The Books Briefing: The People Who Give, and Receive Little in Return

Your weekly guide to the best in books

Elaine Thompson / AP

Welcome back to the Books Briefing. This week’s edition focuses on characters who spend their time taking care of other people—a role that sometimes renders their own needs invisible. In the novels below, the sometimes beautiful, sometimes fraught dynamics of giving and receiving care are brought to life. One family reckons tragically with how little they knew their nanny; another comes together across lines of race and class to care for a child. The life of a housemaid sent from Ghana to live with a wealthy family in London gets explored with unusual thoroughness, dignity, and grace. And a young woman finds that coping with her mother’s illness has given her a new understanding of her own place in the world.

Each week in the Books Briefing, we thread together Atlantic stories on books that share similar ideas, and ask you for recommendations of what our list left out. Know other book lovers who might like this guide? Forward them this email.

What We’re Reading

The Unstable Identities of The Caregiver
“Centering on two relationships—a mother and her daughter, and the daughter and her patient—The Caregiver explores the complex bonds between people who are linked by the need that one has for the other, and by ‘the strange love that fills one’s heart when one gives, gives, and receives little in return.’”

The Eerie Horrors of The Perfect Nanny
“Leila Slimani’s Goncourt Prize–winning 2016 novel, Chanson Douce—published in English as The Perfect Nanny—lands its biggest punch on the first page. ‘The baby is dead,’ Slimani writes. ‘It took only a few seconds.’”

Housegirl Complicates the Diaspora Narrative
“The novel follows a 17-year-old domestic laborer named Belinda as she travels from Ghana to London. Before the start of the novel, Belinda has already journeyed from her home village to Kumasi, one of the largest cities in Ghana. The voyage to London marks her second sojourn. It is not her last.”

Rumaan Alam Ponders the Limits of Parental Love
“In That Kind of Mother, two women—Rebecca, who is white, and Cheryl, who is black—find themselves bound not by blood or years, but by some mercurial mix of love, obligation, and shared fear. Cheryl’s mother, Priscilla, who’d worked as Rebecca’s nanny, has died of labor-related complications, and Rebecca offers to care for the surviving infant.”

What We Lose: A Striking Novel About Filial Grief
“Thandi’s relationship with her mother is loving but difficult. And in the wake of her death, as Thandi unexpectedly confronts the possibility of becoming a parent herself, she struggles to come to terms with what her mother’s life was, and what hers should be.”

You Recommend

Last week, we asked you to recommend a dystopian novel that everyone should read. Liz picked The Water Knife, by Paolo Bacigalupi: “a scarily believable scenario … in the American Southwest, set in the near future. Citizens become climate refugees; states and corporations war fiercely over access to the Colorado River.” Terri, a reader in Cancun, Mexico, has high praise for the novel as well: “This is a book you block out time to read because you cannot stop reading.”

What’s a book about caregiving that you can’t put down? Tweet at us with #AtlanticBooksBriefing, or fill out the form here.

This week’s newsletter is written by Rosa Inocencio Smith. The book she’s reading on the bus right now is Immigrant, Montana, by Amitava Kumar.

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