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10 Short, Thought-Provoking Reads for Book Club

December 16 2021
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With the holidays on the horizon, it can be a busy time to carve out space for reading. But you don’t have to commit to a 400+ page behemoth to get your dose of thought-provoking, awe-inspiring reading experiences. These ten titles are all complex, tightly packaged tales that—despite their compressed lengths—are sure to inspire deep thinking and expand your horizons. Whether they haunt you, inspire you, confront you, or unsettle you, all these books can be read in a flash but will linger with you long after you turn the final page.

Sadness Is a White Bird
by Moriel Rothman-Zecher

After several years in America, seventeen-year-old Jonathan moves back to Israel, ready to fight for the Israeli military. But before his draft date comes, Jonathan meets Nimreen and Laith, the Palestinian twin children of his mother’s friend. The threesome soon become inseparable, and Jonathan grows more uncertain about where his loyalties should lie. Told in retrospection from Jonathan two years later in an Israeli military jail, SADNESS IS A WHITE BIRD is a timely and poignant debut.

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Sadness Is a White Bird
Moriel Rothman-Zecher

**A 2019 Dayton Literary Peace Prize Finalist**
**A 2018 National Jewish Book Award Finalist for Debut Fiction**

In this “nuanced, sharp, and beautifully written” (Michael Chabon) debut novel, a young man prepares to serve in the Israeli army while also trying to reconcile his close relationship to two Palestinian siblings with his deeply ingrained loyalties to family and country.

The story begins in an Israeli military jail, where—four days after his nineteenth birthday—Jonathan stares up at the fluorescent lights of his cell and recalls the series of events that led him there.

Two years earlier: Moving back to Israel after several years in Pennsylvania, Jonathan is ready to fight to preserve and defend the Jewish state. But he is also conflicted about the possibility of having to monitor the occupied Palestinian territories, a concern that grows deeper and more urgent when he meets Nimreen and Laith—the twin daughter and son of his mother’s friend.

From that morning on, the three become inseparable: wandering the streets on weekends, piling onto buses toward new discoveries, laughing uncontrollably. They share joints on the beach, trading snippets of poems, intimate secrets, family histories, resentments, and dreams. But with his draft date rapidly approaching, Jonathan wrestles with the question of what it means to be proud of your heritage, while also feeling love for those outside of your own family. And then that fateful day arrives, the one that lands Jonathan in prison and changes his relationship with the twins forever.

“Unflinching in its honesty, unyielding in its moral complexity” (Geraldine Brooks, Pulitzer Prize–winning author), Sadness Is a White Bird explores one man’s attempts to find a place for himself, discovering in the process a beautiful, against-the-odds love that flickers like a candle in the darkness of a never-ending conflict.

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Infinite Country
by Patricia Engel

A kaleidoscopic family epic, INFINITE COUNTRY is a time-bending portrait of one family seeking reunion across space and time. Teenaged Talia is being held at a correctional facility after a violent outburst and can’t wait to return to her father. Years before, her parents fell in love in the midst of the Colombian civil war. Years later, her siblings will fight to discover themselves in America while facing deportation. Through it all, Patricia Engel’s nuanced storytelling takes us through mythical realities and urban landscapes, triumphs and tragedies.

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Infinite Country
Patricia Engel

A REESE’S BOOK CLUB PICK and INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

“A profound, beautiful novel.” — People * “Poignant.” —BuzzFeed * “A breathtaking story of the unimaginable prices paid for a better life.” —Esquire

This “heartbreaking portrait of a family dealing with the realities of migration and separation” (Time) is “a sweeping love story and tragic drama [and] an authentic vision of what the American Dream looks like in a nationalistic country” (Elle).

I often wonder if we are living the wrong life in the wrong country.

Talia is being held at a correctional facility for adolescent girls in the forested mountains of Colombia after committing an impulsive act of violence that may or may not have been warranted. She urgently needs to get out and get back home to Bogotá, where her father and a plane ticket to the United States are waiting for her. If she misses her flight, she might also miss her chance to finally be reunited with her family.

