Recommending another book! Han Kang’s Human Acts uncovers the aftermath of a massacre during a student uprising in South Korea in the 1980s. The story unfolds over the course of several decades. Trauma, like a virus, infects all aspects of life. I won’t lie. It’s a little bit bleak. State-sanctioned violence destroys bodies as well as souls. That said, the victims trudge on despite their wounds. What keeps them pushing forward are the stories they share with their fellow survivors.

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Just finished Karan Mahajan’s new novel The Association of Small Bombs. Set in Delhi, India, the story considers a small terrorist attack in a crowded market that shatters two families, one Hindu and the other Muslim. What I found most compelling is Mahajan’s willingness to depict the perpetrators as human. They are motivated to commit their egregious acts more by fear and petty grievances than by ideology. At its heart, it is a novel about terror and pain, humanity’s most unrepentant jailer.

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When Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald unveiled Barack and Michelle Obama portraits, I was underwhelmed. To be upfront, I’m not a big fan of Kehinde. Save a magazine spread of Sherald, I was ignorant of her work.

That changed today. As I stood in front of Sherald’s painting of Michelle, I felt the power, grace, and stoicism. I loved how it walked a line between abstraction and representation. Her gaze is world-weary, knowing. I appreciated the attention to detail (lavender manicure) and the shout-out to Gee’s quilting in the patterned dress. The painting has flaws – wonky anatomy, so-so resemblance (looks like Kerry Washington), patchy areas of paint. The shortcomings do not hinder the painting’s magnificence. The painting is a radical departure from every First Lady Portrait that preceded it. Here is a painting of a black woman, a descendant of slaves, that displays both humility and power.

The Wiley painting: it FUCKING glows. GLOWS. And when it’s not glowing, it sparkles. He nailed it. God, I miss Obama.

My initial reactions were knee-jerk. Based more on preconceived notions of what I anticipated seeing instead of being based on the experience of seeing the work in person.

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Sebastian Barry’s novel Days Without End is a mashup between Brokeback Mountain and Blood Meridian. Atmospheric. Languid. Violent. Man’s inhumanity against man is punctuated by surreptitious love. I could not put it down. Read it.

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If anyone is looking for an engrossing novel about flawed characters trying to do the right thing – but inevitably failing to do so – let me suggest Lisa McInerney’s The Glorious Heresies. The novel is set in Cork, Ireland. Her prose cuts to the bone. It is as funny as it is bittersweet and heartbreaking. Shame, poverty, violence, and addiction stymie human connection. It’s a must-read. I could not put it down at night. If it sounds grim, it is. But she manages to balance it with gallows humor. As the kids say, I lol.

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Just finished The North Water by Ian McGuire. I cannot recommend it highly enough. On the surface, it’s a story of survival set in the frozen waters near the Arctic Circle. But beneath the ice – amidst pedophilia, rape, murder, and starvation – is a damning condemnation of free-market capitalism, unfettered regulation, and the mass plunder of natural resources. Read this book now.

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