The Center for Fiction is pleased to announce the longlist for the 2021 Center for Fiction First Novel Prize. The twenty-seven titles were selected by 116 volunteer readers from 143 submissions with U.S. publication dates between January 1, 2021, and December 31, 2021.
The First Novel Prize, first awarded in 2006, was created to honor the best debut fiction of the year. The winner receives a $15,000 prize, with each of the other shortlisted authors receiving $1,000. The 2021 shortlist was announced on September 28, 2021, and the winner will be announced in December at our Annual Awards Benefit.
We congratulate the longlisted authors, listed alphabetically by last name below.
By Nawaaz Ahmed
Published by Counterpoint Press
Working as a consultant for Kamala Harris’s attorney general campaign in Obama-era San Francisco, Seema has constructed a successful life for herself in the West, despite still struggling with her father’s long-ago decision to exile her from the family after she came out as lesbian. Now, nine months pregnant and estranged from the Black father of her unborn son, Seema seeks solace in the company of those she once thought lost to her: her ailing mother, Nafeesa, traveling alone to California from Chennai, and her devoutly religious sister, Tahera, a doctor living in Texas with her husband and children.
But instead of a joyful reconciliation anticipating the birth of a child, the events of this fateful week unearth years of betrayal, misunderstanding, and complicated layers of love—a tapestry of emotions as riveting and disparate as the era itself.
Told from the point of view of Seema’s child at the moment of his birth, and infused with the poetry of Wordsworth and Keats and verses from the Quran, Radiant Fugitives is a moving tale of a family and a country grappling with acceptance, forgiveness, and enduring love.
By Mateo Askaripour
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt / Mariner Books
An unambitious twenty-two-year-old, Darren lives in a Bed-Stuy brownstone with his mother, who wants nothing more than to see him live up to his potential as the valedictorian of Bronx Science. But Darren is content working at Starbucks in the lobby of a Midtown office building, hanging out with his girlfriend, Soraya, and eating his mother’s home-cooked meals. All that changes when a chance encounter with Rhett Daniels, the silver-tongued CEO of Sumwun, NYC’s hottest tech startup, results in an exclusive invitation for Darren to join an elite sales team on the thirty-sixth floor.
After enduring a “hell week” of training, Darren, the only Black person in the company, reimagines himself as “Buck,” a ruthless salesman unrecognizable to his friends and family. But when things turn tragic at home and Buck feels he’s hit rock bottom, he begins to hatch a plan to help young people of color infiltrate America’s sales force, setting off a chain of events that forever changes the game.
Black Buck is a hilarious, razor-sharp skewering of America’s workforce; it is a propulsive, crackling debut that explores ambition and race, and makes way for a necessary new vision of the American dream..
When I Ran Away
By Ilona Bannister
Published by Penguin Random House / Doubleday
As the Twin Towers collapse, Gigi Stanislawski flees her office building and escapes lower Manhattan on the Staten Island Ferry. Among the crying, ash-covered, and shoeless passengers, Gigi, unbelievably, finds someone she recognizes—Harry Harrison, a British man and a regular at her favorite coffee shop. Gigi brings Harry to her parents’ house, where they watch the television replay the planes crashing for hours, and she waits for the phone call that will never come: the call from Frankie, her younger brother.
Ten years later, Gigi, now a single mother consumed with bills and unfulfilled ambitions, meets Harry, again by chance, and they fall deeply, headlong in love. But their move to London and their new baby—which Gigi hoped would finally release her from the past—leave her feeling isolated, raw, and alone with her grief. As Gigi comes face-to-face with the anguish of her brother’s death and her rage at the unspoken pain of motherhood, she must somehow find the light amid all the darkness. Startlingly honest and shot through with unexpected humor, When I Ran Away is an unforgettable first novel about love—for our partners, our children, our mothers, and ourselves–pushed to its outer limits.
The City of Good Death
By Priyanka Champaneri
Published by Restless Books
Banaras, Varanasi, Kashi: India’s holy city on the banks of the Ganges has many names but holds one ultimate promise for Hindus. It is the place where pilgrims come for a good death, to be released from the cycle of reincarnation by purifying fire. As the dutiful manager of a death hostel in Kashi, Pramesh welcomes the dying and assists families bound for the funeral pyres that burn constantly on the ghats. The soul is gone, the body is burnt, the time is past, he tells them. Detach.
