By Sue Hubbard. (Overlook Press, 220 pages, $25.95.)
Sue Hubbard’s quiet, gorgeous “Rainsongs” doesn’t rely on plot — there is not very much to the story — but it is a haunting read nonetheless. Londoner Martha Cassidy has come to the west of Ireland in dark, rainy December to close up the family cottage that had been her husband’s writing retreat and her family’s summer home. Her husband, who had been unfaithful to her, has died, and she is mourning him, their marriage and the couple’s only child, a boy who drowned 20 years before at age 10.
During her weeks alone in the cottage, Martha ponders the past; is reacquainted with an entrepreneur, who has plans to develop the wild Irish coast into an upscale spa; and meets a young poet and musician, who becomes a friend.
Much of Hubbard’s book is taken up with meticulous descriptions of the land, the weather, the cottage, the terrain, the ocean and the Skelligs in the distance, a place her son had always wanted to visit.
The book is filled with contrasts: light and dark, land and sea, dead and living, past and present, isolation and crowds, urban and rural, love and loss.
So careful is her prose, so beautifully wrought and thoughtful her passages, that the reader is swept along in this lovely, quiet novel about a woman picking her way carefully through loneliness, grief and healing.
The Three Escapes of Hannah Arendt: A Tyranny of Truth
By Ken Krimstein. (Bloomsbury, 240 pages, Sept. 25, $28)
Feel free to judge “Three Escapes” by its cover. Nearly square, with hand-lettered type, a nubby, cloth spine and several of writer/artist Ken Krimstein’s distinctive drawings of German-American philosopher Hannah Arendt, it is gorgeous. (One quibble: The boring title doesn’t do the graphic novel/biography justice, even if it accurately describes how the book is organized around Arendt’s moves to new countries.)
You don’t have to know much about Arendt or philosophy to love “Three Escapes,” in which Krimstein quickly sketches in the details of her life and of the dozens of philosophers, almost all German and Jewish, who helped shape her worldview. Those details literally form a picture of the woman who invented the term “totalitarianism” and whose once shocking writing about the “banality of evil” continues to define how we see the man she was writing about, Holocaust organizer Adolf Eichmann, as well as many inexplicable villains who have succeeded him.
The wisdom of telling Arendt’s story with words and drawings is that — much like Lauren Redniss’ graphic bio of Pierre and Marie Curie, “Radioactive” — lots of complex information can be packed into one pungent illustration. It would take a traditional biographer an entire chapter, for instance, to describe the origins of Arendtianism, the philosopher’s theory about how a series of internal bargains can lead a person to accept a devastating fate, but Krimstein does it in a single page.
And no words could achieve the effect Krimstein does with the recurring outline of a girl, representing someone who haunted Arendt after she failed to save her from the Nazis.
The happiest surprise of “Three Escapes” is that, despite the often dark subject matter, it’s packed with wit. (Krimstein reserves much of his humor for the not-to-be-ignored footnotes.) As a result, it’s a fun and, especially in a final illustration that encapsulates Arendt’s hopes for a better world, inspiring work.