Annal: 1979 National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction

Results of the National Book Critics Circle Award in the year 1979.

Book:The Year of the French

The Year of the French

Thomas Flanagan

In 1798, Irish patriots, committed to freeing their country from England, landed with a company of French troops in County Mayo, in westernmost Ireland. They were supposed to be an advance guard, followed by other French ships with the leader of the rebellion, Wolfe Tone. Briefly they triumphed, raising hopes among the impoverished local peasantry and gathering a group of supporters. But before long the insurgency collapsed before a brutal English counterattack.

Very few books succeed in registering the sudden terrible impact of historical events; Thomas Flanagan’s is one. Subtly conceived, masterfully paced, with a wide and memorable cast of characters, The Year of the French brings to life peasants and landlords, Protestants and Catholics, along with old and abiding questions of secular and religious commitments, empire, occupation, and rebellion. It is quite simply a great historical novel.

Book:The Executioner's Song

The Executioner's Song

Norman Mailer

In what is arguably his greatest book, written in 1979, America’s most heroically ambitious writer follows the short, blighted career of Gary Gilmore, an intractably violent product of America’s prisons who—after robbing two men and killing them in cold blood—insisted on dying for his crime. To do so, he had to fight a system that seemed intent on keeping him alive long after it had sentenced him to death.

Norman Mailer tells Gilmore’s story—and those of the men and women caught up in his procession toward the firing squad—with implacable authority, steely compassion, and a restraint that evokes the parched landscapes and stern theology of Gilmore’s Utah.

The Executioner’s Song is a towering achievement, impossible to put down, impossible to forget.

Book:The Ghost Writer (Philip Roth)

The Ghost Writer

Philip Roth

The Ghost Writer introduces Nathan Zuckerman in the 1950s, a budding writer infatuated with the Great Books, discovering the contradictory claims of literature and experience while an overnight guest in the secluded New England farmhouse of his idol, E. I. Lonoff.

At Lonoff’s, Zuckerman meets Amy Bellette, a haunting young woman of indeterminate foreign background who turns out to be a former student of Lonoff’s and who may also have been his mistress. Zuckerman, with his active, youthful imagination, wonders if she could be the paradigmatic victim of Nazi persecution. If she were, it might change his life.

The first volume of the trilogy and epilogue Zuckerman Bound, The Ghost Writer is about the tensions between literature and life, artistic truthfulness and conventional decency—and about those implacable practitioners who live with the consequences of sacrificing one for the other.

Book:King of the Jews

King of the Jews: A Novel

Leslie Epstein

This 1979 classic tells the darkly humorous story of I.C. Trumpelman, a man whose fancy determines the fate of others. Chosen as the head of a Judenrat, Trumpelman thrives on the power granted him and creates an authoritarian regime of his own within the ghetto. By turns a con man, charismatic leader and merciless dictator, Trumpelman reveals himself as an extraordinarily complex protagonist.

Book:Sleepless Nights

Sleepless Nights

Elizabeth Hardwick

Intelligent, lyrical, and partly autobiographical, Sleepless Nights is a scrapbook of memories: the first pangs of sexual longing, Billie Holiday holding forth in a cheap hotel, and the swagger and heartbreak of New York City.

Book:Sophie's Choice: A Novel

Sophie's Choice: A Novel

William Styron

“[One morning] in the early spring, I woke up with the remembrance of a girl I’d once known, Sophie. It was a very vivid half-dream, half-revelation, and all of a sudden I realized that hers was a story I had to tell.” That very day, William Styron began writing the first chapter of Sophie’s Choice.

First published in 1979, this complex and ambitious novel opens with Stingo, a young southerner, journeying north in 1947 to become a writer. It leads us into his intellectual and emotional entanglement with his neighbors in a Brooklyn rooming house: Nathan, a tortured, brilliant Jew, and his lover, Sophie, a beautiful Polish woman whose wrist bears the grim tattoo of a concentration camp…and whose past is strewn with death that she alone survived.

Sophie’s Choice is a passionate, courageous book…a philosophical novel on the most important subject of…[more]

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