After ten years in the timeless city, Pramesh can nearly persuade himself that here, there is no past or future. He lives contentedly at the death hostel with his wife, Shobha, their young daughter, Rani, the hostel priests, his hapless but winning assistant, and the constant flow of families with their dying. But one day the past arrives in the lifeless form of a man pulled from the river—a man with an uncanny resemblance to Pramesh.
Called “twins” in their childhood village, he and his cousin Sagar are inseparable until Pramesh leaves to see the outside world and Sagar stays to tend the land. After Pramesh marries Shobha, defying his family’s wishes, a rift opens up between the cousins that he has long since tried to forget. Do not look back. Detach. But for Shobha, Sagar’s reemergence casts a shadow over the life she’s built for her family. Soon, an unwelcome guest takes up residence in the death hostel, the dying mysteriously continue to live, and Pramesh is forced to confront his own ideas about death, rebirth, and redemption.
Told in lush, vivid detail and with an unforgettable cast of characters, The City of Good Death is a remarkable debut novel of family and love, memory and ritual, and the ways in which we honor the living and the dead..
Swimming Back to Trout River
By Linda Rui Feng
Published by Simon & Schuster
In the summer of 1986, in a small Chinese village, ten-year-old Junie receives a momentous letter from her parents, who had left for America years ago: her father promises to return home and collect her by her twelfth birthday. But Junie’s growing determination to stay put in the idyllic countryside with her beloved grandparents threatens to derail her family’s shared future.
What Junie doesn’t know is that her parents, Momo and Cassia, are newly estranged from one another in their adopted country, each holding close private tragedies and histories from the tumultuous years of their youth during China’s Cultural Revolution. While Momo grapples anew with his deferred musical ambitions and dreams for Junie’s future in America, Cassia finally begins to wrestle with a shocking act of brutality from years ago. In order for Momo to fulfill his promise, he must make one last desperate attempt to reunite all three members of the family before Junie’s birthday—even if it means bringing painful family secrets to light.
Swimming Back to Trout River weaves together the stories of Junie, Momo, Cassia, and Dawn—a talented violinist from Momo’s past—while depicting their heartbreak and resilience, tenderly revealing the hope, compromises, and abiding ingenuity that make up the lives of immigrants.
Brother, Sister, Mother, Explorer
By Jamie Figueroa
Published by Catapult
In the tourist town of Ciudad de Tres Hermanas, in the aftermath of their mother’s passing, two siblings spend a final weekend together in their childhood home. Seeing her brother, Rafa, careening toward a place of no return, Rufina devises a bet: if they can make enough money performing for privileged tourists in the plaza over the course of the weekend to afford a plane ticket out, Rafa must commit to living. If not, Rufina will make her peace with Rafa’s own plan for the future, however terrifying it may be.
As the siblings reckon with generational and ancestral trauma, set against the indignities of present-day prejudice, other strange hauntings begin to stalk these pages: their mother’s ghost kicks her heels against the walls; Rufina’s vanished child creeps into her arms at night; and above all this, watching over the siblings, a genderless, flea-bitten angel remains hell-bent on saving what can be saved..
The Baddest Girl on the Planet
By Heather Frese
Published by Blair
Evie Austin, native of Hatteras Island, North Carolina and baddest girl on the planet, has not lived her life in a straight line. There have been several detours—career snafus, bad romantic choices, a loved but unplanned child—not to mention her ill-advised lifelong obsession with boxer Mike Tyson. Evie is not plucky, but when life’s changes smash over her like the rough surf of the local shoreline, she muddles through—until that moment of loss and longing when muddling will no longer suffice. This is the story of what the baddest girl on the planet must find in herself when a bag of pastries, a new lover, or quick trip to Vegas won’t fix anything, and when something more than casual haplessness is required. The Baddest Girl on the Planet is inventive, sharp, witty, and poignant. Readers will want to jump in and advise this baddest girl on the planet—or at least just give her a shake or a hug—at every fascinating turn.
