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NEW AND NOTABLE
BARKSKINS, by Annie Proulx (Scribner, $32.00) In the late seventeenth century, two penniless young Frenchmen arrive in New France (Canada). Bound for three years in servitude in exchange for land, they become woodcutters - barkskins. One suffers extraordinary hardship, oppressed by the forest he is clearing and forced to marry a native women, who bears him children that are trapped between two irreconcilable cultures. The other Frenchman, crafty and ruthless, absconds to become a fur trader, then establishes a timber business. In this epic, dazzling, violent and magnificently dramatic novel that may be her masterwork, Proulx tells the story of the two men's descendants over the next three hundred years: their travels across North America, to Europe, China and New Zealand under stunningly brutal conditions; the revenge of rivals; accidents; pestilence; Indian attacks; cultural annihilation. Again and again, characters seize what they can of resources that are presumed to be infinite, while their modern-day successors facing the possibility of ecological collapse.
THE HOUSE AT THE EDGE OF NIGHT, by Catherine Banner (Random House, $27.00) Filled with romance and magic, this is a sweeping, character-rich saga about four generations of the Esposito family who live and love on Castellamare, an enchanting Mediterranean island off the coast of Italy. Castellamare is far enough away from the mainland to be forgotten, but not far enough to be unaffected by the world's troubles: over the course of the novel, the Espositos and their fellow islanders are transformed by two world wars, a great recession, and the threat of fascism, as well as more local concerns: passions, scandals, rivalries, and deep friendships. At the center of the island - and this magical novel - is a bougainvillea-draped cafe, the House at the Edge of Night, where everybody gathers to gossip and share stories.
THE HOUR OF LAND - A Personal Topography of America's National Parks, by Terry Tempest Williams (Sarah Crichton Books, $38.00) Visited by more than 300 million people each year, America's national parks are breathing spaces in a world in which such spaces are steadily disappearing. In this book, Terry Tempest Williams, author of the environmental classic Refuge and the beloved memoir When Women Were Birds, returns with a literary celebration of our national parks - an exploration of what they mean to us and what we mean to them. From the Grand Tetons, to Acadia, to Big Bend and beyond, Williams presents a series of lyrical portraits that illuminate the unique grandeur of each place while delving into what it means to shape a landscape with its own evolutionary history into something of our own making. Part memoir, part natural history, and part social critique, The Hour of the Land is a meditation and a manifesto on why wild lands matter to the soul of America.
BEYOND WORDS - What Animals Think and Feel, by Carl Safina (Picador, $18.00) Now in paperback! Weaving decades of field observations with exciting new discoveries about the brain, Carl Safina's landmark book offers an intimate view of animal behavior that challenges the notion of a fixed boundary between humans and nonhuman beings. Beyond Words brings forth powerful and illuminating insights into the unique personalities of animals, through extraordinary stories of animal joy, grief, jealousy, anger and love. Safina argues that similarities between human and nonhuman consciousness, self-awareness and empathy require that we reevaluate of how we interact with animals, as he addresses issues that affect us all, including habitat conservation, poaching and climate change. Wise, passionate, and eye-opening at every turn of the page, his book is ultimately a graceful examination of humanity's place - and responsibilities - in the world,