STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
The librarian Nancy Pearl is with us next. She joins us regularly to give us book recommendations, and she has sent me a stack of books here that is going to take us on a series of journeys to different parts of the world. Hi there, Nancy.
NANCY PEARL, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.
INSKEEP: So we're going to travel here, beginning with a novel called "The Night Tiger." Is it Yangsze Choo the author?
PEARL: Yes. And it's set in the 1930s, so we're not only traveling in place, but we're traveling backwards in time.
INSKEEP: Bravely (ph).
PEARL: 1930s in Malaya. This is the kind of book that when you read it, you really are transported back to that time and place. And when I was reading it, I - as I often do, I got out an atlas and started looking for the towns in Malaya - which, of course, is now Malaysia - the towns that she talks about and kind of seeing where they are. The main character is a young woman named Ji Lin who moonlights as a dancehall girl. And during one of her working evenings, she makes a rather gruesome discovery. And then in alternating chapters, we learn the story of a young Malayan boy, Ren, who's 11 years old who works as a houseboy for a British doctor. And when the British doctor dies, he gives Ren his final instructions, which is to find the doctor's finger that the doctor lost during a hunting expedition years ago. And the reason the doctor wants - needs that finger to be found is that it has to be buried with the rest of his body, or his spirit will roam the world uneasily forever.
INSKEEP: OK. Alfred Hitchcock talks about the MacGuffin...
PEARL: (Laughter) Right.
INSKEEP: ...The object that you're searching for that causes the movie to go - the finger is the MacGuffin in this novel.
PEARL: Right, yes, yes. And these two seemingly totally unrelated characters come together through this quest to find the doctor's finger. Really, she's captured - the kind of magic realism that we read so much of in Latin American fiction has now gone to Malaya where magical things happened and numbers have real meanings. And there's a train to the world of the dead that these characters have to take. It's a pretty wonderful book.
INSKEEP: Wow. Airfare to Malaysia, by the way, is not too bad, but the back-in-time fee is considerable. So we travel with this historical fiction to a real landscape in the past, and now there's this book here called "The Memory Of Love." What's that about?
PEARL: Oh, my gosh. This is such an amazing novel. It's the second novel by Aminatta Forna, who is the daughter of a Sierra Leonean and a Scottish mother. And she's written a book that's set in - you know, Sierra Leone went through a terrible, terrible civil war. And the civil war lasted 11 years, from 1991 to 2002. And this is a book that takes place after the war is over.
It's about three men and the woman who connects their lives in different ways. She has a different relationship to each of those three men. Two of the men lived through the war, an older man who is a professor at the university and a younger man who has become a surgeon. And the third man is a British psychologist who comes to the country to try to treat all the people who were so affected by the war. One of the things that I think the book asks you to think about is that during a war, you can either do good or you can do well. And to think about the choice that one has to make is pretty stunning.
INSKEEP: You said do good or do well, meaning do what is morally right or profit somehow.
PEARL: Right, yes - or profit, yes. Don't you think that's just so apt?
INSKEEP: Yeah. Where do we travel in this book here by Emma Hooper called "Our Homesick Songs"?
PEARL: We travel to the very eastern edge of Canada to Newfoundland, and it takes place in 1992. 1992 was the year that the Canadian government shut down the fishing industry because the cod were overfished. The families who are affected who made their living from fishing are offered money to leave their homes, abandon their homes and move north and west to make a living, especially in the booming oil and gas business that was then going on in Alberta. But the main characters in this book are a family, the Connors, and it's a book that talks about how each of the members of that family, the parents and their two children, deal with the potential loss of the way of life that they've always known.
INSKEEP: Maybe it's fitting since we've been traveling around through these books that the final book on your stack is called "Landmarks" by Robert Macfarlane.
PEARL: Robert Macfarlane, who is a fellow at Cambridge University, is so interested in landscape and language. And he, in this book, is writing about how we've lost the specific words for details of the landscape. And each chapter ends with a glossary of words that we no longer use or no longer know. It occurred to me that it would be so much fun to pick a word and use that word as much as we can over the year.
INSKEEP: OK. Here it goes. Here it goes. What's the word? What do you got?
INSKEEP: Spell it, please.
PEARL: F-L-E-E-C-H-E-S - large snowflakes. Is that not wonderful?
INSKEEP: (Laughter) I stood at the window watching the fleeches of snow.
INSKEEP: Or just fleeches - just fleeches fall.
PEARL: The fleeches, right.
INSKEEP: I stood at the window watching the fleeches fall.
PEARL: Can I just read one quote that he says...
INSKEEP: Please, go ahead.
PEARL: ...Because, you know, this is why I love Robert MacFarlane so much. (Reading) Before you become a writer, you must first become a reader. Every hour spent reading is an hour spent learning to write. This continues to be true throughout the writer's life.
Isn't that wonderful?
PEARL: So this - all these books are just such discoveries. I love it.
(SOUNDBITE OF FRAMEWORKS' "ALL DAY")
INSKEEP: Librarian Nancy Pearl, who is also the author of fleeches of books, including "George And Lizzie: A Novel," you can find more of her book recommendations and our favorite books of the year at NPR's Book Concierge at npr.org/books.