US critics name their 12 best novels of the 21st century to date

A group of American critics have named Junot Díaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, a take on the life of an overweight Dominican-American nerd, as the best novel of the 21st century to date.

Diaz

Junot Díaz

BBC Culture, the arts section of the international BBC site, polled several dozen US critics to find the greatest novels written so far this century, with 156 novels in all named by experts from papers including the New York Times, Time magazine, Newsday, Kirkus Reviews and Booklist.

Since book lists are all the rage at the moment, we thought we’d share the full dozen with you. How many have you read?


12. Middlesex
by Jeffrey Eugenides

The internationally bestselling 2003 Pulitzer Prize winner.9781408825693

I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day of January 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974?My birth certificate lists my name as Calliope Helen Stephanides. My most recent driver’s license records my first name simply as Cal.’ So begins the breathtaking story of Calliope Stephanides, and three generations of the Greek-American Stephanides family …

Grab a copy of Middlesex here


11. White Teeth
by Zadie Smith

white-teethOne of the most talked about fictional debuts of recent years, White Teeth is a funny, generous, big-hearted novel, adored by critics and readers alike. Dealing – among many other things – with friendship, love, war, three cultures and three families over three generations, one brown mouse, and the tricky way the past has of coming back and biting you on the ankle, it is a life-affirming, riotous must-read of a book.

Grab a copy of White Teeth here


10. Half of a Yellow Sun
by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

9780007506071Winner of the Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction 2007, this is a heartbreaking, exquisitely written literary masterpiece.

In 1960s Nigeria, Ugwu, a boy from a poor village, goes to work for Odenigbo, a radical university professor. Soon they are joined by Olanna, a young woman who has abandoned a life of privilege to live with her charismatic lover. Into their world comes Richard, an English writer, who has fallen for Olanna’s sharp-tongued sister Kainene.But when the shocking horror of civil war engulfs the nation, their loves and loyalties are severely tested, while their lives pull apart and collide once again in ways none of them could have imagined …

Grab a copy of Half a Yellow Sun here


9780099597636-1-edition.default.original-19. Atonement
by Ian McEwan

‘There were horrors enough, but it was the unexpected detail that threw him and afterwards would not let him go’

On the hottest day of the summer of 1934, thirteen-year-old Briony Tallis sees her sister Cecilia strip off her clothes and plunge into the fountain in the garden of their country house. Watching her is Robbie Turner, her childhood friend who, like Cecilia, has recently come down from Cambridge.

By the end of that day, the lives of all three will have been changed for ever. Robbie and Cecilia will have crossed a boundary they had not even imagined at its start, and will have become victims of the younger girl’s imagination. Briony will have witnessed mysteries, and committed a crime for which she will spend the rest of her life trying to atone …

Grab a copy of Atonement here


8. Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain
by Ben Fountain

9780857864529Era-defining satire – ‘This book will be the Catch 22 of the Iraq War’ Karl Marlantes.

Nineteen-year-old Billy Lynn is home from war. Back in Texas, he has become a national celebrity. A Fox News crew filmed Billy and the rest of Bravo squad defeating Iraqi insurgents in a ferocious firefight. Now Billy is a decorated soldier and Bravo’s three minutes of extreme bravery under fire are a YouTube sensation.

Seizing on this PR gift, The Bush administration has sent the surviving members of Bravo on a nationwide ‘Victory Tour’ to reassure the homeland …

Grab a copy of Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain


7. A Visit from the Good Squad
by Jennifer Egan

9781780330969Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, The Los Angeles Times Book Award, National Book Circle Critics Award for fiction in the US and Longlisted for the Orange Prize.

Jennifer Egan’s spelling binding novel circles the lives of Bennie Salazar, an aging former punk rocker and record executive and Sasha, the passionate, troubled young woman he employs. Although Bennie and Sasha never discover each other’s pasts, the reader does, in intimate detail, along with the secret lives of a host of other characters …

Grab a copy of A Visit from the Goon Squad here


6. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay
by Michael Chabon

9781841154930 (1)Winner of the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay is a heart-wrenching story of escape, love and comic-book heroes set in Prague, New York and the Arctic.

One night in 1939, Josef Kavalier shuffles into his cousin Sam Clay’s cramped New York bedroom, his nerve-racking escape from Prague finally achieved. Little does he realise that this is the beginning of an extraordinary friendship …

Grab a copy of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay here


5. The Corrections
by Jonathan Franzen

The winner of the National Book Award, the New York Times No.1 Bestseller and the worldwide literary sensation, The Corrections has established itself as a truly great 9780007232444American novel.

The Lamberts – Enid and Alfred and their three grown-up children – are a troubled family living in a troubled age. Alfred is ill and as his condition worsens the whole family must face the failures, secrets and long-buried hurts that haunt them if they are to make the corrections that each desperately needs …

Grab a copy of The Corrections here


4. Gilead
by Marilynne Robinson

gileadWinner of Pulitzer Prize for Fiction 2005.

In 1956, toward the end of Reverend John Ames’ life, he begins a letter to his young son, a kind of last testament to his remarkable forebears.

