2016 NBCC Award Winner

Louise Erdrich has won the 2016 NBCC award for her novel La Rose.  Erdrich has won the award once before in 1984 for her highly acclaimed novel Love Medicine.

La Rose by Louise Erdrich

“Louise Erdrich starts her latest novel LaRose with an incident larose-by-louise-erdrichother, less assured novelists might work up to with some throat clearing. On the second page, Landreaux Iron, a father of five, “all of whom he tried to feed and keep decent,” accidentally shoots his neighbor’s five-year-old son, Dusty, on the Native American reservation in rural North Dakota where they live. According to Native American custom as Landreaux sees it, he must give his own young son, LaRose, to the family whose son he has killed, “an old form of justice,” as Erdrich calls it. 

Erdrich has said in an interview that she doesn’t remember exactly when she heard about the actual event that inspired LaRose. “And of course the story was only two lines long: ‘A man killed a boy. The man gave up his son to be raised by the other family,’ ” Erdrich told Kirkus Reviews. “I never thought I’d write about it, but the story stayed with me, and when I did begin to write about it I knew exactly what was going to happen—for the first 20 pages, anyway. After that, I had quite a time figuring out what to do next.”

The novel is so sure-footed and preternaturally confident; Erdrich definitely figured it out along the way. Both families must shuffle through the emotional morass produced by the act of child-sharing (LaRose shuttles between the two homes and the wives of the two families are also half-sisters). Shy, inquisitive LaRose is “a little healer.” He is the fifth generation of LaRoses, who consults his ancestors and marshals profound bravery to right an injustice done to one of his new siblings. Erdrich chooses a few characters to focus on in addition to the members of the two families: drug-dependent Romeo who was abandoned by Landreaux years ago and a war vet named Father Travis, devout but also in love with someone he shouldn’t be in love with.”  (NBCC)

You can take a look at the 2016 NBCC Finalists for more reading inspiration.


2015 NBCC Fiction Award Winner

The 2015 NBCC fiction prize winner is Paul Beatty for his novel The Sellout.  On the BookCritics website Karen Long describes The Sellout:the sellout paul beatty

“Try reading the first paragraph of The Sellout aloud. Better still, in public. It begins “This may be hard to believe, coming from a black man, but I’ve never stolen anything” and it ends describing our narrator handcuffed and sitting on “a thickly padded chair that, much like this country, isn’t quite as comfortable as it looks.”

As the poet Kevin Young points out in The New York Times, this bit “takes the beginning of Ellison’s Invisible Man’(‘I am an invisible man. No, not some spook . . .’) and spoofs it beyond belief.” Indeed, the satire of Paul Beatty corkscrews its reader into one stunning contortion after another, until it feels as if every social construct is splayed and strangled, caught like a codfish in the reader’s own horrified throat.”

Read the rest of Long’s article.  With an opener like that you can’t help but be intrigued.  The blurb on GoodReads will further pique your interest I’m sure:

“A biting satire about a young man’s isolated upbringing and the race trial that sends him to the Supreme Court, Paul Beatty’s The Sellout challenges the sacred tenets of the United States Constitution, urban life, the civil rights movement, the father-son relationship, and the holy grail of racial equality–the black Chinese restaurant.  Born in the “agrarian ghetto” of Dickens–on the southern outskirts of Los Angeles–the narrator of The Sellout resigns himself to the fate of lower-middle-class Californians: “I’d die in the same bedroom I’d grown up in, looking up at the cracks in the stucco ceiling that’ve been there since ’68 quake.” Raised by a single father, a controversial sociologist, he spent his childhood as the subject in racially charged psychological studies. He is led to believe that his father’s pioneering work will result in a memoir that will solve his family’s financial woes, but when his father is killed in a police shoot-out, he realizes there never was a memoir. All that’s left is the bill for a drive-thru funeral.  Fueled by this deceit and the general disrepair of his hometown, the narrator sets out to right another wrong: Dickens has literally been removed from the map to save California from further embarrassment. Enlisting the help of the town’s most famous resident–the last surviving Little Rascal, Hominy Jenkins–he initiates the most outrageous action conceivable: reinstating slavery and segregating the local high school, which lands him in the Supreme Court.” (GoodReads)

See the full list of the 2015 NBCC Fiction Prize Finalists for more reading inspiration.

