Book Review

You know how writers are sometimes asked whom they would like to have over for a small dinner party? Well, historian, biographer and academic Walter Isaacson, out now with another magnificent tome, The Code Breaker, says – with nods to other innovators he’s written about, including Einstein, Steve Jobs and his favorite genius, Leonardo Da Vinci – that his guests would be Benjamin Franklin and Jennifer Doudna.

Franklin, whom Isaacson wrote about in 2003, was a prime exemplar of “curiosity,” the driving force behind inquiries and inventions.

What could seem further from our polarized, diverse world and abbreviated social-media discourse than Virginia Woolf’s 1925 stream-of-consciousness novel Mrs. Dalloway with its, aristocratic title character Clarissa Dalloway consumed with giving an elegant party, and its author’s long periodic sentences, full of metaphors, allusions, parentheses and interior hesitations? And yet, in a recent essay in The New York Times Book Review Yale University senior lecturer in creative writing, Michael Cunningham provides an introduction to a new issue of Woolf’s book that is so compelling it commands attention.

A fun and games thriller, “The Other Woman” turns on intrigue about Russian espionage, and links present-day Russian attempts to sabotage Western democracies to the machinations years ago by, arguably, the most notorious double agent of the 20th century – the head of Britain’s intelligence service, MI6, Kim Philby. In fact, it’s now exactly 30 years since the unrepentant Philby died, in Moscow, having fled there in 1963 once he was identified as a member of the infamous British spy ring, The Cambridge Five. Silva says that Philby has been an obsession of his “for a very long time.”

On July 24, 2013, the very day he fell off his lobster boat into the shark-infested waters off Montauk, John Aldridge had read his horoscope in his old hometown newspaper on Long Island. It said – “You are strong and you are resilient…you will have the strength to survive the current circumstances.” He did survive the current…of the swirling Atlantic Ocean, an ordeal that lasted 12 agonizing hours in the dead of night, with only his boots and a three-inch knife by his side. He wore no life vest – none of the fishermen did.

Though set in the late 1990s in Zaire, the former Belgian Congo, now known as Democratic Republic of the Congo, Frederic Hunter’s new novel, The Uttermost Parts of the Earth, is impressively, disturbingly, contemporary. If ever fiction can inform as effectively as journalism or history, this compelling and politically charged love story, is It. You may want to get out an atlas, though, to follow the horror, as the tribal violence evolves into the Rwandan genocide and bleeds into the equatorial province of Congo.