Fruit of the Drunken Tree
By Ingrid Rojas Contreras, narrated by Marisol Ramirez and Almarie Guerra. (Random House Audio, unabridged, 12½ hours.)
This moving, terrifying novel is set chiefly in Bogota, Colombia, during the 1990s and is told from the points of view of 7-year-old Chula, from a well-off family, and their maid, Petrona, 13, whose father and older brothers have been “disappeared.” Chula’s worldview is shaped by overheard conversations, broadcasts and her older sister’s erroneous views; Petrona’s by her terrible past and involvement with a young criminal gang member. Ramirez and Guerra are gifted bilingual narrators who deliver the many Spanish phrases with musical grace.
The Poems of T.S. Eliot
Narrated by Jeremy Irons and Eileen Atkins. (Faber & Faber, unabridged, 3¾ hours.)
Irons’ narration for this collection of poems, beginning with “The Waste Land,” is forlorn, desperate, crabby and weary — mirroring Eliot’s understanding of a desiccated, exhausted culture bereft of meaning. Portions of this long poem are performed by Atkins in a range of styles, from blue-stockinged severity to Cockney garrulousness. The remaining three works, read by Irons alone, are “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” “Four Quartets” and — for those of us with a taste for whimsy — “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.”
The Singularity Trap
By Dennis E. Taylor, narrated by Ray Porter (Audible Studios, unabridged, 11 1/3 hours.)
In this top-notch outer-space adventure, Ivan, a down-on-his-luck computer programmer, joins an expedition to the asteroid belt and picks up an object left eons ago by an interstellar craft. It begins to colonize his body, and Ivan finds himself in unwelcome partnership with an alien entity and learns that the fate of humanity depends on his guile. Porter’s narration is simply brilliant. He gives an occasionally rueful, all-American guy’s voice to Ivan and branches out to capture the personalities of the additional characters.
By Tommy Orange, narrated by Darrell Dennis, Shaun Taylor-Corbett, Alma Ceurvo and Kyla Garcia (Random House Audio, unabridged, 8 hours.)
This debut novel, set chiefly in Oakland, Calif., takes up three generations of Native American men and women struggling against alcoholism, drug addiction, sexual abuse, obesity, debt and depression. The richly detailed storylines gradually converge and culminate in a final gotterdammerung at a big Oakland powwow. Four versatile, empathetic actor/narrators bring emotional force, further amplifying the strong voices already present on the page.
The Widows of Malabar Hill
By Sujata Massey, narrated by Soneela Nankani (Recorded Books, unabridged, 14½ hours.)
The novel begins a marvelously plotted, richly detailed series set in India in the early 1920s. Bombay’s first female solicitor takes up the case of the three widows of the recently deceased Omar Farid, whose agent is bent on disinheriting them. Soon, she discovers that the women have their own dicey secrets, and a member of the household is murdered. The plot barrels along, picking up cultural complexity. Nankani delivers the general narration in a warm American voice and gives the dialogue a trim, restrained Indian accent.
Katherine A. Powers, a Minnesota native, reviews for Barnes & Noble, Newsday, the Star Tribune and elsewhere. She writes this column for the Washington Post.