1. Radiance of the King

    The New York Review of Books imprint has one of the highest batting averages of any publishing house out there, and they definitely bring it with The Radiance of the King. Set in a pre-World War II Africa, a sort of schlubby British guy, hard up on his luck and full of colonial entitlement, is assisted by a beggar and two rambunctious teens in making his way to offer his services to the king. He moves through an almost hallucinogenic landscape, his pretensions and assumptions ripped away from him, until he is (SPOILER ALERT) eventually sold into slavery as a member of the king’s harem. This isn’t just a classic of African Literature, it’s a Classic, period.

    —Scott Beauchamp from BookRiot chose Camara Laye’s The Radiance of the King as one of the best books he read in July. Camara Laye is most famous for his book L’Enfant Noir, which is often considered one of the first great African novels. The Radiance of the King is not far behind (L’Enfant was published 1954, Radiance 1956), and Kwame Anthony Appiah has called it “one of the greatest of the African novels of the colonial period.”

  2. The Millions loves our books

    It’s that time of the year again, when everyone is posting their “Best Books of the Year” lists. And few places do it better that The Millions, who ask authors to name their favorite books of the ending year. 

    Here’s a round-up of our titles in The Millions’s lists:

    Stephen Dodson, blogger at languagehat.com and co-author of Uglier Than a Monkey’s Armpit, chose Vasily Grossman’s Life and Fate

    If this is reminiscent of War and Peace, it should be; Grossman, a war correspondent who visited the front as often as he could and shared as much as he could of the soldiers’ lives, carried a copy with him and read it constantly, and he was deliberately creating a counterpart to Tolstoy’s epic. A foolish undertaking, you might think, but he pulled it off. His huge novel has nothing in common with the modernist works that stand beside it on the shelf of twentieth-century Russian masterpieces, Bely’s Petersburg and Olesha’s Envy [also published by NYRB Classics] and Nabokov’s The Gift; there are no magical interludes or language games or hidden messages, just a well-told tale of an extended family caught up in circumstances beyond their, or anyone’s, control.

    John Williams, founding editor of The Second Pass, chose Don Carpenter’s Hard Rain Falling:

    But two books left the deepest impression on me in the year almost past. Don Carpenter’s Hard Rain Falling was first published in 1966 and reissued in 2009 by NYRB Classics. Set in the Pacific Northwest, it’s about gambling, drinking, prison, and an unlikely but believably rendered relationship between two unlucky men. It’s a hard-boiled existentialist novel, and ultimately unlike any other I’ve read.

    Chad Harbach, author of the widely acclaimed The Art of Fielding, chose (kind of) Dezso Kosztolányi’s Skylark:

    One of my favorite novels is Skylark, by the great Hungarian writer Dezso Kosztolányi (1885–1936). Thus I was very happy, earlier this year, to see New Directions bring out the first English translation of Kosztolányi’s final novel, Kornél Esti, and I’ve finally gotten round to reading it. Esti lacks the tightly plotted economy of Skylark, in which every word is perfect — in fact it’s hardly a novel at all, but a group of loosely linked, peripatetic stories that proceed from birth toward death, and the stories aren’t really stories but a high-concept mix of urban legends, folk tales, and sitcom premises — the German university president who can only sleep during lectures; the heroic life-saver who thereafter becomes a terrible nuisance; the kleptomaniac who steals words from books. Like Skylark, it’s a tender comedy tinged with the absurdity of life, the thrill of sociability, and the imminence of death, which I guess is exactly the kind of book I like.

    And Deborah Eisenberg, whose recent Collected Stories won the 2011 PEN/Faulkner prize, chose Camara Laye’s The Radiance of the King:

    Justice, humility, self-deception, degradation, grace, the acquisition of some small wisdom, and the complex relationships between them are among the matters that are explored, with great subtlety, over the course of Clarence’s journey, but no description of the book’s content nor speculation on its purposes can begin to suggest the pleasure of reading it. This resides in the author’s wit, charm, finesse, and originality, and in his elegant, vividly imagistic prose, gorgeous even in translation from its original French, shining and breathing with vitality.

  3. 'The Radiance of the King'

    The last of our re-jacketed and re-issued series is Camara Laye’s The Radiance of the King. Laye is most famous for his autobiographical work L’Enfant Noir, but Radiance is the Guinean’s only novel, and an important work in African literature. Toni Morrison has this to say in her introduction:

    "Camara Laye not only summoned a sophisticated, wholly African imagistic vocabulary in which to launch a discursive negotiation with the West, he exploited with technical finesse the very images that have served white writers for generations. The filthy inn where Clarence, the protagonist, is living could be taken fword from word from Joyce Cary’s Mister Johnson; his susceptibility to and obsession with smells read like a play upon Elspeth Huxley’s The Flame Trees of Thikia; his European fixation with the ‘meaning’ of nakedness recalls H. Rider Haggard or Joseph Conrad or virtually all travel writing. Reworking the hobbled idioms of imperialism, colonialism, and racism, Camara Laye allows us the novel experience of both being and watching an anonymous interloper discover not a new version of himself via a country waiting for Western imagination to bring it into view, but an Africa already idea-ed, gazing upon the other.”