Finalists have recently been announced for two of literature’s most esteemed prizes, the Man Booker Prize and the National Book Awards.
National Book Awards
“Established in 1950, the National Book Award is an American literary prize given to writers by writers and administered by the National Book Foundation, a nonprofit organization. Each year, the Foundation selects a total of twenty Judges, including five in each of the four Award categories: Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, and Young People’s Literature. Judges are published writers who are known to be doing great work in their genre or field, and in some cases, are past NBA Finalists or Winners.”
The Sojourn by Andrew Krivak
Uprooted from a nineteenth-century mining town in Colorado by a shocking family tragedy, young Jozef Vinich returns with his father to an impoverished shepherd’s life in rural Austria-Hungary. When war comes, Jozef is sent as a sharpshooter to the southern front, where he must survive the killing trenches, a perilous trek across the frozen Italian Alps, and capture by a victorious enemy. Strikingly contemporary though replete with evocative historical detail, The Sojourn will join the ranks of the great classic fiction of World War One.
The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht
Main Library, 3rd floor: PS3615.B73 T54 2011
In a Balkan country mending from war, Natalia, a young doctor, is compelled to unravel the mysterious circumstances surrounding her beloved grandfather’s recent death. Searching for clues, she turns to his worn copy of The Jungle Book and the stories he told her of his encounters over the years with “the deathless man.” But most extraordinary of all is the story her grandfather never told her—the legend of the tiger’s wife.
The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka
Main Library, 3rd floor: PS3615.T88 B83 2011
Julie Otsuka’s long awaited follow-up to When the Emperor Was Divine tells the story of a group of young women brought over from Japan to San Francisco as “picture brides” nearly a century ago. The Buddha in the Attic traces their extraordinary lives, from their arduous journey by boat, where they exchange photographs of their husbands, imagining uncertain futures in an unknown land; to their arrival in San Francisco and their tremulous first nights as new wives; to their backbreaking work picking fruit in the fields and scrubbing the floors of white women; to their struggles to master a new language and a new culture; to their experiences in childbirth, and then as mothers, raising children who will ultimately reject their heritage and their history; to the deracinating arrival of war.
Binocular Vision by Edith Pearlman
Main Library, 3rd floor: PS3566.E2187 B56 2011
Spanning four decades and three prize-winning collections, these twenty-one classic selected stories and thirteen scintillating new ones take us around the world, from Jerusalem to Central America, from tsarist Russia to London during the Blitz, from central Europe to Manhattan, and from the Maine coast to Godolphin, Massachusetts, a fictional suburb of Boston. These charged locales, and the lives of the endlessly varied characters within them, are evoked with a tenderness and incisiveness found in only our most observant seers.
Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward
A hurricane is building over the Gulf of Mexico, threatening the coastal town of Bois Sauvage, Mississippi, and Esch’s father is growing concerned. A hard drinker largely absent, he doesn’t show interest in much else. Esch and her three brothers are stocking food, but there isn’t much to save. Lately, Esch can’t keep down what food she gets; she’s fifteen and pregnant. Her brother Skeetah is sneaking scraps for his prized pit bull’s new litter, dying one by one in the dirt. Meanwhile, brothers Randall and Junior try to stake their claim in a family long on child’s play and short on parenting.
As the twelve days that make up the novel’s framework yield to a dramatic conclusion, the unforgettable family at the novel’s core—motherless children sacrificing for one another as they can, protecting and nurturing where love is scarce—pulls itself up to face another day.
Man Booker Prize
“The Man Booker prize, which celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2008, aims to reward the best novel of the year written by a citizen of the Commonwealth or the Republic of Ireland. The Man Booker judges are selected from the country’s finest critics, writers and academics to maintain the consistent excellence of the prize. The winner of the Man Booker Prize receives £50,000 and both the winner and the shortlisted authors are guaranteed a worldwide readership plus a dramatic increase in book sales. The Man Booker Prize is sponsored by Man Group plc.”
The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes
(available via ILL)
A truly wonderful novel that will have the reader immersed in the story from the very first page, and all the while marvelling at the precision of Barnes’ prose. Tony Webster and his clique first met Adrian Finn at school. Sex-hungry and book-hungry, they would navigate the girl-less sixth form together, trading in affectations, in-jokes, rumour and wit. Maybe Adrian was a little more serious than the others, certainly more intelligent, but they all swore to stay friends for life. Now Tony is in middle age. He’s had a career and a single marriage, a calm divorce. He’s certainly never tried to hurt anybody. Memory, though, is imperfect. It can always throw up surprises, as a lawyer’s letter is about to prove. The Sense of an Ending is the story of one man coming to terms with the mutable past. Laced with trademark precision, dexterity and insight, it is the work of one of the world’s most distinguished writers.
