National Book Award finalists medallion (Credit Beowulf Sheehan)
Wednesday, October 09, 2019 Charleston County Library

NEW YORK - The National Book Foundation announced Wednesday the 25 finalists for the 2019 National Book Awards for Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, Translated Literature, and Young People’s Literature. A panel of literary experts selected and advanced finalists in each category. 

Publishers submitted a total of 1,712 books for this year’s National Book Awards: 397 in Fiction, 600 in Nonfiction, 245 in Poetry, 145 in Translated Literature, and 325 in Young People’s Literature. Judges’ decisions are made independently of the National Book Foundation staff and Board of Directors.

There's still plenty of time to read the final books (at least some of them!) ahead of the Nov. 20 winner announcement at the 70th National Book Awards Ceremony and Benefit Dinner, hosted by LeVar Burton

Here are the finalists by category.

 

FICTION

Susan ChoiTrust Exercise
Henry Holt and Company / Macmillan Publishers
That whole thing about fiction not being the truth is a lie, one character admonishes another in Choi's fifth, and finest, novel. Returning to the multilayered teacher-student power struggles seared into My Education (2013), Choi's Trust Exercise should immediately put readers on alert: it will appear four times as a title of the novel itself and as the repeated title of the book's three sections. Despite being a reference to a soul-baring acting exercise, trust will have little correlation to truth. Trust Exercise number one introduces Sarah and David, two 15-year-old students at a suburban performing-arts high school, precariously entangled with each other, overseen (manipulated) by their magnetic theater teacher, Mr. Kingsley. Trust Exercise number two picks up 14 years later, after more than 100 pages, revealing number one to be a large portion of Sarah's newly published novel, and its last page is where Sarah's former best friend, Karen, stopped reading. What happened (or not) thus far gets deconstructed, then expanded, culminating in a series of dramatically (of course) orchestrated reunions. Trust Exercise number three will render all that came before unreliable while exposing tenuous connections between fiction, truth, lies, and, of course, people. Literary deception rarely reads this well.

Kali Fajardo-AnstineSabrina & Corina: Stories
One World / Penguin Random House
Kali Fajardo-Anstine's magnetic story collection breathes life into her Indigenous Latina characters and the land they inhabit. Set against the remarkable backdrop of Denver, Colorado-a place that is as fierce as it is exquisite-these women navigate the land the way they navigate their lives- with caution, grace, and quiet force.

In "Sugar Babies," ancestry and heritage are hidden inside the earth, but have the tendency to ascend during land disputes. "Any Further West" follows a sex worker and her daughter as they leave their ancestral home in southern Colorado only to find a foreign and hostile land in California. In "Tomi," a woman returns home from prison, finding herself in a gentrified city that is a shadow of the one she remembers from her childhood. And in the title story, "Sabrina & Corina," a Denver family falls into a cycle of violence against women, coming together only through ritual.

Sabrina & Corina is a moving narrative of unrelenting feminine power and an exploration of the universal experiences of abandonment, heritage, and an eternal sense of home.

Marlon JamesBlack Leopard, Red Wolf
Riverhead Books / Penguin Random House
Tracker is known far and wide for his skills as a hunter: "He has a nose," people say. Engaged to track down a mysterious boy who disappeared three years earlier, Tracker breaks his own rule of always working alone when he finds himself part of a group that comes together to search for the boy. The band is a hodgepodge, full of unusual characters with secrets of their own, including a shape-shifting man-animal known as Leopard.

As Tracker follows the boy's scent--from one ancient city to another; into dense forests and across deep rivers--he and the band are set upon by creatures intent on destroying them. As he struggles to survive, Tracker starts to wonder: Who, really, is this boy? Why has he been missing for so long? Why do so many people want to keep Tracker from finding him? And perhaps the most important questions of all: Who is telling the truth, and who is lying?

Drawing from African history and mythology and his own rich imagination, Marlon James has written a novel unlike anything that's come before it: a saga of breathtaking adventure that's also an ambitious, involving read. Defying categorization and full of unforgettable characters, Black Leopard, Red Wolf is both surprising and profound as it explores the fundamentals of truth, the limits of power, and our need to understand them both. 

