Categories: Explore: “Editor’s Desk”
Nov 16, 2016 Editor’s Desk

Editors get very passionate about books they work on – the Editor’s Desk series is his or her place to write in-depth about what makes a certain title special. Get the real inside-scoop on how books are shaped by the people who know them best.

Last fall, we celebrated New York Times and internationally bestselling author of the Inspector Montalbano mystery series Andrea Camilleri’s 90th birthday with the publication of A Beam of Light. This year we’ve hit another incredible milestone—A Voice in the Night is the twentieth novel in his Montalbano series.

Having the opportunity to work on a beloved cult classic like the Montalbano series is truly a privilege. The novels sensuously capture the sense of Sicily, from the sun-soaked buildings and seaside views, the simmering food on Montalbano’s plate, to the do-as-you-please attitudes of its inhabitants. The books are translated from Italian, and Stephen Sartarelli’s skill as a translator is on ample display in the ease and rhythm of the quick-witted and wryly humorous dialogue. In reading the first draft, I found it fascinating to consider the nuances of translating from the Italian, as Camilleri often employs several Sicilian dialects within a single novel. I do wonder what cultural idiosyncrasies are lost in translation, but am always pleased that the humor and warmth translate fully.

A Voice in the Night brings us back to the Sicilian town Vigàta, where Montalbano’s moody demeanor has taken a dive as another birthday rolls around. To cheer himself up, he deals with a young driver’s road rage in his own way, and surprisingly, finds himself confronting the young man once again, this time as the suspect of a gruesome murder. Many of the series’ trademarks make a welcome appearance in A Voice in the Night—lighthearted spats and make-ups with Livia, Catarella’s mispronunciations as unintentional linguistic jokes, the seemingly omnipresent influence of the mob in both the streets and halls of government. And of course, there is the food. (A particularly memorable scene casts a two-foot octopus as murderous foe before vengeful food dish.)

Camilleri’s charming creation, Inspector Montalbano, continues to delight and surprise me. Flawed but lovable, the Sicilian Inspector is great company, and it’s with a lot of enthusiasm that we get to share this series with English speaking readers. A Voice in the Night won’t disappoint longtime fans of the books, but it’s also a good jumping-off point for new readers to acquaint themselves with Montalbano’s Sicily. Luckily for me, and for you, dear reader, this isn’t Montalbano’s last case.

Nov 3, 2016 Editor’s Desk

Editors get very passionate about books they work on – the Editor’s Desk series is his or her place to write in-depth about what makes a certain title special. Get the real inside-scoop on how books are shaped by the people who know them best.

Among the victims of the terrorist attacks in Paris last November 13 was a young mother named Hélène Muyal-Leiris. That night, she went to the Bataclan concert hall, while her husband, Antoine Leiris, stayed at home, looking after their 17-month old son, Melvil.

Three days after the attacks, Antoine wrote an open letter addressed directly to the terrorists who had murdered his wife, which he published on Facebook. You may have read it at the time. It was titled “You Will Not Have My Hate” and within days had been shared millions of times and reported on across the world. “Victim’s Husband Tells Terrorists, ‘I Will Not Give You the Gift of Hate’,” read the headline in the New York Times.

Afterwards, Antoine continued to write about caring for his son alone and burying Hélène. His account of the days and weeks following the attack was soon published in France as book with the same title, You Will Not Have My Hate. When I was sent the manuscript by the French publisher, I read it with tears in my eyes, and more than once, as I worked with the translator, Sam Taylor, I felt overcome by Antoine’s bravery and kindness. His words of grief are startlingly simple and direct, which made the translation process quite straightforward. There were only a handful of instances where Sam and I had some uncertainties about the best phrasing in English (and every time Sam found the ideal solution).

Like his letter, Antoine’s book has received passionate gratitude the world over. It will be published in 24 languages and is already a bestseller in multiple countries. This success is because the book is extraordinary, full of heartbreak and sorrow, but also love and hope. It is inspiring. Antoine describes one of the letters he received after he published his open letter, in which a stranger wrote to him, “You are the one who was hurt, and yet it is you who give us courage.”

