Editor's Choice

Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the DeadClick for more information including
an excerpt and read-alike recommendations

by Olga Tokarczuk

Summary

Then a neighbor, Big Foot, turns up dead. Soon other bodies are discovered, in increasingly strange circumstances. As suspicions mount, Janina inserts herself into the investigation, certain that she knows whodunit. If only anyone would pay her mind...

A deeply satisfying thriller cum fairy tale from the winner of the 2018 Nobel Prize for Literature, Drive Your Plow over the Bones of the Dead is a provocative exploration of the murky borderland between sanity and madness, justice and tradition, autonomy and fate. Whom do we deem sane? it asks. Who is worthy of a voice?

BookBrowse Review

A subversive feminist noir mystery set in a remote Polish village, Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead both dazzles and defies categorization. Olga Tokarczuk's seventh novel (her fourth to be translated into English) follows Janina Duszejko, an elderly woman living as a recluse on the outskirts of a Polish town close to the Czech border, who spends her days reading horoscopes and translating the poetry of William Blake. But it's a far cry from an idyllic life for Janina, whose beloved dogs have gone missing and whose neighbors keep mysteriously turning up dead.

The intelligent and eccentric Janina immediately recalls Agatha Christie's Miss Marple, but to call this one a mystery novel would be reductive. Janina is an unlikely heroine not only for her age, but because of the sundry ways in which she refuses to submit to societal standards; she's a vegetarian within a hunting community, she's outspoken about animal rights, she's a firm and un-ironic believer in astrology. As the murders begin to escalate, Janina becomes adamant that she knows who the culprit is, but she succeeds only in isolating herself further from those in her town who already doubt her sanity. The commentary on how the elderly – women in particular – are viewed with disdain and ridicule is the novel's focus, rather than the whodunit.

However, Tokarczuk's advocacy for the elderly isn't the only thematic thread that leaves a strong impression. Against the stark, dreary and frigid backdrop, an atmosphere rendered to perfection, the novel's driving conflict isn't so much with the climate and landscape, as one might expect, but with society at large. Tokarczuk deftly weaves together commentary on the limitations of the body, animal welfare, justice and the nature of violence – which all condense into a fundamental question about fate vs. free will, echoing back to Janina's obsession with the stars.

"I think we all feel great ambivalence at the sight of our own Horoscope. On the one hand we're proud to see that the sky is imprinted on our individual life, like a postmark with a date stamped on a letter – this makes it distinct, one of a kind. But at the same time it's a form of imprisonment in space, like a tattooed prison number. There's no escaping it. I cannot be someone other than I am. How awful. We'd prefer to think we're free, able to reinvent ourselves whenever we choose. This connection with something as great and monumental as the sky makes us feel uncomfortable. We'd rather be small, and then our petty little sins would be forgivable."

Translated from the Polish by Antonia Lloyd-Jones, Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead is stylistically striking. With a pseudo-biblical flair, improper nouns are capitalized seemingly at random (a quirk that isn't consistent with Polish orthography, indicating this was an intentional choice made by Tokarczuk in the original language). Early in the novel Janina meditates on the nature of names: she often finds them ill-fitting and chooses to refer to people by a prominent characteristic instead. Her neighbors therefore have names like Oddball and Big Foot, but she also talks of Horoscopes and her Ailments, imbuing these words with an almost equal weight as that with which she considers her fellow men. What makes human life so special? This is the question that propels the novel forward, one that will continue to haunt its readers long after they finish.

Book reviewed by Rachel Hullett

Beyond the Book:
Women in Translation

Women in Translation Month logoTranslated fiction is something of a rarity in the English-speaking world. It's been widely reported that only about 3% of books published in the United States were originally written in a language other than English – a statistic that led to the creation of the University of Rochester's Three Percent database, a valuable online resource for all things having to do with international literature. (This database is now hosted by Publishers Weekly.)

