New York Times 100 Notable Books of 2017
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.
11 Noteable Books by Authors of African Descent in 2017
Sing, Unburied, Sing
by Jesmyn Ward
“Sing, Unburied, Sing is a road novel turned on its head, and a family story with its feet to the fire. Lyric and devastating, Ward’s unforgettable characters straddle past and present in this spellbinding return to the rural Mississippi of her first book. You’ll never read anything like it.” Ayana Mathis, author of The Twelve Tribes of Hattie
In Jesmyn Ward’s first novel since her National Book Award-winning Salvage the Bones, this singular American writer brings the archetypal road novel into rural twenty-first-century America. Drawing on Morrison and Faulkner, The Odyssey and the Old Testament, Ward gives us an epochal story, a journey through Mississippi's past and present that is both an intimate portrait of a family and an epic tale of hope and struggle. Ward is a major American writer, multiply awarded and universally lauded, and in Sing, Unburied, Sing she is at the height of her powers.
Jojo and his toddler sister, Kayla, live with their grandparents, Mam and Pop, and the occasional presence of their drug-addicted mother, Leonie, on a farm on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi. Leonie is simultaneously tormented and comforted by visions of her dead brother, which only come to her when she’s high; Mam is dying of cancer; and quiet, steady Pop tries to run the household and teach Jojo how to be a man. When the white father of Leonie's children is released from prison, she packs her kids and a friend into her car and sets out across the state for Parchman farm, the Mississippi State Penitentiary, on a journey rife with danger and promise.
Sing, Unburied, Sing grapples with the ugly truths at the heart of the American story and the power, and limitations, of the bonds of family. Rich with Ward's distinctive, musical language, Sing, Unburied, Sing is a majestic new work and an essential contribution to American literature.
A Kind of Freedom: A Novel
by Margaret Wilkerson Sexton
A 2017 National Book Award Nominee
A New York Times Book Review Editor’s Choice
Chosen as 1 of 12 books to read this August by the Chicago Review of Books
Chosen as 1 of 24 Incredible Books to Add to Your Shelf This Summer by the Huffington Post
Chosen as 1 of 10 Books to Read in August by BBC Culture
"This luminous and assured first novel shines an unflinching, compassionate light on three generations of a black family in New Orleans, emphasizing endurance more than damage." ?The New York Times Book Review, Editors’ Choice
Evelyn is a Creole woman who comes of age in New Orleans at the height of World War II. Her family inhabits the upper echelon of Black society, and when she falls for no-account Renard, she is forced to choose between her life of privilege and the man she loves.
In 1982, Evelyn’s daughter, Jackie, is a frazzled single mother grappling with her absent husband’s drug addiction. Just as she comes to terms with his abandoning the family, he returns, ready to resume their old life.
Jackie’s son, T.C., loves the creative process of growing marijuana more than the weed itself. He was a square before Hurricane Katrina, but the New Orleans he knew didn’t survive the storm. Fresh out of a four-month stint for drug charges, T.C. decides to start over?until an old friend convinces him to stake his new beginning on one last deal.
For Evelyn, Jim Crow is an ongoing reality, and in its wake new threats spring up to haunt her descendants. A Kind of Freedom is an urgent novel that explores the legacy of racial disparity in the South through a poignant and redemptive family history.
Stay with Me: A novel
by Ayobami Adebayo
"A stunning debut novel."Michiko Kakutani,The New York Times
This celebrated, unforgettable first novel (“A bright, big-hearted demonstration of female spirit.” The Guardian), shortlisted for the prestigious Bailey’s Prize and set in Nigeria, gives voice to both husband and wife as they tell the story of their marriageand the forces that threaten to tear it apart.
Yejide and Akin have been married since they met and fell in love at university. Though many expected Akin to take several wives, he and Yejide have always agreed: polygamy is not for them. But four years into their marriageafter consulting fertility doctors and healers, trying strange teas and unlikely curesYejide is still not pregnant. She assumes she still has timeuntil her family arrives on her doorstep with a young woman they introduce as Akin’s second wife. Furious, shocked, and livid with jealousy, Yejide knows the only way to save her marriage is to get pregnant. Which, finally, she doesbut at a cost far greater than she could have dared to imagine. An electrifying novel of enormous emotional power,Stay With Measks how much we can sacrifice for the sake of family.
by Danzy Senna
Named a BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR BY THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW AND TIME MAGAZINE
Named A 2017 BEST SUMMER READ BY
Vogue• Elle •Harper’s Bazaar• Glamour• Buzzfeed • In Style • Men’s Journal•Bustle•Ms. Magazine•Pop Sugar•Newsday• The Millions• Time Out• Bitch•CNN’s The Lead• The Fader
"[A] cutting take on race and class…part dark comedy, part surreal morality tale. Disturbing and delicious." -People
"You’ll gulp Senna’s novel in a single sitting—but then mull over it for days.”Entertainment Weekly
"Everyone should read it."Vogue
From the bestselling author of Caucasia, a subversive and engrossing novel of race, class and manners in contemporary America.