I think there’s a tendency to consider something that has been published as a book as completed, as the past. But it has been less than a year since the attacks in Paris. For those of us who weren’t directly affected, the events have perhaps already been displaced in our memories, pushed to one side as horror has struck again and again. In Orlando, San Bernardino, Nice, Baghdad, and elsewhere. It can seem like we barely have time to mourn one attack before another happens.

But You Will Not Have My Hate reminds us sharply of the inconceivable pain of such tragedies. It is both a private story and a universal one. Both a love letter and farewell. To read it is to grieve for a stranger with all one’s heart.

Oct 24, 2016 Editor’s Desk

Mystery fiction is a young genre. In the English language, the first mystery novels are only about 150 years old. While those stories are historical fiction to us, they were very much contemporary to their original audience—the first Sherlock Holmes readers knew exactly what a gasogene was and probably had pocket lanterns themselves. Same goes for Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers: Even though their earliest books depict a world from almost a century ago, they were writing about the world they were living in.

And they reflected the prevailing mores and attitudes of their day. Whereas in the historical mysteries that we are reading now, even though the stories themselves could be set a millennium ago, the mores and attitudes the authors ponder are those of our own day.

The most notable female sleuth Agatha Christie created, for her own era, is an elderly spinster. In Ariana Franklin’s Mistress of the Art of Death, set almost 800 years before Miss Marple, the heroine, Adelia Aguilar, is a trained medical examiner. Miss Marple, presumably, has never been in any kind of compromising situation. Adelia Aguilar bears a child out of wedlock—her lover has been appointed a bishop by King Henry II and therefore can’t marry her—and carries on with barely a second thought.

Miss Marple would have been shocked—Victorian morality is a potent thing. Even I am shocked—and then I have to remind myself that women’s lives weren’t always as restricted as they were during the Victorian times.

Sherry Thomas' Desk

Which makes it all the more interesting that historical mysteries set during the Victorian and Edwardian era, especially those featuring female protagonists, are determined not to be bound by those constraints. Laurie R. King’s Mary Russell had no interest in what others thought of her. Deanna Raybourn’s Veronica Speedwell, an expert lepidopterist, tells readers up front that she conducts discreet affairs when she is overseas gathering rare species of butterflies and then basically ghosts those lovers when she leaves!

It’s a comment on the pressures, overt and subtle, women still face today that they rebel so hard as fictional historical characters.

When I decided to write a gender-bending Sherlock Holmes story, the first choice I had to make was how my Lady Sherlock would deal with all the strictures on her life that her male counterpart never had to think about. The first book in the series very much revolves around her bid for freedom and what happens when that bid goes wrong.

And now Charlotte Holmes will join a proud sisterhood of strong, cool-under-pressure women who use their wits to save the day.

Learn more about Thomas’ books below!

Oct 19, 2016 Blog

Sophia Amoruso,  the New York Times–bestselling author of #GIRLBOSS and Nasty Gal founder, is back with a beautiful, ambitious book. We spoke to Kerri Kolen, the editor, to find out how an art book like this gets made:

The book is so distinct in look and feel – what made you zero in on this style and vibe?

Like any book, some of the style and vibe came along organically as the book morphed from an idea to a real book. But we always knew we wanted the book to be unlike anything else out there. There are so many other coffee table books, style books, photography books, fashion/lifestyle books. Sophia really wanted this to be its own thing—not like any of those but a mashup that more appropriately reflected the inspiration that she sees in the world—as she has experienced it. It was also important to both of us to include the essays—in the midst of all the style, there are real nuggets of wisdom and hilarity that Sophia wanted to express but that didn’t have a real place in her previous book, #GIRLBOSS.

How would you describe your collaborative process with Sophia?

