Your October 2022 Reads

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Enjoy these recently published books—fiction, nonfiction, YA, and more—by your fellow alumni

Did you know that Cornell has an online book club? Check it out here!

And for more books by Big Red authors, peruse our previous round-ups.

The Restless Crucible

Yaw Agawu-Kakraba, PhD ’93

This is the debut historical novel by Agawu-Kakraba, a professor of Spanish and African Studies at Penn State, Altoona.

Set in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, it’s narrated by Pedro de Barbosa, a Brazilian-born former slave who has himself become a slave merchant.

The novel explores issues of deep moral conflict as de Barbosa finds himself in opposition to Queen Ena Sunu of Dahomey—a powerful realm on the West African coast—who is determined to end the slave trade in her kingdom.

the cover of The Restless Crucible

The queen has her own history of oppression, having been forced into a royal marriage and subjugated by her society’s traditional roles for women.

Agawu-Kakraba’s previous books include the scholarly works Postmodernity in Spanish Fiction and Culture and Demythification in the Fiction of Miguel Delibes.

the cover of Elegy for an Appetite

Elegy for an Appetite

Shaina Loew-Banayan ’13

As the New Yorker observes in a review, this memoir is “written in 48 short chapters of sprinting, irreverent stream of consciousness that is only scantly punctuated.”

The chef-owner of Cafe Mutton in Hudson, NY, Loew-Banayan (who uses they/them pronouns) describes both their experiences in the male-dominated world of professional cuisine and a battle with disordered eating that began in adolescence.

The Hotelie describes their fraught relationship with their body and with food, while chronicling their profession’s grind and intensity.

“There’s something timeless about Loew-Banayan’s story,” says Vogue, “exploring what it means for people who are not cis-het white men to occupy the kind of space—in restaurant kitchens, and even in their own bodies—that their carefree counterparts thoughtlessly take up.”

Next Door to Happy

Allison Weiser Strout ’88

Aimed at middle-grade readers, this novel—which Kirkus praises as “a tender exploration of a budding friendship between two introspective tweens”—follows a lonely 12-year-old girl named Violet.

An only child, she wishes she were part of a big family, like the one with five siblings that just moved in next door.

Violet becomes particularly close to the mom and one of the sons—so she’s devastated to overhear herself and her family being disparaged in a conversation between the two of them.

the cover of Next Door to Happy

Says Publishers Weekly: “In a softly told debut, Strout captures family chaos, sibling rivalries, and the delicate nature of new bonds via two protagonists who bravely build confidence in their unique identities.”

A former English major in Arts & Sciences, Strout is based in NYC.

the cover of Sonorous Desert

Sonorous Desert

Kim Haines-Eitzen

Haines-Eitzen is the Paul and Berthe Hendrix Memorial Professor of Near Eastern Studies in the College of Arts & Sciences.

She penned this nonfiction work from Princeton University Press, subtitled What Deep Listening Taught Early Christian Monks—and What It Can Teach Us.

Drawing on ancient texts from Egypt, Sinai, and Palestine, she contemplates how monks of that era used the ambient sounds of the desert (wind, thunder, water, and more) to deepen their spiritual practices.

As she writes: “In antiquity, the distinction between town and desert, civilization and wilderness, was in many ways more stark than we find today.”

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The ebook and audiobook versions feature recordings of desert sounds by the author, whose inspiration for the book came in part from her own travels in the Middle East as the child of expat parents.

Demon Dagger

Russell James ’84

The latest from the horror author and CALS alum features a protagonist named Drew who, since his youth, has had the ability to see demons—specifically, those who possess people who’ve sold their souls for personal gain.

While he initially fears he’s insane, he meets a demon hunter who helps him understand his supernatural power.

Twenty-five years after that mentor’s brutal (and possibly demonic) murder, Drew is a married deputy sheriff in L.A. County—and an evil creature wreaks vengeance by stealing his son’s soul.

the cover of Demon Dagger

Drew has to wield the potent weapon of the title—the only thing that can send demons back to hell—in the hope of saving him.

Publishers Weekly says James “makes a familiar trope fresh in this gripping horror novel,” calling it “a thrilling game of supernatural cat and mouse.”

the cover of A Banker's Journey

A Banker's Journey

Daniel Gross ’89

Gross, a historian and financial journalist, had exclusive access to his subject’s personal archives for this authorized biography of famed global banker and philanthropist Edmond Safra. Gross chronicles Safra’s life and career, from childhood in Lebanon to stints in Italy, Brazil, Switzerland, and the U.S.

Safra was just 67 when he died in a fire in his penthouse in Monaco that was ultimately determined to be arson. (An employee was convicted of having set the blaze in the hope of becoming a hero by rescuing the billionaire banker.)

Safra is remembered not only as a force in his industry, but as a major donor to a variety of causes and a leader in the Syrian-Lebanese Jewish community.

“Edmond had much in common with the titans of finance: drive, ambition, an eye for numbers, a fantastic memory,” Gross writes. “But there was also an essential humility to the man, born of his upbringing and heritage.”

Classic by a Cornellian

Lovecraft Country

Matt Ruff ’87

With Halloween in the air, it’s a fine time to revisit Ruff’s 2016 fantasy/horror tale—the basis for the much-lauded HBO series, which ran for just one season in 2020 but won two Emmys and was nominated for a Golden Globe for best TV drama.

As Kirkus observes: “If nothing else, you have to giggle over how this novel’s namesake [legendary horror author H.P. Lovecraft], who held vicious white supremacist opinions, must be doing triple axels in his grave at the way his imagination has been so impudently shaken and stirred.”

the cover of Lovecraft Country

A sequel to Lovecraft Country, The Destroyer of Worlds—set three years later, in 1957—is scheduled to publish in February 2023.

Ruff’s other books include Fool on the Hill, the 1988 cult classic that chronicles the adventures of a young writer-in-residence at a fantastical version of Cornell—complete with a sorceress, talking animals, and a dragon.

Published October 11, 2022

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