Annal: 1997 National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction

Results of the National Book Critics Circle Award in the year 1997.

Book:The Blue Flower

The Blue Flower

Penelope Fitzgerald

Set in the age of Goethe, in the small towns and great universities of late-eighteenth-century Germany, The Blue Flower tells the true story of a passionate, impetuous student of philosophy who will later gain fame as the Romantic poet Novalis, and of his curious obsession for his one “true philosophy”—the plain and simple twelve-year-old Sophie. The irrationality of love and the clarity of purpose that come with knowing one’s own fate—these are the themes that Penelope Fitzgerald explores here with her trademark mix of wit, grace, and mischievous humor.

Book:American Pastoral

American Pastoral

Philip Roth

As the American century draws to an uneasy close, Philip Roth gives us a novel of unqualified greatness that is an elegy for all our century’s promises of prosperity, civic order, and domestic bliss. Roth’s protagonist is Swede Levov, a legendary athlete at his Newark high school, who grows up in the booming postwar years to marry a former Miss New Jersey, inherit his father’s glove factory, and move into a stone house in the idyllic hamlet of Old Rimrock. And then one day in 1968, Swede’s beautiful American luck deserts him.

For Swede’s adored daughter, Merry, has grown from a loving, quick-witted girl into a sullen, fanatical teenager—a teenager capable of an outlandishly savage act of political terrorism. And overnight Swede is wrenched out of the longer-for American pastoral and into the indigenous American berserk. Compulsively readable, propelled by sorrow, rage, and a deep compassion for its characters, this is Roth’s masterpiece.

Book:Cold Mountain: A Novel

Cold Mountain: A Novel

Charles Frazier

One of the most acclaimed novels in recent memory, Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain is a masterpiece that is at once an enthralling adventure, a stirring love story, and a luminous evocation of a vanished American in all its savagery, solitude, and splendor.

Sorely wounded and fatally disillusioned in the fighting at Petersburg, Inman, a Confederate soldier, decides to walk back to his home in the Blue Ridge Mountains and to Ada, the woman he loved there years before. His trek across the disintegrating South brings him into intimate and sometimes lethal converse with slaves and marauders, bounty hunters and witches, both helpful and malign. At the same time, Ada is trying to revive her father’s derelict farm and learn to survive in a world where the old certainties have been swept away. As it interweaves their stories, Cold Mountain asserts itself as an authentic American Odyssey—hugely powerful, majestically lovely, and keenly moving.

Book:Dreams of My Russian Summers

Dreams of My Russian Summers

Andreï Makine

Dreams of My Russian Summers tells the poignant story of a boy growing up amid the harsh realities of Soviet life in the 1960s and ‘70s, and of his extraordinary love for an elegant Frenchwoman, Charlotte Lemonnier, who is his grandmother. Every summer he visits his grandmother in a dusty village overlooking the vast steppes. Here, during the warm evenings, they sit on Charlotte’s narrow, flower-covered bacony and listen to tales from another time, another place: Paris at the turn of the century. She who used to see Proust playing tennis in Neuilly captivates the children with stories of Tsar Nicholas’s visit to Paris in 1896, of the great Paris flood of 1910, of the death of French president Felix Faure in the arms of his mistress.

But from Charlotte the boy also learns of a Russia he has never known, of famine and misery, of brutal injustice, of the hopeless chaos of war. He follows her as she travels by foot from Moscow half the way to Siberia; suffers with her as she tells…[more]

Book:Underworld: A Novel

Underworld: A Novel

Don DeLillo

Our lives, our half century.

Nick Shay and Klara Sax knew each other once, intimately, and they meet again in the American desert. He is trying to outdistance the crucial events of his early life, haunted by the hard logic of loss and by the echo of a gunshot in a basement room. She is an artist who has made a blood struggle for independence.

Don DeLillo’s mesmerizing novel opens with a legendary baseball game played in New York in 1951. The glorious outcome—the home run that wins the game is called the Shot Heard Round the World—shades into the grim news that the Soviet Union has just tested an atomic bomb.

The baseball itself, fought over and scuffed, generates the narrative that follows. It takes the reader deeply into the…[more]

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