The most talked-about audiobook this month has been “Cloud Cuckoo Land,” Anthony Doerr’s long awaited follow-up to his Pulitzer Prize-winning 2014 bestseller “All the Light We Cannot See.” Inhabiting characters from 15th-century Constantinople and the Balkans, contemporary Idaho, and a 22nd-century spaceship, all drawn together by an ancient Greek manuscript, narrators Simon Jones and Marin Ireland enhance Doerr’s ambitious storytelling through vivid characterizations and varied accents. Listeners who enjoyed Doerr’s immersive century-hopping novel may also relish the following five audiobooks that also celebrate the enduring power of story through elaborate, symphonic storytelling.
In 2003, a soldier of fortune pursues enigmatic gambler Stanley Glass through ersatz Venetian canals of Las Vegas, only to stumble upon a curious book titled “The Mirror Thief.” In 1958, young Stanley searches Venice Beach, California, for the author Adrian Welles, whose intriguing work recounts the mystical exploits of alchemist Crivano in 16th-century Venice — the original one, in Italy. Narrator Edoardo Ballerini’s deft performance sweeps us up into all three of these storylines, juggling both the narrative and intellectual challenges of Martin Seay’s intriguing philosophical thriller “The Mirror Thief.”
In Nicole Krauss’ masterful “Great House,” it is a writing desk that links together disparate lives, including an antiques dealer repatriating Nazi loot, a perplexed Oxford professor, the daughter of a Chilean poet vanished during the Pinochet regime, and an aged Israeli lawyer grieving for his wife and longing to connect with his son. Five performers bring these characters’ moving stories to life, as each character’s heartfelt melody builds upon the others in a mounting fictional fugue far greater than the sum of its parts. Brilliant writing paired with pitch-perfect readings make this a true tour de force.
After emigrating from the Dominican Republic to New Orleans in the 1920s and teaching herself English, Adana Moreau published a popular science fiction novel, “Lost City.” Eighty years later, a man named Saul discovers a manuscript among his deceased grandfather’s effects, with instructions to send it to theoretical physicist Maxwell Moreau, Adana’s son. Yet Adana and her son burned her second novel shortly before she died, leaving him an orphan at 10. Seeking answers, Saul finds himself heading into the eye of Hurricane Katrina, and into a haunting and lyrical consideration of the inextricable nature of life and art. Dominican narrator Coral Peña brings authentic cadences to the reflective lyricism of Michael Zapata’s “The Lost Book of Adana Moreau.”
What connects a ghastly short story by 19th-century French poet Charles Baudelaire, a romantic pulp thriller by 20th-century German philosopher Walter Benjamin, and a mythic vision of future lives as told by a South Sea island shaman in the distant past? In Alex Landragin’s dazzling, genre-bending novel “Crossings,” the answer may depend on just how each reader encounters the story. Accordingly, the audiobook, beautifully realized in Barrie Kreinik and Raphael Corkhill’s multifaceted narrations, is presented in two versions: a straightforward chronological telling, and the more suggestive and playful “Baroness Sequence.” Take your pick, or try them both.
Listeners who are ready to get lost in a book in the truest sense may be ready for Italo Calvino’s playful metafictional classic, “If On a Winter’s Night a Traveler,” narrated with wit and brio by Jefferson Mays. Calvino gives a whole new meaning to the term “unreliable narrator” with a storyteller who refuses to honor his implicit contract with the reader, perpetually subverting each story with another one in a nesting doll of transmogrifying genres and styles. Mays tackles these acrobatics with sincerity and subtlety, declining to wink at the reader. While Calvino’s postmodern approach is definitely not for every listener, his influence looms large over Doerr and the other authors shared here.