Book lover and PhD student Meytal Radzinksi dug a little deeper into the statistical makeup of translated lit, concluding that only about 30% of new translations into English are books by female authors. This gender disparity inspired Radzinksi to create the @read_WIT Twitter account in 2014, where every August she hosts Women in Translation Month, or #WITmonth, a project that encourages the online reading community throughout the month to pick up international literature written and/or translated by women, from any and all genres. (In Women in Translation's mission statement, which is visible on the Twitter account, Radzinski highlights the fact that the project also supports works in translation by transgender, nonbinary and intersex authors, whose work is also substantially underrepresented.)

Looking at data from between 2008 and 2018, Chad Post, publisher of Open Letters (University of Rochester's translation press), observed that the ten countries that provided the greatest numbers of translated books written by women are, in order: France, Germany, Sweden, Italy, Spain, Japan, Argentina, Russia, South Korea and Canada/Quebec, ranging from 38 books (Quebec) to 155 (France). Coming in at 21, Poland doesn't make the list. Olga Tokarczuk is a noted and controversial figure in her home country; her novel Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead caused quite a stir when it was published in 2009 for its unapologetic advocacy of animal rights and its condemnation of hunting. Yet she didn't become a recognized name in the US-centric literature community until she won the 2018 International Booker Prize for her novel Flights, beating out more popular names like Han Kang and László Krasznahorkai. (For more on Tokarczuk and Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead, check out her illuminating interview with Publishers Weekly.)

Even though women in translation may be outnumbered in the publishing world, some of the biggest names published in recent years fall into this category. Samanta Schweblin, Han Kang, Isabel Allende, Elena Ferrante, Valeria Luiselli and Clarice Lispector are just a few of the names who have made a splash on US bestseller lists. And luckily, due to a dedicated and impassioned community of readers, there are a wealth of resources for anyone looking to expand their literary horizons to include more women in translation. In addition to the @read_WIT Twitter account, the International Booker, and the Three Percent database, the Warwick Prize for Women in Translation is a valuable resource. It is a relatively new literary prize annually given to a translated novel by a woman. One of the prize's judges, Susan Bassnett, states "This prize is a rallying call to translators and publishers everywhere. There are dozens of fine women writers waiting to be translated - so let's see more of them in our bookshops."

Women in Translation Month extends that rallying cry to readers. With so many diverse and exciting international voices to discover, what are we waiting for?

Women in Translation Month logo, courtesy of Translationista

The World Doesn't Require YouClick for more information including
an excerpt and read-alike recommendations

by Rion Amilcar Scott

Summary

Established by the leaders of the country's only successful slave revolt in the mid-nineteenth century, Cross River still evokes the fierce rhythms of its founding. In lyrical prose and singular dialect, a saga beats forward that echoes the fables carried down for generations―like the screecher birds who swoop down for their periodic sacrifice, and the water women who lure men to wet deaths.

Among its residents―wildly spanning decades, perspectives, and species―are David Sherman, a struggling musician who just happens to be God's last son; Tyrone, a ruthless PhD candidate, whose dissertation about a childhood game ignites mayhem in the neighboring, once-segregated town of Port Yooga; and Jim, an all-too-obedient robot who serves his Master. As the book builds to its finish with "Special Topics in Loneliness Studies", a fully-realized novella, two unhinged professors grapple with hugely different ambitions, and the reader comes to appreciate the intricacy of the world Scott has created―one where fantasy and reality are eternally at war.

Contemporary and essential, The World Doesn't Require You is a "leap into a blazing new level of brilliance" (Lauren Groff) that affirms Rion Amilcar Scott as a writer whose storytelling gifts the world very much requires.

BookBrowse Review

You can't move for young authors being marketed as "unique," "bold" and "visionary" these days. So it comes as quite a shock to the system to encounter the genuine article. The 11 stories and novella that make up Rion Amilcar Scott's sophomore collection are joyous, shocking and, at times, soaringly wondrous. Like some master hip-hop artist dropping a trailblazing mixtape, Scott remixes the past through an incisive contemporary eye and an effervescent vernacular voice to deliver a work that adds something new to the conversation about the Black experience in America today. The stories share a setting, the fictional town of Castle Rock, and overarching themes; even plot points and characters drift in and out of the confines of their individual narratives.

