2018 Golden Globes Nominees Are Chock-Full of Literary Adaptations

From left to right: Elisabeth Moss in ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ © 2016 Hulu; Claire Foy in ‘The Crown’ © 2016 Netflix; Judi Dench in ‘Victoria & Abdul’ © Focus Features; Timothée Chalamet in ‘Call Me by Your Name’ © 2017 Sony Pictures Classics; Reese Witherspoon in ‘Big Little Lies’/Hilary Bronwyn Gayle © 2017 HBO

It is officially that time of the year – awards season is upon us.  As usual, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association has kicked things off with the announcement of the 2018 Golden Globe Awards nominees. The literary world is represented in this year’s lineup with a smattering of great adaptations leading the charge in both film and TV. While the slate of nominees is populated with a few of the marquee titles you’d expect – “Game of Thrones” got it’s annual nod, for instance – a few surprises cracked the surface as well. It looks to be another interesting year at the Golden Globes. Let’s have a look.

Starting with the Best Motion Picture Categories – “Drama” and “Musical or Comedy” – “Call Me By Your Name,” based on the 2007 novel by Andre Aciman, joins a field arguably led by Christopher Nolan’s historical epic “Dunkirk,” although “The Post” feels purely calibrated to make some awards season noise. On the “Musical or Comedy” side of the aisle, “The Disaster Artist,” based on the memoir by Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell, will be contending with likely favorite “Ladybird” for the top spot. In perhaps the oddest bit of news to come out of the nominations, “Get Out” did indeed garner a Best Motion Picture nomination…as a “Musical or Comedy”. While the film did sport a handful of excellent jokes, we find it a bit hard to categorize its depiction of racism – no matter how Jordan Peele presented it – as “Comedy.” Here’s what Peele himself had to say.

The acting categories for a motion picture were anchored by a number of strong performances from adaptations. On the women’s side of the aisle, Michelle Williams picked up her fifth Golden Globe nomination for her performance in “All the Money in the World,” based on the book Painfully Rich by John Pearson. She’s joined by fellow five-timer Jessica Chastain for “Molly’s Game” which is based on the memoir of the same name by Molly Bloom. Dames Helen Mirren and Judi Dench each picked up nominations for their respective performances in “Leisure Seeker” and “Victoria and Abdul” – each film was based on a novel of the same name. Mary J. Blige also snagged a nomination for her supporting performance in “Mudbound,” an adaptation of the novel by Hillary Jordan.

The gentlemen had an equally strong showing on the literary front with Timothee Chalamet snagging a nomination for his role in “Call me By Your Name.” Chalamet, however, will be up against a host of awards season heavyweights with Tom Hanks, Denzel Washington, Gary Oldman, and Daniel Day-Lewis rounding out the best actor in a drama category. Day-Lewis is an obvious favorite for the acting categories anytime he deigns to grace us mere mortals with a performance, and Gary Oldman is said to have turned in a career best performance in “Darkest Hour,” so it will likely be tough going for Chalamet in a particularly crowded slate.

In the “Musical or Comedy” category, James Franco’s performance as Tommy Wiseau in the “Disaster Artist” has finally – if a bit circuitously – given the the bizarre Wiseau the recognition he craves. The Supporting Actor category featured one of the biggest surprises of the morning as Christopher Plummer picked up a nomination for his role in “All the Money in the World.” The role had originally been filmed by Kevin Spacey. Following the myriad allegations of sexual misconduct against Spacey, he was dropped from the role and Plummer stepped in at the literal last minute. All of Spacey’s scenes were refilmed with Plummer. This nomination situates Plummer as perhaps a pinch hitter in film history. Plummer will be up against Armie Hammer’s performance in “Call me by Your Name.”

Now for the Television categories. HBO’s “Big Little Lies,” already a big winner at the Emmy’s, also dominated the Golden Globes nods. The adaptation of the novel by Liane Moriarty picked up nominations for Best Limited Series, Best Performance by an Actress in a Limited Series (Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon), Best Performance by a Supporting Actress (Laura Dern, Shailene Woodley), and Best Performance by a Supporting Actor (Alexander Skaarsgard). “Big Little Lies” will duke it out with “The Sinner,” based on the novel by Petra Hammesfahr, in the Limited Series category. “The Sinner” star Jessica Biel also picked up a nomination in the best actress category.

