Annal: 1996 Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Fiction

Results of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in the year 1996.

Book:A Fine Balance

A Fine Balance

Rohinton Mistry

With a compassionate realism and narrative sweep that recall the work of Charles Dickens, this magnificent novel captures all the cruelty and corruption, dignity and heroism, of India. The time is 1975. The place is an unnamed city by the sea. The government has just declared a State of Emergency, in whose upheavals four strangers—a spirited widow, a young student uprooted from his idyllic hill station, and two tailors who have fled the caste violence of their native village—will be thrust together, forced to share one cramped apartment and an uncertain future.

As the characters move from distrust to friendship and from friendship to love, A Fine Balance creates an enduring panorama of the human spirit in an inhuman state.

Book:About Schmidt: A Novel

About Schmidt: A Novel

Louis Begley

After years of careful management, the life of Albert Schmidt—proud, traditional gentleman and lawyer of the old school—lies about him in shambles. The wife he adored is recently dead. The clients he has served superbly and devotedly throughout his long career are turning to his firm’s aggressive young comers as Schmidt stumbles into early retirement. And relations with his only child are going from bad to worse.

Charlotte, once the flower of all her father’s hopes, and the sole beneficiary of the best of everything he could provide, has matured into a banal yuppie, only too willing to apply her peerless education to work in public relations. And now a desperate quarrel divides them: Charlotte announces her intention to marry a man Schmidt cannot approve of, for reasons he can scarcely admit—even to himself. As the beleaguered father gropes his way out of the corners he is forever backing himself into, he finds…[more]

Book:Every Man for Himself

Every Man for Himself

Beryl Bainbridge

On Wednesday, April 10, 1912, the RMS Titanic left Southampton on her maiden voyage to New York. Four days later, half an hour before midnight, she struck an iceberg. By 2 a.m. the last lifeboat had rowed frantically away. Minutes later the great ship sank. Fifteen hundred people had lost their lives. Every Man for Himself recaptures those four crucial days at the end of the Belle Epoque.

J. Pierpont Morgan’s nephew, en route to New York, has booked passage on the world’s most luxurious ocean liner. His companions include a host of Guggenheims, Vanderbilts, and upper crust fellow travelers. It is a voyage of black-tie dining and moonlight serenades, of illicit romances and reserved travelers with shadowy pasts. The young Morgan soon finds his destiny linked to those of his shipmates, memorable personalities all, as the great ship sails toward her fate. But the Titanic’s destiny…[more]

Book:The Ghost Road

The Ghost Road

Pat Barker

Central to this novel are two men divided by class and experience, but sharing a mutual respect and empathy. One is Lieutenant Billy Prior, cured of shell shock by famed psychologist Dr. William Rivers at Craiglockhart War Hospital, and determined to return to the front in France even as the war enters its final ferocious phase in the late summer of 1918. The other is Dr. Rivers himself, consumed by the medical challenge and moral dilemma of restoring men to health so that they can be sent back to the battlefields and almost certain death. Billy Prior is a working-class man on the rise, a “temporary gentleman,” who inhabits a sexual, social, and moral no-man’s-land. His sexual encounters with both women and men are tinged with a cynical fatalism that the war has engendered. Still, he is eager to join a fellow Craiglockhart “graduate,” the poet Wilfred Owen, in France in time to participate in the great English offensive, the “one last push” intended to redeem all the shining heroism and senseless slaughter that has gone before.

Book:Open Heart

Open Heart: A Novel

A.B. Yehoshua

With the publication of Open Heart, internationally acclaimed Israeli novelist A. B. Yehoshua has written a psychological tour de force that takes as its subject nothing less than love and the nature of man’s soul.

From the opening lines of this first-person narrative, the reader is propelled into the mind of Dr. Benjamin Rubin, an ambitious young internist, who is jockeying for position with the hospital’s top surgeons. But it isn’t until Benjy learns that his internship has been terminated, and that he has been selected to accompany the hospital administrator and his wife to India to retrieve their ailing daughter, that Yehoshua sets his hero on a journey of self-discovery. This journey brings the supremely rational, coolheaded physician to surrender all his deeply held beliefs when his experience in India awakens an erotic passion that dares to destroy his tidy world as he pursues the illicit love of the administrator’s wife.

Book:Santa Evita

Santa Evita

Tomás Eloy Martinéz

From one of Latin America’s finest writers, a mesmerizing, blackly comic novel about the amazing real-life afterlife of the legendary Eva Peron. Suddenly struck down by cancer, she was given no hope to live. As thousands of the poor filled the park around her palace, chanting and praying for their “Saint Evita,” she died. Some days before the end, she begged her husband that she not be forgotten. Grief-crazed (but politically crazy like a fox), he seized upon this idea quite literally. Sending for Europe’s finest embalmer, he had the man waiting at her deathbed, and within minutes of her last breath, this Michelangelo of the mortuary was hard at work making her body physically immortal.

Put on display on a pure glass slab suspended in a single beam of light from the ceiling of a darkened chamber, Evita entered everlasting life as the sacred object of national pilgrimage. Peron did less well: hated, rebelled against, and deposed, he…[more]

Book:Ship Fever and Other Stories

Ship Fever and Other Stories

Andrea Barrett

The elegant short fictions gathered hereabout the love of science and the science of love are often set against the backdrop of the nineteenth century. Interweaving historical and fictional characters, they encompass both past and present as they negotiate the complex territory of ambition, failure, achievement, and shattered dreams. In “Ship Fever,” the title novella, a young Canadian doctor finds himself at the center of one of history’s most tragic epidemics. In “The English Pupil,” Linnaeus, in old age, watches as the world he organized within his head slowly drifts beyond his reach. And in “The Littoral Zone,” two marine biologists wonder whether their life-altering affair finally was worth it. In the tradition of Alice Munro and William Trevor, these exquisitely rendered fictions encompass whole lives in a brief space. As they move between interior and exterior journeys, “science is transformed from hard and known fact into malleable, strange and thrilling fictional material” (Boston Globe).

Book:Tree of Heaven

Tree of Heaven: A Novel

R.C. Binstock

The year is 1938. The Japanese army has occupied Nanking. Kuroda, a junior officer trained as a botanist, has been left in charge of a garrison town. When he comes upon a starving, filthy Chinese woman being assaulted by his soldiers, a common enough occurrence, he does the remarkable: he rescues her and gives her his protection. Li has no choice; she becomes his servant, and a strange intimacy, born of circumstances, ensues.

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