Notable new releases
compiled by Sally Brewster
River of the Gods: Genius, Courage, and Betrayal in the Search for the Source of the Nile, by Candice Millard
For millennia, the location of the Nile River’s headwaters was shrouded in mystery. In the 19th century, there was a frenzy of interest in ancient Egypt, and European powers sent off waves of explorations intended to map the unknown corners of the globe — and extend their colonial empires.
Richard Burton and John Hanning Speke were sent by the Royal Geographical Society to claim the prize for England. Burton spoke 29 languages and was a decorated soldier. Speke was a young aristocrat and Army officer determined to make his mark, passionate about hunting — Burton’s opposite in temperament and beliefs. From the start the two men clashed. They would endure tremendous hardships, illness and constant setbacks. Two years in, deep in the African interior, Burton became too sick to press on. But Speke did and claimed he found the source in a great lake that he christened Lake Victoria. Burton disputed his claim, and Speke launched another expedition to Africa to prove it. The two became venomous enemies, with the public siding with the more charismatic Burton. The day before they were to publicly debate, Speke shot himself.
Yet there was a third man on both expeditions, his name obscured by imperial annals. Sidi Mubarak Bombay was enslaved and shipped from his home village in East Africa to India. When the man who purchased him died, he made his way into the local Sultan’s army, and eventually traveled back to Africa, where he used his resourcefulness, linguistic prowess and raw courage to forge a living as a guide. Without Bombay and men like him, who led, carried and protected the expedition, neither Englishman would have come close to the headwaters of the Nile, or perhaps even survived.
In River of the Gods, Candice Millard has written another peerless story of courage and adventure, set against the backdrop of the race to exploit Africa by the colonial powers.
The Flag, the Cross, and the Station Wagon: A Graying American Looks Back at his Suburban Boyhood and Wonders What the Hell Happened, by Bill McKibben
Like so many of us, Bill McKibben grew up believing — knowing — that the United States was the greatest country on Earth. As a teenager, he cheerfully led American Revolution tours in Lexington, Mass. He sang “Kumbaya” at church. And with the remarkable rise of suburbia, he assumed that all Americans would share in the wealth. But 50 years later, he finds himself in an increasingly doubtful nation strained by bleak racial and economic inequality, on a planet whose future is in peril. And he is curious: What the hell happened? McKibben digs deep into our history (and his own well-meaning but not all-seeing past) and into the latest scholarship on race and inequality in America, on the rise of the religious right, and on our environmental crisis to explain how we got to this point. He finds that he is not without hope. And he wonders if any of that trinity of his youth — the flag, the cross, the station wagon — could, or should, be reclaimed in the fight for a fairer future.
Love Marriage: A Novel, by Monica Ali
Yasmin Ghorami is 26, training to be a doctor (like her Indian-born father) and engaged to the charismatic, upper-class Joe Sangster, whose formidable mother, Harriet, is a famous feminist. The gulf between families is vast. So, too, is the gulf in sexual experience between Yasmin and Joe. As the wedding day draws near, misunderstandings, infidelities and long-held secrets upend both Yasmin’s relationship and that of her parents, a “love marriage,” according to the family lore that Yasmin has believed all her life. A gloriously acute observer of class, sexual mores and the mysteries of the human heart, Monica Ali has written a captivating social comedy and a profoundly moving, revelatory story of two cultures, two families and two people trying to understand one another.
You Made a Fool of Death with Your Beauty, by Akwaeke Emezi
Feyi Adekola wants to learn how to be alive again. It’s been five years since the accident that killed the love of her life, and she’s almost a new person now — an artist with her own studio, and sharing a brownstone apartment with her ride-or-die best friend, Joy, who insists it’s time for Feyi to ease back into the dating scene. Feyi isn’t ready for anything serious, but a steamy encounter at a rooftop party cascades into a whirlwind summer she could have never imagined: a luxury trip to a tropical island, decadent meals in the glamorous home of a celebrity chef and a major curator who wants to launch her art career. She’s even started dating the perfect guy, but their new relationship might be sabotaged before it has a chance by the overwhelming desire Feyi feels every time she locks eyes with the one person in the house who is off-limits — his father. This new life she asked for just got a lot more complicated, and Feyi must begin her search for real answers.
The Lioness, by Chris Bohjalian
Tanzania, 1964: When A-list actress Katie Barstow and her new husband, David Hill, decide to bring their Hollywood friends to the Serengeti for their honeymoon, they envision giraffes gently eating leaves from the tall acacia trees, great swarms of wildebeests crossing the Mara River and herds of zebras storming the sandy plains. Their glamorous guests — including Katie’s best friend, Carmen Tedesco, and Terrance Dutton, a celebrated Black actor — will spend their days taking photos and their evenings drinking chilled gin and tonics back at camp, as the local Tanzanian guides warm water for their baths. The wealthy Americans expect civilized adventure: fresh ice from the kerosene-powered ice maker, dinners of cooked gazelle meat and plenty of stories to tell over lunch back on Rodeo Drive. What Katie and her glittering entourage do not expect is this: a kidnapping gone wrong, their guides bleeding out in the dirt and a team of Russian mercenaries herding their hostages into Land Rovers, guns to their heads. As the powerful sun gives way to night, gunmen shove them into abandoned huts and Katie Barstow, Hollywood royalty, prays for a simple thing: to see the sun rise one more time. A blistering story of fame, race, love and death set in a world on the cusp of great change. SP
Sally Brewster is the proprietor of Park Road Books. 4139 Park Rd., parkroadbooks.com