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Exploring the word

Our 2002 collection of book reviews

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This is the year publishers had to confront their worst nightmare: Oprah closed her book club. After six years of creating or boosting a bestseller every single month, the TV talk-show host claimed she couldn't find enough good books to recommend. If only she'd returned my calls....

Traveling through the 40 titles we receive here every day, our reviewers have braved the far corners of the world - and beyond - to discover the year's best in fiction and nonfiction. Inside, you'll find 10 highly recommended books and almost 60 noteworthy ones.

On our website, each of these capsules is linked to the full review we ran during the year. Before setting off on an adventure, do your homework and read up on the destination.

Happy exploring.

- Ron Charles

CARAMELO, by Sandra Cisneros, Knopf, $24

This swirling dinner-table collection of family tales is worthy of the anticipation that's built up over the 18 years since Cisneros wrote "The House on Mango Street." Her story of four generations of Mexican-Americans moves across literary borders as easily as its characters trek between Mexico City and Chicago. Little Lala Reyes tells the first part of the novel, a sweaty car trip to visit the Awful Grandmother in Mexico. But then Cisneros jumps back to tell the story of that Awful Grandmother as a young woman - with the voice of the grandmother often interrupting the narrator. The story spreads out across the whole fabric of Lala's family history with tales of foolishness and passion, tragedy and sacrifice, showing us, in the end, the conciliatory power of storytelling. (Oct. 10)

ATONEMENT, by Ian McEwan, Doubleday, $26

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