Clare Fermont

Behind the Beautiful Forevers

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Katherine Boo

This stunning book hurls you into Annawadi, a slum near Mumbai airport. It reads like a gripping novel, telling the intricate stories of a few residents. All have dreams. All struggle to survive. Several suffer a terrible end - suicide by self-immolation, brutal murder, agonisingly slow death from treatable illnesses. But these are not fictional characters - and they really did die like this.

The Submission

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Amy Waldman

A jury painstakingly chooses the winner from anonymous submissions to design the 9/11 memorial at Ground Zero. The consensus is immediately shattered when the architect's name is revealed - Mohammad (Mo) Khan. "Jesus fucking Christ!" says one of the jurors, "It's a goddamn Muslim!"

Freedom

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Jonathan Franzen, Fourth Estate, £20

It's always with some trepidation that you pick up a book by an author whose previous book you absolutely loved. So it was when I started Freedom, the novel that took Jonathan Franzen nine years to complete following his 2001 masterpiece, the Corrections. But within the first few pages it was clear that his genius for exposing the excruciating realities of family life in the US was not a one-book wonder, and after a few chapters it was clear that this book was also going to express his rage at post-9/11 America.

Manituana

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Wu Ming, Verso, £14.99

Manituana is based on the fascinating and true story of the Iroquois during the American War of Independence in the 1770s.

Its characters are drawn from that history, including the central figure of Joseph Bryant or Thayendanegea, a Mohawk. He is fluent in English and the languages of the Six Nations because his sister Molly was the "wife" of Sir William Johnson, the Irish superintendent of Indian affairs for the British Crown. Through him the cultures are straddled and through him the sorry tale is largely told.

Gran Torino

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Director: Clint Eastwood; Release date: 20 February

Walt Kowalski - played by the film's director, Clint Eastwood - is a retired car worker and gun-toting Korean War veteran who despises everyone and everything around him. His wife has just died. His sons, all-American salesmen, are alien to him. His neighbourhood has been taken over by Asians who look like the Koreans he has killed. Barely a sentence comes out of his mouth that is not contaminated by racism and rage.

Toussaint L'Ouverture: The Haitian Revolution

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Toussaint L'Ouverture, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Verso, £7.99

This fascinating, albeit short, collection of letters and other writings by Toussaint L'Ouverture reveals a surprising amount about the politics and character of the remarkable slave leader.

Toussaint joined a mass slave revolt in Saint Domingue, present-day Haiti, in 1791. The rebels, inspired by the 1789 French Revolution, rampaged through the country slaughtering slave owners and burning their properties.

A Most Wanted Man

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John Le Carré, Hodder & Stoughton, £18.99

John Le Carré's 21st novel continues his wonderful 48-year exploration of Western intelligence agencies as they jostle for influence in an ever-changing world.

A Most Wanted Man is the first to tackle the "war on terror" era. Set in Hamburg, it involves terrified Muslim refugees, money-laundering banks, shadowy intelligence agencies infected by Islamophobic obsessions and, of course, extraordinary renditions.

Guantanamo: A Novel

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Dorothea Dieckmann, Duckworth Overlook, £8.99

The terror and incipient madness felt by all those who have been whisked from normality to the US offshore torture camp at Guantanamo Bay are captured from the opening sentence of this extraordinary book.

Rashid, son of an Indian Muslim father and a German Protestant mother, was raised in Germany. After his grandmother dies, he travels to India where he meets an Afghan man who persuades him to travel to Peshawar. He finds himself on an anti-US demo, and then is arrested, handed over to US forces and transported to Cuba.

Carpentaria

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Alexis Wright, Constable, £16.99

This is a truly wonderful book. Written by an Australian Aboriginal woman, it tells the epic story of the inhabitants of the fictional town of Desperance, a godforsaken dusty red-earthed settlement abandoned by its river in northern Queensland.

The Westend Pricklebush people, led by the Phantom family, are engaged in battles with Joseph Midnight's Eastend people as well as the white community of Uptown and a multinational mining company.

Exit Ghost

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Philip Roth, Jonathan Cape, £16.99

Nathan Zuckerman returns to post-9/11 New York after spending 11 years writing books in a mountain retreat. It is election week, 2004. He is in his 70s and is seeking a miracle cure for incontinence, the by-product of prostate cancer surgery.

His solitary life and insulated world view are shattered by the busy streets of New York; a sighting of the ailing Amy, the last lover of his first literary hero, E I Lonoff; a growing erotic infatuation with a young woman; and the harassment of a would-be biographer of Lonoff.

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