Archive for the ‘Award Winning’ Category

The Sympathizer, by Viet Thanh Nguyen

October 5, 2018

[Lesley] There are lots of quotes out there about how reading and books take us out of ourselves to new places and new perspectives. I love finishing a book and feeling like I have glimpsed into an unknown world — not science fiction (though I love sci fi too!), but part of the human experience that I know next to nothing about. The book There There by Tommy Orange did this (see staff review) with the culture of “urban indians.” Fascinating stuff.

The Sympathizer (Pulitzer Prize winner in 2016) turns some of the standard ideas about the Vietnam War and Vietnamese refugees on its head (at least for me!). Our narrator is Vietnamese, a close confidante of a general of the South Vietnamese army who is included with the general, his family, and others chosen by the general when they escape the country. They all start new lives in Los Angeles not realizing that one among them is working both sides.

While this book looks at America’s role in the Vietnam War (as part of the whole), the perspective is entirely a Vietnamese one. Admittedly – only one. This perspective is compelling and irresistable though.

What sets The Sympathizer apart is our narrator. He is sly, funny, strategic, and scheming. He makes sharp observations about people, governments, war, food, friends, furniture, jobs – pretty much everything. He is surprising and unpredictable. Nguyen’s voice makes this book extraordinary.

The structure of the book is also magnificent. We start in one place – writing to a “commandant” – then circle back through the story leading up to that beginning. Then, the story picks up from that original beginning and it was completely unexpected and gripping. I don’t often get to the end of a book and think: “genius,” but I did at the end of this one.

Can I make this required reading for anyone interested in exploring history from different points of view and/or those who love masterful writing? Probably not. But, I do recommend it most highly.

Check availability: The Sympathizer
Pulitzer Prize page for The Sympathizer

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Less, by Andrew Sean Greer

July 6, 2018

[Lesley] First, let’s just say that this is the 2018 Pulitzer Prize winner for fiction. That’s a pretty good recommendation! At first, I was surprised that this book one though. By the end, I had no doubt that it deserved it.

Disarmingly charming. Arthur Less is a bit like a Shakespeare character who stumbled off the stage before the first rehearsal began. The book is an accumulation that ultimately coheres and seems like truth. It’s a hard book to describe: the plot isn’t especially exciting or fast-moving, the main character is underwhelming, and no matter where the action is taking place (France! Germany! Morocco! India!) the situations Less finds himself in are the most pedestrian. Yet, there is humor, nostalgia, outrage, reflection, and a journey that ends somewhere very, very different than expected. It is some kind of genius that can take all of these things that seem one way (underwhelming, sheltered, hapless) and reveal them to be illuminating and essential. I couldn’t see the world in quite the same way after reading this book.

Here’s a more complete review (which I totally agree with!) from the Kenyon Review: https://www.kenyonreview.org/reviews/less-by-andrew-sean-greer-738439/

Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel

January 26, 2016

[Lesley] There are some books that when I finish them I can’t believe it took me so long to read them — Wolf Hall is at the top of that list right now. It has been on my radar since it won the Man Booker Prize in 2009 but for some reason I never picked it up until December when I downloaded it on audio using OverDrive.

What a truly excellent book. It is masterfully written, mainly from the perspective of Thomas Cromwell, whom I knew next to nothing about. It takes place during the reign of King Henry VIII as his marriage to Katherine is ending because of his desire to marry Anne Boleyn. Cromwell is by nature a calm, even-headed, intelligent man who is not prone to drama, emotional reactions, or impulse all of which sets him apart from nearly everyone else who surrounds him including the King, Cardinal Wolsey, the Noblemen (and women), the Boleyns, and some of his own family. The way the story is told however gives us insight into all that is going on inside Cromwell and as a result there is painted a complex, layered portrait of a time and place that transcends the usual focus on all of the scandal. I feel like I learned much about the history of the time, but even more I feel like I came to understand some of what England felt like (though only a little from a commoner’s perspective, even though that was Cromwell’s background) and how the personalities and events (plague, threats of war, alliances, marriages, holidays, religion) impacted people’s decisions and lives.

The sequel, Bring Up the Bodies, was also excellent though a few of the (in my opinion, unwarranted) criticisms of the first book seem to have changed the way some things were written in the second, which was a little irritating. Still, a small thing in such an excellent story. I can’t wait to read the third book (when will it be published, when??) which will pick up after the King’s favor has turned to Jane Seymour and Anne Boleyn has been taken to the Tower.

Tinkers, by Paul Harding

June 2, 2010

[Lesley]

This novel won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2010 and deservedly so.  It was a remarkably small print run – about 3,500 copies by an unknown author.

Wow. One of the best books I have ever read. The format of the storytelling is mesmerizing and the life/inner life of the two main characters (one of whom is accessed through – though not only in – the memory of the dying man) are compelling in the smallest, most personal ways. The writing is gorgeous in its lyricism and simplicity.