The World Doesn't Require You pole-vaults right out of the gate with "David Sherman, the last Son of God," a tour de force overture showcasing Scott's punchy prose that jumps off the page. An ex-con street musician is given a second chance when his pastor brother invites him to lead the house band at the Church of the Ever-Loving Christ. To prove his worth, David embarks on a jazz odyssey of the soul in search of a pioneering sound that will bring glory to God, Cross River, the church and himself. His spiritual breakthrough spreads like wildfire and gains a cult-like following, the fallout of which is examined in two further stories told from different points of view.

Critics have been quick to liken Scott's fictional Cross River to Yoknapatawpha County, William Faulkner's "little postage stamp of native soil." But Stephen King's Castle Rock is perhaps a more fitting comparison, because strange things have, and continue, to happen in Cross River. From story to story Scott flits between subtle magical realism, mythical worldbuilding, futuristic sci-fi and even skin-crawling horror. The effect is dizzying and disorienting, sometimes disturbing, but always rewarding.

In "A Loudness of Screechers" sinister birds of prey circle over the city waiting for a human offering to tear into. This age-old ritual that breaks families apart is a matter of course that goes unquestioned and unchallenged. In "The Electric Joy of Service" and its counterpart "Mercury in Retrograde," Scott recontextualizes antebellum slavery between a hubristic master inventor and Robotic Personal Helpers (nicknamed Riffs) made to wear blackface. The robots wrestle with their docile programming in the face of increasing levels of degradation.

Then there's the penultimate story "Rolling in My Six-Fo," where a group of pill-popping pilgrims retrace the routes of the Underground Railroad – that same network of secret safe houses explored in Colson Whitehead's 2016 Pulitzer-winning novel (these two authors seemingly share a penchant for historical speculation). The druggy road trip descends into a grotesque nightmare of people morphing into beasts that plays with taboo racial imagery to horrific effect.

For all their fantastical elements, the stories strike a real note because they zero in on all too human conflicts and emotions. The many parallels to real-world history are there for anyone to pick up on. But every time characters get too bogged down in the past, believing this will grant them some special insight into their current predicaments, they only trip themselves up and find themselves worse off than before.

In the novella "Special Topics in Loneliness Studies," a university professor surmises he can overcome loneliness through intensive engagement with the life and texts of an 1800s Cross Riverian poet. The pursuit costs him his job and, almost, his sanity. And the standout "The Nigger Knockers" is satire at its most biting. Doctoral candidate Tyrone writes a dissertation positing that a version of the "ding dong ditch" game (in which one person knocks on the front door, while another sneaks in through the back and steals food or supplies) was in fact the secret key to Cross River's successful slave rebellion. This seemingly groundbreaking study catches the imagination of his best friend Darius with devastating consequences.

Again and again in the collection, the history academics and revisionist mythmakers are portrayed as well-meaning fools at best and devious saboteurs at worst. There's an argument to be made that just like his Riff robots who struggle to break free from their programming, Scott is pushing for an African American literature that can finally move on from the dominant tradition of slave and Jim Crow fictions, which continue to be publishing staples. (Just look to Whitehead's aforementioned The Underground Railroad and Ta-Nehesi Coates' newly released The Water Dancer.) Not because these no longer remain worthy stories to tell, but because there are other, newer and more pressing Black lives narratives that also need to be written and read.

The World Doesn't Require You is that rare short story collection – a unified work in which stories interweave and each successive chapter sheds light and adds deeper contexts of meaning to what came before. Once you reach the twists and turns of its climactic pages, you'll want to flip back to the beginning and read it all over again.

Book reviewed by Dean Muscat

Beyond the Book:
The Play of Slave Children

One of the stories in The World Doesn't Require You is inspired by the games of slave children. Given the harsh and miserable social realities forced upon slaves, it almost seems antithetical to think there was opportunity for play and games. However, evidence gathered from interviews with former slaves suggests that many children managed to engage in similar forms of play as free children of the time period.

Corn husk dollSlave children played with dolls, balls and jump ropes, and also engaged in hopscotch and ring games. But since there was no possibility of purchasing toys from stores, children or their parents made their own. Discarded yarn was used to form balls. Corn husks or sticks and rags were used to create dolls. Marbles were made from clay.