In the Best Television series – Drama category, perennial nominee “Game of Thrones” will be up against likely favorite “The Handmaid’s Tale,” based on the novel by Margaret Atwood. However, “The Crown” and “This is Us” are each poised for an upset here. Interestingly, “Game of Thrones” was shut out of each of the possible acting categories despite a couple of strong performances from Lena Headey and Kit Harrington.

To round out the acting nominations for adaptations not called “Big Little Lies,” Robert De Niro and Michelle Pfeiffer each pulled nominations in their respective categories for their roles in “The Wizard of Lies” based on the book by Diana B. Henriques. De Niro will vie for best actor against Geoffrey Rush for his performance in “Genius,” an adaptation of Einstein: His Life and Universe by Walter Isaacson. Ann Dowd picked up a nod for her supporting role in “The Handmaid’s Tale.” In the best actress category, Elisabeth Moss is the odds-on favorite for her brilliant turn in “The Handmaid’s Tale.” Caitriona Balfe picked up a best actress nod for “Outlander” – based on the Outlander Series by Diana Gabaldon – and Katherine Langford rounds out the nominations with her performance in “13 Reasons Why,” an adaptation of the novel of the same name.

As is becoming the norm, streaming services and premium networks once again dominated the Television categories. HBO made its usual big showing and Netflix’s latest critical darlings – “Stranger Things” and “The Crown” – appear to have replaced former awards favorites “Orange is the New Black” and “House of Cards.” The question is whether Hulu will beat its streaming service brethren to the punch and pick up that coveted Best Drama statue as it did at the Emmy’s this year? We’ll have to wait for the January 7th broadcast to find out. Will you be tuning in?

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Announcing the Winners of the 2017 Goodreads Choice Awards

by Cybil, December 04, 2017, first appearing on Goodreads Blog
More than 3.8 million votes have been cast and counted in the 9th annual Goodreads Choice Awards honoring the year’s best books decided by you, the readers!

Now it’s time to celebrate some fantastic reading across 20 categories, representing 400 books between the winners and the finalists. And, of course, it’s time for some very talented authors to celebrate their wins!

We asked the winners of the 2017 Goodreads Choice Awards to share photos of themselves reacting to their victories. For Science Fiction winner Andy Weir, who is on a book tour, that meant making due with a bathroom-mirror selfie and a handwritten note. Colleen Hoover (who is celebrating her third consecutive win in the Romance category) received the good news while she was home sick, but—always a trooper—she rallied for the readers. And, well, some of these just made us laugh!

Be sure to explore all of the winning and nominated books!

Best Fiction: Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Best Horror: Sleeping Beauties by Stephen King and Owen King

Best Young Adult Fiction and Best Debut Goodreads AuthorThe Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Best Science Fiction: Artemis by Andy Weir

Best Science & Technology: Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil deGrasse Tyson

Best Historical Fiction: Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate

Best Romance: Without Merit by Colleen Hoover

Best Mystery & Thriller: Into the Water by Paula Hawkins

Best Graphic Novel & Comic: Big Mushy Happy Lump by Sarah Andersen

Best Poetry: The Sun and Her Flowers by Rupi Kaur

Best Young Adult Fantasy & Science Fiction: A Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J. Maas

Best History & Biography: The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women by Kate Moore

Best Humor: Talking as Fast as I Can: From Gilmore Girls to Gilmore Girls (and Everything in Between) by Lauren Graham

Best Memoir & Autobiography: What Happened by Hillary Clinton

Best Food & Cookbook: The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Come and Get It! by Ree Drummond

Best Nonfiction: How to Be a Bawse: A Guide to Conquering Life by Lilly Singh

Best Middle Grade & Children’s: The Ship of the Dead by Rick Riordan

World Fantasy Awards Announced

by Chris SchluepNovember 07, 2017, first appearing on Omnivoracious

The winners of the 2017 World Fantasy Awards have been announced. The ceremony was held earlier this month in San Antonio, Texas at the World Fantasy Convention. The Lifetime Achievement Awards, presented annually to individuals who have demonstrated outstanding service to the fantasy field, went to Terry Brooks and Marina Warner.

