The Best Books of April 2019

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The Best Books of April 2019

Our picks for the best books of April include everything from Sally Rooney’s award-winning sophomore novel to Kwame Onwuachi’s powerful memoir. Exploring everything from PTSD to medieval Japan to our relationships with our moms, these eight books (listed in alphabetical order) deliver stunning reads you don’t want to miss.

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bb april samurai-min.pngAfrican Samurai by Thomas Lockley and Geoffrey Girard

Why You’ll Love It: This biography of Yasuke, Japan’s “first foreign-born samurai,” tackles a fascinating period of history through the lens of an extraordinary life.

(Read Paste’s essay on the book here.)

Description: When Yasuke arrived in Japan in the late 1500s, he had already traveled much of the known world. Kidnapped as a child, he had ended up a servant and bodyguard to the head of the Jesuits in Asia, with whom he traversed India and China learning multiple languages as he went. His arrival in Kyoto, however, literally caused a riot. Most Japanese people had never seen an African man before, and many of them saw him as the embodiment of the black-skinned (in local tradition) Buddha. Among those who were drawn to his presence was Lord Nobunaga, head of the most powerful clan in Japan, who made Yasuke a samurai in his court. Soon, he was learning the traditions of Japan’s martial arts and ascending the upper echelons of Japanese society.

African Samurai presents the never-before-told biography of this unique figure of the 16th century, one whose travels between countries, cultures and classes offers a new perspective on race in world history and a vivid portrait of life in medieval Japan.

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bb april atlas-min.pngAtlas Alone by Emma Newman

Why You’ll Love It: The fourth novel in Emma Newman’s Planetfall universe works as both a compelling sci-fi drama and an exploration of PTSD’s impact on the human mind.

Description: Six months after she left, Dee is struggling to manage her rage toward the people who ordered the nuclear strike that destroyed Earth. She’s trying to find those responsible, but she’s not getting very far alone.

A dedicated gamer, Dee is endeavoring to discover a mersive good enough to enable her to escape her trauma. When she is approached by a designer who asks her to play test his new game, she hopes it will be what she needs—but it isn’t like any mersive she’s played before. When a man suddenly dies in the real world, she realizes that at the same time in the game, she killed a character who bears a striking resemblance to the dead man—a man she discovers was one of those responsible for the death of millions on Earth.

Disturbed, but thinking it must be a coincidence, Dee continues the hunt for information. But when she finds out the plans for the future colony, she realizes that to save what is left of humanity, she might have to do something that risks what remains of her own.

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bb april pain-min.pngThe House of the Pain of Others by Julián Herbert

Why You’ll Love It: In chronicling the genocide of Chinese immigrants in a Mexican city, Julián Herbert illuminates a forgotten chapter of history and reminds us why xenophobia is a humanitarian threat today.

(Read Paste’s essay on the book here.)

Description: Early in the 20th century, amid the myths of progress and modernity that underpinned Mexico’s ruling party, some 300 Chinese immigrants—close to half of the Cantonese residents of the newly founded city of Torreón—were massacred over the course of three days. It is considered the largest slaughter of Chinese people in the history of the Americas. But more than a century later, the facts continue to be elusive, mistaken,and repressed.

“And what do you know about the Chinese people who were killed here?” Julián Herbert asks anyone who will listen. An exorcism of persistent and discomfiting ghosts, The House of the Pain of Others attempts a reckoning with the 1911 massacre. Herbert blends reportage, personal reflection, essay and academic research to portray the historical context as well as the lives of the perpetrators and victims of the “small genocide.”

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bb april normal people-min.pngNormal People by Sally Rooney

Why You’ll Love It: Following Conversations with Friends, her bestselling debut novel, Sally Rooney returns with an even more entertaining and compelling novel tackling the meaning of friendship.

(Read Paste’s essay on the book here.)

Description: Connell and Marianne pretend not to know each other at school. He’s popular and well-adjusted, star of the school football team, while she is lonely, proud and intensely private. But when Connell comes to pick his mother up from her job at Marianne’s house, a strange and indelible connection grows between the two teenagers—one they are determined to conceal.

A year later, they’re both studying at Trinity College in Dublin. Marianne has found her feet in a new social world while Connell hangs at the sidelines, shy and uncertain. Throughout their years at university, Marianne and Connell circle one another, straying toward other people and possibilities but always magnetically, irresistibly drawn back together. And as she veers into self-destruction and he begins to search for meaning elsewhere, each must confront how far they are willing to go to save the other.

