It's cold and dark out, perhaps even snowing. “The Sopranos” reruns on A&E might beckon, and you'll probably be tempted to watch, even though you already have the entire DVD set. Because really, has there been a novel in the last few years as entertaining, profound and nasty as that series?
Until now the answer to that question for a lot of people might have been no, but 2007 brings Vikram Chandra's Sacred Games (HarperCollins, Jan. 1), 928 pages of addictively literary Bollywood noir about a Sikh police instructor and a gangster who has hacked his way to the top of Mumbai in the ’80s and ’90s, when the body count of crime syndicate shoot-outs emblazoned newspapers like some grim cricket score.
The book is so good that it can even headline above the return of Norman Mailer, who unleashes The Castle in the Forest (Random House, Jan. 23), a portrait of Hitler in his youth through the eyes of the devil's assistant. England's own mini-Mailer, Martin Amis, also looks back at fascism and anti-Semitism in his short new novel, House of Meetings (Knopf, Jan. 16).
From Turkey comes Elif Shafak, who weighs in on the damage of the Armenian genocide in her raucous new novel, The Bastard of Istanbul (Viking, Jan. 18). Booker finalist Hisham Matar's debut novel, In the Country of Men (Dial Press, Jan. 30), arrives on these shores, too, with a heartbreaking tale of a father's disappearance.
This winter is a busy one for Irish heavyweights. Prolific Booker Prize winner Patrick McCabe returns from a whopping two years off with Winterwood (HarperCollins, Jan. 23), the story of a man who descends from madness into murder. Another Booker winner, John Banville, makes his genre debut as Benjamin Black, author of the crime novel Christine Falls (Henry Holt, March 6).
On the sunnier side of things, fans of "The Office" will find a literary equivalent of sorts in Joshua Ferris' debut, Then We Came to the End (Little, Brown, March 1). Literate entertainment is also to be found in Jonathan Lethem's tango with the great American grunge novel, You Don't Love Me Yet (Doubleday, March 13), and in Pulitzer Prize winner Jane Smiley's Hollywood novel, Ten Days in the Hills (Knopf, Feb. 11). Meanwhile, the hugely talented Daniel Alarcon brings to life the radio world, Latin American revolutionary style, in his debut novel, Lost City Radio (HarperCollins, Feb. 1).
After a big year in 2006, African storytelling will see another avalanche of superior fiction. Nuruddin Farah kicks it off with Knots (Riverhead, Feb. 1), the story of a Somali émigré's struggle with adapting to life in Canada. Nigerian born Helon Habila follows up with his long-awaited debut, Measuring Time (W.W. Norton, Feb. 19), about twin brothers separated by a world of chance. Also keep an eye out for Aya (Drawn and Quarterly, March 20), Marguerite Abouet and Clement Oubrerie's story about a 19-year-old boy who is about to experience the collapse of the Ivory Coast dream in 1978.
Finally, there is some light at the end of the tunnel as several of our best writers on love re-emerge with new novels that are thoroughly rewarding. Former Phoenix contributor Michael Lowenthal has a new novel, Charity Girl (Houghton Mifflin, Jan. 3), set during the age when women with venereal disease were sent off to camps. Lionel Shriver drops her guard in The Post-Birthday World (HarperCollins, March 1), which imagines what would have happened had a woman kissed her husband's best friend.
In Devotion, (Houghton Mifflin, Feb. 8), Howard Norman has a new Nova Scotia tale of love's sabotage that will make even the most tangled threesome seem unchallenging. And Icelandic writer Olaf Olaffson emerges from the really far north with Valentines (Pantheon, Jan. 30), a collection of a dozen stories about middle-age marriage, one tale for each month of the year.
The new year looks to be a good one for poetry in translation as well. The late Zbigniew Herbert's The Collected Poems: 1956-1998 (Ecco, Feb. 1) and Tadeusz Rozewicz' New Poems (Archipelago, Feb. 1) should keep readers stocked for Polish poetry through the winter. Kirmen Uribe brings dispatches from the Basque country in Meanwhile Take My Hand (Graywolf, Jan. 9) while America's own incomparable John Ashbery files A Worldly Country (Ecco, Feb. 1), his latest volume in an astonishingly productive late period.
A few major new and selected collections are appearing on stands, too: Ellen Bryant Voigt's Messenger: New and Selected Poems (W.W. Norton, Jan. 8) gives readers a chance to look at three decades of her work; W.S. Dipero asks how do you like them Chinese Apples: New and Selected Poems (Knopf, Feb. 7); and Derek Walcott shows why he earned his Nobel laurels in Selected Poems (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Jan. 9).
It's amazing how much difference an election will make. Or not. As this went to press, the Iraq Study Group Report was being shooed away, and troop level increases were being considered by Ted Kennedy, of all people. Chalmers Johnson would say this is exactly the fatal imperial overstretch that is going to bring America to its knees. The former CIA analyst makes this point and others in Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic (Metropolitan, Feb. 7), the final volume in his Blowback trilogy.
Soldiers coming home from the front have been telling their stories for a while now, but Joshua Key's The Deserter's Tale: The Story of an Ordinary Solider Who Walked Away from War in Iraq (Atlantic, Jan. 28) is the first of its kind, a real-life version of Tim O'Brien's great Vietnam War novel, Going After Cacciato.
There are also hints of Cacciato in Tom Bissell's eagerly awaited memoir, The Father of All Things: A Marine, His Son, and the Legacy of Vietnam (Pantheon, March 6). Also look out for Ishamel Beah's A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier, (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Feb. 13), which puts the grim cost of fighting in terrible perspective.
National Book Award winner William Vollmann has been studying the effects of war his entire career, but he has finally zeroed in on its handmaiden—
Bill McKibben has a few answers for how this problem has become so intractable with Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future (Times Books, March 6). Perhaps John Kerry and Theresa Heinz do, too. We won't know until the release of their untitled memoir, scheduled for March 30 from PublicAffairs.
Medical students and sawbones alike will have their hands full with two terrific new books about doctoring. Jerome Groopman is bringing out his most essential book yet, How Doctors Think (Houghton Mifflin, March), while Pauline Chen's Final Exam: A Surgeon Reflects on Morality (Knopf, Jan. 9) might reassure those going under the knife about how seriously doctors take their responsibility.
History buffs will have plenty to chew on, speaking of meat. Claire Tomalin gives the author all of us choked down in childhood a new spin in Thomas Hardy (Penguin Press, Jan. 18), while in The First Man-Made Man (Bloomsbury, March 6) Pagan Kennedy tells the story of Michael Dillon, the female-to-male transgender who went on to write Roberta Cowell's Story. Madison Smartt Bell has made good use of the research for his recent trilogy of novels by writing Toussaint Louverture: A Biography (Pantheon, Jan. 17).
Finally, although it was declared dead in the wake of James Frey, the memoir soldiers on, hardly bloodied. Robert Stone leads the year with Prime Green: Remembering the Sixties (Ecco, Jan. 1). This is followed by Wish I Could Be There (Viking, Feb. 1), the memoir of legendary New Yorker editor Wallace Shawn's son Allen, who suffers from agoraphobia and claustrophobia. Also keep on the lookout for Palestine: A Personal History (Grove, Feb. 28), part Arab, part English writer Karl Sabbagh's attempt to unravel the riddle of his family history and the vanishing country they came from.