Briefly Noted Book Reviews

You Dreamed of Empires, by Álvaro Enrigue, translated from the Spanish by Natasha Wimmer (Riverhead). This incantatory novel takes place in 1519, on the day when Hernán Cortés and his conquistadors arrived at Tenochtitlan, the Aztec capital. As they await an audience with the mercurial, mushroom-addled emperor, Moctezuma, the conquistadors navigate his labyrinthine palace, stumble upon sacrificial temples, and tend to their horses, all the while wondering if they are truly guests or, in fact, prisoners. Enrigue conjures both court intrigue and city life with grace. In metafictional flashes to present-day Mexico City, which sits atop Tenochtitlan’s ruins, and a startling counter-historical turn, the novel becomes a meditation on the early colonizers, their legacy, and the culture that they subsumed.

Last Acts by Alexander Sammartino.

Last Acts, by Alexander Sammartino (Scribner). The events of this satirical début novel are catalyzed by a nearly fatal opioid overdose suffered by the estranged son of a gun-store proprietor. Together, the father and son embark on a journey across the Arizona desert, endeavoring to save their failing business from bankruptcy, overcome drug addiction, and heal their traumatized relationship. Their attempt to salvage the store rests on producing a commercial in which the son claims that firearms offered him “purpose” and solved his addiction problems. This premise may be ridiculous, but, as the son reminds himself, “reality is made by testimonials.”

Miniature figure perched on a book reading.

Illustration by Rose Wong

Read our reviews of the year’s notable new fiction and nonfiction.

The Dictionary People The Unsung Heroes Who Created the Oxford English Dictionary by Sarah Ogilvie.

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