Below is a list of the winners from selected categories. You can see all of the winners listed on Locus.

Best Novel

  • The Sudden Appearance of Hope by Claire North
  • Borderline by Mishell Baker
  • Roadsouls by Betsy James
  • The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin
  • Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff

Best Long Fiction

  • The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe by Kij Johnson
  • The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle
  • Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire
  • A Taste of Honey by Kai Ashante Wilson

Best Short Fiction

  • Das Steingeschöpf” by G.V. Anderson
  • Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies” by Brooke Bolander
  • Seasons of Glass and Iron” by Amal El-Mohtar
  • Little Widow” by Maria Dahvana Headley
  • The Fall Shall Further the Flight in Me” by Rachael K. Jones

Best Anthology

  • Dreaming in the Dark edited by Jack Dann
  • Clockwork Phoenix 5 edited by Mike Allen
  • Children of Lovecraft edited by Ellen Datlow
  • The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2016 edited by Karen Joy Fowler & John Joseph Adams
  • The Starlit Wood edited by Dominik Parisien & Navah Wolfe

Best Collection

  • A Natural History of Hell by Jeffrey Ford
  • Sharp Ends by Joe Abercrombie
  • On the Eyeball Floor and Other Stories by Tina Connolly
  • Vacui Magia by L.S. Johnson
  • The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by Ken Liu

Winners of the 2017 National Book Awards Announced

by , NOVEMBER 16, 2017, first appearing on Library Journal

“Books matter because they give us information and hope and connect us to other people,” said Lisa Lucas, the National Book Foundation’s executive director, in a recorded message at the National Book Awards Ceremony and Benefit Dinner on November 15, at Cipriani’s in New York. Lucas appeared in person as well, appealing to the tightly packed audience for support (envelopes in the program facilitated donations) and proclaim the desire to “not just celebrate [both winners and finalists] tonight but…keep celebrating the work they do.” The awards were the focus of the evening, but as always, National Book Foundation programming got big plugs throughout.

Lucas’s what-books-can-do theme was carried forth by the award winners. Robin Benway, winner of the award for Young People’s Literature for Far from the Tree (HarperTeen), an affecting story of family, told her fellow finalists that “sharing this experience with you has been an honor” and celebrated teenagers as the “toughest audience because they need to hear the truth more than anybody.” Said Frank Bidart, poetry winner for Half-light: Collected Poems, 1965–2016 (Farrar), a magisterial compilation of all the poet’s previous volumes plus the new collection Thirst, “I’m almost twice as old as any of the other finalists, and writing poems is how I survived…. I hope the journey these poems go on help others to survive as well.”

Masha Gessen, whose The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia (Riverhead) clarifies the emergence of a new brand of autocracy in Russia today by charting the lives of four people born at the time Communism fell, noted “I never thought a Russian book would be on the list for the National Book Awards, but things have changed.” Said Paula J. Giddings, chair of the nonfiction panel, the judges looked for books that were “national or transnational in scope and significance,…books that spoke to the underpinnings that shape a culture, …and books that [address] the tyranny of state”—those who perpetuate it, those who succumb to it, and those who resist.

Winning her second National Book Award for Sing, Unburied, Sing (Scribner), an ambitious story of poverty, oppression, and family fractured along race lines and encompassing African American–rooted magic realism, Jesmyn Ward spoke affectingly of the subtexts she has sensed in rejections of her work, as if readers were saying, “What do I have in common with a pregnant 15-year-old or a 13-year-old with a drug-addicted mother?” That challenge to universality begs the question of what books can do, as articulated by master of ceremonies Cynthia Nixon, who saw them as offering not just escape but a “welcome knowledge of history [and] broadened perspective. They cultivate empathy, inspire action, and make us feel less alone.”