‘It is a book of such meditative calm, such spiritual intensity that is seems miraculous that her silence was only for 23 years; such measure of wisdom is the fruit of a lifetime. Robinson’s prose, aligned with the sublime simplicity of the language of the bible, is nothing short of a benediction …

Grab a copy of Gilead here


3. Wolf Hall
by Hilary Mantell

Winner of the 2009 Man Booker Prize.wolf-hall

Go backstage during the most dramatic period in English history: the reign of Henry VIII.

England, the 1520s. Henry VIII is on the throne, but has no heir. Cardinal Wolsey is his chief advisor, charged with securing the divorce the pope refuses to grant. Into this atmosphere of distrust and need comes Thomas Cromwell, first as Wolsey’s clerk, and later his successor …

Grab a copy of Wolf Hall here


2. The Known World
by Edward P Jones

9780007195305Masterful, Pulitzer-prize winning literary epic about the painful and complex realities of slave life on a Southern plantation. Henry Townsend, a black farmer, boot maker, and former slave, becomes proprietor of his own plantation – as well as his own slaves. When he dies, his widow, Caldonia, succumbs to profound grief, and things begin to fall apart: slaves take to escaping under the cover of night, and families who had once found love beneath the weight of slavery begin to betray one another ….

Grab a copy of The Known World here


1. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
by Junot Diaz

Things have never been easy for Oscar. A ghetto nerd living with his Dominican family in New Jersey, he’s sweet but disastrously overweight. He dreams of becoming the next the-brief-wondrous-life-of-oscar-waoJ.R.R. Tolkien and he keeps falling hopelessly in love.

Poor Oscar may never get what he wants, thanks to the Fuku – the curse that has haunted his family for generations

With dazzling energy and insight Diaz immerses us in the tumultuous lives of Oscar; his runaway sister Lola; their beautiful mother Belicia; and in the family’s uproarious journey from the Dominican Republic to the US and back.

Grab a copy of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao here

Rosalie Ham, author of There Should be More Dancing, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

Rosalie Ham

author of  There Should be More Dancing, Summer at Mount Hope and The Dressmaker

Ten Terrifying Questions

—————————-

1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?

Born and raised Jerilderie, NSW. Started my school life at Jerilderie Public, then for 2 years rode the bus 70 k’s a day to and from the nearest High School (Finley). For my final school years I left the vast plains and flat horizons for the rolling hills of Berwick, and St Margaret’s.

2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?

When I was twelve I was cast in the school play and had a startlingly positive response to the applause. Consequently, I believed I was a brilliant actress, and this was confirmed for me when, aged ten, my father finally purchased a television and I saw my brilliance reflected in the heroines battling their tragedies of triumph and terror against treacherous backdrops in the Midday Movies. Television was denied us at boarding school, but there were books full of drama and light, and another school play.

At eighteen I still wanted to be an actress but I had to become a nurse because my father told me I needed to ‘get a ticket in life.’ Nursing’s basically the same things as acting anyway. Then I encountered real-life treachery and tragedy in the form of my first broken heart, but I found I wasn’t cut out to be a triumphant heroine, and fled overseas. Upon my (eventual) return I enrolled in drama school.

Consequently, at thirty I wanted to be a writer because four years at drama school taught me I didn’t have the voice, face, talent or ambitious ruthlessness required to become an actress, but I maintained a yearning for the triumph, tragedy and terror of story.

3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?

I strongly believed I was having a good time if I drank, smoked and sang loudly into empty beer bottles. I no longer believe that.

4. What were three works of art – book or painting or piece of music, etc – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced your own development as a writer?

There was never much art in Jerilderie but there was the struggle between life and death on the family farm, and there was a library. I remember The Bafut Beagles as being an exotic, informative and very engaging read when I was about thirteen.

And I saw great pathos in Cezanne’s landscapes. It looked to me as if he’d put a huge amount of sincere effort into them, yet they still seemed not quite finished.

Rural community activities – agricultural shows, football grand finals and ANZAC day marches – mean that even today, brass marching bands induce in me a swelling heart and tears of joy. But it was the extremes in my early childhood years, the proximity of the (sometimes cruel) life cycle, the desperation of back-lane cricket and the nefariousness of local adulterers that fed my yen for narrative. I passed a lot of time in the limitless, empty outdoors and I had to amuse myself, and all of these things fuelled my play-acting and the dramas I had going on in my imagination at any given time.

5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?

Timing and opportunity. The story was there, I had the time, and out it came.

6. Please tell us about your latest novel… There Should be More Dancing

My third novel is about the near triumph of Margery Blandon. She’s lived in Brunswick for 60 years and has a passion for cross-stitch, proverbs and her long-dead sister. Her eldest son is affably brain-damaged, her second son is a criminal and her daughter has weight problems that exacerbate her failing life. Margery’s neighbours are drug dealers and Margery herself might or might not be a murderess. Her life-long enemy – now demented – is the holder of the truth about everything. But Margery does have friends. Unfortunately, Margery doesn’t notice any of these things until it’s almost too late.

