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Notable books

Notable Books | Four new novels reviewed by Susan Olasky

A Happy Marriage

Enriqué Saba dropped out of high school to write his first novel when he was 16. At 21 he meets Margaret. Nearly 30 years later he cares for her as she dies of cancer. This autobiographical (and verbally raunchy and sexually explicit) novel alternates between past (how they met and fell in love) and present (gritty details of her last days). Two chapters in the novel's middle mark significant events: year seven, Enriqué in love with another woman; year 20, a romantic anniversary trip to Venice. Enriqué tries to understand his marriage and compress its meaning into perfect last words for his wife. The novel is a moving portrayal of a man trying to find ultimate meaning, first in his work and then in his marriage.

Baking Cakes in Kigali

This delightful novel set in Rwanda has a simple premise: Angel runs a cake business that brings her into contact with all kinds of people. Originally from Tanzania, Angel knows about but wasn't a witness to Rwanda's genocide, which makes her "safe." As people come to her apartment to place orders, they tell over tea about their lives and the occasion they are marking with the cake. Through her gentle probing their stories-tales of hardship and rejoicing-come forth. Parkin shares with Alexander McCall Smith the ability to describe well a place and then people it with a lively cast of characters. At the center is Angel, the helpful neighbor and older friend who many come to for advice and encouragement.

True Blue

Baldacci knows how to craft a page-turning novel. This one centers on policewoman Mace Perry, unjustly sent to prison several years before. Now, even though her sister is the chief of the Washington, D.C., police department, Mace cannot be readmitted to the force unless she can clear her name. She thinks if she can solve the death of a high-powered female attorney and a federal prosecutor, she'll be able to get her job back. With the help of a male associate at the victim's law firm, Mace on her powerful Ducati motorcycle sets out to solve the crime. The book provides action doused in political intrigue and a dash of paranoia.

The Calligrapher's Daughter

This beautifully written novel offers a sweeping look at 20th-century Korean history, through the end of World War II, a period when Japan occupied the country and tried to stamp out Korean culture. Najin, the daughter of an aristocratic calligrapher, is being prepared to take her place in a traditional world that is under assault by the spread of Christianity (which encourages education for women) and the brutal policies of the Japanese. Against that backdrop Najin struggles to find her place, to understand her mother's Christian faith, and to reconcile it with all the suffering she and her family endure.

Spotlight

Three years ago (Dog's best friend, Dec. 2, 2006) WORLD profiled John Erickson. In Story Craft: Reflections on Faith, Culture and Writing from the author of Hank the Cowdog (Maverick/Patrick Henry College, 2009), Erickson shows how he became a writer (a stop at Harvard Divinity School and work as a cowboy helped). He explains how he created Hank, the ranch dog and star of his long-running series.

Erickson also discusses cultural questions of calling, beauty, art versus craft, and the roles of stories in building our characters. He uses episodes from his life to keep his worldview discussions from becoming overly theoretical. His practical advice about publishing arises from his own experience, which includes self­publishing the first Hank books and dealing with Disney and CBS to protect his vision.

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