As the twentieth century draws to a close, Maria is at the start of a life she never thought possible. She and Khalil, her college sweetheart, are planning their wedding. They are the perfect couple, "King and Queen of the Racially Nebulous Prom." Their skin is the same shade of beige. They live together in a black bohemian enclave in Brooklyn, where Khalil is riding the wave of the first dot-com boom and Maria is plugging away at her dissertation, on the Jonestown massacre. They’ve even landed a starring role in a documentary about "new people" like them, who are blurring the old boundaries as a brave new era dawns. Everything Maria knows she should want lies before her—yet she can’t stop daydreaming about another man, a poet she barely knows. As fantasy escalates to fixation, it dredges up secrets from the past and threatens to unravel not only Maria’s perfect new life but her very persona.
Heartbreaking and darkly comic, New People is a bold and unfettered page-turner that challenges our every assumption about how we define one another, and ourselves.
The Changeling: A Novel
by Victor Lavalle
“If the literary gods mixed together Haruki Murakami and Ralph Ellison, the result would be Victor LaValle.”—Anthony Doerr, author of All the Light We Cannot See
“A dark fairy tale of New York, full of magic and loss, myth and mystery, love and madness. The Changeling is a mesmerizing, monumental work.”—Marlon James, author of A Brief History of Seven Killings
One of Time’s Top 10 Novels of the Year
When Apollo Kagwa’s father disappeared, all he left his son were strange recurring dreams and a box of books stamped with the word IMPROBABILIA. Now Apollo is a father himself—and as he and his wife, Emma, are settling into their new lives as parents, exhaustion and anxiety start to take their toll. Apollo’s old dreams return and Emma begins acting odd. Irritable and disconnected from their new baby boy, at first Emma seems to be exhibiting signs of postpartum depression, but it quickly becomes clear that her troubles go even deeper. Before Apollo can do anything to help, Emma commits a horrific act—beyond any parent’s comprehension—and vanishes, seemingly into thin air.
Thus begins Apollo’s odyssey through a world he only thought he understood, to find a wife and child who are nothing like he’d imagined. His quest, which begins when he meets a mysterious stranger who claims to have information about Emma’s whereabouts, takes him to a forgotten island, a graveyard full of secrets, a forest where immigrant legends still live, and finally back to a place he thought he had lost forever.
This captivating retelling of a classic fairy tale imaginatively exploresparental obsession, spousal love, and the secrets that make strangers out of the people we love the most. It’s a thrilling and emotionally devastating journey through the gruesome legacies that threaten to devour us and the homely, messy magic that saves us, if we’re lucky.
“LaValle’s haunting tale weaves a mesmerizing web around fatherhood, racism, horrific anxieties and even To Kill a Mockingbird.”—Janet Maslin, The New York Times
“Like a woke Brothers Grimm, his clever new spin on the ages-old changeling myth is a modern fairy tale for the Trump era.”—USA Today (four out of four stars)
“Victor LaValle’s fabulist ode to fatherhood and fairy tales offers a new take on themes as old as time.”—O: The Oprah Magazine
by James McBride
Humorous, “feel good” new fiction from James McBride, the first since The Good Lord Bird, one of the bestselling, most critically acclaimed books on AALBC.com.
The previously unpublished stories in Five-Carat Soul spring from the place where identity, humanity, and history converge. They’re funny and poignant, insightful and unpredictable, imaginative and authenticall told with McBride’s unrivaled storytelling skill and meticulous eye for character and detail. McBride explores the ways we learn from the world and the people around us. An antiques dealer discovers that a legendary toy commissioned by Civil War General Robert E. Lee now sits in the home of a black minister in Queens. Five strangers find themselves thrown together and face unexpected judgment. An American president draws inspiration from a conversation he overhears in a stable. And members of The Five-Carat Soul Bottom Bone Band recount stories from their own messy and hilarious lives.
