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The Zhivago Affair: The Kremlin, the CIA, and the Battle Over a Forbidden Book, by Peter Finn and Petra Couvée, Harvill, RRP£20/ Pantheon, RRP$26.95
Unknown to Boris Pasternak, the CIA organised to have his epic novel Doctor Zhivago published in Russian and smuggled back into the Soviet Union, where it had been banned. Using previously unreleased US government documents, The Zhivago Affair tells the story of this intriguing cold war battle.
Eleanor Marx: A Life, by Rachel Holmes, Bloomsbury, RRP£25
Marx produced the first English translation of Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, was the first woman to lead the British dock workers’ and gas workers’ trade unions and worked as personal secretary to her father Karl. Holmes’ vivid biography of this Victorian intellectual brings her – and her age – to life. As the FT’s reviewer Lisa Jardine wrote, it “reads less like a biography than a 19th-century novel”.
The Road to Middlemarch: My Life with George Eliot, by Rebecca Mead, Granta, RRP£16.99/ Crown, RRP$25
New Yorker writer Mead mixes biography, memoir and a close reading of George Eliot’s classic novel Middlemarch in what our reviewer described as a “captivating and lucid book” that sheds light on both the novelist and Mead herself, while advocating the affect great literature can have on all readers.
William S Burroughs: A Life, by Barry Miles, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, RRP£30
This scholarly biography of Burroughs by his friend argues that the writer was driven by his wife’s death. Burroughs had shot her during a drunken William Tell moment and writing, says Miles, was his way of shaking off his “Ugly Spirit”. The FT called the book “a riveting documentary of a most peculiar life lived in the American underbelly”.
My Salinger Year, by Joanna Rakoff, Bloomsbury Circus, RRP£16.99/ Knopf, RRP$25.95
Aged 23, Joanna Rakoff started work at a New York literary agency. Her job was to fend off JD Salinger’s fans with a terse form letter, but instead she started to write back and found herself swept up in one of the great literary stories. The FT’s verdict: “Elegantly written, wryly observed, Rakoff’s memoir is a high-quality literary snack.”
The Fly Trap, by Fredrik Sjöberg, Particular Books, RRP£14.99
This Swedish bestseller about an entomologist who collects hover flies on the tiny island of Runmarö east of Stockholm is a joyful, whimsical and erudite delight that traces an erratic flight path of ideas and associations.
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