THE WRIGHT BROTHERS
By David McCullough
Simon & Schuster. Unabridged, 10 hours
Keep in mind, as you travel aloft, that what is so dismissively referred to as “fly-over country” is the birthplace of the mechanical geniuses who made the term possible. David McCullough reads his biography of the Midwestern Wright brothers in a wise, New England-tinctured voice, bringing both a flair for engineering detail and a generosity with anecdote. We can hear his quiet relish as he describes how the success at Kitty Hawk was initially ignored by the press, its attention fixed on Samuel Pierpont Langley’s government-sponsored “Aerodrome” and its pratfalls and plunges into the Potomac. McCullough points out, among countless wonderful particulars, that it was left to Amos Root, editor of Gleanings in Bee Culture to break the news — to further general disregard. When what the Wrights had achieved finally sank in, the world went mad, and the two prodigies became the popular heroes they soon wearied of being.
THE TRAIN TO CRYSTAL CITY
FDR’s Secret Prisoner Exchange Program and America’s Only Family Internment Camp During World War II
By Jan Jarboe Russell
Recorded Books. Unabridged, 14 ½ hours
Most of us have a fondness for trains, yet they have been the chief means of dislocation during wartime even in our own country. Andrea Gallo reads Russell’s revelatory account of a little-known aspect of the internment of Japanese, German and Italian civilians in the United States during World War II. Hundreds of families — some American citizens, some deported from Latin America — were shipped in secret, closed trains to Crystal City, Tex., wives and children having “volunteered” to accompany the men. That is shocking enough and well known, but Russell shows that these people in fact were hostages, stockpiled for use in prisoner exchanges with the Axis powers. Russell follows the fates of a few individuals who were caught up in the scheme, including a Jewish family, some members saved thereby, and a German-American family sent back into war-ravaged Germany. The book is replete with quotations from letters and reports, which Gallo, who has a decorous, clear voice, ably distinguishes from the general narrative by changes of inflection.
By Chigozie Obioma
Hachette. Unabridged, 10 hours
Nigerian-born Chukwudi Iwuji delivers a magnificent reading of Obioma’s story of a fatal prophecy. Set in Akure, Nigeria, the tale is told by Ben Agwu, who, with his brothers, goes fishing in a forbidden river. Iwuji gives youth to the boys’ voices and a thump of command to their father as he delivers his strictures: “Every word,” Ben tells us, was “tacked nine-inches deep into the beams of our minds.” Alas, they don’t heed him, and, at the river, Ikenna, the oldest boy, ridicules the local madman, who issues an obscure prediction, convincing Ikenna that one of his brothers will kill him. Iwuji’s clipped Nigerian accent evokes the novel’s African setting and a village storyteller’s impious wit. In its printed form, the book includes mordantly funny drawings, which are provided as a PDF with the audio download.
THE STRANGLER VINE
By M.J. Carter
HighBridge. Unabridged, 10 ¾ hours
Set in India in 1837, Carter’s novel is a story of intrigue and treachery, and a truly fine historical investigation into the creation of a useful myth. Ensign William Avery has been sent off by the East India Company with a cantankerous, opium-addicted Englishman to discover the whereabouts of a famous writer named Xavier Mountstuart, “the very acme of Byronic manhood.” Alarmingly, Mountstuart vanished while studying the Thugs, reputedly devotees of the goddess Kali who ingratiate themselves with travelers and then strangle them. Narrator Alex Wyndham is brilliant at summoning up the personalities in this exotic, exciting tale — from Avery’s initial peevishness, to his comrade’s festive burr, to the British officers’ snootiness.
By Tim Johnston
HighBridge. Unabridged, 11 ½ hours
Johnston’s novel about one family’s travel nightmare should ameliorate your own. The Courtland family takes a trip to the Colorado Rockies so that Caitlin, entering college in the fall on an athletic scholarship, can train at high altitudes. Instead, she is abducted and her brother badly injured by a terrifying man with yellow-lensed glasses. The exquisitely suspenseful novel is delivered by Xe Sands, whose intimate, anguished voice supplies Caitlin’s and her mother’s points of view, and R.C. Bray, who gives us the her brother and father in gritty, dogged tones. The story moves from voice to voice, the tension rising at each hand-over, making this the novel to listen to for shortening a tiresome journey.
Katherine A. Powers reviews audiobooks for The Washington Post.