Four audiobooks to keep you listening into the new year

The best audiobooks of December 2019 include the latest John le Carré spy novel and a stirring memoir by a Philippine immigrant.

Courtesy of Penguin Audio

This month we have a collection of moving essays, a thoughtful dystopian novel, a wry spy caper, and a period piece set in England. 

“Malaya: Essays on Freedom” by Cinelle Barnes
Read by the author; Brilliance Audio; seven hours

Cinelle Barnes has crafted a poignant and moving set of personal essays about her life as an unauthorized immigrant from the Philippines. She arrived in the United States at age 16, but learned she was too old for citizenship through adoption by a relative. So she lived for years under the threat of deportation before marrying for love and gaining citizenship. Her hyper-vigilance, worry, and desperation come though in both the essays and in her narration. She sounds very young, which suits the material, and she mostly manages various accents with ease. Grade: A-

“The Lightest Object in the Universe” by Kimi Eisele
Read by Gabra Zackman; HighBridge Audio; 10 hours and 30 minutes

Courtesy of HighBridge Audio

Unlike most dystopian novels, this one is smaller, quieter, and more relatable. The electric grid is down and viruses have killed off great swathes of the population, but Carson is determined to make his way to his true love, Beatrix, though they are on different coasts. Kimi Eisele is clever in that she uses radio and bicycles as a means of communication and transportation, and keeps the various stories intimate and personal. For the recording, it would have made more sense to use a male and female narrator, but Gabra Zackman does a decent job of differentiating voices and emphasizing the weariness and quiet determination of the separated lovers. Grade: B+

“Agent Running in the Field” by John le Carré
Read by the author; Penguin Audio; nine hours and 30 minutes

When a middle-aged spy is sent back to England from Moscow, he must face possible redundancy as he trains a much younger man as an operative. Peppered with dry humor, this is different from Le Carré’s past novels as it is smaller in scope and gives an intimate portrayal of life as a foreign agent. The ending is a bit of a letdown, but up to that point the novel is bracing and fun, read with much brio by the author, though he is less believable when tackling the roles of 20-somethings. There is quite a bit of Trump-bashing, so consider yourself warned. Grade: B

“A Single Thread” by Tracy Chevalier
Read by Fenella Woolgar; Penguin Audio; 11 hours

England’s post-World War I “surplus women” are at the heart of this novel, in which narrator Fenella Woolgar portrays Violet Speedwell, a lady of a certain age who knows she will most likely never marry due to the shortage of men. Surprisingly revelatory, the novel shows us a slice of life when women had so few personal freedoms in this era between the wars. Fenella Woolgar manages different personalities through tone, pacing, and timbre. Though the plot is not overly memorable, the story remains completely enjoyable. Grade: B

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