By Imbolo Mbue
Random House Audio. Unabridged, 12 1/4 hours
Set in New York in the unpropitious years from 2007 to 2009, this moving, often funny novel revolves around Jende Jonga, a Cameroonian immigrant who finds a job driving for a bigwig at Lehmann Brothers. It is a great step for Jende, who embraces America wholeheartedly despite its hardships and his precarious resident status. Prentice Onayemi reads the general narration in a standard American accent, switching easily to a Cameroonian one to capture the cadence and spirit of Jende, his wife and their friends. He changes register altogether for the Wall Street exec, giving us the sharp, peremptory voice of the hard-nosed, self-regarding top-dog.
By Joe Jackson
Blackstone. Unabridged, 21 hours
No other biography of Black Elk matches the depth, breadth and color of Joe Jackson’s wrenching account of the Sioux elder and his people. It takes in a huge swath of Native American history from Black Elk’s birth to the Little Big Horn through to Wounded Knee and onward into the 20th century, all the while recounting Black Elk’s development from a near-death vision to his gift for prophecy, healing and teaching. The book is read superbly with matter-of-fact pacing and clarity by Traber Burns, who distinguishes between text, dialogue and quotation with subtle modulation. He executes the many Indian names and expressions gracefully, doing justice throughout to a very great book.
By Barbara Pym
Blackstone. Unabridged, 8¾ hours
Oh, happy day! One of Barbara Pym’s subtly comic novels has finally been produced in an audio version. Pym has been called heir to Jane Austen, her observations possessing a similar undercurrent of wicked irony. “Excellent Women,” first published in 1952, finds its center in Mildred, a middle-aged daughter of a deceased clergyman, now reduced to living in rented rooms with a shared bathroom — a point of intermittent small drama. The rivalries in an Anglican parish and among a set of anthropologists fuel the plot in which presumption, hypocrisy, male obliviousness and female schadenfreude are generously distributed. Jayne Entwistle delivers Mildred’s story in a proper, well-brought-up English voice — reticent, obliging, sometimes wondering — making this production a perfect joy.
By Paulette Jiles
Brilliance Audio. Unabridged, 6 hours
It is 1870, and a young girl, Johanna, who was captured by Kiowa Indians years before, is freed and must be transported across Texas to live with relatives. The task is taken on by Captain Kidd, an elderly veteran of several wars, now a “news reader” who gives public performances reading from big-city newspapers. Grover Gardner delivers a truly inspired performance in reading this tale of adventure, suspense and drollery, some parts so funny as to make the listener laugh out loud. Gardner skips back and forth between Johanna and Kidd, capturing the tempo of conversation — of her increasing mastery of English and growing high spirits, and his occasional exasperation.
Penguin Audio. Unabridged, 11½ hours
John le Carré gives a virtuoso reading of his own memoir, a compilation of episodes from a variegated life. Le Carré’s natural voice has a dark woodwind timbre, and in mood ranges from amiable to indignant to melancholic. Although steering clear of most details of his personal life, he does treat us to tasty morsels of inside dope, as well as his father’s lurid adventures in bankruptcy and imposture. Le Carré shows himself to be a master of impersonation, giving marvelous versions of Margaret Thatcher, Yasser Arafat, Foreign Office pooh-bahs, miscellaneous Russians and other exotics. Some readers hoped for more from the book, but more is precisely what this production delivers, a wonderfully engaging dimension of voice.