The critics loved them, they won awards, maybe you missed them, or you just haven’t had time to pick them up. These are the books that everyone is raving about and you know you should be reading.
Your friends at the Reading Group Center have compiled a list of titles that have won everything from the American Book Award to the Libris Award and were finalists for the Man Booker and the Pulitzer prizes. From an extraordinary portrait of a soldier fighting in World War I, to the harrowing account of a group of young Indian immigrants struggling to start anew, to a uniquely structured novel about art’s versatility, these are the books that should move to the top of your TBR pile.
Want to know what critically acclaimed novels you might be missing out on? Look no further.
The Children’s Bach by Helen Garner
Recipient of the inaugural Melbourne Prize for Literature • Winner of Windham-Campbell Literature Prize • Recipient of the Australia Council Award for Lifetime Achievement in Literature
“Honest, unsparing, and brave.” —The New York Times
“One of the greatest family novels ever written.” —Andrew Ridker, author of The Altruists and Hope
In The Children’s Bach, Garner proves her prowess as one of the greatest living wordsmiths with a tight, dramatic, “jewel” (Ben Lerner) of a novel about Dexter and Athena Fox, a seemingly happy marriage that finds the tenuous bonds that tie them together fraying when they are introduced to the bohemian underground of 1980s Melbourne—a seductive subculture unbound by routine and driven by desire.
Longlisted for the International Man Booker Prize • A New York Times Top Ten Best Book of the Year • An Economist Best Book of the Year • Longlisted for the Best Translated Book Award
“Potent. . . . Harrowing. . . . An uncanny work of historical reconstruction.” —The New York Times
The story of Urbain Martien lies contained in two notebooks he left behind when he died. In War and Turpentine, his grandson, a writer, retells his grandfather’s story, the notebooks providing a key to the locked chambers of Urbain’s memory.
But who is he, really? There is Urbain the child of a lowly church painter; Urbain the young man who narrowly escapes death in an iron foundry; Urbain the soldier; and Urbain the man, married to his true love’s sister, haunted by the war and his interrupted dreams of life as an artist. Wrestling with this tale, the grandson straddles past and present, searching for a way to understand his own part in both. As artfully rendered as a Renaissance fresco, War and Turpentine paints an extraordinary portrait of a man, revealing how a single life can echo through the ages.
“Propulsive, moving, and haunted by questions about the costs of standing up for one’s beliefs.” —Viet Thanh Nguyen, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of The Sympathizer
Taipei, February 28, 1947: As an uprising rocks Taiwan, a young doctor is taken from his newborn daughter by Chinese Nationalists, on charges of speaking out against the government. Although he eventually returns to his family, his arrival is marked by alienation from his loved ones and paranoia among his community. Years later, this troubled past follows his youngest daughter to America, where, as a wife and a mother, she too is forced to decide between what is right and what might save her family—the same choice she witnessed her father make many years before. A stunningly lyrical story of a family and a nation grappling with the nuances of complicity and survival, Green Island raises the question: How far would you go for the ones you love?
Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize
“Deeply affecting. . . . No recent novel does a more powerful job of capturing the day-to-day lives of . . . immigrants.” —The New York Times
In the north of England, a group of young Indian immigrants struggle to begin something new—to support their families; to build their futures; to show their worth; to escape their pasts. An epic for our times, The Year of the Runaways is a stunning work of fiction that explores what it means and what it costs to make a new life, the capaciousness of the human spirit, and the power of humanity in the face of unspeakable suffering.
Man Booker Prize Finalist • Winner of the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction • Winner of the Goldsmith’s Prize • Winner of the Costa Novel Award • Winner of the Saltire Literary Book of the Year Award
“Playfully brilliant. . . . Delightful. . . . Incredibly touching.” —The Washington Post
Passionate, compassionate, vitally inventive, and scrupulously playful, Ali Smith’s novels are like nothing else. Borrowing from painting’s fresco technique to make an original literary double-take, How to be both is a novel all about art’s versatility. It’s a fast-moving, genre-bending conversation between forms and times, truths and fictions. There’s a Renaissance artist of the 1460s. There’s the child of a child of the 1960s. Two tales of love and injustice twist into a singular yarn where time gets timeless, structural gets playful, knowing gets mysterious, fictional gets real—and all life’s givens get given a second chance.
Pulitzer Prize Finalist • Longlisted for the Man Booker Prize • Winner of the American Book Award • A New York Times Notable Book • A Wall Street Journal Top Ten Book of the Year • An NPR Great Read • A Kirkus Reviews Best Fiction Book of the Year
“An exciting tale of wild hopes, divided loyalties, and highly precarious fortunes.” —The New Yorker
In these pages, Laila Lalami brings us the imagined memoirs of the first black explorer of America: Mustafa al-Zamori, called Estebanico. The slave of a Spanish conquistador, Estebanico sails for the Americas with his master, Dorantes, as part of a danger-laden expedition to Florida. Within a year, Estebanico is one of only four crew members to survive.
As he journeys across America with his Spanish companions, the Old World roles of slave and master fall away, and Estebanico remakes himself as an equal, a healer, and a remarkable storyteller. His tale illuminates the ways in which our narratives can transmigrate into history—and how storytelling can offer a chance at redemption and survival.
A New York Times Notable Book • An NPR Best Book of the Year
“Showcases Mr. Englander’s extraordinary gifts as a writer.” —Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
These eight powerful stories, dazzling in their display of language and imagination, show a celebrated short-story writer and novelist grappling with the great questions of modern life.
From the title story, a provocative portrait of two marriages inspired by Raymond Carver’s masterpiece, to “Peep Show” and “How We Avenged the Blums,” two stories that return to the author’s classic themes of sexual longing and ingenuity in the face of adversity, these stories affirm Nathan Englander’s place at the very forefront of contemporary American fiction.
Winner of the Libris Award — Fiction Book of the Year
“Magnificent. . . . An extraordinary work of art, savage and beautiful.” —The Washington Post
In the wilds of seventeenth-century North America, the lives of a Jesuit missionary, a young Iroquois girl, and a great warrior and elder statesman of the Huron Nation become entwined.
The Huron have battled the Iroquois for generations, but now both tribes face a new, more dangerous threat from another land. Uneasy alliances are made and unmade, cultures and beliefs clash in the face of precipitous change, and not everyone will survive the march of history. Joseph Boyden’s magisterial novel tells this story of blood and hope, suspicion and trust, hatred and love: a saga nearly four hundred years old—and now a timeless work of literature.
Winner of the Man Booker Prize • A New York Times Notable Book • One of the Best Books of the Year: NPR • The Washington Post • Minneapolis Star Tribune • The Economist • The Seattle Times • Financial Times
“Elegantly wrought, measured, and without an ounce of melodrama, Flanagan’s novel is nothing short of a masterpiece.” —Financial Times
In The Narrow Road to the Deep North, Richard Flanagan displays the gifts that have made him one of the most acclaimed writers of contemporary fiction. Moving deftly from a Japanese POW camp to present-day Australia, from the experiences of Dorrigo Evans and his fellow prisoners to that of the Japanese guards, this savagely beautiful novel tells a story of the many forms of love and death, of war and truth, as one man comes of age, prospers, only to discover all that he has lost.