Edie Richter is Not Alone
By Rebecca Handler
Published by Unnamed Press
Funny, acerbic Edie Richter is moving with her husband from San Francisco to Perth, Australia. She leaves behind a sister and mother still mourning the recent death of her father. Before the move, Edie and her husband were content, if socially awkward—given her disinclination for small talk.
In Perth, Edie finds herself in a remarkably isolated yet verdant corner of the world, but Edie has a secret: she committed an unthinkable act that she can barely admit to herself. In some ways, the landscape mirrors her own complicated inner life, and rather than escaping her past, Edie is increasingly forced to confront what she’s done. Everybody, from the wildlife to her new neighbors, is keen to engage, and Edie does her best to start fresh. But her relationship with her husband is fraying, and the beautiful memories of her father are heartbreaking, and impossible to stop. Something, in the end, has to give.
Written in clean spare prose that is nevertheless brimming with the richness and wry humor of the protagonist’s observations and idiosyncrasies, Edie Richter is Not Alone is Rebecca Handler’s debut novel. It is both deeply shocking and entirely quotidian: a story about a woman’s visceral confrontation with the fundamental meaning of humanity..
The Sweetness of Water
By Nathan Harris
Published by Hachette Book Group / Little, Brown and Company
In the waning days of the Civil War, brothers Prentiss and Landry—freed by the Emancipation Proclamation—seek refuge on the homestead of George Walker and his wife, Isabelle. The Walkers, wracked by the loss of their only son to the war, hire the brothers to work their farm, hoping through an unexpected friendship to stanch their grief. Prentiss and Landry, meanwhile, plan to save money for the journey north and a chance to reunite with their mother, who was sold away when they were boys.
Parallel to their story runs a forbidden romance between two Confederate soldiers. The young men, recently returned from the war to the town of Old Ox, hold their trysts in the woods. But when their secret is discovered, the resulting chaos, including a murder, unleashes convulsive repercussions on the entire community. In the aftermath of so much turmoil, it is Isabelle who emerges as an unlikely leader, proffering a healing vision for the land and for the newly free citizens of Old Ox.
With candor and sympathy, debut novelist Nathan Harris creates an unforgettable cast of characters, depicting Georgia in the violent crucible of Reconstruction. Equal parts beauty and terror, as gripping as it is moving, The Sweetness of Water is an epic whose grandeur locates humanity and love amid the most harrowing circumstances.
By Erik Hoel
Published by Abrams Books / The Overlook Press
Monday, Kierk wakes up. Once a rising star in neuroscience, Kierk Suren is now homeless, broken by his all-consuming quest to find a scientific theory of consciousness. But when he’s offered a spot in a prestigious postdoctoral program, he decides to rejoin society and vows not to self-destruct again. Instead of focusing on his work, however, Kierk becomes obsessed with another project—investigating the sudden and suspicious death of a colleague. As his search for truth brings him closer to Carmen Green, another postdoc, their list of suspects grows, along with the sense that something sinister may be happening all around them.
The Revelations, not unlike its main character, is ambitious and abrasive, challenging and disarming. Bursting with ideas, ranging from Greek mythology to the dark realities of animal testing, to some of the biggest unanswered questions facing scientists today, The Revelations is written in muscular, hypnotic prose, and its cyclically dreamlike structure pushes the boundaries of literary fiction. Erik Hoel has crafted a stunning debut of rare power—an intense look at cutting-edge science, consciousness, and human connection..
The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois
By Honorée Fanonne Jeffers
Published by HarperCollins / Harper
The great scholar, W.E.B. Du Bois, once wrote about the Problem of race in America, and what he called “Double Consciousness,” a sensitivity that every African American possesses in order to survive. Since childhood, Ailey Pearl Garfield has understood Du Bois’s words all too well. Bearing the names of two formidable Black Americans—the revered choreographer Alvin Ailey and her great grandmother Pearl, the descendant of enslaved Georgians and tenant farmers—Ailey carries Du Bois’s Problem on her shoulders.
