A small sample of the many new history book titles arriving at the library in April
Patriot Number One: American Dreams in Chinatown by Lauren Hilgers.
“Nearly three years ago, journalist Lauren Hilgers received an unexpected call. Hello, Lauren! a man shouted in halting Mandarin. We might be seeing you in New York again soon! The voice belonged to Zhuang Liehong, a Chinese man who had been arrested in his home country for leading a string of protests, and whom Hilgers had met the previous year while reporting a story. Despite zero contacts and a shaky grasp of English, Zhuang explained that he and his wife, Little Yan, had a plan to escape from their American tour group and move to Flushing, Queens, to escape persecution back home. A few weeks later, they arrived on Hilgers’s doorstep.
With a novelistic eye for character and detail, Hilgers weaves their story with a larger investigation of the Chinese community in Flushing, one of the fastest-growing immigrant enclaves in the US. There’s Tang Yuanjun, a former Tiananmen Square leader who has come to terms with living a shadow life in America as his friends and family continue their own in China. And Karen, one of Little Yan’s friends from night school, who was kidnapped by her relatives yet remains hopeful, working part-time in a nail salon as she attends vocational school for hotel work.
Patriot Number One is Hilgers’s nuanced, through-the-looking-glass story of the twenty-first-century American dream. Zhuang and Little Yan’s challenges reveal a world hidden in plain sight: the byzantine network of employment agencies and language schools, of underground banks and illegal dormitories that allow immigrants to survive. Amid a raging immigration debate on the national stage, Hilgers’s deeply reported and beautifully wrought account paints a revealing portrait of just what it takes to survive.”
Wife’s Tale: A Personal History by Aida Edemariam.
“In this indelible memoir that recalls the life of her remarkable ninety-five-year old grandmother, Guardian journalist Aida Edemariam tells the story of modern Ethiopia—a nation that would undergo a tumultuous transformation from feudalism to monarchy to Marxist revolution to democracy, over the course of one century.
Born in the northern Ethiopian city of Gondar in about 1916, Yetemegnu was married and had given birth before she turned fifteen. As the daughter of a socially prominent man, she also offered her husband, a poor yet gifted student, the opportunity to become an important religious leader.
Over the next decades Yetemegnu would endure extraordinary trials: the death of some of her children; her husband’s imprisonment; and the detention of one of her sons. She witnessed the Fascist invasion of Ethiopia and the subsequent resistance, suffered Allied bombardment and exile from her city; lived through a bloody revolution and the nationalization of her land. She gained audiences with Emperor Haile Selassie I to argue for justice for her husband, for revenge, and for her children’s security, and fought court battles to defend her assets against powerful men. But sustained, in part, by her fierce belief in the Virgin Mary and in Orthodox Christianity, Yetemegnu survived. She even learned to read, in her sixties, and eventually made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem.
Told in Yetemegnu’s enthralling voice and filled with a vivid cast of characters—emperors and empresses, priests and scholars, monks and nuns, archbishops and slaves, Marxist revolutionaries and wartime double agents—The Wife’s Tale introduces a woman both imperious and vulnerable; a mother, widow, and businesswoman whose deep faith and numerous travails never quashed her love of laughter, mischief and dancing; a fighter whose life was shaped by direct contact with the volatile events that transformed her nation.
An intimate memoir that offers a panoramic view of Ethiopia’s recent history, The Wife’s Tale takes us deep into the landscape, rituals, social classes, and culture of this ancient, often mischaracterized, richly complex, and unforgettable land—and into the heart of one indomitable woman.”
Elizabeth’s Rival: The Tumultuous Life of the Countess of Leicester by Nicola Tallis.
“A kinswoman to Elizabeth I, Lettice Knollys had begun the Queen’s glittering reign basking in favor and success. It was an honor that she would enjoy for two decades. However, on the morning of September 21st, 1578, Lettice made a fateful decision. When the Queen learned of it, the consequences were swift. Lettice had dared to marry without the Queen’s consent. But worse, her new husband was Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, the Queen’s favorite and one-time suitor.
