Annal: 1999 Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Fiction

Results of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in the year 1999.

Book:Freedom Song

Freedom Song: Three Novels

Amit Chaudhuri

What most immediately galvanizes the reader of Freedom Song is the elegance and idiosyncrasy of Amit Chaudhuri’s writing. In the words of Salman Rushdie: “[His] languorous, elliptical, beautiful prose is impressively impossible to place in any category at all.” And it is this quality of ineffability that gives Chaudhuri’s words the power they have to reveal—slowly, quietly, with a richness of sensual detail and subtle humor—the significance of the ordinary moments of life.

A boy spends a summer and a winter with his parents in a Bombay high-rise, and spends other summers in Calcutta immersed in the more traditional life of his uncle’s extended family…A young man at Oxford, whose memories of home in Bombay bring both comfort and melancholy, faces a choice between “clinging to my Indianness, or letting it go, between being nostalgic or looking toward the future”… The members of a Calcutta family are occupied with the task of finding the right woman for the twenty-eight-year-old…[more]

Book:Close Range: Wyoming Stories

Close Range: Wyoming Stories

Annie Proulx

Annie Proulx’s masterful language and fierce love of Wyoming are evident in this collection of stories about loneliness, quick violence, and wrong kinds of love. In “The Mud Below,” a rodeo rider’s obsession marks the deepening fissures between his family life and self-imposed isolation. In “The Half-Skinned Steer,” an elderly fool drives west to the ranch he grew up on for his brother’s funeral, and dies a mile from home. In “Brokeback Mountain,” the difficult affair between two cowboys survives everything but the world’s violent intolerance.

These are stories of desperation, hard times, and unlikely elation, set in a landscape both brutal and magnificent. Enlivened by folk tales, flights of fancy, and details of ranch and rural work, they juxtapose Wyoming’s traditional character and attitudes—confrontation of tough problems, prejudice, persistence in the face of difficulty—with the more benign values of the new west.

Book:House of Sand and Fog

House of Sand and Fog

Andre Dubus III

Tense with suspense from the first line, this is one of the great American realist novels. In this page-turning, breathtaking novel, the characters will walk off the page and into your life. And a small house will seem like the most important piece of territory in the world. On a road crew in California, a former colonel in the Iranian Air Force under the Shah yearns to restore his family’s dignity. When an attractive bungalow comes available on county auction for a fraction of its value, he sees a great opportunity for himself, his wife, and his children. But the house’s former owner, a recovering alcoholic and addict down on her luck, doesn’t see it that way, nor does her lover, a married cop driven to extremes to win her love and get her house back. House of Sand and Fog is a narrative triumph in which a traditional immigrant success story and a modern love story are turned upside down with brutal, heartrending consequences. It is an American tragedy, and a shockingly true picture of the country we live in today.

Book:Plainsong

Plainsong

Kent Haruf

A heartstrong story of family and romance, tribulation and tenacity, set on the High Plains east of Denver.

In the small town of Holt, Colorado, a high school teacher is confronted with raising his two boys alone after their mother retreats first to the bedroom, then altogether. A teenage girl—her father long since disappeared, her mother unwilling to have her in the house—is pregnant, alone herself, with nowhere to go. And out in the country, two brothers, elderly bachelors, work the family homestead, the only world they’ve ever known.

From these unsettled lives emerges a vision of life, and of the town and landscape that bind them together—their fates somehow overcoming the powerful circumstances of place and station, their confusion, curiosity, dignity and humor intact and resonant. As the milieu widens to embrace fully four generations, Kent Haruf displays an emotional and aesthetic authority to rival the past masters of a classic American tradition.

Utterly true to the rhythms and patterns of life, Plainsong is a novel to care about, believe in, and learn from.

Book:Waiting

Waiting

Ha Jin

This is the story of Lin Kong, a man living in two worlds, struggling with the conflicting claims of two utterly different women as he moves through the political minefields of a society designed to regulate his every move and stifle the promptings of his innermost heart.

For more than seventeen years, this devoted and ambitious doctor has been in love with an educated, clever, modern woman, Manna Wu. But back in the traditional world of his home village lives the wife his family chose for him when he was young—a humble and touchingly loyal woman, whom he visits in order to ask, again and again, for a divorce. In a culture in which the ancient ties of tradition and family still hold sway and where adultery discovered by the Party can ruin lives forever, Lin’s passionate love is stretched ever more taut by the passing years. Every summer, his compliant wife agrees to a divorce but then backs out.…[more]

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