March’s 10 best books to enlighten and entertain

Discover the books that Monitor reviewers found engrossing and intriguing this month. 

1  The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See

Lisa See draws readers into the fascinating history of Korea’s Jeju Island and its women divers (haenyeo) who risk danger to collect shellfish while the men raise the children. Mi-ja and Young-sook are soul sisters who find joy and heartbreak in this unforgettable epic spanning 50 years, as their culturally rich island’s legacy is forever changed by world events. Readers will witness the fortitude of these women to transcend tragedy and find forgiveness.

Why We Wrote This

This month’s highlights include a fascinating novel about two Korean women who are part of a diving collective, as well as a tautly conceived piece of political fiction from Dave Eggers. The nonfiction titles run the gamut from an exploration of Chicago during one violent summer to an illuminating portrait of Sandra Day O’Connor, the first woman justice to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court.

2  The Dragonfly Sea by Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor

Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor spins a fictional tale inspired by a factual event – a young Kenyan woman’s discovery, through DNA, of her Chinese ancestry. From her African island home, she sets sail for China on an adventure that raises questions about identity, family, and assimilation. The story also speaks to the age-old allure of the sea as a means of escape, but also as a force that can bring us home again. 

3  The Parade by Dave Eggers

Dave Eggers’ latest book is an eye-opening political fiction centered in a nameless country torn apart by a decade of civil war. Two foreign contractors, polar opposites by nature, are under a deadline to pave a road to unite the country’s north and south. Eggers’ tense and intricate storytelling reveals complex moral and ethical issues as the mission escalates, and the foreigners’ presence poses devastating repercussions. 

4  The World According to Fannie Davis by Bridgett Davis

Bridgett Davis’ memoir of growing up in Detroit during the 1960s and ’70s focuses on her mother, Fannie, a successful numbers runner. While not ignoring that her mother stepped outside the law, Davis illuminates her mother’s efforts to provide for the family despite the racial antagonism of the time. Her beautiful prose turns a tale of perseverance into a love story. 

5  First by Evan Thomas

Evan Thomas shows what shaped the character of future Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. Raised on a ranch along the Arizona-New Mexico border in the 1930s and ’40s, Sandra Day grew up in a man’s world, always persevering while building the determination and confidence that would lead her to shatter the glass ceiling, culminating with her nomination to the court in 1981 and her remarkable 25-year tenure.

6  Madame Fourcade’s Secret War by Lynne Olson

Marie-Madeleine Fourcade was a fixture in Parisian society during the 1930s. Once World War II broke out, she became the leader of the largest and most influential spy network in occupied France. The story of this iron-willed, smart, and fearless woman and the contributions her agents made to help the Allies is recounted in Lynne Olson’s book. It’s a compelling story of the capacity of seemingly ordinary people to act in remarkable ways. 

7  Horizon by Barry Lopez

Barry Lopez takes readers on a memory trip to locales he previously visited and now recalls with fresh eyes. From the plains of East Africa to the frigid depths of Antarctica, Lopez wraps elegant delineations of place around a sharp critique of Western economic, social, and political values. 

8  An American Summer: Love and Death in Chicago by Alex Kotlowitz

Journalist Alex Kotlowitz doesn’t provide solutions to the violence that plagues Chicago. Instead, he eloquently bears witness to a single summer on its streets, chronicling a community’s ongoing struggle with murder, misery, and rage. This deeply empathetic and perceptive book isn’t easy to read. But we can only see into the neglected corners of America when someone shines a light.

9  Armies of Deliverance by Elizabeth Varon

Elizabeth Varon contends in her deeply fascinating book that standard accounts of the American Civil War often fail to grasp why the North fought the war in the first place: to liberate not only slaves but also all Southerners from the Confederacy.

10  Chaucer’s People: Everyday Lives in Medieval England by Liza Picard

In all of English literature, only the plays of Shakespeare offer a richer cast of characters than those found in the poems of Geoffrey Chaucer. In her sparkling new book, Liza Picard takes readers into the world of Chaucer’s most famous characters: the pilgrims of “The Canterbury Tales.”

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