How this family came to occupy two different countries, two different worlds, comes into focus like twists of a kaleidoscope. We see Talia’s parents, Mauro and Elena, fall in love in a market stall as teenagers against a backdrop of civil war and social unrest. We see them leave Bogotá with their firstborn, Karina, in pursuit of safety and opportunity in the United States on a temporary visa, and we see the births of two more children, Nando and Talia, on American soil. We witness the decisions and indecisions that lead to Mauro’s deportation and the family’s splintering—the costs they’ve all been living with ever since.

Award-winning, internationally acclaimed author Patricia Engel, herself a dual citizen and the daughter of Colombian immigrants, gives voice to all five family members as they navigate the particulars of their respective circumstances. Rich with Bogotá urban life, steeped in Andean myth, and tense with the daily reality of the undocumented in America, Infinite Country “is as much an all-American story as it is a global one” (Booklist, starred review).

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The Tenth Man
by Graham Greene

From critically acclaimed writer Graham Greene, THE TENTH MAN is a modern classic about one man’s moral quandary under the pressure of fatal forces. Jean-Louis Chauvel is a French lawyer who finds himself in a German prison camp during World War II. When his captors inform the prisoners that three of them must die, Jean-Louis offers one man everything he has to take his spot. While he escapes the firing squad, he can’t seem to escape the wider repercussions of what he’s done in this suspenseful and haunting novel.

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The Tenth Man
Graham Greene

From the author of the classics Brighton Rock and The Power and the Glory, a morally complex tale about a man at the mercy of deadly forces while being held in a German prison camp during World War II. Featuring an introduction by the author and two other story ideas from his archives.

When Jean-Louis Chauvel, a French lawyer incarcerated in a German prison camp, is informed by his captors that three prisoners must die, he devises a plan for survival. Offering everything he owns to a fellow prisoner if he will take Chauvel’s place, he manages to escape the firing squad but soon discovers that he will continue to pay for this act for the rest of his life.

An unforgettable and suspenseful novel that “deserves a place at the top of the list of world’s best literature inspired by the war” (Houston Chronicle), The Tenth Man will haunt you long after you turn the final page.

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The Sun Also Rises
by Ernest Hemingway

Originally published in 1926, Ernest Hemingway’s THE SUN ALSO RISES has become known as not only a masterpiece but the quintessential book of its time about a generation’s disillusionment. Jake Barnes journeys from the flamboyant world of drinking and forgetting in 1920s Paris to the brutality of bullfighting in Spain. Along with his group of expatriate friends and the longtime object of his desire, Brett Ashley, Jake grapples with what may make life worth living in the wake of World War I.

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The Sun Also Rises
Ernest Hemingway

Originally published in 1926, The Sun Also Rises is Ernest Hemingway’s first novel and a classic example of his spare but powerful writing style.​

A poignant look at the disillusionment and angst of the post-World War I generation, the novel introduces two of Hemingway’s most unforgettable characters: Jake Barnes and Lady Brett Ashley. The story follows the flamboyant Brett and the hapless Jake as they journey from the wild nightlife of 1920s Paris to the brutal bullfighting rings of Spain with a motley group of expatriates. In his first great literary masterpiece, Hemingway portrays an age of moral bankruptcy, spiritual dissolution, unrealized love, and vanishing illusions.

“The ideal companion for troubled times: equal parts Continental escape and serious grappling with the question of what it means to be, and feel, lost.” —The Wall Street Journal

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Black Olives
by Martha Tod Dudman

In this all-in-one-day tale, one woman lives out the fantasy of getting to see what has happened to an ex-lover in the aftermath of a breakup. Virginia and her ex-boyfriend had been together for ten years. Now, they’ve been apart for nine months. When she sees him by chance one day, she jumps into the back of his Jeep, unseen, and trails him to learn what his life has become. As she follows him, she is determined to finally confront him and put an end to the relationship she still hasn’t been able to shake.

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Black Olives
Martha Tod Dudman

Ah, Virginia. A woman falls into her ex’s back seat and what comes next is part stalker, part woman scorned, and part comedic accident.…192 pages

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The New American
by Micheline Aharonian Marcom

In this pulsating, visceral adventure, Emilio is jarred to discover that, despite California being the only home he has ever known, he is undocumented. After years of leading as normal a life as possible, a car accident puts him in the way of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, who deport him to Guatemala. While Emilio is determined to make it back home, the journey won’t be easy. It will take him through the stories of others like himself and across thousands of miles to the border.