Ailey is reared in the north in the City but spends summers in the small Georgia town of Chicasetta, where her mother’s family has lived since their ancestors arrived from Africa in bondage. From an early age, Ailey fights a battle for belonging that’s made all the more difficult by a hovering trauma, as well as the whispers of women—her mother, Belle, her sister, Lydia, and a maternal line reaching back two centuries—that urge Ailey to succeed in their stead.
To come to terms with her own identity, Ailey embarks on a journey through her family’s past, uncovering the shocking tales of generations of ancestors—Indigenous, Black, and white—in the deep South. In doing so Ailey must learn to embrace her full heritage, a legacy of oppression and resistance, bondage and independence, cruelty and resilience that is the story—and the song—of America itself.
A Little Hope
By Ethan Joella
Published by Simon & Schuster / Scribner
In the small city of Wharton, Connecticut, lives are beginning to unravel. A husband betrays his wife. A son struggles with addiction. A widow misses her late spouse. At the heart of these interlinking stories is one couple: Freddie and Greg Tyler.
Greg has just been diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a brutal form of cancer. He intends to handle this the way he has faced everything else: through grit and determination. But can Greg successfully overcome his illness? How will Freddie and their daughter cope if he doesn’t? How do the other residents of Wharton learn to live with loss, and find happiness again?
An emotionally powerful debut that immerses the reader into a community of friends, family, and neighbors, A Little Hope celebrates the importance of small moments of connection and the ways that love and forgiveness can help us survive even the most difficult of life’s challenges..
By Robert Jones, Jr.
Published by Penguin Random House / G.P. Putnam's Sons
Isaiah was Samuel’s and Samuel was Isaiah’s. That was the way it was since the beginning, and the way it was to be until the end. In the barn they tended to the animals, but also to each other, transforming the hollowed-out shed into a place of human refuge, a source of intimacy and hope in a world ruled by vicious masters. But when an older man—a fellow slave—seeks to gain favor by preaching the master’s gospel on the plantation, the enslaved begin to turn on their own. Isaiah and Samuel’s love, which was once so simple, is seen as sinful and a clear danger to the plantation’s harmony.
With a lyricism reminiscent of Toni Morrison, Robert Jones, Jr., fiercely summons the voices of slaver and enslaved alike, from Isaiah and Samuel to the calculating slave master to the long line of women that surround them, women who have carried the soul of the plantation on their shoulders. As tensions build and the weight of centuries—of ancestors and future generations to come—culminates in a climactic reckoning, The Prophets masterfully reveals the pain and suffering of inheritance, but is also shot through with hope, beauty, and truth, portraying the enormous, heroic power of love.
Build Your House Around My Body
By Violet Kupersmith
Published by Penguin Random House / Random House
1986: The teenage daughter of a wealthy Vietnamese family loses her way in an abandoned rubber plantation while fleeing her angry father and is forever changed.
2011: A young, unhappy Vietnamese American woman disappears from her new home in Saigon without a trace.
The fates of these two women are inescapably linked, bound together by past generations, by ghosts and ancestors, by the history of possessed bodies and possessed lands. Alongside them, we meet a young boy who is sent to a boarding school for the métis children of French expatriates, just before Vietnam declares its independence from colonial rule; two Frenchmen who are trying to start a business with the Vietnam War on the horizon; and the employees of the Saigon Spirit Eradication Co., who find themselves investigating strange occurrences in a farmhouse on the edge of a forest. Each new character and timeline brings us one step closer to understanding what binds them all.
Build Your House Around My Body takes us from colonial mansions to ramshackle zoos, from sweaty nightclubs to the jostling seats of motorbikes, from ex-pat flats to sizzling back-alley street carts. Spanning more than fifty years of Vietnamese history and barreling toward an unforgettable conclusion, this is a time-traveling, heart-pounding, border-crossing fever dream of a novel that will haunt you long after the last page..
No One Is Talking About This
By Patricia Lockwood
Published by Penguin Random House / Riverhead Books
As this urgent, genre-defying book opens, a woman who has recently been elevated to prominence for her social media posts travels around the world to meet her adoring fans. She is overwhelmed by navigating the new language and etiquette of what she terms “the portal,” where she grapples with an unshakable conviction that a vast chorus of voices is now dictating her thoughts. When existential threats—from climate change and economic precariousness to the rise of an unnamed dictator and an epidemic of loneliness—begin to loom, she posts her way deeper into the portal’s void. An avalanche of images, details, and references accumulate to form a landscape that is post-sense, post-irony, post-everything. “Are we in hell?” the people of the portal ask themselves. “Are we all just going to keep doing this until we die?”
