An English Bookshop

Manhattan Beach: A Novel, Jennifer Egan

One of the most marvelous things about the book is how the author evokes the atmosphere of America in the early 1940s, not just descriptions of clothes or cars, but also radio music: Benny Goodman, Count Basie, and the Andrew Sisters. It’s wartime, there is danger of invasion, and perhaps a similar fearful mood to the period after 9/11. The main character, Anna, a 19-year-old woman, works in the Brooklyn Naval Yard, and wants to be a diver repairing ships assisting in the war effort, which is extremely dangerous work. This is quite an ambition for a woman in 1940s New York. Among many interesting facts in this book is that the diving suit weighs two hundred pounds! Anna’s diving instructor hopes she will be a failed experiment, but her fellow student Bascombe pushes her forward. Bascombe can’t see very well and was rejected by the Navy but says, "Doesn't make a damn bit of difference about your eyesight; you can't see a thing underwater.” The novel also features two other important people we are introduced to on the first page, Anna’s adored father, a petty crook who disappears, and Dexter Styles, a gangster, who Anna meets in a nightclub but has vague memories of meeting him as a child. So we have gangsters, sailors, union men, divers, all the makings of a good historical novel.


David recommends:
Israel Rising: The Land of Israel Reawakens Doug Hershey

Just in time for Israel's 70th anniversary, this book celebrates the modern beauty of the region with photographs from the nineteenth century to today. The most striking feature of the book is that older photographs are adjacent to Elise Theriault's photographs of the exact same locale in 2016. The changes are remarkable, profound, and exciting.


Estelle recommends:
American Marriage Tayari Jones

Oprah Winfrey's enthusiasm for books continues. The novel centres on secrets, lost hopes, a flawed justice system tinged with racism, and the role of marriage in today’s society. Celestial and Roy are young, black, middle-class, and in love. She is an artist and Roy is a promising executive. They are married eighteen months when Roy is wrongly accused of rape while visiting Celestial’s parents in small-town Louisiana. After serving five years of a twelve-year prison sentence, his conviction is overturned. We witness the devastation of a marriage and friendships. Beautifully written and told through letters that Celestial and Roy write to each other during and after his time in prison, as well as the story of Andre, Celestial’s longtime friend, confidant, and best man at their wedding. The characters are well-developed and memorable. Jones makes many references to black culture, prose, poetry, and music and leaves us with much material to digest and process. This is a novel well worth reading.

Sandra Selects