Presented with the 2017 Literarian Award for Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community, Richard Robinson, Scholastic chairman of the board, said that while he always wanted to receive a prize for a novel, “I am so grateful to the National Book Foundation for giving me a reading award instead.” His acceptance speech, gracefully introduced by President Bill Clinton (“I don’t think he’s ever going to win an award that reflects his heart as this one does”), embodied his conviction that reading is a solution to social ills, which makes it especially important to get books into the hands of all children.“In the years to come, reading will be more important than ever,” he declared. Rejecting a world of 20 percent reading haves and 80 percent have nots, he added “We have a huge stake in establishing a level playing field.”

Annie Proulx, winner of the 2017 Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, took up the theme of social responsibility, pointing out that “we are living through a massive transition from representative democracy to viral direct democracy,” which is overwhelming us in a “garbage-strewn tsunami of raw data.” Decrying environmental degradation and encouraging listeners to join citizen science projects, she celebrating “outmoded values like truth” and wrestled with the tension between hard facts and hope, taking up books as a model: “The happy ending still beckons.”

British Writer Kazuo Ishiguro Wins Nobel Prize In Literature

Kazuo Ishiguro

by Lynn Neary, October 5, 2017, first appearing on npr: Books Blog

The Swedish Academy chose Kazuo Ishiguro as the winner of the Nobel Prize in literature Thursday, October 5. Ishiguro’s most well-known work is likely The Remains of the Day, a 1989 novel.

Click here for a transcript of the awards ceremony.

George Saunders Wins Man Booker Prize For ‘Lincoln In The Bardo’

George Saunders Book

Author George Saunders poses with his book Lincoln in the Bardo at the Royal Festival Hall in London on Monday. On Tuesday, he was announced as the winner of the 2017 Man Booker Prize for Fiction. Chris J. Ratcliffe/AFP/Getty Images

by Camila Domonoske, October 17, 2017, first appearing on npr Blog

American author George Saunders has won the Man Booker prize for his first novel, Lincoln in the Bardo, a polyphonous meditation on death, grief and American history.

Saunders, widely lauded for his short stories, was considered the favorite to win the award. His novel centers on the death of Abraham Lincoln’s beloved son Willie and the night that Lincoln reportedly spent in the graveyard, devastated by his grief and lingering by his son’s body.

In the book, Saunders weaves fragments of historical documents (both authentic and imagined) with the voices of ghosts trapped in the graveyard with young Willie, watching in wonder at the strength of his father’s love. The devastating toll of the Civil War is the backdrop for the scene of very particular loss.

Lola Young, the chair of the panel of judges that awarded the Booker Prize, called the novel “utterly original,” praising the narrative as “witty, intelligent, and deeply moving.”

In February, Saunders told NPR that he carried the idea for the novel around with him for 20 years — although he wasn’t sure it would be a novel at all.

“Four years ago, I was like, ‘Jeez, this has been bothering me all these years, maybe it’s time to give it a try,’ ” he said. “And I kind of almost had a contract with this book. Kind of like, don’t bloat up on me — be a story if you can be a story. If you can be a nice paragraph, that’s fine. So I kind of kept it on a short leash, but it just kept growing, so I finally said, ‘OK, you are what you are.’ “

Saunders explained that the “bardo” of the title is a Tibetan concept for a sort of transitional zone — a space between death and whatever comes after, in the world of the novel.

This is the second year in a row that an American has taken home the prize — in a year when U.S. authors made up 50 percent of the short list.

The Man Booker, one of the most prestigious prizes in literature, has been awarded annually since 1969. It comes with a £50,000 (nearly $66,000) cash prize and is generally associated with a substantial boost in sales for the winning book.

The award was originally reserved only for writers from the United Kingdom or the Commonwealth (countries that were once part of the British empire), but four years ago, the prize was opened up to Americans.