Suddenly, two texts from her mother pierce the fray: “Something has gone wrong,” and “How soon can you get here?” As real life and its stakes collide with the increasingly absurd antics of the portal, the woman confronts a world that seems to contain both an abundance of proof that there is goodness, empathy, and justice in the universe, and a deluge of evidence to the contrary.
Fragmentary and omniscient, incisive and sincere, No One Is Talking About This is at once a love letter to the endless scroll and a profound, modern meditation on love, language, and human connection from a singular voice in American literature.
By Daniel Loedel
Published by Penguin Random House / Riverhead Books
In 1976, Tomás Orilla is a medical student in Buenos Aires, where he has moved in hopes of reuniting with Isabel, a childhood crush. But the reckless passion that has long drawn him is leading Isabel ever deeper into the ranks of the insurgency fighting an increasingly oppressive regime. Tomás has always been willing to follow her anywhere, to do anything to prove himself. Yet what exactly is he proving, and at what cost to them both?
It will be years before a summons back arrives for Tomás, now living as Thomas Shore in New York. It isn’t a homecoming that awaits him, however, so much as an odyssey into the past, an encounter with the ghosts that lurk there, and a reckoning with the fatal gap between who he has become and who he once aspired to be. Raising profound questions about the sometimes impossible choices we make in the name of love, Hades, Argentina is a gripping, ingeniously narrated literary debut..
By Faith Merino
Published by Blackstone Publishing
On a cold November night, Evelyn Van Pelt steals her roommate’s two underfed and neglected little girls from their beds and drives to the northwestern hometown she fled fourteen years earlier—Cormorant Lake. There, hidden in the mountains and woods, dense with fog and the cold of winter, Evelyn grapples with the guilt of what she’s done, and as she attempts to reconcile her wild independence with the responsibilities of parenthood, she reconnects with the two women who raised her—her foster mother, Nan, and her biological mother, Jubilee. But by coming home, she has set in motion a series of events that will revive the decades-old tragedy that haunts Cormorant Lake—and lead her to confront the high cost of protecting her secret.
At once fantastical and deeply rooted in the natural world, Faith Merino’s deeply affecting and spirited debut novel explores the shape of family, the enduring bonds of friendship, and the imperfections of motherhood—messy and beautiful, instinctive and learned, temporal but permanently life-altering.
The Memoirs of Stockholm Sven
By Nathaniel Ian Miller
Published by Hachette Book Group / Little, Brown and Company
In 1916, Sven Ormson leaves a restless life in Stockholm to seek adventure in Svalbard, an Arctic archipelago where darkness reigns four months of the year and he might witness the splendor of the Northern Lights one night and be attacked by a polar bear the next. But his time as a miner ends when an avalanche nearly kills him, leaving him disfigured, and Sven flees even further, to an uninhabited fjord. There, with the company of a loyal dog, he builds a hut and lives alone, testing himself against the elements.
The teachings of a Finnish fur trapper, along with encouraging letters from his family and a Scottish geologist who befriended him in the mining camp, get him through his first winter. Years into his routine isolation, the arrival of an unlikely visitor salves his loneliness, sparking a chain of surprising events that will bring Sven into a family of fellow castoffs and determine the course of the rest of his life.
Written with wry humor and in prose as breathtaking as the stark landscape it evokes, The Memoirs of Stockholm Sven is a testament to the strength of our human bonds, reminding us that even in the most inhospitable conditions on the planet, we are not beyond the reach of love..
We Are Watching Eliza Bright
By A.E. Osworth
Published by Hachette Book Group / Grand Central Publishing
Eliza Bright is living the dream as an elite video game coder at Fancy Dog Games, the first woman to ascend that high in the ranks—and some people want to make sure she’s the last. To her friends, Eliza Bright is a brilliant, self-taught coder bravely calling out the misogyny that pervades her workplace and industry. To the men who see her very presence as a threat, Eliza Bright is a woman who needs to be destroyed to protect the game they love.
