My Salinger Year’s Joanna Rakoff

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Over the summer I reached out to many of my favorite authors asking what they were currently reading, what was up next and what they are working on. I had so many respond that I turned it into an 8 part series and people enjoyed and put more titles on their growing book lists. Joanna Rakoff  author of My Salinger Year had a different take on my request and I loved it so much I felt it deserved its own blog post. Here it is…enjoy -I sure did!

Right now, I’m in Paris doing interviews for the French edition of My Salinger Year, so I’m re-reading one of my favorite novels: Diane Johnson’s brilliant, Jamesian comedy of manners Le Divorce, which is set in Paris in the summer and fall of 1993, at the start of the war in Bosnia. If you’ve not read it, I’d strongly urge you to do so immediately. The story is thus: Californian Isabel Walker arrives in Paris to help her older sister, Roxy, who has married a French painter, Charles-Henri, around the house, only to find that Charles-Henri has–that very morning—left Roxy, pregnant with their second child, for another woman.

Over the months that follow, Roxy and Charles-Henri—and their extremely bourgeois families–try to work things out, financially and emotionally, but the conflict—the myriad misunderstandings—only escalate, just as the situation in Bosnia deteriorates, horrifying Parisians with tales of rape camps and murdered children. There’s also a dispute over a painting, retired CIA agents, EuroDisney, a ring of art thieves, and much, much more in this complicated, genius novel—which deftly gets at the ways our cultures define us—but much of its pleasure comes from Isabel’s wonderful, wry narration, from watching her transformation from shallow adolescent to a woman of depth and complication, from following her growing awareness of the world around her. Johnson has been nominated twice for both the Pulitzer and the National Book Award but I find that folks of my generation—or younger—either haven’t read her, or dismiss her as a writer of “women’s novels.” In truth, she’s one of the most important writers and thinkers of our time. Read one of her novels and you’ll find her elegant, urgent sentences lingering in your ear forever. Not to be missed!

I’m also reading a novel handed to me by my French editor, Cristina Alger’s The Darlings, which takes place in 2008, over Thanksgiving weekend, and essentially chronicles the downfall of a Bernie Madoff-like figure. My editor—who’s publishing the French edition—insisted I read it because my next novel, Money or Love, is set in 2010 and very much has to do with the fall-out from the 2008 global economic crisis: One of my characters is, indeed, a banker who was involved in some unsavory stuff, but has managed to keep it under wraps and its eating him from the inside out. Another has been keeping her family afloat for nearly two years but has now been reduced to selling off all her possessions and applying for food stamps. Cheerful stuff, I know! Though: It’s also a love story in the vein of The Age of Innocence.

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