Laila LalamiThe Other Americans
Pantheon Books / Penguin Random House
From the Pulitzer Prize finalist and author of The Moor's Account, here is a timely and powerful novel about the suspicious death of a Moroccan immigrant--at once a family saga, a murder mystery, and a love story, informed by the treacherous fault lines of American culture.

Late one spring night, Driss Guerraoui, a Moroccan immigrant living in California, is walking across a darkened intersection when he is killed by a speeding car. The repercussions of his death bring together a diverse cast of characters: Guerraoui's daughter Nora, a jazz composer who returns to the small town in the Mojave she thought she'd left for good; his widow, Maryam, who still pines after her life in the old country; Efraín, an undocumented witness whose fear of deportation prevents him from coming forward; Jeremy, an old friend of Nora's and an Iraq War veteran; Coleman, a detective who is slowly discovering her son's secrets; Anderson, a neighbor trying to reconnect with his family; and the murdered man himself.

As the characters--deeply divided by race, religion, and class--tell their stories, connections among them emerge, even as Driss's family confronts its secrets, a town faces its hypocrisies, and love, messy and unpredictable, is born.

Julia PhillipsDisappearing Earth
Alfred A. Knopf / Penguin Random House
One August afternoon, on the shoreline of the Kamchatka peninsula at the northeastern edge of Russia, two girls--sisters, eight and eleven--go missing. In the ensuing weeks, then months, the police investigation turns up nothing. Echoes of the disappearance reverberate across a tightly woven community, with the fear and loss felt most deeply among its women.

Taking us through a year in Kamchatka, Disappearing Earth enters with astonishing emotional acuity the worlds of a cast of richly drawn characters, all connected by the crime: a witness, a neighbor, a detective, a mother. We are transported to vistas of rugged beauty--densely wooded forests, open expanses of tundra, soaring volcanoes, and the glassy seas that border Japan and Alaska--and into a region as complex as it is alluring, where social and ethnic tensions have long simmered, and where outsiders are often the first to be accused.

In a story as propulsive as it is emotionally engaging, and through a young writer's virtuosic feat of empathy and imagination, this powerful novel brings us to a new understanding of the intricate bonds of family and community, in a Russia unlike any we have seen before.

 

NONFICTION

Sarah M. BroomThe Yellow House
Grove Press / Grove Atlantic
In 1961, Sarah M. Broom's mother Ivory Mae bought a shotgun house in the then-promising neighborhood of New Orleans East and built her world inside of it. It was the height of the Space Race and the neighborhood was home to a major NASA plant--the postwar optimism seemed assured. Widowed, Ivory Mae remarried Sarah's father Simon Broom; their combined family would eventually number twelve children. But after Simon died, six months after Sarah's birth, the Yellow House would become IvoryMae's thirteenth and most unruly child.

A book of great ambition, Sarah M. Broom's The Yellow House tells a hundred years of her family and their relationship to home in a neglected area of one of America's most mythologized cities. This is the story of a mother's struggle against a house's entropy, and that of a prodigal daughter who left home only to reckon with the pull that home exerts, even after the Yellow House was wiped off the map after Hurricane Katrina. The Yellow House expands the map of New Orleans to include the stories of its lesser known natives, guided deftly by one of its native daughters, to demonstrate how enduring drives of clan, pride, and familial love resist and defy erasure. Located in the gap between the "Big Easy" of tourist guides and the New Orleans in which Broom was raised,The Yellow House is a brilliant memoir of place, class, race, the seeping rot of inequality, and the internalized shame that often follows. It is a transformative, deeply moving story from an unparalleled new voice of startling clarity, authority, and power.

Tressie McMillan CottomThick: And Other Essays
The New Press
In eight highly praised treatises on beauty, media, money, and more, Tressie McMillan Cottom--award-winning professor and acclaimed author of Lower Ed--is unapologetically "thick": deemed "thick where I should have been thin, more where I should have been less," McMillan Cottom refuses to shy away from blending the personal with the political, from bringing her full self and voice to the fore of her analytical work. Thick "transforms narrative moments into analyses of whiteness, black misogyny, and status-signaling as means of survival for black women" (Los Angeles Review of Books) with "writing that is as deft as it is amusing" (Darnell L. Moore).

