The Company You Keep, by Neil Gordon (Penguin, $14). What happens to radicals who outlive the times that radicalized them? Do they look back in anger or in sorrow? Neil Gordon's third novel, after Sacrifice of Isaac and The Gunrunner's Daughter, takes up those questions and more in a story that's part man-on-the-lam thriller, part family drama. "I don't want you to excuse me, understand me, or sympathize with me. I lied to you, I deceived you about the very fact of who I was, who you were, and then I abandoned you, and all this by the time you were seven. You can't, I think you have to agree, get much worse than that, parent-wise." What 17-year-old wouldn't be rattled to get such an e-mail from her father? But Isabel's father isn't an ordinary deadbeat dad; he's a '60s radical known back in the day as Jason Sinai, and he abandoned Izzy when his upstanding-citizen cover was blown. Now he wants her to come testify on his behalf at a parole hearing. To convince her, he enlists some of his cronies, known as the Committee, to help him tell the story of what they lived through and why they did what they did. "We're writing to tell you how the world [your father] had constructed around you -- a world filled with sun and snow and water; a world of rich colors and high adventure; a world of safe interiors and long, fearless nights -- how that world was all revealed to be a lie."
Mortals, by Norman Rush (Vintage, $15.95). The author of Mating returns with another satire of white (and black) mischief in this post-Graham Greene story of an unlikely spy and his romantic and political travails. Ray Finch is not a happy man. A white Milton scholar who teaches school in Botswana in the 1990s, he's also a CIA agent and failed poet who pours his literary energies into his field reports (to the utter indifference of his handler, who just wants the facts). Ray is possibly not the agency's most effective operative, nor does he think much of the agency. Ray's wife, Iris, isn't a happy camper either; is she on the brink of an affair with Davis Morel, a black American activist who's trying to de-Christianize Africa? Ray's distresses, personal and political, come to a head when the agency sends him to ferret out a rebel leader -- a quest that turns into Ray's last stand. "So, finally, he would get to visit Ngami Bird Lodge. Unfortunately he was going to be blindfolded during his visit. But that was life."
America's Women: 400 Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates, and Heroines, by Gail Collins (HarperPerennial, $14.95). "The history of American women is all about leaving home -- crossing oceans and continents, or getting jobs and living on their own," writes Gail Collins, an editor at the New York Times, in the introduction to this long but lively popular history that follows female Americans from colonial times to the era of Betty Friedan and the Second Wave feminists. "The center of our story is the tension between the yearning to create a home and the urge to get out of it." Some might argue that there are more nuanced ways to interpret women's experience, and as a historian Collins is prone to generalities. For instance, she offers up this insight about the Jazz Age: "Not every young woman in America was committing herself to drinking gin and sneering at anyone in flat shoes." Regardless, America's Women has a lot of good stories to tell -- about pioneers and farmwives, suffragettes and seamstresses, coeds and career girls -- us, in a multitude of earlier incarnations.
Dreams From My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance, by Barack Obama (Three Rivers, $13.95). This memoir by the man who may be the next junior senator from Illinois appeared in 1995; it's being reissued with a new preface by the author, a rising political star who made a splash at the 2004 Democratic Convention. The son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman with roots in Kansas and Hawaii, Obama tells the story of his parents' courtship and the disintegration of their relationship (his father left when Obama was 2 years old), and how he has worked to define an American identity for himself while making a place for his father's heritage. In a preface to the new edition, he writes of "the desperation and disorder" he has witnessed around the world, from Chicago to Jakarta to Nairobi; he inveighs against the "certainty and simplication that justifies cruelty toward those not like us" and notes how, especially post-Sept. 11, the world is experiencing "the struggle set forth, on a miniature scale, in this book. . . . What was a more interior, intimate effort on my part, to understand this struggle and to find my place in it, has converged with a broader public debate, a debate in which I am professionally engaged, one that will shape our lives and the lives of our children for many years to come."
-- Jennifer Howard