Tag Archives: Adam Johnson

A baker’s dozen of my favorite novels

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Fair warning: this is NOT a comprehensive list of my all-time most cherished novels. It’s merely a list of the 13 trade novels I’ve enjoyed the most among the many I’ve read and reviewed in this blog in the past three years. So, no bellyaching please, that I’ve left out Philip Roth or Leo Tolstoy or somebody else you think is the all-time greatest novelist! Please note, too, that I’m excluding the mysteries and thrillers I review as a category of their own. Which is not to deny that some of these books are thrilling in their own right. 

What follows are the 13 novels in alphabetical order by the authors’ last names. Each is linked to my review of the book. 

Maya’s Notebook, by Isabel Allende

A 19-year-old Berkeley woman hides out on a Chilean island from the FBI and the Las Vegas criminal gang pursuing her.

The Windup Girl, by Paolo Bacigalupi

By the 23rd century, the oceans have risen by twenty feet, and only a seawall protects the city of Bangkok. Genetic engineering has run amok around the globe, leaving only the Thai Kingdom to resist the “calorie companies” that are the only source of food for most of the world.

People of the Book, by Geraldine Brooks

A Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist portrays the five-century history of conflict surrounding a cherished religious book, from the Spain of the Inquisition to the Balkan Wars of the 1990s.

They Eat Puppies, Don’t They?, by Christopher Buckley

Political satire of the highest order. Like all superior satire, this book isn’t just funny — its droll treatment of politics in Washington and Beijing is spot-on accurate.

The Round House, by Louise Erdrich

A National Book Award-winning novel about a brutal crime and its consequences on a Chippewa reservation in the Upper Midwest.

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, by Ben Fountain

A 19-year-old Iraq war hero on a Pentagon tour of cities around the country encounters the reality of American civilization today — and finds he doesn’t like it much.

Sea of Poppies, by Amitav Ghosh

Set in 1838, an extraordinarily rich tale of class conflict, exploitation, and forbidden love in South Asia against the background of the opium trade.

The Fear Index, by Robert Harris

Set in Geneva, this taut thriller takes the reader into the world of a brilliant American scientist who has developed mathetical formulas that make billions in profits for his hedge fund.

The Orphan Master’s Son, by Adam Johnson

A novel that digs beneath the artificial veneer of life in North Korea to examine  the mindless lives of its people, from the lowliest convict to the Dear Leader, Kim Jong Il, himself.

Stardust, by Joseph Kanon

A tense and beautifully-constructed story set in Hollywood in its heyday as the euphoria of victory in Europe and (later) in the Pacific gives way to the hysteria of the Red Scare, the Hollywood Blacklist, and the notorious House Un-American Activities Committee.

11/22/63, by Stephen King

A high school English teacher in a small Maine town is lured through a portal in time that leads directly back to September 9, 1958. Jake’s mission: to hold out until 1963 and kill Lee Harvey Oswald before Oswald can assassinate JFK.

The Debba, by Avner Mandelman

A naturalized Canadian citizen, formerly a trained killer for the Israeli armed forces in the 1960s, returns to his homeland when he learns of his father’s murder in Tel Aviv. Suddenly he is pulled back into the ethically murky environment he had fled seven years earlier.

Super Sad True Love Story, by Gary Shteyngart

In a future USA with a tyrannical right-wing government in power and privacy a thing of the past, a hapless Russian-American seeks love in vain as New York enters into the final stage of total collapse.

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Two books I loved recognized by the Pulitzer Prize Board

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Adam Johnson’s extraordinary novel of life in North Korea’s gulag, The Orphan Master’s Son, received the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction yesterday. The board had awarded no fiction prize last year, creating an unusual level of anticipation about this year’s. I reviewed this richly deserving novel here. Johnson’s haunting story was also a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and was named one of the best books of the year by The Washington Post, Entertainment Weekly, The Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Financial Times, and Newsweek/The Daily Beast. 

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One of my favorite recent nonfiction books, Katherine Boo’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction. Here’s my review. This amazing little book was also winner of the National Book Award, a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, and was named one of the ten best books of the year by The New York Times, The Washington Post, O: The Oprah Magazine, USA Today, New York, The Miami Herald, San Francisco Chronicle, and Newsday and was named one of the best books of the year by The New Yorker and People. 

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