There were also traditional games such as "skeeting." When lakes would freeze over in the winter, children would run out onto the frozen water, jump on the ice, and continue running as a sort of dare. Another game was "smut," which used grains of corn to stand in for the different suits in a traditional pack of cards.

Interestingly, research has shown that children avoided playing games that required the elimination of players, which potentially reflects the values of cooperation and community deemed important by slaves. For example, during a game similar to dodgeball, when somebody got hit by the ball, the children would simply start the game over again. This removed the need for players to have to sit on the sidelines for the remainder of the game.

Children also engaged in make-believe and roleplay. They would assume the roles of important characters from stories they made-up or traditional folk stories, usually set around church activities, funerals and slave auctions. This goes to show that even in play, children were still governed by the realities they witnessed around them. Typically, children would continue to enact the roles they were born into and that formed the social etiquette of the Southern plantations. Even when white and Black children engaged in play together, despite some small friendships, the tendency was for the play world to reflect the caste system and hierarchy of the plantations. For example, in games of wagon, the white children would ride the cart while Black children pulled them along.

Despite these sad truths, historians believe that play was especially important to slave children since it allowed them to gain some semblance of control over their daily lives. Sports historian David K. Wiggins explains, "Play was one activity where slaves could realize a certain degree of dignity and could affirm and sustain their existence. They could withstand bondage much more easily when allowed to participate with fellow slaves in a variety of different play activities."

Through games and activities, children could come to terms with what they saw around them to better cope with slavery's stresses and instill a sense of self-worth in themselves. It's perhaps heartening to realize that even in situations of great oppression, children still have the capacity to conjure moments of joy and kindness.

Corn husk doll, courtesy of icollector.com.

The Long CallClick for more information including
an excerpt and read-alike recommendations

by Ann Cleeves

Summary

In North Devon, where two rivers converge and run into the sea, Detective Matthew Venn stands outside the church as his estranged father's funeral takes place. On the day Matthew left the strict evangelical community he grew up in, he lost his family too.

Now, as he turns and walks away again, he receives a call from one of his team. A body has been found on the beach nearby: a man with a tattoo of an albatross on his neck, stabbed to death.

The case calls Matthew back to the people and places of his past, as deadly secrets hidden at their hearts are revealed, and his new life is forced into a collision course with the world he thought he'd left behind.

From Ann Cleeves, bestselling author of Vera and Shetland, beloved by readers and TV viewers alike, comes a spectacular new series, told with deep compassion and searing insight.

BookBrowse Review

Penning a great murder mystery seems like it would be particularly challenging. The story often fits into a standard template: there's a murder; someone investigates; clues and red herrings are introduced; and finally the person at fault is revealed. An author must find a way to fit his or her plot within that framework, however, while still managing to make it fresh. Ann Cleeves does this perfectly in her latest novel, The Long Call, pairing a memorable protagonist with a baffling crime that is complex yet believable.

Detective Inspector Matthew Venn, the book's central character, is attending the funeral of his estranged father when he's called to the scene of a murder near where he grew up in North Devon, England. To his shock, Venn finds that the crime happened a stone's throw from the house that he owns with his husband, Jonathan, the director of a daycare center for individuals with learning disabilities. As Venn and his team investigate, they uncover perplexing clues, scandalous secrets and bizarre coincidences that ultimately allow them to identify the killer.

Cleeves' characters across her novels unvaryingly are well written (See Beyond the Book). The Long Call is no exception; the cast is large, but each character stands alone, fully formed. The star of the novel, though, is undeniably the quiet, introspective and incredibly perceptive D.I. Venn. He's the type of person who makes coffee for his staff because "he'd never wanted to be the kind of boss who demanded that his minions wait on him." When a junior detective mentions thinking their victim was seeking society, Venn gives her theory consideration. "He'd been viewing this from his own perspective," he thinks to himself, and comes to the realization that he personally "needed solitude far more than he needed company, but not everyone was like him." Grateful for the insight, he compliments the woman publicly on her point of view. He's complicated, scarred by being banished in his youth by his evangelical parents and community for both his beliefs and his lifestyle, but he's also sympathetic and sure to appeal to Cleeves' fans.

