah the duchess, and Tom the token boy--have come upon pop culture again (had they ever left?) with their customary shriek. Glamorous and unconventional, the Mitfords seemed characters straight out of fiction: Diana left her Guinness heir husband for British fascist leader Sir Oswald Mosley, Unity became an ardent Hitler acolyte who survived a suicidal gunshot to the head, the teenage Jessica eloped with a notoriously Red cousin and later found a muckraking career in America (Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling famously named her daughter "Jessica" in tribute). Yet they were exuberantly real--and ripe with potential. The incorrigible Nancy snatched up her family's exploits and gleefully ran with them, creating from those lightly fictionalized escapades her two most famous novels. The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate follow the comitragic travails of the Radlett and Hampton clans among the hedonistic Bright Young Things of the '20s and '30s. From patriarch Uncle Matthew, who uses his offspring in cross-country "child hunts", to the lovelorn Linda to Boy the Lecherous Lecturer, the families hilariously counterpoint the functional-by-comparison Flytes of Brideshead Revisited. Striking a chord with a postwar readership desperately in need of lightness and humor, the novels had an instant popularity, even with loftier circles: "The Queen had to act Love in a Cold Climate in a charade--she kissed the King and shivered and everybody guessed at once!!" Republished in time for the forthcoming BBC/Masterpiece Theatre miniseries, Nancy Mitford's The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate have triumphantly returned, as effervescent and witty as the Mitfords themselves.
braudel   Fernand Braudel (1902-1985) was the greatest historian of the twentieth century. Memory & the Mediterranean is a lost work by the master on his favorite theme. Braudel approaches this study from what he describes as the almost fixed rhythm of "geographic time" to observe the comparatively swift movement of "individual time," the rhythm of peoples and their ideas. He liked to say that "history is more than a walled garden" and that to understand the past one must understand the soil, the mountains and rivers, the flora and fauna and finally the cities that grew as a result of these riches and there you will find the people and thus a history. Peer into the mind of this extraordinary scholar in this excerpt.
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