The Amanda Knox case certainly read like fiction: a pretty English college student is murdered during a year abroad in Italy, and her free-spirited American roommate is suspected of the crime. In Cartwheel, Jennifer DuBois has shifted the story to Argentina and tweaked a few details, but her greatest literary achievement here is the exploration of the characters’ inner lives. What we can’t know in real life, we get in fiction–what they were thinking, what was understood and misunderstood. Of particular depth and interest are the male characters in this story: the father of Lily Hayes (the accused American student), her boyfriend, and the prosecutor. The end feels a bit rushed, but everything leading up to that point is well worth your time.
Read if you enjoyed: Waiting to Be Heard by Amanda Knox; Black Girl, White Girl by Joyce Carol Oates.
The story of Henri “Papillon” Charrière’s imprisonment and multiple escape attempts would have made for an implausible novel—as a memoir, it is riveting. In the 1930s, Charrière was convicted of murder and sentenced to hard labor in the penal colony on Devil’s Island in French Guiana. The book recounts his life in detail—the voyage to the colony, his friends and enemies, his escape attempts, adventures during his brief stints of freedom, solitary confinement, and the inhumane grind of daily life in a French prison. It’s no spoiler to say that he survived, but the lengths he went to in order to create a normal life are astounding, and made me hold my breath in anticipation.
Read if you enjoyed: The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas, A High Wind in Jamaica by Richard Hughes
This early nonfiction work by novelist and travel writer Paul Theroux recounts his journey by rail from Boston to the far reaches of South America in 1977. Each stage is documented in detail, from the ride on the Lake Shore Limited between Boston and Chicago to the titular train in Patagonia. Theroux’s constant complaints about delays, bad food, poor lodgings, and his fellow passengers are irritating and may discourage some readers from sticking with the book. Luckily, it improves considerably when he arrives in Argentina. He stops for several days in Buenos Aires and forms an acquaintanceship with Jorge Luis Borges, the giant of Argentine literature. And his grouchiness mellows in the final stages of the journey, leaving room for some moments of startling inspiration.
Read if you enjoyed: The Motorcycle Diaries by Ernesto “Che” Guevara, The Great Railway Bazaar by Paul Theroux