2014 NBCC Fiction Award Winner

The 2014 NBCC Fiction Prize went to Marilynne Robinson for her novel LilaLila is the third installment of Robinson’s acclaimed Gilead series.  The first novel in the series, Gilead, also won the NBCC prize along with the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.  This series of novels is on my personal TBR list as I have heard many good things about Robinson’s writing and her novels.  Lila (Gilead, #3)

Here is the blurb from GoodReads:

Lila, homeless and alone after years of roaming the countryside, steps inside a small-town Iowa church—the only available shelter from the rain—and ignites a romance and a debate that will reshape her life. She becomes the wife of a minister, John Ames, and begins a new existence while trying to make sense of the days of suffering that preceded her newfound security.  Neglected as a toddler, Lila was rescued by Doll, a canny young drifter, and brought up by her in a hardscrabble childhood. Together they crafted a life on the run, living hand-to-mouth with nothing but their sisterly bond and a ragged blade to protect them. But despite bouts of petty violence and moments of desperation, their shared life is laced with moments of joy and love. When Lila arrives in Gilead, she struggles to harmonize the life of her makeshift family and their days of hardship with the gentle Christian worldview of her husband that paradoxically judges those she loves.

There were many great books shortlisted for the prize so I am certain this will be a wonderful read.  Judges of the NBCC prize this year described the winner:

“No one writes so simply yet profoundly of our yearnings and struggles, our troubling doubts and grateful affirmations of the good when we encounter it at last.”

You can read more in the NBCC press release.  I’d love to hear what you thought of any of the Gilead books.

2013 NBCC Fiction Award Winner

The 2013 winner of the NBCC Fiction Award is Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie for Americanah.

NBCC board member Jane Ciabattari says: “With Americanah, which is at once a love story, an immigrant’s tale, and a socially acute snapshot of this chaotic moment in time, she nails the idiosyncracies of three cultures. We knew Adichie was wicked smart. Now we know she can be wicked funny.” (NBCC article)

AmericanahFrom the award-winning author of Half of a Yellow Sun, a dazzling new novel: a story of love and race centered around a young man and woman from Nigeria who face difficult choices and challenges in the countries they come to call home.  As teenagers in a Lagos secondary school, Ifemelu and Obinze fall in love. Their Nigeria is under military dictatorship, and people are leaving the country if they can. Ifemelu—beautiful, self-assured—departs for America to study. She suffers defeats and triumphs, finds and loses relationships and friendships, all the while feeling the weight of something she never thought of back home: race. Obinze—the quiet, thoughtful son of a professor—had hoped to join her, but post-9/11 America will not let him in, and he plunges into a dangerous, undocumented life in London.  Years later, Obinze is a wealthy man in a newly democratic Nigeria, while Ifemelu has achieved success as a writer of an eye-opening blog about race in America. But when Ifemelu returns to Nigeria, and she and Obinze reignite their shared passion—for their homeland and for each other—they will face the toughest decisions of their lives. (read more on GoodReads)


2010 NBCC Fiction Award Winner

The 2010 NBCC Fiction Award Winner:

A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

“A novel at once experimental in form and crystal clear in the overlapping stories it delivers, offering us a sense of youth and what gets lost along the way.”  (NBCC Announces Award Winners)

Below, I’ve included a couple of excerpts from a great interview between Jane Ciabattari and the author Jennifer Egan entitled The Book on Aging Rockers which talks about Egan’s award winning novel A Visit from the Goon Squad.

“I knew as far back as 2001 that I would write a book called A Visit From the Goon Squad, though I had no idea what kind of book it would be,” she explained. “As I worked on it, I kept wondering, ‘Who is the goon?’ I liked the sense that there were many answers. And then I found myself writing ‘Time is a goon,’ and realized that of course that’s true—time is the stealth goon, the one you ignore because you are so busy worrying about the goons right in front of you.”…

The first thing that struck me about A Visit from the Goon Squad is its fluid and sometimes circular sense of time. How did she decide on the structure?

