January is always a time to look ahead, so why not read a book about Cassandra, who was doomed to see the future but never be believed. This month there are two to choose from: Call me Cassandraa novel by Cuban-born author Marcial Gala and translated by Anna Kushner (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, January 11), and Shit Cassandra Sawa book of short stories by Gwen E. Kirby (Penguin, January 11).
Gala translates the Greek myth to Cuba in the 1970s and 1980s, when Castro sent soldiers to Angola to fight in that country’s civil war. Rauli, the protagonist of Gala, who believes he is the reincarnation of Cassandra, is a “little, honest, bookish boy who likes to wear dresses in a culture that values machismo,” according to our starred review. “His difference will make him a target—for other children, for his fellow soldiers, for the captain who brutally abuses him—but it also gives meaning to a life he knows will be short. Because he has Cassandra’s curse, he knows he will die in Angola at the age of 19.” Our review calls the book ‘a haunting meditation on identity and violence’.
Kirby’s stories deal with the lives of several women from history and myth, including Cassandra, who has the last laugh; as our starred review puts it, “she relishes the delightful irony that ‘Trojan Horse will not be synonymous with courage or failure, betrayal or endurance,’ but with condoms.” There are 19ecentury Welsh witches and whores, as well as contemporary women who refuse to stay in line. Our review concludes that “with wacky plots, unconventional shapes and playful, poetic language, these stories are delightful at every turn.”
Those two books are both debuts, and if they don’t appeal to you, plenty of others are coming out this month. Attempt Fiona and Jane by Jean Chen Ho (Viking, Jan 4), a series of linked stories about two friends who play important roles in each other’s lives as they move from adolescence to young adulthood. ho “adept”[ly] captures…child confusion, teenage anxiety, and adult malaise,” according to our review. Or how about Lizzie Damilola Blackburn’s Yinka, where is your husband? (Pamela Dorman Books/Viking, January 18), about “a 31-year-old British-Nigerian Oxford graduate [who] is going crazy looking for a husband and a job on a very tight schedule,” which our review says is “a brutal, punchy story.”
The school for good mothers by Jessamine Chan (Simon and Schuster, Jan. 4) is a satire on contemporary parenting in the guise of a story of a woman in prison à la Orange is the new black† Frida, the divorced mother of a toddler, is separated from her daughter after leaving her home alone – in an exersaucer! – as she ran out to get coffee and pick up something from the office. No one will argue that was a good idea, but it plunges Frida into a Kafkaesque world of bureaucracy and surveillance that ends with her being sent to a reform school for wayward mothers. Our starred review calls the book “an engrossing dystopian drama that makes complex points about parenting with depth and feeling.”
Finally, as someone who is fond of words with strangely specific meanings (second lastanyone?), loved discovering Renée Branum’s throwing out the window (Bloomsbury, January 25). Twins Marta and Nick have always been warned that their relatives have a terrifying tendency to be injured or killed in a fall since an ancestor pushed someone out of a window in Prague. After Nick comes out as gay and his mother rejects him, the siblings move to Prague to confront their history. Our starred review says this is “a serious story, told clearly.”
Laurie Muchnick is the fiction editor.