A character-driven murder mystery is all well and good, but unless the mystery itself works on all levels, the book will fail. Over her long writing career Cleeves has mastered the art of creating the impeccable crime novel, and The Long Call is a real stand-out. The plot feels like a jigsaw puzzle: you keep turning over random pieces but can't see how they can possibly fit together into a complete picture. Then, suddenly, one part of the puzzle fits into place, then another, and the rest combines at a breakneck pace into an unexpected yet not completely shocking whole. So too with this particular storyline. Throughout most of the novel readers aren't really sure where the narrative will end up – how the clues, events and characters' actions are related – but the conclusion is ultimately very satisfying.

While The Long Call has a somewhat old-fashioned feel to it – it reads very much like a classic Agatha Christie whodunnit, easy to read and full of suspense – it's still surprisingly relevant. In an interview Cleeves stated:

Today we're looking for more than a puzzle, I think, and crime fiction takes itself more seriously. We're exploring violence, grief, big subjects, even if we're doing it in an entertaining way.

She completely succeeds in achieving this goal; in this novel, for example, she addresses social issues such as same-sex marriage, religious fundamentalism, and society's treatment of people with mental disabilities.

Readers should be aware that this isn't a book in which heart-stopping revelations come every other page. The author instead takes her time carefully constructing the stage for the final revelation and meticulously developing her characters into believable actors. (Unsurprisingly, Silverprint Pictures has optioned this new series for a TV drama. Silverprint has also produced five seasons of TV shows based on Cleeves' Shetland Island series, and their production of her Vera Stanhope series has just been renewed for a 10th season.) The Long Call is one of the best mysteries I've read in a long time, and I highly recommend it to anyone who loves a good whodunnit; its examination of many topical issues also makes it a great novel for book group discussion.

Book reviewed by Kim Kovacs

Beyond the Book:
Ann Cleeves' Five Mystery Series

Ann Cleeves (b. 1954) is best known for her mystery novels set in rural Britain, which have sold over five million copies in the thirty-plus years she's been writing. Cleeves has penned four series before releasing The Long Call, the first entry in her new Two Rivers series:

Bird in the HandGeorge and Molly Palmer-Jones (8 books)
Published from 1986 to 1996, these books follow George Palmer-Jones and his wife Molly as they travel throughout the English countryside, birding and solving crimes. The first entry in this series, A Bird in the Hand, was inspired by the author's personal experience. She met her husband, ornithologist Tim, while she was working as a cook in the Bird Observatory on Fair Isle. They quickly married. Soon after, according to the author's website, "Tim was appointed as warden of Hilbre, a tiny tidal island nature reserve in the Dee Estuary. They were the only residents…If a person's not heavily into birds - and Ann isn't - there's not much to do on Hilbre and that was when she started writing." It's therefore not a coincidence that George is a naturalist and the first dead body he investigates is a murdered bird watcher. Overall these mysteries sold reasonably well, but many fans feel they lack depth.

Inspector Ramsay (6 books)
In 1987 Cleeves moved with her husband and two daughters to Northumberland, which became the setting for many of her subsequent titles. Her next mystery series began with the publication of A Lesson in Dying (1990), and focused on the investigations of Inspector Stephen Ramsay. More of a traditional police procedural than Cleeves' previous series, this set of books is relatively well regarded in comparison to her first, but it is also thought to be of a lesser quality than the author's later endeavors. The last book in the series was published in 1997.

the crow trapVera Stanhope (8 books)
Vera Stanhope may be Cleeves' best-known and most beloved character. Introduced in the 1999 mystery The Crow Trap, Vera is described as "cranky, driven, overweight and middle-aged," and compared to a female Colombo. The detective was something of a spontaneous creation on the part of the author. She was stuck on writing a funeral scene for a murder victim when she was struck by the idea of having a woman detective burst through the door of the chapel and take charge of the situation. "And there [Vera] was," the author has recounted in an interview with Radio Times, "like a bag lady instead of a detective." The book was meant to be a stand-alone novel, but Cleeves liked the Detective Chief Inspector she'd created so much she decided to bring her back, in part because she was annoyed with other authors who only wrote about young, fit, attractive police women. In 2011 the series was optioned for a BBC TV show starring Brenda Blethyn, and it has recently been renewed for a 10th season. The most recent Vera Stanhope novel was published in 2017.