Carolyn ForchéWhat You Have Heard Is True: A Memoir of Witness and Resistance
Penguin Press / Penguin Random House
What You Have Heard is True is a devastating, lyrical, and visionary memoir about a young woman's brave choice to engage with horror in order to help others. Written by one of the most gifted poets of her generation, this is the story of a woman's radical act of empathy, and her fateful encounter with an intriguing man who changes the course of her life.

Carolyn Forché is twenty-seven when the mysterious stranger appears on her doorstep. The relative of a friend, he is a charming polymath with a mind as seemingly disordered as it is brilliant. She's heard rumors from her friend about who he might be: a lone wolf, a communist, a CIA operative, a sharpshooter, a revolutionary, a small coffee farmer, but according to her, no one seemed to know for certain. He has driven from El Salvador to invite Forché to visit and learn about his country. Captivated for reasons she doesn't fully understand, she accepts and becomes enmeshed in something beyond her comprehension.

Together they meet with high-ranking military officers, impoverished farm workers, and clergy desperately trying to assist the poor and keep the peace. These encounters are a part of his plan to educate her, but also to learn for himself just how close the country is to war. As priests and farm-workers are murdered and protest marches attacked, he is determined to save his country, and Forché is swept up in his work and in the lives of his friends. Pursued by death squads and sheltering in safe houses, the two forge a rich friendship, as she attempts to make sense of what she's experiencing and establish a moral foothold amidst profound suffering. This is the powerful story of a poet's experience in a country on the verge of war, and a journey toward social conscience in a perilous time. 

David TreuerThe Heartbeat of Wounded Knee: Native America from 1890 to the Present
Riverhead Books / Penguin Random House
Beginning with the tribes' devastating loss of land and the forced assimilation of their children at government-run boarding schools, he shows how the period of greatest adversity also helped to incubate a unifying Native identity. He traces how conscription in the US military and the pull of urban life brought Indians into the mainstream and modern times, even as it steered the emerging shape of their self-rule and spawned a new generation of resistance. The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee is an essential, intimate history - and counter-narrative - of a resilient people in a transformative era.

Albert Woodfox with Leslie GeorgeSolitary
Grove Press / Grove Atlantic
Solitary is the unforgettable life story of a man who served more than four decades in solitary confinement--in a 6-foot by 9-foot cell, 23 hours a day, in notorious Angola prison in Louisiana--all for a crime he did not commit. That Albert Woodfox survived was, in itself, a feat of extraordinary endurance against the violence and deprivation he faced daily. That he was able to emerge whole from his odyssey within America's prison and judicial systems is a triumph of the human spirit, and makes his book a clarion call to reform the inhumanity of solitary confinement in the U.S. and around the world.

Arrested often as a teenager in New Orleans, inspired behind bars in his early twenties to join the Black Panther Party because of its social commitment and code of living, Albert was serving a 50-year sentence in Angola for armed robbery when on April 17, 1972, a white guard was killed. Albert and another member of the Panthers were accused of the crime and immediately put in solitary confinement by the warden. Without a shred of actual evidence against them, their trial was a sham of justice that gave them life sentences in solitary. Decades passed before Albert gained a lawyer of consequence; even so, sixteen more years and multiple appeals were needed before he was finally released in February 2016.

Remarkably self-aware that anger or bitterness would have destroyed him in solitary confinement, sustained by the shared solidarity of two fellow Panthers, Albert turned his anger into activism and resistance. The Angola 3, as they became known, resolved never to be broken by the grinding inhumanity and corruption that effectively held them for decades as political prisoners. He survived to give us Solitary, a chronicle of rare power and humanity that proves the better spirits of our nature can thrive against any odds.

