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Ants Among Elephants: An Untouchable Family and the Making of Modern India

Sujatha Gidla (FSG)

Gidla’s spectacular memoir opens a window onto a world unfamiliar to most Westerners: that of India’s untouchable caste. As her relatives make their way through 20th-century India, Gidla reveals how caste intersects with class, gender, religion, and more. It’s a rare feat when personal stories are so clearly able to elucidate hotly contested political battles. Gidla’s deep generosity of spirit is evident on every page.

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White Tears

Hari Kunzru (Knopf)

In this astute take on gentrification culture, 20-something white roommates Carter and Seth are audiophiles who record an old chess player singing in the park and remix it into a counterfeit blues song by a black singer they make up named Charlie Shaw. When a collector insists Charlie Shaw is real and Carter is left in a coma, Seth travels from New York to Mississippi to unravel Kunzru's fast-paced, ambitious, hallucinatory mystery.

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The Apparitionists: A Tale of Phantoms, Fraud, Photography, and the Man Who Captured Lincoln's Ghost

Peter Manseau (HMH)

A rare work of historical nonfiction that is both studious and just plain entertaining, Manseau's book focuses on the 1869 trial for fraud of William H. Mumler, a spirit photographer whose portraits of ghostly loved ones hovering near mortal sitters captivated a nation still recovering from the Civil War and obsessed with intimations of the afterlife.

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The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America

Richard Rothstein (Liveright)

Making the case that the de facto segregation found throughout the U.S. is in fact de jure, Rothstein maps out, in encyclopedic detail, government actions at the federal, state, and local levels throughout the 20th century that denied housing opportunities to African-Americans. His authoritative history puts forth a transformative picture of racial inequality in modern-day America and offers a compassionate remedy for these persistent divisions.

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Extreme Cities: The Perils and Promise of Urban Life in the Age of Climate Change

Ashley Dawson (Verso)

Books on climate change are a dime a dozen now, but few, if any, truly reckon with the potential scale of the disasters that await. Dawson reveals the inadequacies of current plans to deal with the problems that cities around the world will face. Forget such buzzwords as "green cities," "resilience," and "sustainable development"—the age of "disaster communism" is here.

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Fear City: New York's Fiscal Crisis and the Rise of Austerity Politics

Kim Phillips-Fein (Metropolitan)

The neoliberal transformation of the U.S. began, in Phillips-Fein's view, with the piecemeal dismantling of New York City's vibrant experiment in social democracy during the fiscal crisis of the 1970s. Municipal bonds aren't a sexy subject, and neither is the gutting of public services that sustain a city and protect its most vulnerable, but Phillips-Fein turns what could be a dry history into a riveting exposé of power.

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Ill Will

Dan Chaon (Ballantine)

Chaon expertly realizes his singular vision of American dread in this extraordinary novel about Ohio psychologist Dustin Tillman, whose parents and aunt and uncle were murdered when he was 13—and whose testimony helped put his adopted brother, Rusty, in prison for the crime. Rusty, who has just been exonerated through DNA evidence, reaches out to Dustin's troubled son, a teenage junkie sliding into Cleveland's underground.

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In the Distance

Hernán Díaz (Coffee House)

In Díaz's brilliant debut, a young Swedish immigrant named Håkan is separated from his brother en route to America. Håkan lands in San Francisco knowing only that he must get to New York, but his journey becomes a series of increasingly dangerous episodes. This suspenseful novel is a potent depiction of loneliness, a memorable immigration narrative, and a canny reinvention of the old-school western.

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Grief Cottage

Gail Godwin (Bloomsbury)

After 11-year-old Marcus's mother dies, he goes to live with his great-aunt Charlotte, a reclusive painter, on a small South Carolina island. There, during a summer that will change his life, Marcus becomes obsessed with the island's supposedly haunted beach shack. This coming-of-age novel is a moving depiction of a boy who must decide how to grieve: to raze his identity completely or memorialize his tragedies.

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Sing, Unburied, Sing

Jesmyn Ward (Scribner)

Ward's blistering novel unpacks a stark legacy of hatred as a drug-abusing young mother drives into the dark reaches of Mississippi to pick up her husband after he's released from prison. Her mother's on her deathbed, her son sees the ghost that haunts her father, and everything, everywhere is drenched with creeping doom. Ward's Mississippi is an unforgiving place, and she draws even her most troubled characters with a remarkable empathy.

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