At some point, a very long time ago, our ancestors discovered that they had the free time and the intellectual ability to tell stories. These stories may have started out as mere entertainment or as an attempt to explain the unexplainable, but over time they grew in complexity. Soon our stories began to fold in on themselves, re-examining the spoken – or written – words that preceded them to find even more meanings. The good news is that in the tens of thousands of years since those first stories, we have not stopped inventing new ones, retracing old ones, and striving to better understand the world through them. These three new audiobooks show how far we have moved beyond our outer reality in our minds.
What if the relationship between a map and the space it reflects could be reversed? In other words, what if, by drawing a map, we could change the very fabric of our physical environment? This is one of the many thought-provoking questions at the heart of the novel. THE CARTOGRAPHERS (HarperAudio, 14 hours, 15 minutes), written by Peng Shepherd and read by a cast of seven narrators, including Emily Woo Zeller, Ron Butler and Brittany Pressley. Equal parts thriller, fantasy and family drama, the story centers on Nell Young, a cartographer who, after being banished from the respectable world of academia, makes a living making cheap reprints for budding intellectuals ( “the antithesis of conservation”, as she calls it). When his father, the senior curator of the New York Public Library’s map division, is found dead in his office, Young’s world is turned upside down.
As the protagonist navigates a dangerous and fantastical world of magical cards, shadowy characters and obsessive personalities, listeners are treated to layers and layers of expertly told stories, with flashbacks told by a wide range of voices that provide a level of immersion that the printed page cannot. If some of the big twists and dramatic reveals feel weighty or “Scooby-Doo-like” predictable, they’re worth it for the meditations on human cognition and family – both biological type and those we choose. for ourselves.
Where “The Cartographers” urges us to reconsider the purpose and meaning of maps, Iranian-American professor and author Azar Nafisi’s latest non-fiction audiobook asks us to reflect a bit more on the books we read and why. . In DANGEROUS READ: The Subversive Power of Literature in Troubled Times (HarperAudio, 8 hours, 28 minutes), the author and narrator explores how the books “depict the unruly world, filled with contradictions and complications, a world that threatens the totalitarian mindset by being beyond its control”. In a series of letters to her late father, Nafisi moves effortlessly through the literary landscape that shaped her militant worldview. From Salman Rushdie to Ray Bradbury, Plato to James Baldwin, Toni Morrison to Margaret Atwood, Nafisi reveals how timeless stories can be. She revisits old storylines and characters while living Donald Trump’s presidency and the endless angst of the Covid-19 pandemic, while recalling her youth in Tehran under the Islamic Republic. Nafisi has a knack for combining the academic and the everyday, the theoretical and the personal, and with her deliberate and confident voice, the lessons will also stay with us.
There is none more timeless than the ancient Hindu epic “Ramayana”, which receives a new interpretation in KAIKEYI (Redhook, 17 hours, 22 minutes), Vaishnavi Patel’s first novel. Narrated by Soneela Nankani, the book is told from the perspective of the defiant and often reviled Queen Kaikeyi, Prince Rama’s stepmother. Set against the gripping backdrop of the legendary court of Ayodhya, we follow the eponymous heroine breaking free from the traditional gender roles of her husband’s court, aided by her own tenacity and supernatural ability to bend others to her will. While the “Ramayana” itself portrays her character as power-hungry and deceitful, Patel uses the same canonical building blocks to tell another side of her story: as a loving mother, a shrewd politician, and a fearless warrior.
Although written in prose, “Kaikeyi” is told in a clean style similar to that of its poetic source material and lends itself well to an audio format. But in addition to the above, Patel brings a contemporary lens that will be familiar to any woman who has been labeled cold for being assertive. Those familiar with “Ramayana” and its characters will appreciate “Kaikeyi’s” fidelity to the original, but it’s also an audiobook for fans of fantasy and mythology. Like the best stories, this engaging portrait will inspire you to take another look at the things you think you already know.
Sebastian Modak is the editor of Lonely Planet and was The Times 52 Place Traveler in 2019.