 

POETRY

Jericho BrownThe Tradition
Copper Canyon Press
Finalist for the 2019 National Book Award"By some literary magic--no, it's precision, and honesty--Brown manages to bestow upon even the most public of subjects the most intimate and personal stakes."--Craig Morgan Teicher, "'I Reject Walls': A 2019 Poetry Preview" for NPR"A relentless dismantling of identity, a difficult jewel of a poem."--Rita Dove, in her introduction to Jericho Brown's "Dark" (featured in the New York Times Magazine in January 2019)"Winner of a Whiting Award and a Guggenheim Fellowship, Brown's hard-won lyricism finds fire (and idyll) in the intersection of politics and love for queer Black men."--O, The Oprah Magazine Featured in NPR's "'I Reject Walls': A 2019 Poetry Preview" Named a Lit Hub "Most Anticipated Book of 2019"One of Buzzfeed's "66 Books Coming in 2019 You'll Want to Keep Your Eyes On"The Rumpus poetry pick for "What to Read When 2019 is Just Around the Corner" One of BookRiot's "50 Must-Read Poetry Collections of 2019"Jericho Brown's daring new book The Tradition details the normalization of evil and its history at the intersection of the past and the personal. Brown's poetic concerns are both broad and intimate, and at their very core a distillation of the incredibly human: What is safety? Who is this nation? Where does freedom truly lie? Brown makes mythical pastorals to question the terrors to which we've become accustomed, and to celebrate how we survive. Poems of fatherhood, legacy, blackness, queerness, worship, and trauma are propelled into stunning clarity by Brown's mastery, and his invention of the duplex--a combination of the sonnet, the ghazal, and the blues--is testament to his formal skill. The Tradition is a cutting and necessary collection, relentless in its quest for survival while reveling in a celebration of contradiction.

Toi Derricotte, “I”: New and Selected Poems
University of Pittsburgh Press
“What song do you sing when you sing ‘so low we can't hear you?’ Toi Derricotte makes poetry of that song. It rises from ‘the houses where you hear the least squealing,’ it is ‘quieter than blossoms & near invisible.’ It is filled with witness and love for our literal and literary families.”

Ilya KaminskyDeaf Republic
Graywolf Press
Deaf Republic opens in an occupied country in a time of political unrest. When soldiers breaking up a protest kill a deaf boy, Petya, the gunshot becomes the last thing the citizens hear - all have gone deaf, and their dissent becomes coordinated by sign language. The story follows the private lives of townspeople encircled by public violence: a newly married couple, Alfonso and Sonya, expecting a child; the brash Momma Galya, instigating the insurgency from her puppet theatre; and Galya's girls, heroically teaching signs by day and by night luring soldiers one by one to their deaths behind the curtain. At once a love story, an elegy, and an urgent plea - Ilya Kaminsky's long-awaited Deaf Republic confronts our time's vicious atrocities and our collective silence in the face of them.

Carmen Giménez SmithBe Recorder
Graywolf Press
Be Recorder offers readers a blazing way forward into an as yet unmade world. The many times and tongues in these poems investigate the precariousness of personhood in lines that excoriate and sanctify. Carmen Giménez Smith turns the increasingly pressing urge to cry out into a dream of rebellion—against compromise, against inertia, against self-delusion, and against the ways the media dream up our complacency in an America that depends on it. This reckoning with self and nation demonstrates that who and where we are is as conditional as the fact of our compliance: “Miss America from sea to shining sea / the huddled masses have a question / there is one of you and all of us.” Be Recorder is unrepentant and unstoppable, and affirms Giménez Smith as one of our time’s most vital and vivacious poets.

Arthur SzeSight Lines
Copper Canyon Press
From the current phenomenon of drawing calligraphy with water in public parks in China to Thomas Jefferson laying out dinosaur bones on the White House floor, from the last sighting of the axolotl to a man who stops building plutonium triggers, Sight Lines moves through space and time and brings the disparate and divergent into stunning and meaningful focus. In this new work, Arthur Sze employs a wide range of voices―from lichen on a ceiling to a man behind on his rent―and his mythic imagination continually evokes how humans are endangering the planet; yet, balancing rigor with passion, he seizes the significant and luminous and transforms these moments into riveting and enduring poetry.

 

TRANSLATED LITERATURE

Khaled KhalifaDeath Is Hard Work
Translated from the Arabic by Leri Price
Farrar, Straus and Giroux / Macmillan Publishers
Khaled Khalifa's Death Is Hard Work is the new novel from the greatest chronicler of Syria's ongoing and catastrophic civil war: a tale of three ordinary people facing down the stuff of nightmares armed with little more than simple determination.