The conversation is very open and fluid but also traditional in a lot of ways. For this book, we brainstormed the larger goals, overarching look and feel, and pulled inspiration together and discussed it all in very broad terms. Then Sophia went off and started collecting and creating the pieces of the book. We had a live working document in Google that we both had access to. Sophia would work on it pretty much daily and I would go in every few weeks at the beginning and make comments, notes, ask questions, make suggestions, etc. In this way, the book and its contents kept changing. Once the content felt mostly in place, we started doing the same thing with editing and making final selections, reordering, finding new images and replacing some images, etc. Eventually it felt finished enough to move to a “working manuscript.” Once we had this in place, we would each go off on our own to make notes and then get on the phone to go through the whole book—page by page—discussing our notes in detail, until the next round. We did this until there were no more notes…which was pretty much right up until the end.

Screen Shot 2016-10-19 at 12.21.45 PM

With so many photos, designs, letters, and more, what was the biggest challenge in making this book?

Editing! There were so many great individual pieces that felt worthy of inclusion so the weeding out process felt a little grueling sometimes, though necessary. Plus, every time one design element changes, the whole book changes, and needs to be looked at again as a whole.

What’s your favorite piece of advice in this book?

There is so much great advice in this book. Sophia is terrific at packing a lot of wisdom in her own pithy anecdote. The essays in Nasty Galaxy are small but pack a lot of punch. I think my favorite piece of advice, though, is in the essay “On Fear”: “Get attached. Stay attached. Just don’t forget to keep evolving.” I also like her instructions for How to Check Out of a Fancy Hotel because I couldn’t agree more. Why do people still go through a formal check-out process?

What is your horoscope according to Nasty Galaxy?

Apparently I am an “intense mother*cker,”: really good at getting people on my side and have some jealous tendencies. I’d say it’s all true.

What would surprise readers to know about the making of this book?

It was harder to write and edit than #GIRLBOSS!

 

Find out more about this beautiful and unique book here:

 

Oct 3, 2016 Editor’s Desk

Editors get very passionate about books they work on – the Editor’s Desk series is his or her place to write in-depth about what makes a certain title special. Get the real inside-scoop on how books are shaped by the people who know them best.

 

It all started with a title on a manuscript submission I couldn’t get out of my brain: Mr. Churchill’s Secretary. OK, I admit to a certain obsession with the British icon–but his secretary? What must it have been like to work during Britain’s darkest hours with that flamboyant, irascible, outrageously complicated figure? Biographies and memoirs abound of Churchill’s generals, his family, his aides. We know all about his pets, his bathing habits, his socks, favorite drink and books. But his secretary?

As I turned the manuscript pages, I was hooked. For this debut novel wasn’t merely about life in the shadow of Winston Churchill during those scary, dangerous days of what became known as the “false war”—it was the captivating story of a brilliant, college-educated, ambitious young woman with a flair for math and codes…who found that the only job opening for a woman in wartime UK government was typing and filing: Talk about a glass ceiling!

And, she wasn’t even British.  She was an American.

An American woman in the Blitz, working at the side of the seminal power makers of the period, forced to elbow her way into a man’s world….And crimson lipstick and cocktails….

What’s not to love?

Over the course of six award-winning novels, Susan and her marvelous creation, Maggie Hope, continue to enthrall me. In these gloriously researched capers, Susan has led Maggie and her spellbound readers down the bomb-torn alleyways of London, into the heart ‎of the UK’s spy network, parachuting into enemy headquarters, conspiring with Eleanor Roosevelt in the very corridors of the White House.  She’s crafted an intimate glimpse of young Princess Lisbeth and the Royal Family at Windsor; cavorted with Fala, FDR’s Scottie; and courageously shown us the suffering of those in the concentration camps.  More important, she’s stripped away the bald historical facts to inveigle us deep into the hearts of women during war:  women making tough choices and sacrifices, surviving, fighting back, courageously holding together their lives and their jobs and their families under unspeakable pressures.

There was a real Mr. Churchill’s secretary, a woman named Elizabeth Nel who worked for the Prime Minister from 1941 to 1945 and even wrote a memoir of it, which begins: “It doesn’t really matter who I am or where I come from.  Without undue modesty, the only thing of real interest about me is that during World War II I worked for four and a half years as one of the Personal Secretaries to Sir Winston Churchill….” 

