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Five More (Audiobooks) to Go: Kate Atkinson’s TRANSCRIPTION, read by Fenella Woolgar

Five More (Audiobooks) to Go-Kate Atkinson's TRANSCRIPTION, read by Fenella Woolgar-featuredOur newest feature gives Booklist critics the opportunity to shout about a recently published book they adored. They’ll tell us why we should read it, then provide five read-alikes for the title.


 Transcription, by Kate Atkinson and read by Fenella Woolgar

Actress Fenella Woolgar and author Kate Atkinson have shared many creatively fruitful unions. Seasoned fans will recognize Woolgar from the 2011 BBC screen adaptation of Atkinson’s Case Histories, in which she played the sister of protagonist Jackson Brodie’s lover. Woolgar’s performance of Kate Atkinson’s stupendous Life after Life (2013) was transformative. And for Atkinson’s latest novel, published this September, the two artists unite again—how lucky for us Woolgar and Atkinson devotees!

In Transcription, Woolgar embodies protagonist Juliet Armstrong with unfaltering crispness and empathic composure, portraying Juliet first as a teenager entering the workforce, and later as a sharp, seasoned career woman. Initially hired as a glorified secretary to transcribe covert conversations between British intelligence officers and Fascist sympathizers, Juliet quickly transforms into someone else when MI5 takes her off the page and into the risky world of wartime espionage. After the war, Juliet is a producer with the BBC, effective and efficient at telling other people’s stories, but her clandestine past soon proves inescapable, and she must answer for her wartime choices—and their intractable consequences.

Throughout, Atkinson’s broad cast of intriguing characters demands quick changes in gender, age, station, and regional and international accents, and Woolgar adapts to each with ease. Whether she’s depicting Juliet’s sort-of fiancé, an abrasive young office manager, or various MI5 handlers, Woolgar’s superb narration amplifies Atkinson’s gorgeous, droll, affecting, and surprisingly twisty epic novel.

The five audiobooks below, linked to their Booklist reviews when available, further explore World War II and those involved in it, from war-service typists to survivors with mysterious pasts.

Everyone Brave Is Forgiven by Chris CleaveEveryone Brave Is Forgiven, by Chris Cleave and read by Luke Thompson

Inspired by his grandparents’ love story, which was meticulously recorded in his grandfather’s extant letters (his grandmother’s replies were sunk), Cleave’s latest also feels like his gentlest. At the novel’s core is privileged, headstrong Mary North, who, after war is declared on September 3, 1939, signs up to serve England—and is hired as a schoolteacher in London shortly thereafter. She then falls in love with two men: Tom, who is deemed socially inferior by her mother; and Alistair, Tom’s roommate, whom she desperately tries to dismiss. Listeners also learn of Mary’s relationship with best-friend Hilda, which often serves as an intriguing barometer for Mary’s impressions of the world around her. With his dramatically breathy, unhurried delivery, narrator Thompson shifts between characters, voicing various genders, ages, and social stations with familiar efficiency.


Life after Life by Kate AtkinsonLife after Life, by Kate Atkinson and read by Fenella Woolgar

In 1930, a valiant young woman named Ursula supposedly murders Hitler. Ursula was born February 11, 1910, and she will die again and again—from umbilical cord strangulation, drowning, the flu, an illegal abortion, murder, and other causes. Narrator Woolgar effortlessly and expertly travels back and forth with Ursula—aging, un-aging, re-aging—as she relives her lives. And thanks to vague memories surrounding past fatal experiences, each of Ursula’s lives lasts a little longer. Ultimately, Ursula’s saga, including her survival (which happens . . . and then happens again) and what follows, can certainly be read as a complement to Transcription. For further connections—and another glimpse at one of Ursula’s lives—check out Atkinson’s companion novel, A God in Ruins.


The Piano Teacher by Janice Y. K. LeeThe Piano Teacher, by Janice Y. K. Lee and read by Orlagh Cassidy

Set in Hong Kong and populated by a cast of “wandering global voyagers,” Lee’s story follows two love affairs, one occurring during WWII, and the other a decade later. In 1952, Claire Pendleton, the eponymous piano teacher—and the provincial young wife of a British government engineer—arrives in Hong Kong. There she is hired by a wealthy Chinese family to teach piano, and begins an affair with the older, distant Will. But this is not Will’s first affair. There was a time before the war when he and another woman, sparkling heiress Trudy, were Hong Kong society’s feted pair. By the end, secrets are revealed, betrayals are exposed, and it’s all captured in Cassidy’s clipped, crisp English inflection.


The Typist by Michael KnightThe Typist, by Michael Knight and read by Jason Culp

Working as a typist for military higher-ups during World War II kept Van alive. Later, the skill lands him a post in U.S.-occupied Japan, serving under the legendary General MacArthur. While Van is a wide-eyed, insulated young man from Alabama, his assigned roommate, Clifford, is a world-weary elite soldier who indulges in wine and song and exploits women—and pressures Van to do the same. Though Van repeatedly denies Clifford’s appeals, he’s soon found guilty by association. It may be peacetime, but events conspire quickly, upturning Van’s once controlled army life. Van’s journey to discover who he is—and who he must become—proves to be both jagged and transformative. With his folksy, slightly Southern-accented voice, Culp’s gentle narration deftly follows the quiet devastation and eventual reinvention of a thoughtful young man.


Warlight by Michael OndaatjeWarlight, by Michael Ondaatje and read by Steve West

“Ours was a family with a habit for nicknames, which meant it was also a family of disguises,” 14-year-old protagonist Nathaniel, a.k.a. Stitch, reveals early in Ondaatje’s latest novel. It’s 1945 London and Nathaniel and his sister, Rachel, have been abandoned by their parents and left in the care of strangers. In the postwar city, reinvention is a necessity, and the siblings survive by watching and learning from the squatters now occupying their home. But by the time the duo discover their parents’s deception (their mother, who proves to be a provocateur as well a protector, is not who—or where—they thought she was), Nathaniel and Rachel are no longer safe. Narrator West—who, like Nathaniel, was born in London—confidently portrays Nathaniel’s initial bewilderment as well as his eventual determination to piece together his family’s pixilated history.'

About the Author:

Terry Hong created and maintains Smithsonian BookDragon, a book blog for the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center. She was the writer wrangler for the film Girl Rising. She taught for Duke University’s Leadership in the Arts in NYC. She co-authored two books, Eastern Standard Time: A Guide to Asian Influence on American Culture from Astro Boy to Zen Buddhism and What Do I Read Next? Multicultural Literature. She reviews extensively for many publications. Follow her on Twitter at @SIBookDragon.

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