Annal: 1990 National Book Award for Fiction

Results of the National Book Award in the year 1990.

Book:Middle Passage

Middle Passage

Charles Johnson

It is 1830. Rutherford Calhoun, a newly treed slave and irrepressible rogue, is desperate to escape unscrupulous bill collectors and an impending marriage to a priggish schoolteacher. He jumps aboard the first boat leaving New Orleans, the Republic, a slave ship en route to collect members of a legendary African tribe, the Allmuseri. Thus begins a daring voyage of horror and self-discovery.

Peopled with vivid and unforgettable characters, nimble in its interplay of comedy and serious ideas, this dazzling modern classic is a perfect blend of the picaresque tale, historical romance, sea yarn, slave narrative, and philosophical novel.

Book:Because It Is Bitter, and Because It Is My Heart

Because It Is Bitter, and Because It Is My Heart

Joyce Carol Oates

Joyce Carol Oates adds to her extraordinary body of work with this stunning novel of violence and love. At the heart of the story are two people, Iris Courtney, who is white, and handsome Jinx Fairchild, the black basketball player who, in protecting Iris, kills a white man.

Iris is the only witness to the crime.

The two of them are growing up in the early 1950s in a New York industrial town where racial boundaries keep people apart - or bring them together in explosive scenes of fear or desire. The secret link between Iris and Jinx is not only their attraction to each other, but a murder…and a bond of passion and guilt is formed between them. How this one irrevocable, tragic act shapes their lives and alters their destinies becomes Joyce Carol Oate’s finest, emotion-packed novel—a work the critics are calling a masterpiece, the best work of America’s best writer of contemporary realism.

Book:Chromos

Chromos

Felipe Alfau

In 1988, Dalkey Archive reprinted Felipe Alfau’s neglected masterpiece of 1936, Locos: A Comedy of Gestures, which drew renewed praise from the New Yorker and other magazines. Chromos, his second and only other novel, was written in the 1940s but never published largely, we suspect, because it was years ahead of its time, using techniques that would later be “discovered” by such authors as John Barth, Donald Barthelme, and Thomas Pynchon. Like these authors, Alfau turns the conventional novel on its head. An eerie frame story encloses a series of episodes and tales-within-tales, some of them “chromos” sentimental calendar-style pictures of old Spain, others blackly humorous stories of Spaniards acclimatizing to life in Manhattan in the 1930s, culminating in a saturnalian party of epic proportions, in which Spanish dancers mingle with faded actors, bizarre fantasists, mathematical wizards, singers, guitarists, and other representatives of the Spanish colony. Everything from the proper way to drink wine to theories of entropy are bandied about in this strange tertulia, which ends with a Kafkaesque episode of unforgettable power.

Book:Dogeaters

Dogeaters

Jessica Hagedorn

In Dogeaters, Jessica Hagedorn has transformed her best-selling novel about the Philippines during the Marcos reign into an equally powerful theatrical piece that is a multilayered, operatic tour de force. As Harold Bloom writes “Hagedorn expresses the conflicts experienced by Asian immigrants caught between cultures…she takes aim at racism in the U.S. and develops in her dramas the themes of displacement and the search for belonging.”

Book:Paradise (Elena Castedo)

Paradise

Elena Castedo

In this ingenious satire, Solita, the not quite ten-year-old daughter of refugees from Franco’s Spain, is whisked from the urban ghetto of Galmeda to El Topaz, the lush hacienda of a wealthy eccentric, which her mother assures her will be paradise. But behind its beautiful façade, El Topaz is a quagmire of social subterfuge, from its politicking adults to its spiteful children, and Solita finds herself alone in a glittery world where “you couldn’t trust anything. Or anybody. You had to navigate completely on your own.”

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