“In the end, all we are is our attention, there is nothing else,” Hamer notes. As his rich second book moves month by month through the year of a working gardener, his attention is alternately on the mechanics of how ferns unfurl; the process of sowing cosmos seeds; the whys, whens, and hows of pruning and deadheading; issues of class and masculinity; the lives of poets and stoic philosophers; thoughts on his long, warm, marriage; and observations of the well-heeled, kind, but often opaque Miss Cashmere, whose garden he tends. As readers of Hamer’s unforgettable How to Catch a Mole know, he’s a real character, and the journal format here allows full-play for his humor, wisdom, irrepressible childlike wonder, and (mostly faux) curmudgeonliness. There is much to savor and treasure on every page, from hard-won lessons such as how “nature doesn’t require individuals; they are disposable as long as there are enough of them,” to vivid descriptions of the natural and human lives of “this ever changing here and now,” where “twilight lets the shadows out and transforms the mundane into the magical.”
Ali, a noted poet, was born in London to Pakistani parents, “mainly grew up” in Staten Island and other American cities, but always felt closest to JenPeg, the tiny Manitoba town—headquarters for a dam project—where he learned to read and to look at the stars. But years later, idly wondering what became of it, Ali discovers instead the world of nearby Cross Lake, home of the Pimicikamak Cree. Unaware of the region’s Indigenous population when he lived here, Ali is stunned to learn of a rash of suicides among its young people; seeking to understand both this and the pull the place—and, more, the people—suddenly have on him, he travels to Cross Lake. His heartfelt book, a graceful weave of memoir, journalism, and meditations on home, colonialism, climate change, and more, chronicles Ali’s meetings with the Cree—whose warm welcome included an invitation to join their Sweat Ceremony—the history of Native-European relations, and the lasting trauma of white efforts to repress Indigenous culture. But it also testifies to this people’s resilience and sprit as they recover traditional ways, from language and ritual to a sustainable, reverent relationship with the land.
Set in a South Korean resort town near the DMZ, Dusapin’s arresting first novel is a surprisingly vivid picture of limbo shot in high contrast. The narrator works in a mind-numbing job at a “guest house paralyzed by the cold” where she yearns “to be seen” by a visiting French cartoonist—even as she proves herself a brilliant observer. Through telling images from the synesthetic evocation of “skin clammy from the stench of sea spray that left salt on the cheeks, a taste of iron on the tongue,” to the startling description of how a man’s “throat throbbed when he chewed, like a sickly baby bird, newly born, dying,” Dusapin’s protagonist charts a society stuck in a state of suspended animation, where the only way out is plastic surgery and a move to Seoul—options the woman rejects, yet also makes her own, detailing the way her soup spoon “created ripples, smudging my nose, making my forehead undulate and my cheeks bleed into my skin.” Dusapin’s is a vision of singular power and strange beauty.