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11 New Books We Recommend This Week

VISION OR MIRAGE: Saudi Arabia at the Crossroads, by David H. Rundell. (I.B. Tauris, $27.) A longtime Foreign Service officer with extensive experience in Saudi Arabia offers a wise and knowing survey of a troublesome ally with values very different from those of the United States. Our reviewer, Kenneth M. Pollack, calls it a superb overview of the country’s political, economic and social landscape: “Rundell covers the kingdom from top to bottom with vast wisdom, depth and understanding. Yet it would be unfair to call his book a primer because that suggests a superficiality that is entirely at odds with the vast learning encompassed in this slim volume.”

DARK ARCHIVES: A Librarian’s Investigation Into the Science and History of Books Bound in Human Skin, by Megan Rosenbloom. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $26.) Rosenbloom, a rare-books specialist drawn to issues of mortality, plumbs a practice experts call anthropodermic bibliopegy. If you put aside your distaste, it turns out to have a fascinating history. “Rosenbloom takes us from library to library,” James Hamblin writes in his review, “recounting her conversations with other librarians, as well as with historians, collectors and medical students in the act of dissecting cadavers. She includes no shortage of memorable scientific minutiae and clarifications of misunderstood history along the way.”

BORGES AND ME: An Encounter, by Jay Parini. (Doubleday, $27.95.) Parini reflects on a road trip he once took in Scotland with one of the 20th century’s greatest writers, Jorge Luis Borges, whose thirst for exploration was rivaled only by his need to speak his mind. This charming memoir brings Borges sharply to life, in all his whimsy and genius. Our reviewer, Michael Greenberg, notes that Parini cleverly frames the experience “as an inconvenience rather than a privilege. A callow poet, hungry for guidance, is cluelessly alone with one of the most formidable writers of the 20th century; his task is to open his eyes and discover the blind man’s brilliance. Parini wonderfully describes Borges as he experiences him, free of reverence or awe.”

LIGHTNING FLOWERS: My Journey to Uncover the Cost of Saving a Life, by Katherine E. Standefer. (Little, Brown Spark, $28.) When the author was shocked by the defibrillator that monitored her genetic heart condition, she started questioning how the device was made and whether or not it was necessary. Her memoir takes readers on a circuitous, thoughtful search for answers. “If you’ve ever felt overwhelmed by a scary diagnosis, are tired of quarterbacking your own health care or simply need company while on hold with a doctor’s office, this book will make you feel less alone,” Elisabeth Egan writes in her latest Group Text column. “Pick it up and you will hear a human voice.”

THE ADVENTURES OF CHINA IRON, by Gabriel Cabezón Cámara. (Charco Press, paper, $15.95.) Cabezón Cámara’s exhilarating novel recasts the young wife of the fabled gaucho Martín Fierro as a liberated adventurer on the Argentine plain. Lush prose and sharp wit animate this feminist reimagining of a national epic. “It’s easy to categorize ‘China Iron’ at first as magical realism,” our reviewer, Jamie Fisher, writes, “but it’s something else entirely, a historical novel that reminds us, in Cabezón Cámara’s entrancing poetry, how magical and frankly unpleasant it is to live through history.”

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