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The first of these elegant stories opens: "The notice informed them that it was a temporary matter..." And therein lies the dilemma of all of our lives.

In her daring debut novel, Zadie Smith takes us straight to 1970s multicultural London.

At the center of this sprawling tale are two unlikely friends who met while serving in WWII: Englishman Archie Jones and Samad Iqbal, a Muslim from Bangladesh.

An Indian man named "Pi" recalls the 227 days he spent adrift on the Pacific Ocean as a boy, following a shipwreck that killed his parents.

The only other survivors in the lifeboat were a hyena, a zebra, an orangutan and tiger named Richard Parker -- maybe.

In Sebold's first novel, , she has crafted a gripping tale of tragedy and grief that play themselves out in a family, in a community, and in the afterlife of the victim.

As Susie looks down on her family, her monstrous, damaged serial killer, and on her first love from the place she calls heaven, the intensity of her desire to remain real to them and to know what it might have been to have lived and grown old gives her the strange power to touch the lives of those she has left behind.

From the very first page, when Archie's suicide attempt is thwarted by a chain of events involving pigeon poop, we understood that this was no ordinary book.

("While he slipped in and out of consciousness, the position of the planets, the music of the spheres, the flap of a tiger moth's diaphanous wings in Central Africa, and a whole bunch of other stuff that Makes Shit Happen had decided it was second-chance time for Archie.") Smith's wit and audacity is simply irresistible -- as she had written entirely in the language of charisma.

Make that his missing wife, Amy, who just happens to disappear from their Missouri home on the morning of their fifth anniversary, fueling a small-town melodrama -- complete with middling cops, fame-hungry neighbors, and cable-TV news crews -- in her wake.

As the story unfolds in precise and riveting prose, alternating between Nick's voice and Amy's diaries chronicling their relationship, it quickly becomes clear that theirs was not the happiest marriage, and that Nick, "a big fan of the lie of omission," is hiding information not only from the police, but also from readers.

The novel asked us to think how we endure tragedy, who we become in its wake and how, within it, we may just find both the terrifying and the miraculous.

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