But Susan MacNeal has proven, time and time again in her marvelous, intriguing novels, that the women behind the scenes did matter.  And that’s the real triumph of the Maggie Hope novels.

Learn more about the Maggie Hope books below!

Sep 12, 2016 Editor’s Desk

Editors get very passionate about books they work on – the Editor’s Desk series is his or her place to write in-depth about what makes a certain title special. Get the real inside-scoop on how books are shaped by the people who know them best.

The concept isn’t novel, yet it’s still so often surprising—and always, always, important.

The Dollhouse by Fiona Davis embodies this theme in many different ways. Firstly, there’s the title itself. “The Dollhouse” was the nickname for New York City’s iconic Barbizon Hotel for Women– called such because of all the pretty young things that lived there. But the Barbizon housed more than pretty faces: from 1927 to 1981, the Barbizon was a safe, respectable haven for young women looking to make their mark on the city as models, actresses, editors, secretaries, or wives. Many were successful, including Joan Crawford, Grace Kelly, Sylvia Plath, and Candace Bergen– all residents of the Upper East Side’s most coveted sorority.

It’s a glamorous history, and what drew me to the novel in the first place. And in that regard, The Dollhouse delivered: I read it in one sitting, entranced by famous musicians in seedy jazz clubs, fashion shows in solariums, and the descriptions of delectable spice blends you can almost taste as you turn the pages. But looks can be deceiving, and The Dollhouse is so much more than glamorous. It’s a mystery; it’s an exploration of the changing rolls of women in the workplace, and what it means to be fulfilled as a woman; and it’s an ode to the many sides of New York City. And for these reasons, the Dollhouse is a novel that has stayed with me ever since I first read it over a year ago– and I know will continue to stay with me for a long time to come.

The Dollhouse is a dual narrative, centering on three fictional women who are tied together not only by the Barbizon, but by a hidden tragedy that occurred there. There is shy Midwesterner Darby, who arrives at the famed hotel in 1952, determined to become a secretary and secure lifelong independence without a man. Instead (in scenes that highlight the power of female friendship), she befriends Esme, a Barbizon maid looking to become a star, in spite of prejudice against her as a Puerto Rican immigrant. Esme introduces her to another, darker side of the city— not to mention a boy who just might change Darby’s mind about remaining single. Fifty years later, the Barbizon, now gone condo, is home to journalist Rose, until she is unceremoniously dumped by her live-in boyfriend, leaving her homeless as well as heartbroken. She crosses ethical boundaries in her desperation to distract herself with a juicy story: the truth behind her elderly neighbor Darby’s rumored involvement in a deadly skirmish with a hotel maid back in 1952. The tension of the mystery simmers throughout the novel and kept me flipping the pages as Darby’s and Rose’s stories intertwine to reveal the shocking truth.

Rose’s fascination with Darby opens her eyes to the rich history of the building, and her research into the elderly denizens of the Barbizon– like Darby, all single women who never left the former hotel, now in rent-controlled apartments on the fourth floor– inevitably causes her to look inward. Is this her future? Is she destined to be lonely and forgotten? Rose’s story is one that resonates in today’s world: What roles do relationship status, career, and autonomy play in living a fulfilling life as a woman? Can women “have it all” … and can they be happy if they don’t? As Rose digs deeper, including talking to Stella, another Barbizon resident (and one of my personal favorite characters in the novel!), she is treated to a wealth of insights on life, happiness, female agency, and empowerment… from women she herself had dismissed for their age and single status, for how they appeared on the surface.

And then there’s New York City. From the cloistered Barbizon (“God forbid we venture into the real world and buy something inap­propriate,” a character named Charlotte wryly observes to Darby while they attend a fashion show within the hotel) to the uninhibited jazz clubs, from the city’s charms to its dangers, from the 1950s to today, The Dollhouse truly captures the beautiful, fickle, and ever-changing heart of Manhattan. It’s not an easy task, but Fiona’s passion for research— she, too, is a journalist— and writing skill bring the city as alive as any one of her nuanced characters (another moment here to appreciate Stella, for it is not only the protagonists who are incredibly drawn in the novel. I could take the time here to tell you why Stella is so fabulous, but a character that wonderful is best experienced for yourself).