Though she would not marry him herself, Elizabeth was fiercely jealous of any woman who showed an interest in Leicester. Knowing that she would likely earn the Queen’s enmity, Lettice married Leicester in secret, leading to her permanent banishment from court. Elizabeth never forgave the new Countess for what she perceived to be a devastating betrayal, and Lettice permanently forfeited her favor. She had become not just Queen Elizabeth’s adversary. She was her rival.
But the Countess’ story does not end there. Surviving the death of two husbands and navigating the courts of three very different monarchs: Henry VIII, Elizabeth I, and Charles I, Lettice’s story offers an extraordinary and intimate perspective on the world she lived in.”
St Petersburg: Madness, Murder and Art on the Banks of the Neva by Jonathan Miles.
“St. Petersburg has always felt like an impossible metropolis, risen from the freezing mists and flooded marshland of the River Neva on the western edge of Russia. It was a new capital in an old country. Established in 1703 by the sheer will of its charismatic founder, the homicidal megalomaniac Peter the Great, its dazzling yet unhinged reputation was quickly cemented by the sadistic dominion of its early rulers. This city, in its successive incarnations—St. Petersburg, Petrograd, Leningrad and, once again, St. Petersburg—has always been a place of perpetual contradiction.
It was a window to Europe and the Enlightenment, but so much of Russia’s unique glory was also created here: its literature, music, dance and, for a time, its political vision. It gave birth to the artistic genius of Pushkin and Dostoyevsky, Tchaikovsky and Shostakovich, Pavlova and Nureyev. Yet, for all its glittering palaces, fairytale balls and enchanting gardens, the blood of thousands has been spilt on its snow-filled streets.
It has been a hotbed of war and revolution, a place of siege and starvation, and the crucible for Lenin and Stalin’s power-hungry brutality. In St. Petersburg, Jonathan Miles recreates the drama of three hundred years in this paradoxical and brilliant city, bringing us up to the present day, when its fate hangs in the balance once more.
This is an epic tale of murder, massacre and madness played out against squalor and splendor, and an unforgettable portrait of a city and its people.”
Disappointment River: Finding and Losing the Northwest Passage by Biran Castner.
“In 1789, Alexander Mackenzie traveled the 1,125 miles of the immense river in Canada that now bears his name, in search of the fabled Northwest Passage, only to confront impassable pack ice. In 2016, the acclaimed memoirist Brian Castner retraced Mackenzie’s route by canoe in a grueling journey — and discovered the Passage he could not find.
Disappointment River is a dual historical narrative and travel memoir that at once transports readers back to the heroic age of North American exploration and places them in a still rugged but increasingly fragile Arctic wilderness in the process of profound alteration by the dual forces of energy extraction and climate change. Eleven years before Lewis and Clark, the Scottish explorer Alexander Mackenzie actually crossed the North American continent with a team of voyageurs and Native guides. Before that he was the first to discover a route to the Arctic Ocean from the Great Lakes, along the river he named “Disappointment” because he believed he’d failed in his mission to find a trade route to the riches of the East. In fact he had — he was just two-plus centuries early.
In this book, Brian Castner not only retells the story of Mackenzie’s epic voyages in vivid prose, he personally retraces his travels in an 1,125-mile canoe voyage down the river that bears his name, battling exhaustion, exposure, mosquitoes, white water rapids and the threat of bears. He transports readers to a world rarely glimpsed in the media, of tar sands, thawing permafrost, remote Native villages and, at the end, a wide open Arctic Ocean that is quickly becoming a far-northern Mississippi of barges and pipelines and oil money.”
A Spy in Canaan: How the FBI used a Famous Photographer to Infiltrate the Civil Rights Movement by Marc Perrusquia.
“The story of the double life of famed civil rights photographer Ernest Withers–and how a closely guarded government secret finally came to light. Told by the journalist who broke the story.
Ernest Withers captured some of the most iconic moments of the civil rights movement–from the rare photo of Martin Luther King Jr. in repose to the haunting photo of Emmet Till’s great-uncle pointing an accusing finger at Till’s killers. He was trusted and beloved by King’s inner circle, and had a front row seat to history. But what most people don’t know is that Withers was an informant for the FBI–and his photos helped the bureau identify and surveil the era’s greatest figures. This book explores the life, complex motivations, and legacy of this fascinating figure.”