When Eliza’s report of workplace harassment is quickly dismissed, she’s forced to take her frustrations to a journalist who blasts her story across the internet. She’s fired and doxxed, and becomes a rallying figure for women everywhere. But she’s also enraged the beast comprised of online male gamers—their unreliable chorus narrates our story. Soon, Eliza is in the cross-hairs of the gaming community, threatened and stalked as they monitor her every move online and across New York City.
As the violent power of the angry male collective descends upon everyone in Eliza’s life, it becomes increasingly difficult to know who to trust, even when she’s eventually taken in and protected by an under-the-radar Collective known as the Sixsterhood. The violence moves from cyberspace to the real world, thanks to a vicious male super-fan known only as The Inspectre, determined to exact his revenge on behalf of men everywhere. We watch alongside the Sixsterhood and subreddit keyboard warriors as this dramatic cat-and-mouse game plays out to its violent and inevitable conclusion in this thrilling story of resilience and survival.
By Jackie Polzin
Published by Penguin Random House / Doubleday
Over the course of a single year, our nameless narrator heroically tries to keep her small brood of four chickens alive despite the seemingly endless challenges that caring for another creature entails. From the forty-below nights of a brutal Minnesota winter to a sweltering summer which brings a surprise tornado, she battles predators, bad luck, and the uncertainty of a future that may not look anything like the one she always imagined.
Intimate and startlingly original, this slender novel is filled with wisdom, sorrow and joy. As the year unfolds, we come to know the small band of loved ones who comprise the narrator’s circumscribed life at this moment. Her mother, a flinty former home-ec teacher who may have to take over the chickens; her best friend, a real estate agent with a burgeoning family of her own; and her husband whose own coping mechanisms for dealing with the miscarriage that haunts his wife are more than a little unfathomable to her..
The Five Wounds
By Kristin Valdez Quade
Published by W. W. Norton & Company
It’s Holy Week in the small town of Las Penas, New Mexico, and thirty-three-year-old unemployed Amadeo Padilla has been given the part of Jesus in the Good Friday procession. He is preparing feverishly for this role when his fifteen-year-old daughter Angel shows up pregnant on his doorstep and disrupts his plans for personal redemption. With weeks to go until her due date, tough, ebullient Angel has fled her mother’s house, setting her life on a startling new path.
Vivid, tender, funny, and beautifully rendered, The Five Wounds spans the baby’s first year as five generations of the Padilla family converge: Amadeo’s mother, Yolanda, reeling from a recent discovery; Angel’s mother, Marissa, whom Angel isn’t speaking to; and disapproving Tíve, Yolanda’s uncle and keeper of the family’s history. Each brings expectations that Amadeo, who often solves his problems with a beer in his hand, doesn’t think he can live up to.
Dava Shastri's Last Day
By Kirthana Ramisetti
Published by Hachette Book Group / Grand Central Publishing
Dava Shastri, one of the world’s wealthiest women, has always lived with her sterling reputation in mind. A brain cancer diagnosis at the age of seventy, however, changes everything, and Dava decides to take her death—like all matters of her life—into her own hands.
Summoning her four adult children to her private island, she discloses shocking news: in addition to having a terminal illness, she has arranged for the news of her death to break early, so she can read her obituaries.
As someone who dedicated her life to the arts and the empowerment of women, Dava expects to read articles lauding her philanthropic work. Instead, her “death” reveals two devastating secrets, truths she thought she had buried forever.
And now the whole world knows, including her children.
In the time she has left, Dava must come to terms with the decisions that have led to this moment—and make peace with those closest to her before it’s too late.
Compassionately written and chock-full of humor and heart, this powerful novel examines public versus private legacy, the complexities of love, and the never-ending joys—and frustrations—of family..
City of a Thousand Gates
By Rebecca Sacks
Published by HarperCollins / Harper
Brave and bold, this gorgeously written novel introduces a large cast of characters from various backgrounds in a setting where violence is routine and where survival is defined by boundaries, walls, and checkpoints that force people to live and love within and across them.
