By Philip Pullman
Narrated by Michael Sheen (Listening Library)
Actor Michael Sheen brings the rich timbre of his Welsh voice to Pullman’s “The Book of Dust,” an antecedent to the “His Dark Materials” trilogy. The story finds Lyra, star of the trilogy, as a baby pursued by a madman and his hideous hyena daemon. Lyra’s protectors are 11-year-old Malcolm and 15-year-old Alice. They flee with baby Lyra in La Belle Sauvage, a canoe, paddling through a flooded Thames Valley, a nightmarish waterscape bobbing with bodies and infested with villains. Sheen’s voice truly contains multitudes, capturing the nature of each character with brio and passing from speaker to speaker with preternatural limberness. This is an audiobook for everyone over the age of 8.
By Trevor Noah (Audible Studios)
The host of “The Daily Show” reads his own account of growing up in Johannesburg under apartheid and the years following. Noah is the son of a Xhosa mother and a Swiss father — both of whom could have been imprisoned for the crime of interracial sexual relations. A social misfit, Noah made his way out of poverty and danger through entrepreneurial ingenuity, comic genius and an ability to speak a number of tribal languages, which he gives marvelous voice to here. Above all, Noah owes his success to the unfailing support of his mother, the real hero of this memoir.
By Margaret Wilkerson Sexton
Narrated by Kevin Kenerly, Bahni Turpin, Adenrele Ojo (Blackstone Audio)
Sexton’s first novel is set in New Orleans from the mid-1940s to the city’s ruthless real estate makeover years after Hurricane Katrina. Delivered by three accomplished narrators, the story moves through three generations of a black family, starting with the daughter of a pioneering doctor and his Creole wife, who have set themselves against her marrying the hard-working son of a janitor. This moving debut is ingeniously told in its passage back and forth through lives and changing times.
By Sigrid Undset. Translated by Tiina Nunnally
Narrated by Erin Bennett (Audible Studios)
This all-absorbing masterpiece by Nobel laureate Undset has finally entered the audiobook universe in a truly superb, sensitive performance by Erin Bennett. Published in Norwegian as a trilogy in the early 1920s, the book is set in 14th-century Norway and covers the life of Kristin Lavransdatter. She is seduced at 16 by a knight while betrothed to another man and conceives a child out of wedlock in a society that insists on the “honor” of women. Bennett’s voice captures Kristin’s rapidly changing moods and her wonder at nature’s immensity. It is rich in its portrayal of 14th-century life and of the strain between Christianity and ancient, deep-seated pagan beliefs.
By Arundhati Roy (Random House Audio)
Roy brings her melodious voice and clipped Indian accent to the narration of her second novel, a passionate work 20 years in the making. First, we meet Anjum, a transgender woman who, like practically every character here, finds a version of identity warfare waged within herself. After her best friend is slaughtered in the Gujarat riots of 2002, Anjum establishes a guesthouse in a graveyard, gathering around her other victims of the New India. The second story line concerns the repression of the independence movement in Kashmir. The overall tragedy of these stories is leavened by intermittent comedy and the joy of friendship.
Katherine A. Powers reviews audiobooks every month for The Washington Post.