The 2017 PEN/Faulkner Award finalists have been announced. Four out of five of these books showed up in our 2016 Best of the Month picks, and of equal note, Viet Dinh's After Disasters was published by Amazon's own publishing imprint, Little A.
After Disasters by Viet Dinh - This debut novel is an unforgettable portrait of humanity in all of its complexity. Set in India in the wake of a devastating earthquake, Dinh's debut investigates the limits of foreign aid, altruism, and the complications of connection to people and places. We picked it as a Best of the Month pick in the literature & fiction category.
LaRose by Louise Erdrich - We picked Erdrich's novel as a Best Book of May. Here's what we had to say about it: "The premise of Louise Erdrich’s stunning La Rose is provocative. A man goes deer hunting and accidentally shoots and kills his neighbor’s son; so consumed by guilt and sorrow, the man and his wife agree to give their son LaRose to the distraught neighbor to raise. It was their penance, as both Catholics and Ojibwe. From this shocking and painful beginning, Louise Erdrich spins an amazing, complex tale of love, family, obligation; the book moves among generations and eras (La Rose is a family name that has been used by both males and females), arriving at a present day conclusion that is both thoroughly modern and rooted in indigenous culture. This is Erdrich at her best, weaving together Native American and white culture, the strands of America. But what makes this book particularly strong – and what even those of us who love Erdrich’s books can sometimes forget – is what a beautiful writer she is. One character is “a branchy woman, lovely in her angularity.” She also can be wryly observant – “suddenly it seemed everyone was saying it is what it is…as though this was a wise saying.” And her depiction of a kind of practical joke two kids play with a school bus is equal parts joyful and terrifying. If you haven’t read Erdrich before, LaRose is a good a place to start; if you have, you won’t want to skip this lovely, smart addition to the canon."
What Belongs to You by Garth Greenwell - Here's one we completely missed when it was originally published. It doesn't happen a lot, but part of being a team of human editors is that we are indeed human. Here is the book description: On an unseasonably warm autumn day, an American teacher enters a public bathroom beneath Sofia’s National Palace of Culture. There he meets Mitko, a charismatic young hustler, and pays him for sex. He returns to Mitko again and again over the next few months, drawn by hunger and loneliness and risk, and finds himself ensnared in a relationship in which lust leads to mutual predation, and tenderness can transform into violence. As he struggles to reconcile his longing with the anguish it creates, he’s forced to grapple with his own fraught history, the world of his southern childhood where to be queer was to be a pariah. There are unnerving similarities between his past and the foreign country he finds himself in, a country whose geography and griefs he discovers as he learns more of Mitko’s own narrative, his private history of illness, exploitation, and want.
Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue - Here's what I had to say about the novel when we chose it as an August 2016 Best of the Month pick: "One of the greatest things a novel can do is to raise empathy in a reader. Behold the Dreamers does that slowly and surely, as Mbue tells the story of Jende Jonga, his wife Neni, and their six-year-old son. Jende has arrived from Cameroon, and after a stint working as a dishwasher he lands a job as the driver for Clark Edwards, an executive who is reaping a fortune at the soon-to-be doomed Lehman Brothers. Jende is poor, living in Harlem, but with his new job he is able to move his wife and son to New York—he feels he is on the fast track to his American dream. Clark is rich, but has troubles of his own, and conversations in the car—private ones between Jende and members of the Edwards family, talks overheard on cell phones—begin to reveal these fissures. In this wonderful debut novel, we watch events unfold for both families in ways that suggest the American dream might be more fragile than advertised. Mbue is a master of presenting a scene and allowing the reader to see between the lines; the result is the thrill of feeling that, for one of those rare times, we might be able to accurately imagine what it’s like to be someone different from ourselves."
Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist by Sunil Yapa - Here is what Amazon's Al Woodworth had to say about the novel when we named it our Spotlight pick for 2016: "Coursing with energy, Sunil Yapa’s Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist is a rocket ship of a book, filled with heroics, violence and the propulsive action of a heart. Over the course of a day, Yapa spools a narrative of the now infamous World Trade Organization protests that took place along the streets of Seattle in 1990--a day that started peacefully and ended in blood. Yapa’s world introduces you to a kaleidoscope of characters and each is raw, real, driven by their own obligation and role in the protests—from the Chief of Police whose city it is to protect, to an ardent non-violent activist, to a delegate making his way to an important meeting in the hopes of transforming his country. This epic day unravels from every vantage point, and the result is a story empowered with exacting empathy. Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist is vivid, visceral, sly, and charged with action. You will race through it with a beating heart."
The winner will be announced on April 4th. Following the announcement, the 37th Annual PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction Ceremony & Dinner will be held on Saturday, May 6th at the Folger Shakespeare Library.
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