Abdel Latif, an old man from the Aleppo region, dies peacefully in a hospital bed in Damascus. His final wish, conveyed to his youngest son, Bolbol, is to be buried in the family plot in their ancestral village of Anabiya. Though Abdel was hardly an ideal father, and though Bolbol is estranged from his siblings, this conscientious son persuades his older brother Hussein and his sister Fatima to accompany him and the body to Anabiya, which is--after all--only a two-hour drive from Damascus.

There's only one problem: Their country is a war zone.

With the landscape of their childhood now a labyrinth of competing armies whose actions are at once arbitrary and lethal, the siblings' decision to set aside their differences and honor their father's request quickly balloons from a minor commitment into an epic and life-threatening quest. Syria, however, is no longer a place for heroes, and the decisions the family must make along the way--as they find themselves captured and recaptured, interrogated, imprisoned, and bombed--will proveto have enormous consequences for all of them.

László KrasznahorkaiBaron Wenckheim’s Homecoming
Translated from the Hungarian by Ottilie Mulzet
New Directions
Set in contemporary times,Baron Wenckheim's Homecoming tells the story of a Prince Myshkin-like figure, Baron Béla Wenckheim, who returns at the end of his life to his provincial Hungarian hometown. Having escaped from his many casino debts in Buenos Aires, where he was living in exile, he longs to be reunited with his high-school sweetheart Marika. Confusions abound, and what follows is an endless storm of gossip, con men, and local politicians, vividly evoking the small town's alternately drab and absurd existence. All along, the Professor--a world-famous natural scientist who studies mosses and inhabits a bizarre Zen-like shack in a desolate area outside of town--offers long rants and disquisitions on his attempts to immunize himself from thought. Spectacular actions are staged as death and the abyss loom over the unsuspecting townfolk.

Scholastique MukasongaThe Barefoot Woman
Translated from the French by Jordan Stump
Archipelago Books
The Barefoot Woman  is Scholastique Mukasonga’s loving, funny, devastating tribute to her mother Stefania, a tireless protector of her children, a keeper of Rwandan tradition even in the cruelest and bleakest of exiles, a sage, a wit, and in the end a victim, like almost the entire family, of the Rwandan genocide. But it’s also a wry, sharp-eyed portrait of the world her mother lived in, from its humblest commonplaces (beer, sorghum, bread) to its deepest horrors (rape, murder, unimaginable loss).

In a telling both affectionate and haunted, Mukasonga sinks her feet into this dense “land of stories.” Each step, each verse of her careful lament carries both the weight of her mourning and the fortitude of the myriad silenced voices she speaks for. Whether describing the dry, cracked layers of mud on her mother’s feet, or the stretch marks that line strong legs, Mukasonga follows the threaded rivulet of her mother’s pulsing memory.

Yoko OgawaThe Memory Police
Translated from the Japanese by Stephen Snyder
Pantheon Books / Penguin Random House
On an unnamed island off an unnamed coast, objects are disappearing: first hats, then ribbons, birds, roses--until things become much more serious. Most of the island's inhabitants are oblivious to these changes, while those few imbued with the power to recall the lost objects live in fear of the draconian Memory Police, who are committed to ensuring that what has disappeared remains forgotten.

When a young woman who is struggling to maintain her career as a novelist discovers that her editor is in danger from the Memory Police, she concocts a plan to hide him beneath her floorboards. As fear and loss close in around them, they cling to her writing as the last way of preserving the past.

A surreal, provocative fable about the power of memory and the trauma of loss, The Memory Police is a stunning new work from one of the most exciting contemporary authors writing in any language. 

Pajtim StatovciCrossing
Translated from the Finnish by David Hackston
Pantheon Books / Penguin Random House
The death of head of state Enver Hoxha and the loss of his father leave Bujar growing up in the ruins of Communist Albania and of his own family. Only his fearless best friend, Agim--who is facing his own realizations about his gender and sexuality--gives him hope for the future. Together the two decide to leave everything behind and try their luck in Italy. But the struggle to feel at home--in a foreign country and even in one's own body--will have corrosive effects, spurring a dangerous search for new identities. Steeped in a rich heritage of bewitching Albanian myth and legend, this is a deeply timely and deeply necessary novel about the broken reality for millions worldwide, about identity in all its complex permutations, and the human need to be seen.