Last year, the prize went to Paul Beatty for The Sellout. It was the first time the Man Booker had been awarded to an American.

The Fiction Nominees and Finalists for the 2017 National Book Award

Book Awards

In the past several years, much discussion has revolved around issues of ethnicity, gender, and representation in American literature. Most recently, some of that discussion has asked questions about class: Where are the the working class and the poor in books? Why does much of literary fiction take place among middle class families or even among people who are comfortable and seem to have no visible means of support?

This year’s National Book Award’s Fiction longlist features work that answers all of these questions. Several of the novels interpret the domestic life of those that struggle with money, while others bring to American consciousness both the national and personal histories of those from Burma, China, Korea, and Syria. Eight of the ten long-listed authors identify as women, and the list is dominated by people of color. This may be the most diverse list yet for the NBA, and I counted myself fortunate to have the opportunity to read all ten of the books in their entirety.

Currently, only Jennifer Egan’s Manhattan Beach is on the New York Times bestseller list, but winning the National Book Award for fiction has been traditionally seen as providing a huge bump for a book’s sales. Each of the long-listed books are tremendous works of imagination, and in some cases, provide readers with lessons that will increase their understanding of history. Each of them create chances for an increase in empathy, something that we are in desperate need of during America’s current political situation.

  • Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

    Jesmyn Ward was awarded a 2017 “genius” grant from the MacArthur Foundation in recognition of the writing she has thus far displayed in three previous novels, a memoir, and edited anthologies. In Sing, Unburied Sing, Ward combines elements of myth, ghost story, and history lesson to tell the story of JoJo and his family. JoJo’s family is scattered as the novel opens. His white father is in the Mississippi penitentiary, and his black mother struggles to be present for JoJo and his little sister, so he relies on his mother’s parents for his upbringing. And while Pop teaches his 13-year old grandson on a daily basis, he is burdened in watching his wife struggle with cancer.

    When Leonie, JoJo’s mother, decides that she can bring her family closer together by taking her children on a road trip to pick up her husband upon his release from prison, her best-laid plans go awry. Not only does her baby girl get sick, but Leonie has picked up an additional passenger – a ghost – who tells JoJo stories that fill in many of the unspoken silences in his mother’s house. As the car travels across Mississippi, the ghost takes JoJo back to Pop’s boyhood, and reveals a story that exposes brutal truths.

  • Barren Island by Carol Zoref

    Carol Zoref’s novel reveals a history that few Americans – never mind New Yorkers – are aware of. Barren Island was a small island located in Jamaica Bay, off the coast of Brooklyn. Today, while the land is still there, the island has been connected to the mainland via landfill, which was the original function for the island. In the early 20th century, Barren Island served as a landfill for New York City. It was required of workers to break down the products that came to the island, which included not only garbage, but also animals that needed to be rendered. And while the adults worked jobs that most of us would avoid at all costs, the children attended school on an island encased in the miasma of rotting garbage.

    But the people who lived there – Jews, Greeks, and African Americans – were people who struggled for social status on the mainland, created a joyous community that bonded over their hardships, supported each other in bad times, and celebrated the good. Carol Zoref centers her story on a single Jewish family and imbues her narrator – the eldest daughter – with a compelling voice that will carry readers along even in this most challenging atmosphere.

  • A Kind of Freedom by Margaret Wilkerson Sexton

    Showcasing the daily life of three generations of a black family in New Orleans, Margaret Wilkerson Sexton’s debut novel is luminous and heartbreaking. It begins in 1944, when Evelyn meets Renard. Renard is the kind of man that her upper-class family does not want her to mess around with, and eventually, her romance with him will lead Evelyn to make decisions that have an effect on those around her.

    Years later, readers meet Evelyn’s daughter, Jackie. In a scene that many working mothers will resonate with, readers see the kinds of daycare decisions that Jackie has to make in order to work and take care of her son, T.J. The choices that working mothers are forced into are just some of the ways that Margaret Wilkerson Sexton demonstrates the impact that not having enough money has on families.

    A Kind of Freedom is a story for our times, and is deserving of a wide readership.

  • Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan

    Jennifer Egan has given readers truly incredible books. One of my favorites is Look at Me, her story of a model who tries to create a new life for herself after she is attacked and her face is “destroyed.” So, it is not surprising that Egan has once again focused on the life of a woman who has to reinvent herself – although this time, the outside force that is shaping her is World War II. For fans of Egan’s previous work, plus those who enjoy historical fiction, this is a must-read.

    As the novel opens, we meet Anna Kerrigan and her father, who take a trip to the house of a local bigwig, Dexter Styles. Years later, Anna will wonder what became of her father, who disappeared, and how Dexter Styles might figure into her family’s story. Anna takes a job at the Brooklyn Naval Yard, where she ends up doing work that very few men are capable of doing. She becomes the breadwinner for her family, and it is while she has moved into her father’s previous family position that she will once again encounter Styles.

  • Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

    An engrossing novel in which Min Jin Lee presents the history of 20th century-Korea as experienced by an extended family, Pachinko exposes the fault lines in a traditional family and Korean borders that are not drawn on a map. The story begins at the turn of the 20th century in a boarding house run by an elderly couple. But at the same time that they opt to open their house, strangers in the form of the nation of Japan declare Korea to be its colony.

    When the couple’s daughter meets and falls in love with a Japanese businessman, his betrayal leaves her pregnant and on the verge of bringing great shame to her family. Instead, she agrees to an arranged marriage that takes her into Japan. But life for Koreans in Japan is difficult because of the country’s violent xenophobia. A partnership formed out of necessity creates a family of extended ties that prevail during World War II, and carry forward into times of excess in the Pachinko parlors, providing different members of the family with their tickets to a richer life.

    Min Jin Lee has created a world that is as complex as a Tolstoy novel in which the fortunes of a family and the country in which they struggle for love and money are tied in exhilarating ways.

  • The King Is Always Above the People by Daniel Alarcón

    Power balance is constantly shifting in this collection by Daniel Alarcon. Readers may be surprised by his characters’ relationships – whether to one another or to the structures that imprison them. “The Ballad of Rocky Rontal” is a sideways variation of a “choose your own adventure” story in which the choices posed to the reader ultimately result in an ethical quandary. “Abraham Lincoln Has Been Shot,” transforms the death of the American president into a story containing elements of magical realism and science fiction.

    Perhaps the most surprising of the stories is “The Auroras.” A man who is free of responsibilities lands in a foreign city where he meets a woman who takes him into her bed. But as their relationship continues, he finds that the benefits of being a “kept man” are not as cost-free as he first thought.

  • Dark at the Crossing by Elliot Ackerman

    In March of 2011, when the Syrian Civil War commenced, many Americans demanded that the world intervene in order to protect civilians, who were under constant attack from both the troops of President Assad and ISIS, who are battling those in Syria seeking to replace Assad with a democratic government. Elliot Ackerman, a former Marine who is now a journalist based out of Istanbul, has written a novel that illustrates just how brutal the war in Syria continues to be.

    Haris Abadi is a naturalized American citizen, having gained citizenship after translating for American troops in Iraq. But after a quiet life in America, he longs to make a difference in the Syrian conflict by joining the democratic forces. As the novel opens, he is in Turkey, attempting to cross the border. But his initial plans fail, and that failure brings him into Amir and Daphne’s world – a Syrian couple who live in exile along the border. Amir is an activist attempting to drum up support for the rebels. Daphne spends her days working in a Turkish hospital as a translator for Arab-speaking Syrian refugees. But as Haris gets to know the couple on a more intimate level, he finds out that they are guarding a painful secret that is destroying their marriage. Haris is given an opportunity to ease the couple’s pain, but the cost to all three of them may be more than any of them are willing to gamble.

    Ackerman’s work gives shape and form to anonymous Syrians whose suffering is captured in headlines, but five million of whom have found only temporary shelter in refugee camps.

  • Miss Burma by Charmaine Craig

    In 2017, as the world watches, the extermination of  the Rohingya people of Burma continues unabated. In the timely Miss Burma, Charmaine Craig recounts the history of another of Burma’s ethnic minorities – the Karen people – who aided the British and other allied forces during World War II against the Japanese, but who found themselves denied a share of power when Burma was granted its independence from British rule after the war’s conclusion. Readers will recognize the name of Burma’s first president, Aung San. He was the father of disgraced Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, whose refusal to comment on the genocide has been condemned by Nobel Peace laureates, including Desmond Tutu and Malala. His role in creating a country that wanted to award power to only one of its ethnic groups – the Bamar – echoes in the country’s current crisis.

    But in Miss Burma, while the Karen struggle for recognition and civil rights in Burma is the backdrop for this poignant and powerful work, it is the family at the center of the novel who provide readers with a way in to understand the country’s complex politics. When Benny, a Jewish officer serving with the British Customs Service in Burma, first espies the lovely Khin standing on the docks, he is smitten. The couple court and marry, but the Japanese invasion of Burma drives them to seek shelter in the Karen region in eastern Burma. They face a level of hardship during the war that is difficult to imagine as both of them seek to provide their children with food and shelter in a country where allegiances to Japan and Britain shifted depending on which country had the advantage during the war. It means that any trust in neighbors is precarious, and through a series of events in which the couple are separated, the trust between the two of them breaks down. It is their eldest daughter, Louisa, who provides the family with a form of rehabilitation and restoration when she becomes the new country’s beauty pageant winner, assuming the title of Miss Burma.

    Miss Burma will remind readers of some of the great stories that populate American literature in which couples endure the strain of war and persevere against all odds.

  • Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado

    This collection of short stories, another debut work on the list, display terrific range in their subjects and demonstrate Machado’s maturity as a writer. In the longest piece, “Especially Heinous,” Machado takes the phrase from the introduction to TV’s “Law and Order: SVU” to offer alternative but heinous plots involving main characters Olivia Benson and her erstwhile partner,  Elliott Stabler. The story’s theme – the ways in which violence against women has become cheap entertainment – is explored in ways that are both comical and disturbing.

    Other stories explore the politics of the artists’ colony, women’s sexuality from multiple identities, the lengths to which women will go to control their unruly flesh. In nearly all of the stories, women’s bodies behave in ways that offend, arouse, titillate, and enrage the other men and women who interact with them.

    Machado’s stories will provide much for men and women to talk about, especially at a time when many women’s coming forward with their stories of sexual harassment and rape has left many men with little to say in response.

  • The Leavers by Lisa Ko

    In many ways, reading Lisa Ko’s debut novel The Leaversreminded me of historical accounts of the early 20th-century immigrant women who toiled long hours in the garment industry in the Lower East Side. While those earlier women were able to unionize and launch a strike that forced employers to improve abysmal working conditions, for recent Chinese immigrants – many of whom owe tens of thousands of dollars to the loan sharks who financed their journey – that kind of united relief is not available. Ko writes of the sweatshops where Peilan Guo, who becomes “Polly” toils day after day. But what makes Polly’s life meaningful is her son, Deming, who has been born in Manhattan after his mother’s arrival.

    A decade later, however, Deming has been adopted by an American couple and become “Daniel,” and Polly lives in China, where she is teaching English. Ko spins a tale that will take readers back to Peilan’s life prior to coming to America, where she grew up the only child of her widowed fisherman father in the provinces. Daniel grows up in the suburbs of Syracuse, New York, the adopted son of college professors who don’t understand why their son cannot stop losing money via internet gambling.

    Peilan and Deming, Polly and Daniel, both characters have doubled identities as Chinese, as American, and as persons trying to find an idea of “home.” A brilliant evocation of the immigrant experience and a story of the ways that the bonds between parents and children can mend in all the broken places.

The five finalists for the National Book Award are the works by Lisa Ko, Carmen Maria Machado, Elliot Ackerman, Min Jin Lee, and Jesmyn Ward. The winner will be announced at a gala on November 15. The ceremony will be live-streamed from the NBA site.