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bb april chef-min.pngNotes from a Young Black Chef by Kwame Onwuachi with Joshua David Stein

Why You’ll Love It: Kwame Onwuachi’s memoir is a powerful and thought-provoking dive into the culinary world that will keep you riveted from cover to cover.

Description: By the time he was 27, Kwame Onwuachi had opened—and closed—one of the most talked about restaurants in America. He had launched his own catering company with $20,000 that he made from selling candy on the subway, yet he’d been told he would never make it on television because his cooking wasn’t “Southern” enough.

Growing up in the Bronx, as a boy Onwuachi was sent to rural Nigeria by his mother to “learn respect.” However, the hard-won knowledge gained in Africa was not enough to keep him from the temptation and easy money of the streets when he returned home. But through food, he broke out of a dangerous downward spiral, embarking on a new beginning at the bottom of the culinary food chain as a chef on board a Deepwater Horizon cleanup ship, before going on to train in the kitchens of some of the most acclaimed restaurants in the country and appearing as a contestant on Top Chef. In this inspiring memoir about the intersection of race, fame, and food, he shares the remarkable story of his culinary coming-of-age.

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bb april pandemic-min.pngThe Pandemic Century by Mark Honigsbaum

Why You’ll Love It: Medical historian Mark Honigsbaum explores our recent past through the diseases we’ve battled, revealing how crucial it is to support the scientific and medical communities.

(Read Paste’s essay on the book here.)

Description: Ever since the 1918 Spanish influenza pandemic, scientists have dreamed of preventing catastrophic outbreaks of infectious disease. Yet despite a century of medical progress, viral and bacterial disasters continue to take us by surprise, inciting panic and dominating news cycles. From the Spanish flu to the 1924 outbreak of pneumonic plague in Los Angeles to the 1930 “parrot fever” pandemic, through the more recent SARS, Ebola and Zika epidemics, the last 100 years have been marked by a succession of unanticipated pandemic alarms.

In The Pandemic Century, a lively account of scares both infamous and less known, Mark Honigsbaum combines reportage with the history of science and medical sociology to artfully reconstruct epidemiological mysteries and the ecology of infectious diseases. We meet dedicated disease detectives, obstructive or incompetent public health officials and brilliant scientists often blinded by their own knowledge of bacteria and viruses. We also see how fear of disease often exacerbates racial, religious and ethnic tensions—even though, as the epidemiologists Malik Peiris and Yi Guan write, “‘nature’ remains the greatest bioterrorist threat of all.”

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bb april mother-min.pngWhat My Mother and I Don’t Talk About edited by Michele Filgate

Why You’ll Love It: In this brilliant essay collection that you won’t be able to put down, 15 writers reveal how the topics they avoid with their moms impact their lives in myriad ways.

(Read Paste’s review of the book here.)

Description: As an undergraduate, Michele Filgate started writing an essay about being abused by her stepfather. It took her more than a decade to realize what she was actually trying to write: how this affected her relationship with her mother. When it was finally published, the essay went viral. The outpouring of responses gave Filgate an idea, and the resulting anthology offers a candid look at our relationships with our mothers.

While some of the writers in this book are estranged from their mothers, others are extremely close. Leslie Jamison writes about trying to discover who her seemingly perfect mother was before ever becoming a mom. In Cathi Hanauer’s hilarious piece, she finally gets a chance to have a conversation with her mother that isn’t interrupted by her domineering (but lovable) father. André Aciman writes about what it was like to have a deaf mother. Melissa Febos uses mythology as a lens to look at her close-knit relationship with her psychotherapist mother. And Julianna Baggott talks about having a mom who tells her everything.

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bb april women talking-min.pngWomen Talking by Miriam Toews

Why You’ll Love It: Miriam Toews’ novel, which is based on real events, weaves a shocking and powerful story that is necessary reading in the #MeToo era.

Description: One evening, eight Mennonite women climb into a hay loft to conduct a secret meeting. For the past two years, each of these women, and more than a hundred other girls in their colony, has been repeatedly violated in the night by demons coming to punish them for their sins. Now that the women have learned they were in fact drugged and attacked by a group of men from their own community, they are determined to protect themselves and their daughters from future harm.

While the men of the colony are off in the city, attempting to raise enough money to bail out the rapists and bring them home, these women—all illiterate, without any knowledge of the world outside their community and unable even to speak the language of the country they live in—have very little time to make a choice: Should they stay in the only world they’ve ever known or should they dare to escape?

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