“Scenes From My Life,” by Michael K. Williams: Best known for playing Omar Little in “The Wire” and Chalky White in “Boardwalk Empire,” Williams grew up in Flatbush, Brooklyn, raised by a not terribly loving mother. He became a backup dancer and model with high aspirations, but his hopes seemed to have been foiled by a bar fight that left his face permanently scarred. It was, however, this emblem of street cred that led to his casting as Omar – and in life, too, as he devoted himself outside acting to setting up programs for young people in trouble. “I want to tell my story not because it’s unique, but because it is not,” he tells us – not knowing that it would also end as so many similar stories have. Williams died of an accidental drug overdose on Sept. 6, 2021, and his co-author, Jon Sternfeld, completed the book posthumously. “Scenes from My Life” is an altogether superior memoir. Refreshingly straightforward, its impact is amplified by the mesmerizing low voice of narrator Dion Graham. (Random House Audio, Unabridged, 7 hours)
“These Old Shades,” by Georgette Heyer: Set in 18th century France and England, Heyer’s early career-making novel is again available in this country as an unabridged, downloadable audiobook. (Audio rights issues caused an earlier version to disappear.) Heyer is the grand master of historical romance. To be sure, the familiar conventions of romance literature are here in abundance: the aristocratic curled lip, the languid glance, sparkling eyes and a middle-aged blue-blood roué reformed by a plucky young woman. But also present are Heyer’s wry humor and deftness in witty badinage. This is an old-fashioned melodrama and fast-paced adventure – infants switched at birth! girl disguised as boy! abduction! midnight flight! – and an amusingly ludicrous love story. The novel, which is simple entertainment without a trace of moral uplift, is narrated by Sarah Nichols. Her delivery of the sardonic exchanges between characters, drawling or snappy as the occasion demands, is marvelous; her French accent is not too annoying; and her characters are distinct from each other – even if a couple of the women have oddly weensy voices for such big personalities. (Blackstone, Unabridged, 12 hours)
“Afterlives,” by Abdulrazak Gurnah: Nobel laureate Gurnah sets his 10th novel in what is now Tanzania. Beginning in the early 20th century, when the territory was part of German East Africa, the story moves on through both world wars, British rule and to independence. Europeans – arrogant, condescending, occasionally humane – are present but peripheral as players in the novel. Four African characters are central: Khalifa, of mixed African and Indian ancestry, is an accountant for a grasping Indian merchant who marries him to his daughter; Ilyas, who joins the feared Schutztruppe askari, African soldiers mustered to crush native rebellion under German command; Ilyas’s orphaned younger sister, Afiya, abused until she was rescued by Ilyas and later, Khalifa; and Hamza, who, after brutal experience as an askari, falls in love with Afiya. Painful though the story is at times, the fine detail of the characters’ daily lives provides the listener with real joy – as does Damian Lynch’s superb narration. The British actor handles German and Swahili easily, conveys the personalities of the different speakers in both manner and voice, palpably inhabiting this quietly brilliant story. (Penguin Audio, Unabridged, 10¼ hours)
Katherine A. Powers reviews audiobooks every month for the Washington Post.
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