As McBride did in his National Book award-winning The Good Lord Bird and his bestselling The Color of Water, he writes with humor and insight about how we struggle to understand who we are in a world we don’t fully comprehend. The result is a surprising, perceptive, and evocative collection of stories that is also a moving exploration of our human condition.
Dance of the Jakaranda
by Peter Kimani
Kimani reimagines the rise and fall of colonialism in Africa by telling the story of the birth of Kenya’s railroad.
Set in the shadow of Kenya’s independence from Great Britain, Dance of the Jakaranda reimagines the rise and fall of colonialism, and the special circumstances that brought black, brown, and white men together to lay the railroad that heralded the birth of the nation.
The novel traces the lives and loves of three men: preacher Richard Turnbull, the colonial administrator Ian McDonald, and Indian technician Babu Salim, whose lives intersect when they are implicated in the controversial birth of a child. Years later, when Babu’s grandson, Rajan—who ekes out a living by singing Babu’s epic tales of the railway’s construction—accidentally kisses a mysterious stranger in a dark nightclub, the encounter provides the spark to illuminate the three men’s shared, murky past.
Dance of the Jakaranda could well be a story of globalization—not just for its riveting multiracial, multicultural cast—but also due to its diverse literary allusions: from Chekhovian comedy to Kafkasque caricatures, or magical realism popularized by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Yet, the novel is firmly anchored in the African storytelling tradition, its language a dreamy, exalted and earthy mix that creates new thresholds of identity, providing a fresh metaphor for race in contemporary Africa.
“In this racially charged dance of power, the railroad into the interior of the country becomes a journey into the hearts of men and women. It is a dance of love and hate and mixed motives that drive human actions and alter the course of history. Kimani's writing has the clarity of analytic prose and the lyrical tenderness of poetry.”—Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o
Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood
by Trevor Noah
#1NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER •The compelling, inspiring, and comically sublime story of one man’s coming-of-age, set during the twilight of apartheid and the tumultuous days of freedom that followed
NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY
Michiko Kakutani, New York Times • Newsday • Esquire • NPR • Booklist
Trevor Noah’s unlikely path from apartheid South Africa to the desk of The Daily Show began with a criminal act: his birth. Trevor was born to a white Swiss father and a black Xhosa mother at a time when such a union was punishable by five years in prison. Living proof of his parents’ indiscretion, Trevor was kept mostly indoors for the earliest years of his life, bound by the extreme and often absurd measures his mother took to hide him from a government that could, at any moment, steal him away. Finally liberated by the end of South Africa’s tyrannical white rule, Trevor and his mother set forth on a grand adventure, living openly and freely and embracing the opportunities won by a centuries-long struggle.
Born a Crime is the story of a mischievous young boy who grows into a restless young man as he struggles to find himself in a world where he was never supposed to exist. It is also the story of that young man’s relationship with his fearless, rebellious, and fervently religious mother—his teammate, a woman determined to save her son from the cycle of poverty, violence, and abuse that would ultimately threaten her own life.
The stories collected here are by turns hilarious, dramatic, and deeply affecting. Whether subsisting on caterpillars for dinner during hard times, being thrown from a moving car during an attempted kidnapping, or just trying to survive the life-and-death pitfalls of dating in high school, Trevor illuminates his curious world with an incisive wit and unflinching honesty. His stories weave together to form a moving and searingly funny portrait of a boy making his way through a damaged world in a dangerous time, armed only with a keen sense of humor and a mother’s unconventional, unconditional love.
