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New England Literary News | Nina MacLaughlin

Three new books take on the personal and the political 

Daphne Kalotay (left, with Julianna Baggott) is the author of “Blue Hours.”Kayana Szymczak for The Boston Globe/file

Going the distance

The personal and political intertwine in Somerville author Daphne Kalotay’s rich and layered new novel “Blue Hours ” (Northwestern). The book follows two friends, Kyra, born into great wealth, who goes on to do world-saving NGO work, and Mim, Brighton-born on the other side of the money spectrum, who lives now a solitary rural life where almost no one knows her address. “Hadn’t all great Americans worked their way up the economic ladder?,” muses Mim. “Now we were the ones with the menial jobs, the desperate Friday paychecks. ” A tragedy ripped their relationship asunder, and after 20 years of estrangement, Mim gets a call that Kyra has gone missing in Afghanistan. Kalotay’s sense of place — the physical geography as well as emotional landscape — is as savvy and sharp as her portrait of the friendship between these two women. The novel unfolds cross-continentally, cross-class, cross-hearted, moving from New York City in the early ’90s to Afghanistan in 2012, and in Kalotay’s skilled hands (her acclaimed books include “Calamity and Other Stories ,” “Russian Winter ,” and “Sight Reading ”), the novel is both richly human and deeply political, exploring how decisions reverberate on both the private and the international stage. Kalotay will read and discuss her work on Friday at 7 p.m. at Harvard Book Store.


Nothing but trouble

Maureen Stanton’s new memoir, out this week, opens with her mother warning her and her five siblings that if they misbehave, they’ll end up in their hometown Walpole State Prison, with its “massive white walls surrounded by dense cedar forest, like something out of a fairy tale.” The appendix of the book is a list of “possible charges by legal definition, and penalties, for crimes committed (or accessory to) by me, my family, my friends.” It’s almost 50 items long. “Body Leaping Backward: Memoir of a Delinquent Girlhood ” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) traces the dissolution of a family, and the author’s descent from pot and booze into angel dust and other criminal activity, as Nixon was beginning to wage his war on drugs. Stanton, who teaches at UMass Lowell and lives in Georgetown, Maine, gives an unsparing look at a girlhood that veers off the rails into young adulthood. Sharp, candid, and deeply felt, her story shows the way our upbringings live on in our blood. Stanton will read and discuss the book on Tuesday  at 7 p.m. at Left Bank Books in Belfast, Maine.


Identity crisis

Boston University professor Liah Greenfeld has been thinking and writing on nationalism for much of her career, and in her new book “Nationalism: A Short History ” (Brookings Institution), she argues that nationalism is the driving force behind the great shifts in global history, and explains, in a clear and readable way, how and why this is so. “The history of nationalism essentially is the history of the march of equality across the world: the history of how it conquered in some places and stumbled in others, and of the myriad positive and negative ways it has affected our lives and changed humanity’s existential experience.” Greenfeld illuminates shifting notions of nationhood, and the ways in which a sense of national identity has propelled and continues to propel us, in individual experience and sweeping global consequences.

Coming Out

The Book of X by Sarah Rose Etter (Two Dollar Radio)


In Her Feminine Sign by Dunya Mikhail (New Directions)

Nocturne: The Walled City, Book Two by Anne Opotowsky and Angie Hoffmeister (Top Shelf)

Pick of the Week

Paul Theriault at the Brookline Booksmith recommends “An Untouched House ” by Willem Frederik Hermans (Archipelago): “The front lines may be the peak of insanity, blossoms of concussive explosions flowing from the whining stem of the shell’s path, but one shucked soldier finds some time to play house behind the lines, fending off billeted officers and aggrieved owners, dreaming that this bubble of calm will remain after the war finally passes. But he finds that you can’t hide from war if you carry it inside you.”

Nina MacLaughlin is the author of “Hammer Head: The Making of a Carpenter.” She can be reached at nmaclaughlin@gmail.com.