The National Book Foundation announced the National Book Award finalists today. Each category—fiction, nonfiction, poetry, young people’s literature, and translated literature—has been narrowed down from the longlist 10 to the shortlist five. While many of the finalists have made the NBA shortlist before, none of them have won of a National Book Award in these categories.
Here’s a list of the finalists in all five categories, with bonus links where available:
Trust Exercise by Susan Choi (Read our 2019 interview with Choi)
Sabrina & Corinas by Kali Fajardo-Anstine (Featured in our Great First-Half 2019 Book Preview)
Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James (Read a profile of James)
The Other Americans by Laila Lalami (Read Lalami’s 2018 Year in Reading entry)
Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips (Featured in our Great First-Half 2019 Book Preview)
The Yellow House by Sarah M. Broom (Featured in our Great Second-Half 2019 Book Preview)
Thick by Tressie McMillan Cottom (Featured in our Great First-Half 2019 Book Preview)
What You Have Heard Is True: A Memoir of Witness and Resistance by Carolyn Forché
The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee: Native America from 1890 to the Present by David Treuer
Solitary by Albert Woodfox with Leslie George
The Tradition by Jericho Brown (Read an excerpt from Brown’s collection)
“I”: New and Selected Poems by Toi Derricotte (Read our 2019 interview with Derricotte)
Deaf Republic by Ilya Kaminsky (Featured in March’s Must-Read Poetry roundup)
Be Recorder by Carmen Giménez Smith (Read an excerpt from Smith’s collection)
Sight Lines by Arthur Sze
Death Is Hard Work by Khaled Khalifa, translated by Leri Price
Baron Wenckheim’s Homecoming by László Krasznahorkai, translated by Ottilie Mulzet (Read our review)
The Barefoot Woman by Scholastique Mukasonga, translated by Jordan Stump
The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa, translated by Stephen Snyder (Featured in our Great Second-Half 2019 Book Preview)
Crossing by Pajtim Statovci, translated by David Hackston
Pet by Akwaeke Emezi (Featured in our Great Second-Half 2019 Book Preview)
Look Both Ways: A Tale Told in Ten Blocks by Jason Reynolds
Patron Saints of Nothing by Randy Ribay
Thirteen Doorways, Wolves Behind Them All by Laura Ruby
1919: The Year That Changed America by Martin W. Sandler
Below are a handful of the many excellent books that got me through the year. As a list, it’s far from exhaustive, and not particularly systematic. But at some point I realized that it was entirely female writers in translation, and that the work of many translators I admire is included below. I’ll read a book because of a particular translator—Margaret Jull Costa, Susan Bernofsky, Natasha Wimmer, among others. I trust their work and their taste, and I let that dictate my reading.
1. Mercè Rodoreda’s Death in Spring, translated by Martha Tennent (Open Letter)The great Catalan writer’s late masterpiece, Death in Spring comes on like a hallucination. Alongside the ecstatic prose is a devastatingly precise exploration of the human impulse to cruelty and conformity.
2. Guadalupe Nettel’s After the Winter, translated by Rosalind Harvey (Coffee House Press)Nettel is one of my favorite writers, and I’m always interested to read what she writes. Among other things, in this novel Nettel has created one of the most sinister and wickedly exuberant male narrators since Nabokov’s Humbert Humbert.
3. Yukiko Motoya, The Lonesome Bodybuilder, translated by Asa Yoneda (Soft Skull)This collection by the much-heralded Japanese writer is a thoroughgoing delight.It contains one of the most perfect short stories I’ve read in a long time, The Straw Husband.
4. Yoko Tawada, The Emissary, translated by Margaret Mitsutani (New Directions)Tawada is Japanese and lives in Berlin. She writes in both German and Japanese, sometimes in the same book. It makes sense that Tawada places language at the heart of this novel, set in a future Japan that has banished all traces of English from its native language. Mitsutani handles the somewhat paradoxical task of translating into English with delicacy and intelligence.
5. Annie Ernaux, A Man’s Place, translated by Tanya Leslie (Seven Stories) / Scholastique Mukasonga’s The Barefoot Woman, translated by Jordan Stump (Archipelago)In these books, Ernaux and Mukasonga execute a simple but near impossible literary task: to capture a life on the page with absolute fidelity. Ernaux writes about her father’s life and death in rural France without a trace of sentiment or pity. Mukasonga’s tribute to her mother, who was killed in the Rwandan genocide, bears witness not only to atrocity, but also to complex matters of love and memory. Ernaux and Mukasonga are masters. I don’t think writing gets any better than this.
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