“I had a different structural idea originally. My original plan was to have time move backward—I knew this idea wasn’t new (Charles Baxter does it beautifully in First Light) but still, that was the plan. Then I wrote ‘Pure Language,’ which takes place in the future and would have to come first, according to my ‘backwards chronology’ idea. But I knew that story would make a bad beginning for the book. So I adjusted my plan: I’d begin in the present, move farther and farther backward in time, and then leap into the future in the end with ‘Pure Language.’ But I found when I read the chapters in that order that it was flat, and the whole was absolutely less than the sum of the parts. So I ended up ordering the chapters more intuitively, using a completely different principle: Who is the person you’ve glimpsed from the corner of your eye in this chapter, and would be surprised and interested to find is the subject of the next chapter? That’s how it’s organized now.”

Egan says she had no particular models for her characters. But clearly she has done some thinking about the rapidly cycling life spans of pop artists, including writers. In a re-evaluation of Madonna for GQ a few years back, Egan wrote, “Remaining a pop phenomenon for 20 years without dying or lapsing into self-parody is quite a feat.” In Goon Squad, Bosco, a character contemplating a “suicide tour,” complains, “How did I go from being a rock star to being a fat f— no one cares about?” Although Madonna and a rare few others keep on coming around, time passing means most musical careers are dead-ended.

To read the full interview follow this link: The Book on Aging Rockers by Jane Ciabattari

For another great interview with Egan about her award winning novel check out: Off the C(H)uff: Jennifer Egan Talks About A Visit From the Goon Squad by Patricia Zohn


2009 NBCC Award Winner

The 2009 National Book Critics Circle Award goes to Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel.  This historical novel claimed last year’s Man Booker Prize and although I have not read it myself I believe it must be an incredible read.  In the month leading up to the NBCC award winner announcement, Critical Mass (the official NBCC blog), posted a series of posts entitled 30 Books in 30 Days which provided reviews of the work of the thirty finalists.  The 30 Books in 30 Days post for Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall is a magnificent article.  Here is an excerpt:

“It’s the story of the rise to power of Thomas Cromwell, who emerged from humble origins to become one of the richest and most powerful men in Tudor England. Brilliant, hardworking, and competent, Cromwell caught the attention of Henry VIII, who made him his confidante, his chief secretary, his Lord Privy Seal, and in time a nobleman–all before sending him, as Henry sent so many of his confidantes and capable administrators, to the executioner’s block. In the process of telling the enthralling tale of Cromwell’s early years, Mantel takes the hoary genre of historical fiction, turns it on its head, and makes it as fresh and new as the latest of postmodern fiction.

She finds the other side of that story and gives us a man whose politics were far ahead of his time, a humanitarian and social radical who is as loving to his family and friends as he is harsh to those he opposes. Her Cromwell “is at home in courtroom or waterfront, bishop’s palace or inns yard. He can draft a contract, train a falcon. Draw a map, stop a street fight, furnish a house and fix a jury.” Lawyer and financier, he’s a master of languages, an admirer of Latin poetry, an adoring husband and father, a man who can speak truth to power, brandish a stiletto, cook up a gingery eel sauce, evaluate the worth of an oriental rug, and stay loyal to his friends even when the rest of the world shuns them. More, he’s efficient. “My sins are my strength,” he ruminates. “The sins I have done, that others have not even found the opportunity of committing. I hug them close; they’re mine. Besides, when I come to judgment I mean to come with a memorandum in my hands; I shall say to my Maker, I have fifty items here, possibly more.” What a man to get to know!

Why is the book called Wolf Hall when Wolf Hall, the ancestral home of Jane Seymour, who will be Henry’s third wife, figures only minimally in the narrative? Yes, there’s a passage about the scandalous shenanigans at the manor, where Jane’s father is having an affair with her brother’s young wife. And yes, there’s a mention of the Latin saying homo homini lupus. “Man is wolf to man.” Some critics have attempted to explain the title by focusing on one or the other of these references, speculating that the book is called Wolf Hall because the doings at the estate indicate that the English nobility was so depraved it could not rule, or that the Latin proverb indicates the lesson to be drawn from the period’s invidious politics. But to me it seems far more likely that the title is another of the author’s cunning tricks. The book ends with Mantel’s Cromwell noting in his diary that he is about to make an excursion to Wolf Hall. It is after this excursion that history’s Cromwell will reach the height of his aspirations, becoming virtually royal by wedding his son to the future queen’s sister, and it is after that grand slam that his mighty career will begin to unravel. The book, like Cromwell, goes to Wolf Hall. What happens afterward is the subject of the sequel Mantel is planning.”

Go on over to Critical Mass to read the full article: 30 Books in 30 Days: Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel