So many books have been written about slavery that it is not unreasonable to hesitate when yet another hits the shelves, wondering if there is anything new that can be said on this dark episode of US history.
The Underground Railroad not only tackles the subject of slavery with sensitivity, but provides fresh insights by looking at the experiences of a slave attempting to escape the injustice of slavery while dealing with the rejection of those that should be on her side and fighting the challenges of being female in a male world. It is extraordinarily well written, demonstrating an author of exceptional talent.
The central character, Cora, a female slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia, beautifully portrayed. It is hard for the reader not to feel her pain and fear as she struggles to find a place in a society that regards her as inferior for being female, black, and a slave.
On 16 March 2017, the NBCC board awarded the National Book Critics Award for fiction to Louise Erdich for her novel LaRose.
Situated on the Native American reservation in rural North Dakota, the novel begins with Landreaux Iron, father of five, accidentally shooting his neighbour's five-year-old son, Dusty. According to custom Landreaux must give his own young son, LaRose, to the family whose son he has killed.
The families wrestle with the emotional challenge of LaRose moving between the two homes as the child integrates into his new family complicated by the fact that the mothers are half sisters. LaRose demonstrates great courage as an instrument of reconciliation and forgiveness, while helping one of his new siblings fight an injustice.
Besides the family members, there are two other key characters - Romeo, a drug addict, abandoned by Landreaux years before, and Father Travis, a war vet, in love with someone he shouldn't be in love with.
Erdich blends tradition with human tragedy, love, and forgiveness, in a moving and memorable novel.
Yaa Gyasi won the 2017 PEN/Hemingway Award on 2 April 2017 for her novel Homegoing. She won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Best First Book and was shortlisted for the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Fiction for the same novel.
The book tells the story of two sisters whose lives follow very different paths. One is sold into slavery and the other becomes a slave trader's wife. The consequence of their lives are felt for many generations.
The story starts at the Gold Coast of Africa, passes through the cotton-picking plantations of Mississippi, and leads to the dive bars of Harlem. It crosses continents and generations telling the story of both ladies and those that followed them.
The novel explores the lives of woman from Africa to America with brilliance and flair. They are in many ways the story of America itself from slavery to Harlem through the eyes of its black citizens. As the Guardian puts it, Homegoing is a touching and profound debut from a masterly new writer.
In 2010, Abramović sat at a table in the Museum of Modern Art in New York in silence every day for three months, inviting members of the public to sit opposite her and exchange meditative gazes. Heather Rose reimagines this event, focusing on the stories of the people like Arky who attended the performance and why they chose to engage.
Arky Levin is a film composer living in New York, and estranged from a wife who has asked him to keep a devastating promise. Each day, Arky watches the performance and the people who attend. Slowly starts to understand what might be missing in his life and what he must do.
Rose has met Abramović in person only once, although she participated in the 2010 performance four times. Rose got permission from the artist to include her in the novel, and she interviewed many of the people who had participated in or watched the performance.
Imbolo Mbue tells the story of Jende Jonga who moves to the US with his wife, Nene, and their young son. Jende wants a better life for himself and his family, and ecstatic when in Autumn 2007, he gets a job as a personal chauffeur for Clark Edwards, a senior executive at the prestigious Lehman Brothers. A bright future appears to be on course for the Jonga family.
Working for Clark Edwards works out well to begin with, with the Edwards' family also hiring his wife to work in their holiday home in the Hamptons. It also gives Jende a view of a world of incredible wealth and astounding privilege, very different to his life in Haarlem, and drawing attention to the huge chasm between the rich and poor of America.
When Lehman Brothers collapses, triggering the global financial crisis, and the Edwards family starts to disintegrate, Jende is forced to fight to keep his dream alive and his family together.
From Australia to Greece, England to a Pacific island, the stories travel continents and eras, recounting pivotal moments in the lives of people, when they are forced to consider their lives from a new perspective.
In "Mycenae," a middle-aged couple go on holiday with long-term friends, and the holiday goes horribly wrong with the revelations of their friends, and "Good News for Modern Man" tells the story of a scientist who is haunted by a giant squid and the ghost of Charles Darwin on a small, remote island on which he is researching. In the story that gives the collection its name, an Australian farmer resorts to Old Testament methods to bring a severe drought to an end.
From an accident on a dark country road to the sudden arrival of American parachutists in a country town, 'The High Places' is an insightful collection of stories of events which force people to rethink causing them to act in unexpected and surprising ways.
Two young boys and their father are grieving the death of a mother and wife. In the midst of their grief, Crow arrives, uninvited, to stay.
He is needed by the family, despite the ever-present smell of decay and scruffy feathers. He is a friend, a reminder, a message, a comfort, and a nuisance. He antagonises, cares, and tricks, but most importantly, he helps the family heal, very slowly but steadily.
Crow is drawn to the grieving family, and becomes a fixture. There is no fanfare and the change is almost imperceptible but effective. Crow enables, without any fanfare, healing for the boys and their father.
Grief is the Thing with Feathers is Porter's debut novel. It is an extraordinarily well written novel from a talented new author who will hopefully continue to produce books of such an exceptionally high standard.
The Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year award won by Max Porter for his debut novel Grief is the Thing with Feathers. The novel has already won the International Dylan Thomas Prize and at the Books Are My Bag Readers Award 2016 in the fiction category.
The prize of £5,000, is awarded annually by the judges to a work that is considered to be of exceptional literary merit to a work of fiction, non-fiction or poetry by a young British or Irish author aged between 18 and 35. This year the award was judged by BBC books editor James Naughtie, historian Stella Tillyard and The Sunday Times's literary editor Andrew Holgate.
The central character is Cora, a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. While life is bad for all the slaves, it is worse for Cora because she is rejected by the other slaves.
Her life takes a turn when she learns about the Underground Railroad from Caesar, and together they plan to take the risk and escape from slavery. Her journey is fraught with difficulty.
Cora and Caesar's first stop is South Carolina, which seems at first to be a haven, but turns out not to be the case for black people. Even worse, Ridgeway, the relentless slave catcher, is close to catching them so the have to flee. Cora runs from state to state to avoid being returned to slavery.
The novel is both the story of one woman's brave and determined struggle to be free, and the powerful contemplation of a major element of American history.
The Costa Book Awards provides literary prizes in the UK for authors based in the UK and Ireland.
The prize has five categories - First Novel, Novel, Biography, Poetry and Children's Book - with one of the five winning books selected as the overall Costa Book of the Year.
This year, on 31 January, the overall Costa Book of the Year went to Days Without End by Sebastian Barry.
The category prizes awarded this year are
The Costa Book Awards provides brief reviews of the award winners and their books.
The Essex Serpent is Perry's second novel. Her debut novel, After Me Comes the Flood, was published in 2014 to considerable critical acclaim. It tells the story of John Cole who goes looking for his brother during a drought and discovers into a strange world.
Victorian London in 1893, and Cora Seaborne's husband dies. She is pleased to be free from an unhappy marriage to a bully, and decides to move to Essex with her son, Francis, to start a new life. In Colchester, she learns about the mysterious Essex serpent and is intrigued by the possibility of its return. This brings her into conflict with the local vicar, William Ransome, who is determined to end superstition in his parish.
Inspired by the myth of a sea-serpent on the Essex coast, the novel is written in a gothic style. It is told with intelligence and exquisite grace that will please the reader enormously,
Alex Wheatle is 53 years old and traces his interest in books back to his time in jail after the 1981 Brixton riots. It is his first prize, after writing 6 adult books then turning to fiction for young adults.
On 16 November, Wheatle won the Guardian Children's Fiction Prize with a novel set in a fictitious, crime-ridden estate, where knives and phone jacking are common by those he calls "hood rats".
The winning novel, Crongton Knights, is number two in a trilogy, set on the South Crongton estate - the date for the publication of the third book has yet to be announced.
McKay, a local schoolboy, attempts to help a girl whose is worried that the thief who stole her phone, will expose her sexting. His action turns into a dangerous adventure.
"I love this book. It's elegant, authentic and humane. This is mature, powerful writing by an author with great talent and great heart," said Almond, who won the prize last year with A Song for Ella Grey.
Marcus Conway, is a middle-aged husband, father and a civil engineer. He returns to his home in rural Ireland, and considers the events that took him away and then brought him home again.
Marcus Conway is responsible in his own way for the many buildings and bridges that sprung up in the boom and changed Ireland. He recalls his father and mother's lives in small town Ireland, and the constant pressure from politicians and developers at work. He remembers skyping his son in Australia, and visiting his artist daughter's first solo exhibition which consisted of the text from court reports written in her own blood. He is overcome by a "a crying sense of loneliness for my family".
The book experiments with structure and succeeds. The brave approach to story telling produces a wonderfully original and provocative novel from a writer who looks like he will become deservedly famous.
On the 24 October, Tiffany McDaniel was named as the winner of the Not the Booker Prize for her book The Summer That Melted Everything.
Fielding Bliss has never forgotten the summer of 1984. It was the year that a heat wave scorched the small town of Breathed, Ohio, and also the year that he became friends with the devil.
The story starts when local prosecutor, Autopsy Bliss, invites the devil to come to his small town in Ohio. To the surprise of the residents, the devil actually turns up in the form of a tattered and bruised thirteen-year-old boy called Sal.
Fielding, the son of Autopsy, finds the boy outside the courthouse and brings him home. The Bliss family welcome the boy thinking that he is a runaway from a nearby farm town. A heat wave hits the town when he arrives, and Sal claims to be the devil. As strange accidents start to occur, riled by the feverish heat, some in the town start to believe Sal is who he claims to be.
The Bliss family wrestle with their demons, and the sleepy Ohio town is driven to the brink of catastrophe.
This year, the Man Booker Prize was awarded to Paul Beatty, American author, for his novel The Sellout. Beatty is the first American to win the prize - US authors only became eligible to enter for the prize in 2014.
The Sellout is a satire on race relations in contemporary America. It is narrated by African-American 'Bonbon' who lives in the run-down town of Dickens in Los Angeles county. Bonbon was raised by a single father who led him to believe that his memoirs would bring the family great wealth. When his father is killed, he discovers that there never was a memoir.
Intent on solving the problems of his town, Bonbon co-opts famous Hominy Jenkins. He implements a plan which involves segregating the local high school and the reintroduction of slavery. This lands him in the Supreme Court for challenging rights established by the US Constitution.
The book is populated with characters that parody racial stereotypes, and reflects race relations in the US today. Its themes are particularly topical, as Beatty attacks racial taboos relentlessly and searingly.
The Best Younger Fiction category and overall winner of the Watersones Children's Book Prize went to David Solomons for his debut book My Brother is a Superhero. It is a hugely funny book about desperate-wannabe superhero Luke Parker and his superhero brother Zack. Their page-turning adventure is delightfully spiced with comic book trivia.
David Litchfield won the Best Illustrated Book Category with his picture book, The Bear and the Piano. The detailed illustrations weave a wonderful tale of warmth and emotion through a bear that plays the piano. It is a tale about dreams and friendship that can be read with pleasure again and again and again and ...
The winner of the Best Older Fiction Category was Lisa Williamson with her cleverly named book The Art of Being Normal The book deals with the complex issues of gender, identity and sexual orientation. The narrative revolves around two friends both very different from the normal, introducing young people to the challenges faced by some of their peers, whilst delivering a compelling story.
Sexism in publishing: 'My novel wasn't the problem, it was me, Catherine'
Author reveals that submitting her manuscript to agents under a male pseudonym brought more than eight times the number of responses.
'They had issues': Sally Wainwright and Tracy Chevalier discuss the Brontës
Sally Wainwright's new drama To Walk Invisible offers a radical new take on the Brontës. She talks to novelist Tracy Chevalier about the siblings' extraordinary lives.
The 10 Best Books of 2016
The year's best books, selected by the editors of The New York Times Book Review. 1 December 2016.
Charlotte Brontë, the filthy bitch
Enough of the Brontë industry's veneration of coffins, bonnets and TB. It is time to exhume the real Charlotte - filthy bitch, grandmother of chick-lit, and friend.