When I first received The Dollhouse on submission, I knew it was something special. But looks can be deceiving, and I didn’t know just how special until I fell into its pages. I hope you too have a chance to read this glamorous, suspenseful, romantic, thoughtful, and affecting novel.

Learn more about the book below!

Aug 19, 2016 Editor’s Desk

Editors get very passionate about books they work on – the Editor’s Desk series is his or her place to write in-depth about what makes a certain title special. Get the real inside-scoop on how books are shaped by the people who know them best.

When I was young, the weekly trip to the library was the highlight of my existence. Probably because my greatest fear was running out of things to read! So I’ve always loved libraries and the access to books they offer to readers everywhere. I know there are a lot of you out there who agree.

Now imagine a world where you can’t own books. Where knowledge is regulated and controlled. Where an all-powerful organization decides which discoveries and inventions we know about, and which are buried, never to see the light of day. This is the world of Rachel Caine’s Great Library series, and it’s by turns marvelous, fascinating, and utterly terrifying.

When Rachel came to me with the idea for this Young Adult series, I was intrigued by this alternate world where the Great Library of Alexandria never fell—and now, through its control of knowledge, essentially rules the world. Through alchemy, the text of any book can be borrowed from the library and recreated on your own personal codex. But here’s the rub: how do you know if the Library has made any changes to that book? Or whether knowledge of something that might threaten the Library’s power has been suppressed? You don’t. You wouldn’t.

And that’s why black market book smugglers, like Jess Brightwell and his family, exist. You see, some people HAVE to own books. Some are collectors, some desire knowledge, and some hunger for . . . well, I’ll let you find out about that for yourself. The Brightwell family business is dangerous, but more than that, Jess is troubled by what happens to some of the books they sell.

Soon Jess’s father decides he would be better suited to entering the service of the Library—officially to train for a life as a Scholar, and unofficially, to spy.

And the story’s just getting started! But I don’t want to spoil this utterly readable and engaging series for you. Ink and Bone and Paper and Fire are the ultimate “books about books”, a series for readers everywhere.

A story that revolves around books and libraries, that blends alternate history with magic, adventure, and romance—about the power of knowledge and the power of friendship and love? Sign me up!

Learn more about the books below!

Aug 17, 2016 Editor’s Desk

Editors get very passionate about books they work on – the Editor’s Desk series is his or her place to write in-depth about what makes a certain title special. Get the real inside-scoop on how books are shaped by the people who know them best.

Meg Leder, Executive Editor, Penguin Books, takes us inside the world of adult coloring books, one of the hottest segments in publishing.  She edits “The Queen of Coloring,”Johanna Basford, whose newest title, Magical Jungle, is published by Penguin Books on August 9.

In your view, what accounts for the adult coloring book craze and what separates Johanna Basford from the adult coloring book artist pack?

I think the adult coloring book craze has taken hold for several reasons: (1) It’s a welcome respite from the world of computer screens. Coloring is a distinctly physical activity, and there’s something imminently relaxing about putting marker or colored pencil to paper, instead of spending time with screens. (2) It’s an inherently democratic hobby. All you need is a book and a coloring tool—you don’t need to spend a lot of money on supplies or time learning skills. (3) And I think it speaks to something a lot of us did when we were kids—we loved it then, so it makes sense we’d love it now, especially with the more intricate designs!

I think New York Magazine dubbed Johanna the “Queen of Coloring” for a number of reasons. She was one of the first people out there to invite adults into the coloring book realm. She’s got a marvelous artistic vision—she’s so exceptionally talented at creating intricate work that inspires colorists. And she’s also extremely generous, both as a person and as a creator. She’s said a number of times that she just starts the masterpieces, and her fans finish them. I think that generosity shows in her art and resonates with all her fans.

