Literary NewsFall 2019–Winter 2020

NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FINALISTS
Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James
Set in Africa in the Dark Ages and told in flashback from a dungeon, the fantasy features Tracker, a mercenary hunter with a keen sense of smell. He's been taken captive, after hunting with others for a lost child (possibly a prince). The search serves as a fulcrum for a host of fantastic adventures and characters (from the shape-shifting, man-animal Leopard, to the blood-sucking, batlike Sasabonsam). Full of violence and nonlinear twists and turns, the maze of a novel (first in a trilogy) explores the nature of belief, destiny, and truth.

The Other Americans by Laila Lalami
The thriller centers on a hit-and-run in California's Mojave Desert. Nora Guerraoui, a jazz composer narrates first. Her father, Driss, was the one hit—and killed. Leaving Morocco, he and his wife immigrated to America, where, after the 9-11 bombings, they suffered arson and racial abuse, then rebounded. Now Nora wonders about the truth behind her father's death. And, in the following chapters, we hear from a related yet diverse array of narrators: an undocumented worker who witnessed the hit-and-run but is afraid to talk; an Iraqi War vet (Nora's friend); a black, female police detective; a white bowling-alley owner with a bigoted son; and Nora's mother, Maryam.

Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips
A chilling crime unfolds on an ethnically diverse but isolated peninsula in northeastern Russia. Alyona and Sophia, 11- and 8-year-old sisters, disappear after taking a ride from a stranger. What follows are a series of stories about their mother and other women on the peninsula whose lives are changed by the abduction.

 


Death of a Black Salesman (continued)
A play with a startling ending, Salesman tackles a few major issues: mental health, masculinity, the American dream, and, unique to this rendition, racism. Hardly a failure, by 1949 racial realities, this black Willy Loman is a success. A homeowner whose mortgage is nearly paid off, he's put two sons through high school and held on to the same job for 34 years. But Willy fixates on the failures. And losing his job cinches it. He rallies briefly at a slim chance for his sons' success—which proves fruitless. Continuing to spiral downward, Willy unravels, losing himself in his mind, a decline shown nonverbally (e.g., by his exhausted walk and talk one moment, his chest-straightening presence and energetic tone in a few, hopeful others). Again and again, his thoughts flit to the past, memories of it impinging on the present. The show signals the shift: Characters of yesteryear appear in freeze frame to alert us. How, without adding a word, is racism evoked? by the way Willy calls one of his sons "boy," by a memory of their black bodies' swinging from tree branches that connotes lynching, by his white boss's recoiling from the black salesman's touch. Also unique to this staging are its set and musical score: Windows and doorways of the Loman house float down on wires. Blues, jazz, and spirituals join Sinatra, thanks, in part, to a performer who can belt out a tune. See—and hear—for yourself.