Raven BlackShetland Island (9 books)
Cleeves introduced Inspector Jimmy Perez in the 2006 novel, Raven Black, a complex murder mystery involving the death of a young girl. The book won the inaugural Duncan Lawrie Dagger, the largest crime-writing prize in the world, and the series is widely thought to be the author's best writing to-date. The main character was more planned than Vera. As Cleeves has written, "I wanted a central character who belonged in the islands, but also didn't quite belong. Although Jimmy is a Shetlander, he's also a bit of an outsider. He comes from Fair Isle — the most remote inhabited Shetland island — and I gave him a Spanish name and heritage. There was an Armada ship wrecked off the isle and sixty survivors climbed ashore, so it's not impossible that one of them married a local lass." Like the Vera series, the books were dramatized for a BBC TV show, which ran from 2013 to 2019 and featured actor Douglas Henshall. The book series ended with 2018's Wild Fire.

The LiarClick for more information including
an excerpt and read-alike recommendations

by Ayelet Gundar-Goshen

Summary

Nofar is an average teenage girl---so average, in fact, that she's almost invisible. Serving customers ice cream all summer long, she is desperate for some kind of escape.

But one afternoon, a terrible lie slips from her tongue. And suddenly everyone wants to talk to her: the press, her schoolmates, and even the boy upstairs. He is the only one who knows the truth, and he is demanding a price for his silence.

Then Nofar meets Raymonde, an elderly immigrant whose best friend has just died. Raymonde keeps her friend alive the only way she knows how, by inhabiting her stories. But soon, Raymonde's lies take on a life of their own.

Written with propulsive energy, dark humor, and deep insight, The Liar reveals the far-reaching consequences of even our smallest choices, and explores the hidden corners of human nature to reveal the liar, and the truth-teller, in all of us.

BookBrowse Review

The Liar is a book that will make its readers uncomfortable by design; set in modern-day Israel, it follows a 17-year-old girl, Nofar, who is unremarkable in every way until one day she decides to tell a terrible lie, with far-reaching consequences. At her summer job at an ice cream parlor she has an unpleasant encounter with a local celebrity who yells at her and insults her appearance—things then escalate when Nofar falsely accuses him of attempted rape.

It's a deeply unsettling premise, and a difficult one to pull off. How does an author tell a story about a false accusation without trivializing the reality of sexual assault? Ayelet Gundar-Goshen rises to the challenge. Nofar is not a victim, and her actions are not written to be excused or condoned. And yet, Gundar-Goshen creates a multifaceted, compelling character, whose behavior is explored and contextualized by the reality of living as an ordinary teenage girl in a society that places value on desirability above all else.

The Liar works, despite its difficult, arguably antifeminist premise, because Gundar-Goshen sheds light on a dark part of human nature—people lie, and sometimes it's only for something as inconsequential as attention—while still reminding the reader that Nofar is a young, impressionable, imperfect girl. As she navigates the maelstrom of media attention, Nofar is still dealing with high school, first love, sibling rivalry and body image. It's darker and more cynical than your average coming of age story, and rather lacking in a moral (we all know that Nofar was wrong to lie, so Gundar-Goshen mercifully does not belabor that point), but the intersection between Nofar's young adulthood and the adult consequences of her accusation is what makes this story so unforgettable.

Where Gundar-Goshen overstretches her ambition is in a disparate storyline involving an older woman, Raymonde, posing as a Holocaust survivor. When her friend Rivka dies, Raymonde, overcome with grief and bearing a startling physical resemblance to her friend, takes Rivka's place as a volunteer on a school trip to Auschwitz (which is attended by Nofar). Raymonde's story, like Nofar's, is uncomfortable, horrifying, and oddly moving at times, and it probably would have made a brilliant standalone short story. But as one of The Liar's many narrative threads, it never fully comes together; despite the obvious parallels between the lies that the two characters tell, it's too disjointed from the rest of the novel to make an impact.