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The New American
Micheline Aharonian Marcom

This “harrowing, heartbreaking story” (Kirkus Reviews) depicts the epic journey of a young Guatemalan American college student, a “dreamer,” who gets deported and decides to make his way back home to California.

One day, Emilio learns the shocking secret: he is undocumented. His parents, who emigrated from Guatemala to California, had never told him.

Emilio slowly adjusts to his new normal. All is going well, he’s in his second year at UC Berkeley...then he gets into a car accident, and—without a driver’s license or any ID—the policeman on the scene reports him to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Once deported to Guatemala, Emilio is determined to get back to California, the only home he has ever known. It is an epic journey that takes him across thousands of miles and eventually the Sonoran Desert of the United States-Mexico border, meeting thieves and corrupt law enforcement but also kind strangers and new friends.

Inspired in part by interviews with Central American refugees, and told in lyrical prose, Micheline Aharonian Marcom weaves a “powerful, heartbreaking” (Publishers Weekly) tale of adventure. In The New American, Marcom “depicts inhumanity with visceral force, but her bracing empathy (and hope) shines above all” (Entertainment Weekly). This is a compassionate story of one young man who risks so much to return home.

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Ordinary Hazards
by Anna Bruno

Emma, a successful businesswoman who left her hometown years ago, has returned to the local bar at 5 p.m. on a Wednesday. As she and an eclectic group of local regulars begin a booze-fueled night of catching up, the secrets of Emma’s past surface. Over the course of that one night, Emma’s decisions will reveal why she has returned and the lengths she is willing to go to retrieve what she once lost. A masterful and poignant debut, ORDINARY HAZARDS will appeal to fans of Celeste Ng.

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Ordinary Hazards
Anna Bruno

For fans of Celeste Ng and Mary Beth Keane comes an impeccably paced and transfixing debut novel that “vividly renders the messiness of a single human life in all its joy and heartbreak” (Claire Lombardo, New York Times bestselling author).

It’s 5 p.m. on a Wednesday when Emma settles into her hometown bar with a motley crew of locals, all unaware that a series of decisions over the course of a single night is about to change their lives forever. As the evening unfolds, key details about Emma’s history emerge, and the past comes bearing down on her like a freight train.

Why has Emma, a powerhouse in the business world, ended up here? What is she running away from? And what is she willing to give up to recapture the love she once cherished?

A “crisp, haunting, and intelligent” (Stephen Markley, author of Ohio) exploration of modern love, guilt, and the place we call home, Ordinary Hazards follows one woman’s epic journey back to a life worth living.

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Heavy
by Kiese Laymon

In his award-winning and provocative memoir, acclaimed essayist Kiese Laymon recounts his childhood with his challenging and dazzling mother in Jackson, Mississippi. Following his experiences with sexual violence, college suspension, moving to New York, eating disorders, and addictions, Laymon’s story spans years as he attempts to confront his complicated relationship with his family, his identity, and his nation. Ultimately, HEAVY uses personal narrative to cast a critical eye on a country determined to move forward without coping with the unresolved challenges of its past.  

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Heavy
Kiese Laymon

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The Buried Giant
by Kazuo Ishiguro

In post-Arthurian Britain, a mist that causes mass amnesia has swept the land. As a result, Axl and Beatrice can’t remember much about their son, but they set off to find him, regardless. Along the way they meet a knight, a Saxon fighter, and an orphan, all of whom may share more in their dark and now concealed pasts than they could imagine. In THE BURIED GIANT, Nobel Prize–winning author Kazuo Ishiguro takes readers on a bizarre and unforgettable quest that explores the power and poignancy of memory.

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The Buried Giant
Kazuo Ishiguro

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The Most Precious of Cargoes
by Jean-Claude Grumberg

THE MOST PRECIOUS OF CARGOES is a fairy-tale-esque story about the horrors of the Holocaust and the humanity that exists in the darkest of times. A woodcutter and his wife live in a forest, where the wife prays for a child. One day, a Jewish father leaves one of his children in the forest when he discovers that his wife has only enough milk for one child to survive. The woodcutter’s wife knows harboring the baby could condemn her—but this may also be the answer to her prayers.

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The Most Precious of Cargoes
Jean-Claude Grumberg

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