For those who have read the three final- ists for the 2017 Andrew Carnegie
Medal of Excellence in Fiction, we offer
Michael Chabon’s Moonglow (Harper), our
first fiction finalist, is a masterful, bewitching
novel of family and war in which a young writer
listens in breath-held astonishment as his ail-
ing grandfather, whose lifelong reticence has
been vanquished by strong painkillers, tells
the hidden stories of his complicated past,
including his WWII experiences tracking down
Nazi scientists, and those of the narrator’s
Holocaust-survivor grandmother. The novels below address simi-
lar themes with a comparable mix of insight, humor, compassion,
• Everything Is Illuminated. By Jonathan Safran Foer. 2002. HMH.
Foer’s creative, funny, and affecting two-track debut novel tells
the story of a young American who travels to Ukraine, hoping
to find the woman who helped save his grandmother from the
Nazis, while also revealing the complex history of one family’s
life in the shtetl he’s searching for.
• Not Me. By Michael Lavigne. 2005. Random.
Lavigne carves a new portal into the depthless mystery of
the Holocaust as his hero, a smart, self-deprecating stand-up
comic, reads an old journal he finds in his father’s apartment
full of shocking revelations about an SS death camp accountant, a deceased Jewish inmate, and the dawn of the state
• The Street Sweeper. By Elliot Perlman. 2012. Riverhead.
Perlman’s intently detailed, provocative, worlds-within-worlds
third novel begins with two New Yorkers, an African American
hospital janitor and a Jewish history professor, and opens out
into a many-faceted tale illuminating life and death in Auschwitz,
racial and labor strife in Chicago, the unending trauma of prejudice, and the radiance of heroism.
The unnamed narrator in Zadie Smith’s
Swing Time, our second fiction shortlist title,
tells the entwined, if sometimes divergent,
stories of herself and her childhood best
friend, two “brown girls” growing up in
London enthralled by dance, in a shrewdly
funny, socially astute novel about the quest
for meaning, creativity, and love. The books
below also incisively dramatize the conflicts
experienced by artists of color.
• Dancing in the Dark. By Caryl Phillips. 2005. Vintage.
Phillips brings readers to early twentieth-century Harlem
as he sensitively fictionalizes the outwardly successful yet
spiritually disastrous life of Bert Williams, a trailblazing, often
misunderstood performer, and considers the persistent dilemmas of race and celebrity.
• Jazz. By Toni Morrison. 1992. Knopf.
Morrison begins with the aftermath of a murder of passion in
Harlem in its jazz heyday, then wheels back to the fields of Virginia and the Great Migration, revealing her characters’ secrets
and sorrows, the violence of desire, the phoenixlike nature of
love, and the vibrancy and succor of community.
• Some Sing, Some Cry. By Ntozake Shange and Ifa Bayeza.
2010. St. Martin’s.
Shange and Bayeza present a bittersweet tale of seven generations in a family of mixed blood and musical genius that
dramatizes the historical flow of African American life from the
promise of emancipation, the brutality of Reconstruction and
Jim Crow, and the hope of the civil rights movement on to the
possibilities of the digital age.
In The Underground Railroad (Doubleday), our
third fiction finalist, Colson Whitehead follows
the path of smart and resilient Cora, a young,
third-generation slave who flees a Georgia cot-
ton plantation only to discover, on each stop
along a strange and vividly realized Underground
Railroad, another shocking outbreak of racial tyr-
anny and a new surge in the battle for freedom.
The novels below also take fresh and arresting
approaches to slavery and its unending repercussions.
• The Good Lord Bird. By James McBride. 2013. Riverhead.
Bringing fresh immediacy to a sobering chapter in American
history, McBride dramatizes the exploits of abolitionist John
Brown and his renegade band of freedom warriors through the
eyes of “Little Onion, ” an enslaved boy mistaken for a girl and
caught up in Brown’s doomed mission.
• The Known World. By Edward P. Jones. 2003. Amistad.
In Jones’ profoundly beautiful and insightful novel about
the complexities of slavery and the interweaving of sex, race,
and class, he portrays a small enclave of free blacks who own
slaves and other individuals white and black caught in dire
• The Sellout. By Paul Beatty. 2015. Farrar.
With a narrator devoted to restoring and resegregating a
South Carolina town, Beatty offers a darkly funny, elegantly written, thought-provoking satire about race, popular culture, and
politics in present-day America.
THE FICTION SHORTLIST
BY DONNA SEAMAN