The close of the reading year — particularly for prize-watchers of the bibliophilic bent — brings with it a much-anticipated slew of high-publicity and high-value awards. The literary world’s best and brightest are chosen, fresh “award-winning” stickers are pressed onto covers and we find our reading — and shopping — lists lengthening with every announced citation. We round up some of 2019’s celebrated works and authors.
The Testaments — which shared the 2019 Booker Prize for fiction with Girl, Woman, Other — is set 15 years after the events of author Margaret Atwood’s modern classic The Handmaid’s Tale. Here, the Republic of Gilead’s theocratic regime retains its oppressive rule, although hope comes in the form of cracks in the infrastructure.
We follow three women throughout the novel — two who have grown up in this way of life and an older character who, though enmeshed in the system, has held on to her memories of a time before. The anticipation for this sequel held sway over the literary world this year, buoyed by the popularity of the television series — which itself has won numerous awards.
Girl, Woman, Other
Girl, Woman, Other, meanwhile, is the eighth novel by British writer Bernardine Evaristo, and has been praised as an ode to modern Britain and for its valiant and contemporary representation of black women. In keen detail, it chronicles the lives of 12 characters — mostly black British women — scattered across the UK. The polyphonic story has amassed a following of devoted readers for the richness of its characters, the lyricism of its prose and its ability to provide personal insights despite its largely sprawling and panoramic structure.
The Swedish Academy has made up for its pause last year in giving out the Nobel Prize for Literature by recently awarding the honor to Polish author and activist Olga Tokarczuk for her body of work, citing her “narrative imagination that with encyclopedic passion represents the crossing of boundaries as a form of life”.
Tokarczuk won the Man Booker International Prize in 2018, for Flights (translated by Jennifer Croft), a 2007 novel of vignettes narrated by a nameless female traveler, which managed to be both intimate and sprawling, as well as both factual and mythical. It has been praised for its dreamlike and philosophical examination of what it means to travel, how journeys distort time and space and, perhaps, what it means to simply move from one place to another for the sake of movement. Perfect for long plane rides, no?
Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion
The nine essays in Jia Tolentino’s debut collection Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion have secured a readership that hails the author as a whip-smart, key voice of the millennial generation.
Tolentino, an American writer and editor who was born in Canada to Filipino parents, has been a staff writer for the New Yorker since 2016. Each essay in her book is a striking interrogation of the modern human condition — it tackles everything from the fluidity of truth in the internet age to the affinity for the athleisure aesthetic — delivered deftly and with biting wit.
More and more books about the Filipino immigrant experience made their way into the mainstream — and onto Western bookshelves — in 2019. Our top pick has got to be The Farm by Joanne Ramos, which examines issues of race, religion, gender and class in the microcosm that is an upscale retreat for surrogate mothers. Our heroine, Jane, is an overseas Filipino worker who decides she’ll take a chance on being a virtual prisoner, albeit one coddled in luxury, in exchange for a better life for her loved ones.
Ramos was born in the Philippines and moved to Wisconsin when she was six. She graduated with a BA from Princeton University. After working in investment banking and private-equity investing for several years, she became a staff writer at the Economist. She lives in New York City with her husband and three children.