Jamrach’s Menagerie by Carol Birch
Main Library, 3rd floor: PR6052.I785 J36 2011
“I was born twice. First in a wooden room that jutted out over the black water of the Thames, and then again eight years later in the Highway, when the tiger took me in his mouth and everything truly began.” 1857. Jaffy Brown is running along a street in London’s East End when he comes face to face with an escaped circus animal. Plucked from the jaws of death by Mr Jamrach – explorer, entrepreneur and collector of the world’s strangest creatures – the two strike up a friendship. Before he knows it, Jaffy finds himself on board a ship bound for the Dutch East Indies, on an unusual commission for Mr Jamrach. His journey – if he survives it – will push faith, love and friendship to their utmost limits.
The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt
Main Library, 3rd floor: PS3604.E923 S57 2011b
From the author of the acclaimed Ablutions, this dazzlingly original novel is a darkly funny, offbeat western about a reluctant assassin and his murderous brother. Oregon, 1851. Eli and Charlie Sisters, notorious professional killers, are on their way to California to kill a man named Hermann Kermit Warm. On the way, the brothers have a series of unsettling and violent experiences in the Darwinian landscape of Gold Rush America. Charlie makes money and kills anyone who stands in his way; Eli doubts his vocation and falls in love. And they bicker a lot. Then they get to California, and discover that Warm is an inventor who has come up with a magical formula, which could make all of them very rich. What happens next is utterly gripping, strange and sad. Told in deWitt’s darkly comic and arresting style, The Sisters Brothers is the kind of western the Coen Brothers might write – stark, unsettling and with a keen eye for the perversity of human motivation. Like his debut novel Ablutions, it is a novel about the things you tell yourself in order to be able to continue to live the life you find yourself in, and what happens when those stories no longer work. It is an inventive and strange and beautifully controlled piece of fiction and displays an exciting expansion of Dewitt’s range.
Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan
(available via ILL)
“Chip told us not to go out. Said, don’t you boys tempt the devil. But it been one brawl of a night, I tell you…” The aftermath of the fall of Paris, 1940. Hieronymous Falk, a rising star on the cabaret scene, was arrested in a cafe and never heard from again. He was twenty years old. He was a German citizen. And he was black. Fifty years later, Sid, Hiero’s bandmate and the only witness that day, is going back to Berlin. Persuaded by his old friend Chip, Sid discovers there’s more to the journey than he thought when Chip shares a mysterious letter, bringing to the surface secrets buried since Hiero’s fate was settled. In Half Blood Blues, Esi Edugyan weaves the horror of betrayal, the burden of loyalty and the possibility that, if you don’t tell your story, someone else might tell it for you. And they just might tell it wrong…
Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman
Main Library, 3rd floor: PR6111.E524 P54 2011
Newly arrived from Ghana with his mother and older sister, eleven-year-old Harrison Opoku lives on the ninth floor of a block of flats on an inner-city housing estate. The second best runner in the whole of Year 7, Harri races through his new life in his personalised trainers – the Adidas stripes drawn on with marker pen – blissfully unaware of the very real threat all around him. With equal fascination for the local gang – the Dell Farm Crew – and the pigeon who visits his balcony, Harri absorbs the many strange elements of his new life in England: watching, listening, and learning the tricks of inner-city survival. But when a boy is knifed to death on the high street and a police appeal for witnesses draws only silence, Harri decides to start a murder investigation of his own. In doing so, he unwittingly endangers the fragile web his mother has spun around her family to try and keep them safe. A story of innocence and experience, hope and harsh reality, Pigeon English is a spellbinding portrayal of a boy balancing on the edge of manhood and of the forces around him that try to shape the way he falls.
Snowdrops by A. D. Miller
Main Library, 3rd floor: PR6113.I556 S66 2011
“A.D. Miller’s Snowdrops is a riveting psychological drama that unfolds over the course of one Moscow winter, as a young Englishman’s moral compass is spun by the seductive opportunities revealed to him by a new Russia: a land of hedonism and desperation, corruption and kindness, magical dachas and debauched nightclubs; a place where secrets – and corpses – come to light only when the deep snows start to thaw… Snowdrops is a chilling story of love and moral freefall: of the corruption, by a corrupt society, of a corruptible man. It is taut, intense and has a momentum as irresistible to the reader as the moral danger that first enchants, then threatens to overwhelm, its narrator.”