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10 best books of March: the Monitor's picks

From a young Picasso to a Chinese couple seeking new lives in the US to the travails of the Yazidi women of Iraq – the Monitor's '10 best books of March' list ranges far and wide.

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'Picasso and the Painting That Shocked the World' is by Miles J. Unger.

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Here are the 10 new March releases that most impressed the Monitor's book critics:

1  Picasso and the Painting That Shocked the World, by Miles J. Unger
This excellent narrative by art historian and journalist Miles Unger culminates in Pablo Picasso’s creation of “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” in 1907. In exploring the groundbreaking work, Unger combines the personal story of Picasso’s early years in Paris – his friendships, his romances, his great ambition, his fears – with the larger story of modernism and the avant-garde.

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2  Fisherman’s Blues, by Anna Badkhen
Journalist Anna Badkhen moved to Joal, a fishing village in Senegal, to witness firsthand both the community’s traditional lifestyle and the external pressures (overfishing, illegal foreign competition, climate change) that are changing it. Badkhen is a keen observer with a lovely, lyrical writing style. Call this one a cross between reportage and poetry.

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3  Becoming Madeleine, by Charlotte Jones Voiklis and Léna Roy
This biography of “A Wrinkle in Time” writer Madeleine L’Engle, written by her beloved granddaughters, is timed to coincide with the release of the movie version of L’Engle’s classic. Although the book is aimed at 9- to 12-year-olds, adult fans will also find much to enjoy in this perceptive, sensitive examination of the life of an iconic writer.

4  The Cloister, by James Carroll
James Carroll’s latest novel vibrates with deep compassion and religious intensity. In postwar New York, a Roman Catholic priest strikes up an acquaintance with a Jewish Holocaust survivor at the Met Cloisters at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. As their separate tales unfold, each recognizes the need to forgive themselves for past mistakes. They are guided in their efforts by the writings of 12th-century philosopher Peter Abelard and the letters of Héloïse, his student, lover, and champion.

5  Patriot Number One, by Lauren Hilgers
A bold and brash young Chinese man transforms himself into an anti-corruption activist in a nation where protests are not the norm. Eventually he and his wife become asylum-seekers in the United States. There, they discover that it takes much more than moxie to turn the American dream into reality. New Yorker writer Lauren Hilgers shapes their real-life story into a vivid and eye-opening book.

6  The Woman’s Hour, by Elaine Weiss
Today it seems hard to believe that women in the United States didn’t get the vote till 1920. At the time, however, it was anything but clear that the suffrage movement would finally succeed. In this superb history, award-winning writer Elaine Weiss takes readers back to the nail-biting and drama-filled weeks leading up to the ratification of the 19th Amendment.

7  No Turning Back, by Rania Abouzeid
George Polk Award-winning journalist Rania Abouzeid tells the story of the Syrian civil war from multiple points of view. Abouzeid interviews rebels, victims, refugees, soldiers, and families. The result is a clear guide to the complexities of the situation in Syria but also a deeply moving (and devastating) account of a brutal war and its impact on a population.

8  Stealing the Show, by Joy Press
Journalist and former television critic Joy Press delves into the evolution of women running their own TV shows in this revealing and informative account. Through interviews with Diane English (“Murphy Brown”), Roseanne Barr (“Roseanne”), Tina Fey (“30 Rock”), and others, Press explores the ways in which these women pushed the boundaries of what was expected – and allowed – of women in front of, and behind, the camera.

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9  The Italian Teacher, by Tom Rachman
One of 17 children of famous (and profoundly self-absorbed) painter Bear Bavinsky, Pinch lives in the shadow of his father and struggles to find meaning in his own life as a language teacher (having failed as both a painter and an academic). But Pinch eventually ascends – even as Bear descends. Part comic sendup of the art world, part mystery, Tom Rachman’s third novel is an enjoyable romp.

10  The Beekeeper, by Dunya Mikhail
Dunya Mikhail, acclaimed poet and Iraqi exile, gives voice to the voiceless by transcribing stories of the Yazidi women of northern Iraq who have been driven from their homes, sold into sexual slavery, and yet, remarkably, have survived. At the heart of the book is Abdullah Shrem, a beekeeper who abandons his beloved bees to dedicate himself to these women and their children.