Results of the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award in the year 2005.
Henry Townsend, a black farmer, bootmaker, and former slave, has a fondness for Paradise Lost and an unusual mentor—William Robbins, perhaps the most powerful man in antebellum Virginia’s Manchester County. Under Robbins’s tutelage, Henry becomes proprietor of his own plantation—as well as of his own slaves. When he dies, his widow, Caldonia, succumbs to profound grief, and things begin to fall apart at their plantation: slaves take to escaping under the cover of night, and families who had once found love beneath the weight of slavery begin to betray one another. Beyond the Townsend estate, the known world also unravels: low-paid white patrollers stand watch as slave “speculators” sell free black people into slavery, and rumors of slave rebellions set white families against slaves who have served them for years.
An ambitious, luminously written novel that ranges seamlessly between the past and future and back again to the present, The Known World weaves together the lives of freed and enslaved blacks, whites, and Indians—and allows all of us a deeper understanding of the enduring multidimensional world created by the institution of slavery.
At the age of five, Grania-the daughter of hardworking Irish hoteliers in smalltown Ontario-emerges from a bout of scarlet fever profoundly deaf and is suddenly sealed off from the world that was just beginning to open for her. Her guilt-plagued mother cannot accept her daughter’s deafness. Grania’s saving grace is her grandmother Mamo, who tries to teach Grania to read and speak again. Grania’s older sister, Tress, is a beloved ally as well-obliging when Grania begs her to shout words into her ear canals and forging a rope to keep the sisters connected from their separate beds at night when Grania fears the terrible vulnerability that darkness brings. When it becomes clear that she can no longer thrive in the world of the hearing, her family sends her to live at the Ontario School for the Deaf in Belleville, where, protected from the often-unforgiving hearing world outside, she learns sign language and speech. …[more]
This is the story of two boys, Dylan Ebdus and Mingus Rude. They are friends and neighbors, but because Dylan is white and Mingus is black, their friendship is not simple. This is the story of their Brooklyn neighborhood, which is almost exclusively black despite the first whispers of something that will become known as “gentrification.”
This is the story of 1970s America, a time when the most simple human decisions—what music you listen to, whether to speak to the kid in the seat next to you, whether to give up your lunch money—are laden with potential political, social and racial disaster. This is the story of 1990s America, when no one cared anymore.
This is the story of punk, that easy white rebellion, and crack, that monstrous plague. This is the story of the loneliness of the avant-garde artist and the exuberance of the graffiti artist. …[more]
Gardening at Night follows the unfolding of a young girl’s life through a childhood filled with silences, through adolescence and young womanhood. It is about how much people are the total of their longings, how high drama can also be low comedy. It probes how much of the old century a girl should take with her into the new one, and examines the merging of families in the Eighties and their emerging into the florescence of the Nineties and beyond. It is especially the story of a girl’s escape from a ghost town. The South African mining town of Kimberley was created over a hundred years ago when men with buckets scraped out the insides of the earth like a thousand black dentists. Now it is a place where the only tales are those of leaving.
A taut, intense tale of the dashed hopes of the post-apartheid era and the small betrayals that doom a friendship, The Good Doctor is an extraordinary parable of the corruption of the flesh and spirit. It assures Damon Galgut’s place as a major international talent. When Laurence Waters arrives at his new post at a deserted rural hospital, staff physician Frank Eloff is instantly suspicious. Laurence is everything Frank is not—young, optimistic, and full of big ideas. The whole town is beset with new arrivals and the return of old faces. Frank reestablishes a liaison with a woman, one which will have unexpected consequences. A self-made dictator from apartheid days is rumored to be active in cross-border smuggling and a group of soldiers has moved in to track him, led by a man from Frank’s own dark past. Laurence sees only possibilities—but in a world where the past is demanding restitution from the present, his ill-starred idealism cannot last.
The Great Fire is Shirley Hazzard’s first novel since The Transit of Venus, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1981. The conflagration of her title is the Second World War. In war-torn Asia and stricken Europe, men and women, still young but veterans of harsh experience, must reinvent their lives and expectations, and learn, from their past, to dream again. Some will fulfill their destinies, others will falter. At the center of the story, a brave and brilliant soldier finds that survival and worldly achievement are not enough. His counterpart, a young girl living in occupied Japan and tending her dying brother, falls in love, and in the process discovers herself.
In the looming shadow of world enmities resumed, and of Asia’s coming centrality in world affairs, a man and a woman seek to recover self-reliance, balance, and tenderness, struggling to reclaim their humanity.
The Half Brother is a truly gripping, epic novel, hugely ambitious in scope and utterly compelling, a wonderful mixture of surreal comedy and touching intimacy. In stunning detail and elegant prose it relates the lives of four generations of a far from ordinary family. It opens on May 8, 1945, when 20-year-old Vera, hoping to celebrate with her mother and grandmother the end of World War II, is brutally raped by an unknown assailant. From that crime is born a boy named Fred, a misfit who later becomes a boxer. Barnum, Vera’s other son born several years later, and Fred form a bizarre but special relationship.
Spanning 50 years, filled with a wonderful galaxy of finely etched characters, and structurally brilliant, The Half Brother has been both a literary sensation and a best-seller wherever it has been published.
A one-time literary novelist of some respectability, now brought low by the double insult of obscurity and crippling debt, Robert G. Mehlman is a man in need of money and recognition, fast. But Mehlman’s publisher is only interested in his long overdue novel, since the people don’t want short stories, and his portfolio was liquidated months ago. So, it is to culinary writing that he turns. A practiced decadent, a habitual spendthrift, and a serial womanizer, he has, ostensibly, all the right qualities. But the path to fame is never a smooth one.
Phantom Pain is the bitterly funny but unpublished manuscript of Mehlman’s autobiography. In it, he tells the parallel stories of his decaying marriage and his puzzling affair with a woman he meets by chance and who accompanies him on the road. Their journey takes them on a chaffeur-driven, midnight run away from New York City to Atlantic City where they gamble away…[more]
In the new unified Germany, Bernd Willenbrock is the perfect man for the season. A latecomer to the free-market feast, this former East German engineer has shown an ability to adapt to the changed environment that is downright Darwinian. The proud owner of a thriving used-car dealership and an attractive second home, he is a generous husband, pleased with his role as provider. The business practically runs itself, leaving Willenbrock free to spice up his days with extramarital adventures. Prosperity seems guaranteed by a steady stream of cash-only clients from Eastern Europe, and plans for a glitzy new showroom are firmly under way.
Willenbrock’s self-satisfaction appears impregnable. Yet, little by little, a series of ever-more menacing incidents—an attempted break-in, the theft of several cars, a vicious beating—erode his innermost certainties. No amount of locks and latches, it seems, can contain his growing obsession with external safety, relieve his suspicion of those closest to him, or stop the coming violence.