Hamid, a college student, has entered Israeli territory illegally for work. Rushing past soldiers, he bumps into Vera, a German journalist headed to Jerusalem to cover the story of Salem, a Palestinian boy beaten into a coma by a group of revenge-seeking Israeli teenagers. On her way to the hospital, Vera runs in front of a car that barely avoids hitting her. The driver is Ido, a new father traveling with his American wife and their baby. Ido is distracted by thoughts of a young Jewish girl murdered by a terrorist who infiltrated her settlement. Ori, a nineteen-year-old soldier from a nearby settlement, is guarding the checkpoint between Bethlehem and Jerusalem through which Samar—Hamid’s professor—must pass.
These multiple strands open this magnificent and haunting novel of present-day Israel and Palestine, following each of these diverse characters as they try to protect what they love. Their interwoven stories reveal complicated, painful truths about life in this conflicted land steeped in hope, love, hatred, terror, and blood on both sides.
City of a Thousand Gates brilliantly evokes the universal drives that motivate these individuals to think and act as they do—desires for security, for freedom, for dignity, for the future of one’s children, for land that each of us, no matter who or where we are, recognize and share.
By Sanjena Sathian
Published by Penguin Random House / Penguin Press
A magical realist coming-of-age story, Gold Diggers skewers the model minority myth to tell a hilarious and moving story about immigrant identity, community, and the underside of ambition.
A floundering second-generation teenager growing up in the Bush-era Atlanta suburbs, Neil Narayan is funny and smart but struggles to bear the weight of expectations of his family and their Asian American enclave. He tries to want their version of success, but mostly, Neil just wants his neighbor across the cul-de-sac, Anita Dayal.
When he discovers that Anita is the beneficiary of an ancient, alchemical potion made from stolen gold—a “lemonade” that harnesses the ambition of the gold’s original owner—Neil sees his chance to get ahead. But events spiral into a tragedy that rips their community apart. Years later in the Bay Area, Neil still bristles against his community’s expectations—and finds he might need one more hit of that lemonade, no matter the cost.
Sanjena Sathian’s astonishing debut offers a fine-grained, profoundly intelligent, and bitingly funny investigation into what’s required to make it in America..
By Shruti Swamy
Published by Workman Publishing / Algonquin Books
As a child, Vidya exists to serve her family, watch over her younger brother, and make sense of a motherless world. One day she catches sight of a class where the students are learning Kathak, a precise, dazzling form of dance that requires the utmost discipline and focus. Kathak quickly becomes the organizing principle of Vidya’s life, even as she leaves home for college, falls in love with her best friend, and battles demands on her time, her future, and her body. Can Vidya give herself over to her art and also be a wife in Bombay’s carefully delineated society? Can she shed the legacy of her own imperfect, unknowable mother? Must she, herself, also become a mother?
Intensely lyrical and deeply sensual, with writing as rhythmically mesmerizing as Kathak itself, The Archer is about the transformative power of art and the possibilities that love can open when we’re ready.
By Stacey Swann
Published by Penguin Random House / Doubleday
The Briscoe family is once again the talk of their small town when March returns to East Texas two years after he was caught having an affair with his brother’s wife. His mother, June, hardly welcomes him back with open arms. Her husband’s own past affairs have made her tired of being the long-suffering spouse. Is it, perhaps, time for a change? Within days of March’s arrival, someone is dead, marriages are upended, and even the strongest of alliances are shattered. In the end, the ties that hold them together might be exactly what drag them all down.
An expansive tour de force, Olympus, Texas cleverly weaves elements of classical mythology into a thoroughly modern family saga, rich in drama and psychological complexity. After all, at some point, don’t we all wonder: What good is this destructive force we call love?.
By Lisa Taddeo
Published by Simon & Schuster / Avid Reader Press
Joan has spent a lifetime enduring the cruelties of men. But when one of them commits a shocking act of violence in front of her, she flees New York City in search of Alice, the only person alive who can help her make sense of her past. In the sweltering hills above Los Angeles, Joan unravels the horrific event she witnessed as a child—that has haunted her every waking moment—while forging the power to finally strike back.
Animal is a depiction of female rage at its rawest, and a visceral exploration of the fallout from a male-dominated society.