 Watch Joanna Basford’s “Magical Jungle – An Inky Expedition & Coloring Book” video:

How did you come to acquire and edit your first adult coloring book and how did the process compare with how you work with Johanna on her books?

When I was at Perigee, I acquired my first two coloring books at roughly the same time: Outside the Lines by Souris Hong, and Color Me Girl Grush by Mel Elliott. Rather than the fact that they were coloring books, what drew me to both of these was the subject matter (street art and Ryan Gosling, respectively!) and the fact that they expanded notions of creativity. And then, luckily, they both really benefitted from the adult coloring book craze timing-wise.

In the years since, the coloring book audience has become a lot more opinionated and sophisticated about what they want in a coloring book, so with Johanna’s titles, we’ve spent a lot of time with our amazing production team looking at paper weight, opacity, etc. When I worked on those first two books, I never imagined that several years down the line, I’d be spending as much time talking about the merits of white vs ivory paper as I do now. But we want to keep those colorists happy!

In addition to adult coloring books, what are a couple of the upcoming books you are editing that are of most interest and what do you hope will distinguish them?

I’m publishing a book called Carry This Book from Broad City’s Abbi Jacobson this fall. It’s a marvelous illustrated book detailing the contents of real people’s and fictional characters’ bags. It’s one of the most wonderfully weird and weirdly wonderful projects I’ve worked on since I started publishing, and I think readers will be really intrigued by this glimpse into the way Abbi’s mind and creative process work. Abbi’s a spectacularly creative and cool person, and it shows on the page.

I’m also really excited about two other books I have coming out this fall:   Tree of Treasures: A Life in Ornaments and The Wasp That Brainwashed the Caterpillar. The former is a gift book that explores the way ornaments tell the stories of our lives, and the latter looks at all the strange animals that evolution has created, including the antechinus, whose males have so much sex during their three-week mating session that runaway testosterone levels make them bleed internally, go blind, and drop dead! I love that my list at Penguin has room for such a wide spectrum of books, and my hope is that readers will enjoy reading them as much as I loved editing them.

Explore some adult coloring books here!

Aug 4, 2016 Editor’s Desk

Editors get very passionate about books they work on – the Editor’s Desk series is his or her place to write in-depth about what makes a certain title special. Get the real inside-scoop on how books are shaped by the people who know them best.

As Nadja Spiegelman describes early in her wonderful memoir, I’m Supposed to Protect You from All This, the book grew out of a series of conversations with her mother, Françoise Mouly. Throughout Nadja’s childhood, Françoise had steadfastly deflected questions about her past with “I’ll tell you when you’re older.” She kept her word. When Nadja emerged into adulthood, Françoise told her everything she could remember, not sparing herself the difficult emotions the recounting called up. Nadja would eventually cross the Atlantic to continue the conversation in France with her grandmother, adding Josée’s story and that of Josée’s mother to her ballooning research.

For me, however, the book began in a different place, when Nadja was trying to wrestle a narrative out of this overwhelming, overlapping, contradictory array of stories – not to mention each figure’s conflicting interpretations and complicated responses. On her visits to New York, we’d meet for lunch, always somewhere quiet and with a large table, my apartment or the Korean place near my office, so that she could lay out her annotated transcripts and notes and the fantastically detailed storyboards she had assembled.

Nadja Spiegelman

At moments like these, editors can feel a little like the Wizard of Oz, struggling to muster godlike pronouncements from behind a threadbare curtain of authority. I confess I wondered at moments if we were both lost. But as Nadja began to send me draft chapters, working her way through the material, it became clear to me that my author, young and wide-eyed as she was, had incredibly well-developed impulses as a writer. She knew where she was going, and she returned to the material, draft after draft, until she got it there.

Like many writers, Nadja is a creature of the night, but she took that to extremes. Sometimes when we’d Skype, well into the evening for me – editors tend to be creatures of the night too, at least when it comes to editing – she’d still be up, working, when dawn was already breaking in Paris. Sometimes we continued our conversations the next morning, though at her age, the punishing hours she was keeping did not show. But they paid off. Gradually a gorgeous, intricate narrative emerged, one that mimicked the layering and warping of memory, to powerful effect.