Praise for Born a Crime
“[A] compelling new memoir . . . By turns alarming, sad and funny, [Trevor Noah’s] book provides a harrowing look, through the prism of Mr. Noah’s family, at life in South Africa under apartheid. . . . Born a Crime is not just an unnerving account of growing up in South Africa under apartheid, but a love letter to the author’s remarkable mother.”—Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
“[An] unforgettable memoir.”—Parade
“What makesBorn a Crimesuch a soul-nourishing pleasure, even with all its darker edges and perilous turns, is reading Noah recount in brisk, warmly conversational prose how he learned to negotiate his way through the bullying and ostracism. . . . What also helped was having a mother like Patricia Nombuyiselo Noah. . . . ConsiderBorn a Crimeanother such gift to her—and an enormous gift to the rest of us.”—USA Today
“[Noah] thrives with the help of his astonishingly fearless mother. . . . Their fierce bond makes this story soar.”—People
“[Noah’s] electrifying memoir sparkles with funny stories . . . and his candid and compassionate essays deepen our perception of the complexities of race, gender, and class.”—Booklist(starred review)
“A gritty memoir . . . studded with insight and provocative social criticism . . . with flashes of brilliant storytelling and acute observations.”—Kirkus Reviews
Bunk: The Rise of Hoaxes, Humbug, Plagiarists, Phonies, Post-Facts, and Fake News
by Kevin Young
Has the hoax now moved from the sideshow to take the center stage of American culture?Award-winning poet and critic Kevin Young tours us through a rogue’s gallery of hoaxers, plagiarists, forgers, and fakers?from the humbug of P. T. Barnum and Edgar Allan Poe to the unrepentant bunk of JT LeRoy and Donald J. Trump. Bunk traces the history of the hoax as a peculiarly American phenomenon, examining what motivates hucksters and makes the rest of us so gullible. Disturbingly, Young finds that fakery is woven from stereotype and suspicion, race being the most insidious American hoax of all. He chronicles how Barnum came to fame by displaying figures like Joice Heth, a black woman whom he pretended was the 161-year-old nursemaid to George Washington, and What Is It?, an African American man Barnum professed was a newly discovered missing link in evolution.
Bunk then turns to the hoaxing of history and the ways that forgers, plagiarists, and journalistic fakers invent backstories and falsehoods to sell us lies about themselves and about the world in our own time, from pretend Native Americans Grey Owl and Nasdijj to the deadly imposture of Clark Rockefeller, from the made-up memoirs of James Frey to the identity theft of Rachel Dolezal. In this brilliant and timely work, Young asks what it means to live in a post-factual world of “truthiness” where everything is up for interpretation and everyone is subject to a pervasive cynicism that damages our ideas of reality, fact, and art.
We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy
by Ta-Nehisi Coates
A sweeping collection of new and selected essays on the Obama era by the National Book Awardwinning author of Between the World and MeWe were eight years in power was the lament of Reconstruction-era black politicians as the American experiment in multiracial democracy ended with the return of white supremacist rule in the South. Now Ta-Nehisi Coates explores the tragic echoes of that history in our own time: the unprecedented election of a black president followed by a vicious backlash that fueled the election of the man Coates argues is America’s “first white president.”
But the story of these present-day eight years is not just about presidential politics. This book also examines the new voices, ideas, and movements for justice that emerged over this period—and the effects of the persistent, haunting shadow of our nation’s old and unreconciled history. Coates powerfully examines the events of the Obama era from his intimate and revealing perspective—the point of view of a young writer who begins the journey in an unemployment office in Harlem and ends it in the Oval Office, interviewing a president.
We Were Eight Years in Power features Coates’s iconic essays first published in The Atlantic, including “Fear of a Black President,” “The Case for Reparations,” and “The Black Family in the Age of Mass Incarceration,” along with eight fresh essays that revisit each year of the Obama administration through Coates’s own experiences, observations, and intellectual development, capped by a bracingly original assessment of the election that fully illuminated the tragedy of the Obama era. We Were Eight Years in Power is a vital account of modern America, from one of the definitive voices of this historic moment.
Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America
by James Forman
Long-listed for the National Book Award
One of The New York Times Book Review’s 10 Best Books of 2017
Short-listed for the Inaugural Goddard Riverside Stephan Russo Book Prize for Social Justice
In recent years, America’s criminal justice system has become the subject of an increasingly urgent debate. Critics have assailed the rise of mass incarceration, emphasizing its disproportionate impact on people of color. As James Forman, Jr., points out, however, the war on crime that began in the 1970s was supported by many African American leaders in the nation’s urban centers. In Locking Up Our Own, he seeks to understand why. Forman shows us that the first substantial cohort of black mayors, judges, and police chiefs took office amid a surge in crime and drug addiction. Many prominent black officials, including Washington, D.C. mayor Marion Barry and federal prosecutor Eric Holder, feared that the gains of the civil rights movement were being undermined by lawlessness?and thus embraced tough-on-crime measures, including longer sentences and aggressive police tactics. In the face of skyrocketing murder rates and the proliferation of open-air drug markets, they believed they had no choice. But the policies they adopted would have devastating consequences for residents of poor black neighborhoods.A former D.C. public defender, Forman tells riveting stories of politicians, community activists, police officers, defendants, and crime victims. He writes with compassion about individuals trapped in terrible dilemmas?from the men and women he represented in court to officials struggling to respond to a public safety emergency. Locking Up Our Own enriches our understanding of why our society became so punitive and offers important lessons to anyone concerned about the future of race and the criminal justice system in this country.