Human language

12 new books we recommend this week

LOST IN DEATH VALLEY: A story of obsession and danger in the Himalayas, by Harley Rustad. (Harper/HarperCollins, $29.99.) In August 2016, an experienced American hiker named Justin Alexander Shetler embarked on an expedition to the Parvati Valley in northern India, which is never heard from again. Rustad’s tense and fascinating book about his life asks what draws people to danger. “Through a patient accumulation of anecdote and detail, Rustad transforms Shetler’s story into something far more humane and humanly tragic, into a layered inquisition and reporting force,” Michael Paterniti writes in his review. “Suffice it to say, Rustad did what the best storytellers do: he tried to follow the story to its last twig, then walked away.”

OTHERS’ CLOTHES, by Calla Henkel. (Double day, $28.) In Henkel’s thrilling and visceral debut novel, two New York art students spend a year in Berlin, where they find themselves caught up in a whirlwind of seedy nightclubs and cheap booze. Their toxic entanglement is the real star here, but there are plenty of crazy revelations to keep a reader turning the pages. “Henkel unfolds a spectacular range of meaning, from the garish sight of costumes at a theater sale to the sweaty, orgiastic tangle on the dance floor of a sex club, the damp cold of everything to the headache crushing as a result of too big a cut-rate booze,” writes Ivy Pochoda in her review. “The grungy student life feels all too real: the dinner parties that fail, the attempts at deep conversation that don’t take off, the jostling to become someone and something.”

PHENOTYPES, by Paolo Scott. Translated by Daniel Hahn. (And other stories, paper, $16.95.) The narrator of this propulsive novel is a light-skinned black researcher on race and colorism in Brazil. But his own identity comes to the fore when his niece is arrested, further complicating the issues he has spent his career trying to resolve. The novel “highlights how difficult anti-racism projects can be on any scale,” writes Omari Weekes in his review. “The standardization of race via computer programs and the quantification of blood only opens up new questions, while individual negotiations over race boil and fester unresolved. As these issues become intertwined with socio- economics, police brutality, interpersonal violence, and state surveillance, Scott’s characters quickly abandon the possibility of a global solution in favor of stopgap measures that may or may not work.

SWIMMERS, by Julie Otsuka. (Knopf, $23.) Told in part from the plural first-person perspective of avid swimmers who frequent an underground community pool, Otsuka’s third novel moves to dry land to explore the world of an aging woman named Alice, who suffers from dementia, and her daughter. “Otsuka’s prose is powerfully controlled,” writes Rachel Khong in her review: “She constructs lists and litanies that seem modest, even day-to-day, until the paragraph comes to a close, and you find yourself stunned by what she managed, tight-throated, with the beautiful detail that Alice, among all the things she forgets, “still remembers to turn her wedding ring inside out every time she puts on her silk stockings.”

THE MATCHMAKER: A spy in Berlin, by Paul Viditch. (Pegasus Crime, $25.95.) In this shrewd spy novel, an American translator living and working in West Berlin shortly before the fall of the wall one day finds the CIA and West German intelligence on her doorstep. Her East German husband, it seems, kept secrets – a lot of them. “There’s a casual elegance to Vidich’s spy fiction,” Sarah Weinman writes in her latest crime column, “an apparent ease that belies his superior craftsmanship. Every plot point, the motivation of the characters and turn of phrase veer towards the understated, but they’re never guaranteed.’The Matchmaker’ is an ideal entry into Vidich’s oeuvre.