New York Times 100 Notable Books of 2008

The New York Times publishes a list of “100 Notable Books” each year (see the complete list for 2017). The fiction, poetry, and nonfiction books are selected annually by the editors of “The New York Times Book Review.” The list represents the most notable books reviewed by the Times during the the prior 12 months. We share the authors of African descent who made the “Notables” list.

5 Noteable Books by Authors of African Descent in 2008


Fiction


A Mercy
by Toni Morrison

Book Description: 
A powerful tragedy distilled into a small masterpiece by the Nobel Prize-winning author of Beloved and, almost like a prelude to that story, set two centuries earlier.

Jacob is an Anglo-Dutch trader in 1680s United States, when the slave trade is still in its infancy. Reluctantly he takes a small slave girl in part payment from a plantation owner for a bad debt. Feeling rejected by her slave mother, 14-year-old Florens can read and write and might be useful on his farm. Florens looks for love, first from Lina, an older servant woman at her new master’s house, but later from the handsome blacksmith, an African, never enslaved, who comes riding into their lives . . .

At the novel’s heart, like Beloved, it is the ambivalent, disturbing story of a mother and a daughter a mother who casts off her daughter in order to save her, and a daughter who may never exorcise that abandonment.


Fiction


Book Description: 
A philosopher, psychiatrist, and political activist, Frantz Fanon was a fierce, acute critic of racism and oppression. Born of African descent in Martinique in 1925, Fanon fought in defense of France during World War II but later against France in Algeria’s war for independence. His last book, The Wretched of the Earth, published in 1961, inspired leaders of diverse liberation movements: Steve Biko in South Africa, Che Guevara in Latin America, the Black Panthers in the States.
Wideman’s novel is disguised as the project of a contemporary African American novelist, Thomas, who undertakes writing a life of Fanon. The result is an electrifying mix of perspectives, traveling from Manhattan to Paris to Algeria to Pittsburgh. Part whodunit, part screenplay, part love story, Fanon introduces the French film director Jean-Luc Godard to the ailing Mrs. Wideman in Homewood and chases the meaning of Fanon’s legacy through our violent, post-9/11 world, which seems determined to perpetuate the evils Fanon sought to rectify.


Nonfiction


The Hemingses Of Monticello: An American Family
by Annette Gordon-Reed

Book Description: 
Winner of the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize: “[A] commanding and important book.”?Jill Lepore, The New Yorker This epic work?named a best book of the year by the Washington Post, Time, the Los Angeles Times, Amazon, the San Francisco Chronicle, and a notable book by the New York Times?tells the story of the Hemingses, whose close blood ties to our third president had been systematically expunged from American history until very recently. Now, historian and legal scholar Annette Gordon-Reed traces the Hemings family from its origins in Virginia in the 1700s to the family’s dispersal after Jefferson’s death in 1826. 37 illustrations


Nonfiction


The House at Sugar Beach: In Search of a Lost African Childhood
by Helene Cooper

Book Description: 

Journalist Helene Cooper examines the violent past of her home country Liberia and the effects of its 1980 military coup in this deeply personal memoir and finalist for the 2008 National Book Critics Circle Award.

Helene Cooper is “Congo,” a descendant of two Liberian dynasties—traced back to the first ship of freemen that set sail from New York in 1820 to found Monrovia. Helene grew up at Sugar Beach, a twenty-two-room mansion by the sea. Her childhood was filled with servants, flashy cars, a villa in Spain, and a farmhouse up-country. It was also an African childhood, filled with knock foot games and hot pepper soup, heartmen and neegee. When Helene was eight, the Coopers took in a foster child—a common custom among the Liberian elite. Eunice, a Bassa girl, suddenly became known as “Mrs. Cooper’s daughter.”

For years the Cooper daughters—Helene, her sister Marlene, and Eunice—blissfully enjoyed the trappings of wealth and advantage. But Liberia was like an unwatched pot of water left boiling on the stove. And on April 12, 1980, a group of soldiers staged a coup d’état, assassinating President William Tolbert and executing his cabinet. The Coopers and the entire Congo class were now the hunted, being imprisoned, shot, tortured, and raped. After a brutal daylight attack by a ragtag crew of soldiers, Helene, Marlene, and their mother fled Sugar Beach, and then Liberia, for America. They left Eunice behind.

A world away, Helene tried to assimilate as an American teenager. At the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill she found her passion in journalism, eventually becoming a reporter for the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. She reported from every part of the globe—except Africa—as Liberia descended into war-torn, third-world hell.

In 2003, a near-death experience in Iraq convinced Helene that Liberia—and Eunice—could wait no longer. At once a deeply personal memoir and an examination of a violent and stratified country, The House at Sugar Beach tells of tragedy, forgiveness, and transcendence with unflinching honesty and a survivor’s gentle humor. And at its heart, it is a story of Helene Cooper’s long voyage home.






Poetry


Bass Cathedral
by Nathaniel Mackey

Book Description: 
The Great American Jazz Novel by Nathaniel Mackey, winner of the 2006 National Book Award. Los Angeles, October 1982: Molimo m’Atet, formerly known as the The Mystic Horn Society, is preparing to release its new album Orphic Bend. The members of the jazz ensemble?Aunt Nancy, Djamilaa, Drennette, Lambert, N., and Penguin?are witness to a strange occurrence: while listening to their test pressing, the moment Aunt Nancy’s bass solo begins a balloon emerges from the vinyl, bearing a mysterious message: I dreamt you were gone…. Through letters N. writes to a figure called Angel of Dust, the ever-mutating story unfolds, leaving no musician or listener untouched.Bass Cathedral is Mackey’s fourth volume in his ongoing novel with no beginning or end, From a Broken Bottle Traces of Perfume Still Emanate. Thought balloons morph into mute-stereoptic emanations; N. encounters a master mouthpiece-maker; Drennette leaves Penguin dateless; Lambert’s kicking it around with Melanie?much is abuzz but something else is happening to the ensemble. The music seems to be living them. N. suffers cowrie shell attacks and they are all stranded on an Orphic Shore. Socio-political forces are at play or has this always been the essence and accident of the music’s resilience? And Hotel Didjeridoo must be resurrected, but how? Myth spins music spins thought spins sex?Mackey’s post-bop boxless box set is, as the Utne Reader wrote, "Avant-garde literature you can love: an evolving multivolume novel of the jazz world that plays with language and ideas the way Thelonious Monk plays with flatted fifths."



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