Translated from the Hebrew by Sondra Silverston, the writing itself is rather dynamic and peppered with similes on just about every page; some help to beautifully craft a sense of character: "She grew up to be a timid, withdrawn young girl who lived in the world as if she were an uninvited guest at a party." Others can be overwrought: "The city slept like a large woman sprawled on her back, the darkness kind to her, concealing her wrinkles. A large, old city is like a large, old woman—easy to love in the dark, difficult in the light." But ultimately the lively and slightly wry prose suits the story; Gundar-Goshen deftly avoids melodrama while still creating a foreboding tone that keeps the reader turning pages as Nofar's lie begins to catch up with her.

Book reviewed by Rachel Hullett

Beyond the Book:
The Reality (and Rarity) of False Sexual Assault Allegations

The Liar by Ayelet Gundar-Goshen features a character, 17-year-old Nofar, who makes a false claim of attempted rape as payback against a man who verbally abuses her in an ice cream parlor. Though it's a compelling premise that leads down a horrifying road for all involved, this isn't the kind of book that should be read as an allegory for the #MeToo movement—on the contrary, it should be evaluated solely within its fictional context. Though false accusations of sexual assault do occur, Nofar's story is a far cry from the norm.

Assault statistics graphic demonstrating paucity of sexual assault convictions from RAINNIt's a commonly cited fact that the majority of sexual assaults go unreported; a study by the U.S. Department of Justice in 2002 claims that approximately 63% of sexual assaults are not reported to the police, while studies from 2010-2016, collected by RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) suggest that number could be as high as 77%. Furthermore, RAINN breaks down the consequences of those that are reported: If 1,000 sexual assaults occur and 230 are reported to the police, 46 of those lead to arrest, 9 get referred to prosecutors, 5 lead to a felony conviction, and only 4.6 perpetrators will be incarcerated. In comparative studies, it was revealed that rapists are less likely to go to prison than perpetrators of any other crime.

There's a common misconception that women often lie about being raped, and it's a myth that stems from a number of fallacies: that women accuse celebrities of rape for fame and money; that it's easiest to cry rape when you regret having sex; that a lack of proof means the accused is automatically innocent. According to Stanford University's MAAN (Men Against Abuse Now) initiative, only 2% of all rape accusations are false; the exact same percentage as for all other major felonies. "Put another way, we are much more likely to disbelieve a woman if she says she was raped than if she says she was robbed, but for no good reason," explains a representative from MAAN. A study done over a ten-year period at Northeastern University suggests the percentage of false accusations could be higher, but places the figure at only 5.9%. Because of the imprecise nature of studies like this, the range of 2-10% is generally accepted.

However, that 2-10% is probably inflated, says the NSVRC (National Sexual Violence Resource Center). Some of the studies that have been done through the years did not have a clear definition of "false allegation," and certain circumstances ended up erroneously falling into this category, including instances where there wasn't sufficient evidence, there was a delay in reporting, a victim did not cooperate with the investigation or there were inconsistencies in the victim's statement, none of which are conclusive proof that an assault did not occur.

The lack of willingness to believe women who claim to have been raped goes hand in hand with their reluctance to report rape to the police; women who do report this crime are often met with scrutiny and suspicion. NSVRC also reports that sexual assault victims are hesitant to come forward for a multitude of reasons that range from psychological to neurological: they may be unable to remember exactly what happened, they could worry about the impact on their family and friends, the process of undergoing a rape kit examination could be too invasive. The fact that the physical response to trauma is often to repress it is inconvenient in a crime where reports are met with demands for proof and accusations about not coming forward soon enough. NSVRC calls for a more nuanced education of sexual assault for all law enforcement involved in these reports; a better understanding of typical behavior in a victim is essential in cultivating a society where women can feel comfortable coming forward about assault.

Sexual assault statistics graphic, courtesy of RAINN

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.