(BBGuru: Publisher’s synopsis –

Margery Blandon has led a life of principles. Now she finds herself sitting on the 43rd floor of the Tropic Hotel, preparing to throw herself to her death.

Margery Blandon was always a principled woman who found guidance from the wisdom of desktop calendars. She lived quietly in Gold Street, Brunswick for sixty years until events drove her to the 43rd floor of the Tropic Hotel. As she waits for the crowds in the atrium far below to disperse, she contemplates what went wrong; her best friend kept an astonishing secret from her and she can’t trust the home help. It¹s possible her firstborn son has betrayed her, that her second son, Morris, might have committed a crime, her only daughter is trying to kill her and her dead sister Cecily helped her to this, her final downfall. Even worse, it seems Margery¹s life-long neighbour and enemy ­ now demented ­ always knew the truth.

There Should be More Dancing is a story of Margery’s reckonings on loyalty, grief and love.)

Click here to order your copy.

7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?

I don’t mind, as long as they take something.

8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?

I admire a lot of writers, but not all of their books. But I will read anything David Malouf writes, anything Cormac McCarthy writes and everything Marilynne Robinson writes.

9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?

I’d like to be able to go on publishing a novel every three to five years until I can’t type any more.

10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?

Lots of similes don’t necessarily make to good writing.

Rosalie, thank you for playing.

Finalists announced for The Man Booker International 2011

News from The Man Booker Prize website:

Thirteen writers have made it on to the judges’ list of finalists under serious consideration for the fourth Man Booker International Prize, the £60,000 award which recognises one writer for his or her achievement in fiction.

The authors come from eight countries, five are published in translation and there are four women on the list. One writer has previously won the annual Man Booker Prize for Fiction and two have been shortlisted. Famously, another, John le Carré, asked that his books should not be submitted for the annual prize to give less established authors the opportunity to win.

The Finalists’ List is announced by the chair of judges, Rick Gekoski, at a press conference held at the University of Sydney, today Wednesday 30 March 2011 at 10.00 (EST).

The thirteen authors on the list are:

Wang Anyi (China)

Juan Goytisolo (Spain)

James Kelman (UK)

John le Carré (UK)

Amin Maalouf (Lebanon)

David Malouf (Australia)

Dacia Maraini (Italy)

Rohinton Mistry (India/Canada)

Philip Pullman (UK)

Marilynne Robinson (USA)

Philip Roth (USA)

Su Tong (China)

Anne Tyler (USA)

The judging panel for the Man Booker International Prize 2011 consists of writer, academic and rare-book dealer Dr. Rick Gekoski (Chair), publisher, writer and critic Carmen Callil, and award-winning novelist Justin Cartwright.

Announcing the list, Rick Gekoski comments:

‘The 2011 List of Finalists honours thirteen great writers from around the world. It is, we think, diverse, fresh and thought-provoking, and serves to remind us anew of the importance of fiction in defining both ourselves and the world in which we live. Each of these writers is a delight, and any of them would make a worthy winner.’

The Man Booker International Prize is awarded every two years to a living author who has published fiction either originally in English or whose work is generally available in translation in the English language.

The winner is chosen solely at the discretion of the judging panel; there are no submissions from publishers. Alice Munro won in 2009, Chinua Achebe in 2007 and Ismail Kadaré the inaugural prize in 2005. In addition, there is a separate award for translation and, if applicable, the winner may choose a translator of his or her work into English to receive a prize of £15,000.

The Man Booker International Prize winner will be announced at the Sydney Writers’ Festival on 18 May and the winner will be celebrated at an awards ceremony in London on 28 June 2011.

——————————————-

UPDATE: from The Guardian

John le Carré has eyes off Booker prize

Veteran spy novelist John le Carré has asked to be removed from the list of nominees for a leading literary award.

John le Carré, who was unveiled as one of 12 writers in the running for the £60,000 Man Booker International Prize, said he was “enormously flattered” by the nomination, but did not compete for literary prizes.

The list, which also includes Philip Pullman and Scottish novelist James Kelman, was announced in Sydney.

Following the announcement, in a statement released by his literary agents Curtis Brown, John le Carré said: “I am enormously flattered to be named as a finalist of 2011 Man Booker International Prize. However, I do not compete for literary prizes and have therefore asked for my name to be withdrawn.” FULL story here

Rebecca Lim, author of Mercy, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

Rebecca Lim,

author of Mercy,

Ten Terrifying Questions

——————–

1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?

I was born in Singapore but raised and schooled in marvellous Melbourne, Australia. I speak a kind of terrible, pidgin Mandarin Chinese around my relatives, but I think and dream in English.

2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?

At twelve, I wanted to be a picture book writer and would hand deliver wonkily-drawn picture book manuscripts to the Melbourne offices of imprints that have slowly disappeared from Australia over the years (remember Methuen, anybody?).

At eighteen, all I knew was that I didn’t want to study Medicine (partly because everyone thought that would be an excellent career choice) but I did want a job that revolved around ideas, words and writing. So I picked Continue reading

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