Book Review Roundup: Tom McCarthy, James Baldwin, Stephen Breyer

Sep 13, 2010 | Updated May 25, 2011

Book reviews around the country:

'C' By Tom McCarthy

With "C," Tom McCarthy has written an avant-garde masterpiece -- a sprawling cryptogram -- in the guise of an epic, coming-of-age period piece. The novel (which is on this year's Man Booker Prize shortlist announced this week) chronicles the life of Serge Carrefax, starting with his birth on the English country estate of Versoie, where his father runs a school for deaf children.

Serge's father, a manic tinkerer with early wireless technology, runs a school for the deaf but seems oblivious to his own deaf wife, Serge's mother, who's so blinkered on opium (supplied by a mute gardener who grows the poppies himself) that she nearly lets Serge drown in a creek at age 2. Serge's beloved older sister, Sophie, becomes sexually involved with a friend of their father's and winds up committing suicide at 17 -- possibly after having an abortion. Serge's relationship to Sophie is preternaturally close, with incestuous overtones, and her death severs his only real human connection.

'A Woman's Crusade: Alice Paul and the Battle for the Ballot' by Mary Walton

It is the story of the 10 years, between 1909 and 1919, when Paul (1885-1977) and many other women fought for a constitutional amendment that would give women the right to vote. This story is a reminder of the perseverance, the gall, the intelligence it took to obtain what now seems an inalienable right, an obvious pillar of any democracy...Part of the genius of the book lies in Walton's quiet analysis of the methods used by the National American Woman Suffrage Assn. and the National Women's Party, founded by Paul in 1916.

'The Cross Of Redemption: Uncollected Writings' By James Baldwin

"The Cross of Redemption" is intended as a companion volume to the Library of America "Collected Essays," which appeared in 1998. It contains essays, reviews and forewords to the books of others. All are engaging in their way. The reviews, mostly dating from the 1940s, are among the best-written pieces in the book.

'Making Democracy Work, A Judge's View' By Stephen Breyer

Breyer has sparred for years with Scalia through a host of mediums, namely legal opinions and in public debate. But now Breyer has upped the ante a bit, moving his "argument to the printed pages of a book written for popular consumption."

'Half A Life' By Darin Strauss

At the center of this elegant, painful, stunningly honest memoir thrums a question fundamental to what it means to be human: What do we do with what we've been given?

'The Elephant's Journey' By Jose Saramago

Once upon a time -- a time of civil war and spectacle, when Protestant fervor swept Europe and the Inquisition intimidated the faithful -- an Indian elephant traveled on foot from Lisbon to Vienna. Four and a half centuries later, this arduous and unlikely trek inspired Portuguese Nobel laureate José Saramago to write his most optimistic, playful, humorous and magical book, a grace note written near the end of his life.