 

YOUNG ADULT

Akwaeke EmeziPet
Make Me a World / Penguin Random House
There are no monsters anymore, or so the children in the city of Lucille are taught. Jam and her best friend, Redemption, have grown up with this lesson all their life. But when Jam meets Pet, a creature made of horns and colors and claws, who emerges from one of her mother's paintings and a drop of Jam's blood, she must reconsider what she's been told. Pet has come to hunt a monster, and the shadow of something grim lurks in Redemption's house. Jam must fight not only to protect her best friend, but also to uncover the truth, and the answer to the question --How do you save the world from monsters if no one will admit they exist?

Acclaimed novelist Akwaeke Emezi makes their riveting and timely young adult debut with a book that asks difficult questions about what choices you can make when the society around you is in denial.

Jason ReynoldsLook Both Ways: A Tale Told in Ten Blocks
Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books / Simon & Schuster
This story was going to begin like all the best stories. With a school bus falling from the sky. But no one saw it happen. They were all too busy--

Talking about boogers.
Stealing pocket change.
Skateboarding.
Wiping out.
Braving up.
Executing complicated handshakes.
Planning an escape.
Making jokes.
Lotioning up.
Finding comfort.
But mostly, too busy walking home.

Jason Reynolds conjures ten tales (one per block) about what happens after the dismissal bell rings, and brilliantly weaves them into one wickedly funny, piercingly poignant look at the detours we face on the walk home, and in life.

Randy Ribay, Patron Saints of Nothing
Kokila / Penguin Random House 
Jay Reguero plans to spend the last semester of his senior year playing video games before heading to the University of Michigan in the fall. But when he discovers that his Filipino cousin Jun was murdered as part of President Duterte's war on drugs, and no one in the family wants to talk about what happened, Jay travels to the Philippines to find out the real story.

Hoping to uncover more about Jun and the events that led to his death, Jay is forced to reckon with the many sides of his cousin before he can face the whole horrible truth -- and the part he played in it

As gripping as it is lyrical, Patron Saints of Nothing is a page-turning portrayal of the struggle to reconcile faith, family, and immigrant identity.

Laura RubyThirteen Doorways, Wolves Behind Them All
Balzer + Bray / HarperCollins Publishers
 

From the author of Printz Medal winner Bone Gap comes the unforgettable story of two young women--one living, one dead--dealing with loss, desire, and the fragility of the American dream during WWII.

When Frankie's mother died and her father left her and her siblings at an orphanage in Chicago, it was supposed to be only temporary--just long enough for him to get back on his feet and be able to provide for them once again. That's why Frankie's not prepared for the day that he arrives for his weekend visit with a new woman on his arm and out-of-state train tickets in his pocket.

Now Frankie and her sister, Toni, are abandoned alongside so many other orphans--two young, unwanted women doing everything they can to survive.

And as the embers of the Great Depression are kindled into the fires of World War II, and the shadows of injustice, poverty, and death walk the streets in broad daylight, it will be up to Frankie to find something worth holding on to in the ruins of this shattered America--every minute of every day spent wondering if the life she's able to carve out will be enough.

I will admit I do not know the answer. But I will be watching, waiting to find out.

That's what ghosts do.

Martin W. Sandler1919 The Year That Changed America
Bloomsbury Children’s Books / Bloomsbury Publishing
Some of the most important issues of our time were no less important 100 years ago. America in 1919, at the close of World War I, was shaken from the events of large-scale warfare, fearing a Communist takeover, and facing an incredible amount of social and political change. From Prohibition to women's suffrage, the labor strikes to the violence of the Red Summer and the Red Scare, this book explores each major movement of 1919. Showing how these events were interrelated and examining their continued relevance to our country a century later, Martin Sandler offers a unique historical perspective on the trajectory of the major movements of the 20th century. Showing readers how every current event has unique and fascinating history preceding it, this book will help them better understand the world they live in and the change many still seek today, offering educators a framework for discussing historical perspective and progress.