What does it mean to be American—or to have a national identity at all, for that matter—in our increasingly global society? That’s the question at the heart of these novels and short story collections that make for ideal March book club selections. In Susan Minot’s Thirty Girls, an American journalist travels to Africa to forget her past, only to run headlong into a bigger crisis. And in Boy, Snow, Bird, Helen Oyeyemi revamps the Snow White story to explore racial tension and family dysfunction in mid-century Boston. Written by authors from diverse ethnicities and backgrounds, these books will launch compelling discussions as they keep you and your book club pals turning page after page.
1. Thirty Girls
Love and war in Uganda
Minot’s much-anticipated novel is set in war-ravaged Uganda and centers on two young women: Esther, a Ugandan teenager struggling to escape the murderous Lord’s Resistance Army; and Jane, an American journalist haunted by past failures who travels to Africa to report on experiences like Esther’s. As Esther and Jane’s stories converge, and the differences and similarities between them come into focus, Minot challenges the reader to consider how the misfortunes of others can—and cannot—help us to make sense our own.
A buried secret brings estranged friends together
In this novel by PEN/Hemingway Award-winner Yiyun Li, a tragic incident that occurred more than twenty years ago in China—the (purportedly) accidental poisoning of a political dissident—casts its shadow over the lives of three estranged friends. Scattered in different parts of the world and unable to let go of the past, they must each make sense of their dark shared history and decide what—or rather, who—really caused the event that drove them apart. Li’s novel will appeal to readers interested in Chinese culture and history, and is sure to spark discussions about how the past, especially one marked by political strife, can influence the present.
A new vision of American identity
Reading Molly Antopol’s debut short story collection may bring to mind the controversial Coke commercial that aired during this year’s Super Bowl, in which people from different ethnicities sing the national anthem in variety of languages. Antopol’s stories offer a similar (though far more nuanced) view of how American identity has grown prismatic. An Israeli journalist, a former political dissident from Prague, and an actor exaggerating his communist sympathies to score a role are just a few of the characters that will challenge readers’ perceived notions about what it is to be American.
A short fiction pro takes on global concerns
This latest collection by beloved short story maven Lorrie Moore combines the author’s signature sense of humor with more serious commentary on the legacy of 9/11 and the consequences of America’s involvement with the Middle East. Readers will enjoy Moore’s effortless prose and discussing the larger themes that lurk beneath the surface.
A tense twist on a classic fairytale
In January, we saw the retelling of a classic Japanese fable with Patrick Ness’ novel The Crane Wife. Now, author Helen Oyeyemi treats us to a retelling of the Snow White story with her novel, Boy, Snow, Bird. In addition to setting the tale in a specific time and place—1953, Massachusetts—Oyeyemi lends depth to the original by adding a layer of racial tension: In this version, the young, presumably Caucasian Snow Whitman gives birth to a dark-skinned baby boy. The event unearths long-held family secrets and forces everyone in Snow’s life to confront, and challenge, their own racial prejudices.
6. Pioneer Girl
A book lover’s journey through two cultures
What could a jobless Ph.D student, a family disappearance, the war in Vietnam, Little House on the Prairie author Laura Ingalls Wilder, and a mysterious golden brooch all have in common? With Pioneer Girl, Bich Minh Nguyen brings these disparate elements together in an adventurous story that synthesizes Vietnamese culture, academic life, and American literary history. Book clubs will enjoy the novel’s imaginative risk-taking and humor, as well as the important discussions about family history and the first-generation experience that it provokes.