The Book Report: Reviews from Washington Post critic Ron Charles (August 30)

By Washington Post book critic Ron Charles

If you’re looking for something good to read, we’ve got an embarrassment of riches:

Random House

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Isabel Wilkerson has published a book that examines one of our most basic and intractable problems: the rigid systems that keep people trapped at lower levels of society.

“Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents” (Random House) moves around the world and across history, as Wilkerson considers the way the Nazis regarded Jews, the way India treats the people labeled “untouchables,” and the way the United States has repressed African-Americans.

The situations are different, of course, but Wilkerson shows that the underpinnings of dehumanization are strikingly similar.

When Oprah picked “Caste” recently for her book club, she said, “This book might well save us.”

Read an excerpt from “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents”

“Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents” by Isabel Wilkerson (Random House), in Hardcover, eBook and Audio formats, available via Amazon




Four years ago, lots of us fell in love with Yaa Gyasi’s debut novel, “Homegoing,” which is a collection of linked stories that moves across four centuries. Now, this extraordinary writer is back with a different kind of novel that’s even more impressive.

“Transcendent Kingdom” (Knopf) is about a neuroscientist at Stanford University who’s researching the causes of addiction. Meanwhile, at home, she’s caring for her severely depressed mother, a devout Christian from Ghana who refuses psychiatric treatment.

Gyasi’s ability to explore religious and medical issues in the context of America’s fraught racial environment makes her one of the most enlightening novelists working today.

Read an excerpt from “Transcendent Kingdom”

“Transcendent Kingdom” by Yaa Gyasi (Knopf), in Hardcover, Trade Paperback, eBook and Audio formats, available via Amazon


Little, Brown

Later in September, the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Ayad Akhtar will publish “Homeland Elegies” (Little, Brown), a book that’s part fiction, part memoir and all brilliant.

Using the outlines of his own life as a Pakistani-American, Akhtar describes how he and his father reacted to the rise of Donald Trump and the increasingly intolerant climate in the United States.

This is a book that ranges freely from intimate experience to economic theory to political history – laying out a vision of where we are now that’s as illuminating as it is heartbreaking.

Read an excerpt from “Homeland Elegies”

“Homeland Elegies” by Ayad Akhtar (Little, Brown), in Hardcover, eBook and Audio formats, available via Amazon




More than 15 years ago, Susanna Clarke cast a spell with a work of alternative history called “Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell,” about a pair of magicians in 19th-century England. Now, she’s about to publish a second novel called “Piranesi” (Bloomsbury).

It’s a puzzling story about a man who lives alone in a watery palace filled with statues. Is he a prisoner? Will he ever be released? Is there anywhere else to go?

I can’t say much more without spoiling this mysterious plot, but “Piranesi” is destined to become a work of classic fantasy. 

Read an excerpt from “Piranesi”

“Piranesi” by Susanna Clarke (Bloomsbury), in Hardcover and eBook formats, available via Amazon

And finally, if it feels like there are too many good books to choose from this season, you’re right! When the COVID-19 pandemic began earlier this year, many publishers decided to delay their spring books until fall. Now, here we are – and libraries and bookstores are dealing with an avalanche of new offerings.

By one estimate, almost 600 new titles will be released this coming week. That should keep us all busy!

That’s it for the Book Report. Until next time, read on!

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Story produced by Robin Sanders and Roman Feeser.

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