This Year’s Pulitzer Winners Feature War, Divorce, and Sword-Fighting

dumasThis year’s Pulitzer Prize winners are an interesting batch, with subject manner running the gamut from North Korean orphanages to the real-life Count of Monte Cristo. Here’s the lowdown on these newly anointed winners—let us know if you’ve read any of them in the comments, or share what book you would have nominated for a Pulitzer.

Fiction Winner: The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson

Johnson’s novel follows Pak Jun Do, a North Korean boy who considers himself “a humble citizen of the greatest nation in the world.” With his mother gone and his father running a work camp for orphans, Jun Do is haunted by the conditions around him even as he excels in them. This is Johnson’s third book of fiction, and it has wowed critics worldwide since it was published last August. Our one complaint? It continues a weird trend of books whose title specifies a character’s relationship to a close relative. We’ve recently seen The Time Traveler’s Wife, The Memory Keeper’s Daughter, The Shoemaker’s Wife, and now The Orphan Master’s Son. What’s next? The Astronaut’s Uncle? The Bank Teller’s Second-Cousin-Once-Removed? Let it be known, all ye authors, we declare this trend of referential titles to be over.

History Winner: Embers of War: The Fall of an Empire and the Making of America’s Vietnam by Fredrik Logevall

This is a very weighty book about the Vietnam War, rife with new information from recently declassified diplomatic records. Logevall digs deep into the contextual history of the war, beginning the story in 1919 with the Versailles Peace Conference. If you’re interested in military history, Logevall’s book is a must-read, though we admit it’s not the type of book we’d bring to the beach.

Biography Winner: The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and The Real Count of Monte Cristo by Tom Reiss

What? What? There was a real life Count of Monte Cristo?! Reiss’s exciting biography of Alex Dumas practically broke our brains with its awesomeness. First things first: if you have never read The Count of Monte Cristo, get on that pronto. It’s only the best revenge adventure ever written. Once that’s done, your brain will also be busted over the fact that Alexandre Dumas based his iconic character on his father, Alex. Born to a Haitian slave, Dumas Sr. rose to high standing in French aristocracy despite the naked racism of the period. He became an expert sword-fighter and military commander, adventuring across the world until he was stopped in his tracks by his arch-nemesis. Talk about a triple helping of epic!

Poetry Winner: Stag’s Leap by Sharon Olds

These poems were written in the wake of a divorce, but they show incredible hope and resilience. Perhaps the old adage that we never know how strong we are until life barfs all over us is true (pretty sure that’s exactly how the quote goes). Olds reflects on the many tolls her divorce took, as well as the many new freedoms it ushered in. Consider this heartbreaker: “Maybe I’m half over who he/was, but not who I thought he was, and not/over the wound, sudden deathblow/as if out of nowhere.”

General Nonfiction Winner: Devil in The Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America by Gilbert King

King tells the incredible story of the “Groveland Four,” four black men accused of raping a white woman in July 1949. It was an ugly episode in American history, resulting in the murder of three of the Groveland Four, even though there was no evidence linking them to the crime and their trial included patently false testimonies. In the middle of the fray, lawyer Thurgood Marshall took a stand against the pure bigotry that had bled into the legal system. Devil in the Grove tells the story in full, delving into the case with the dark flair of a Southern Gothic.

What do you think of the winners? What book do you want to see win a Pulitzer?

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