I have daughters of my own, a decade younger than Nadja – more or less the age Nadja was when her mother first told her her story. I came to the book not only as editor but as mother and daughter. I wondered about all the things I had never asked my mother about her past, or her mother’s. I was in awe of Francoise’s courage in revealing everything, and doubted that I would have the same. The book made me appreciate that we do not understand any adult until we see him or her as someone’s child. I loved getting to be part of its coming into the world.

Listen to an interview with Nadja on the Beaks and Geeks podcast:  

Jul 11, 2016 Blog

Dear READERS:

What you have here is a debut novel that is the work of the first new writer I have taken on in a decade. To say I am excited about the novel and the writer is an understatement. Lili Wright is a mature woman who has travelled, lived, and thought a great deal about the worlds she has moved through. It shows in the power of her themes, in her sensitive understanding of her seriously flawed characters, and in her extraordinary grasp of the contradictions embedded in the Mexican culture.  She is that rare American who has thrown off her carapace of privilege to understand Mexico, whose deeply fatalistic people must manage to survive amid the ferocious drug wars and top-down corruption that are corroding the heart and soul of this bedeviled country. “Poor Mexico, so near Los Estados Unidos, so far from God.”

Lili Wright has crafted a literary thriller: A novel of propulsive power, it is told in short chapters and many voices. At the center of the plot is the attempt to recover an artifact purported to be the death mask of Montezuma. It has been found by a looter, a meth-addicted American in the employ of a ruthless narco drug lord who wants that mask for his own collection.  But so do many others, including an expat American collector, a former Oaxacan museum director who now makes money providing (false) provenances for looted artifacts, the addled grave-robber himself,  and Anna Ramsay, a young American who knows that getting hold of the mask will save her father’s reputation as an expert, a reputation that has just been savaged in a report claiming  many of the masks in his collection are forgeries. The setting is ripe for multiple double-crosses. Even the secondary characters have secret agendas and how these play out is complex and unpredictable.

But what gives this novel its psychological power is its multifaceted exploration of how we hide ourselves in plain sight. The front we present to the world is just another mask.

As Reyes, the drug lord, says, “Everyone loves masks. Because everyone has something to hide.”  Indeed, he himself is such a master of disguise that no one can describe him. He is a shape shifter of outlandish proportions and would be a character in an opera buffa were he not a coldblooded killer. Just as chilling is the expat collector, Thomas Malone. “A man in a mask,” he says, “is above the law. He makes his own rules, his own moral code.” Wright is masterful in the way she slowly builds his psychopathology.

Anna herself says, “I’ve worn a mask most of my life. For years I thought wearing a mask was a way to start over, become someone new. Now I know better.”  Anna is a very wounded woman, but there is not an ounce of self-pity in her and it is Lili Wright’s extraordinary craft that makes us sympathetic to her even as we wait to find out the source of her emotional scarring. She is a heroine for the moment—think “Orange is the New Black,” think the female version of “Breaking Bad.”

Dancing with the Tiger is filled with a large and richly conceived cast, a mix of expats and Mexicans from all social strata. None of them are mere walk-ons, all are brought movingly to life in Wright’s talented hands. It is a highly sensual novel and also an erotic novel in the worst way, and it is sprinkled with very quotable one-liners and acid observations: black humor at its finest. (Anna thinks: “chastity, like abstinence, was a virtue best begun tomorrow.”) This is grown-up fiction: Always gripping, often frightening, yet oddly touching. You care about these people.

The debut writer I took on ten years ago was Olga Grushin, author of The Dream Life of Sukhanov, which earned her a place on Granta’s  Best Young American Novelists (2) in 2007, won her the NYPL Young Lion’s prize that same year, brought her a nomination for the LATimes First Novel award and made her one of three finalists for England’s Orange Prize. The thrill I felt on first reading that novel was just what happened when I read Dancing with the Tiger. I’m really excited about Lili and ready to run with the novel.

Marian Wood

Back to Top