National Book Critics Circle Announces Winners of Annual Awards

Associated Press
Friday, March 13, 2009

NEW YORK, March 12 -- Stories and scholarship from around the world were honored by book critics Thursday night, including works about the ancient and modern Middle East, and a novel, Roberto Bolaño's "2666," that's set in Mexico.

The National Book Critics Circle awarded the fiction prize to Bolaño, the Chilean author who died in 2003; the general nonfiction award to "The Forever War," Dexter Filkins's reporting on the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan; and the autobiography prize to Ariel Sabar's "My Father's Paradise," which traces the author's Jewish roots in Kurdish Iraq.

Sabar, who spoke of being an immigrant's son in 1980s Los Angeles, remembered growing up with a father who "looked funny," "talked funny" and "couldn't get his clothes to match." But Sabar became deeply curious about his family's history and was struck by Iraq's long history of people of different faiths "who pretty much got along."

Nobel laureate V.S. Naipaul, a native of Trinidad who now lives in England, was the subject of the biography winner, Patrick French's "The World Is What It Is."

The awards carry a great deal of prestige but no cash, fitting for a time when reviewers have struggled to hold on to their jobs and many members of the critics circle's board are freelancers.

An honorary citation was given to one of the more fortunate critics, The Washington Post's Ron Charles, who joked: "I don't know if I'm nervous or if this is just survivor's guilt."

Seth Lerer's "Children's Literature," which traces young people's stories as far back as ancient Greece and Aesop's fables, was cited for criticism. Lerer, noting his subject matter, thought it fitting to bring up an old cliche and "thank all the little people."

For the first time in the awards' history, two winners were named for one category: August Kleinzahler's "Sleeping It Off in Rapid City" and Juan Felipe Herrera's "Half the World in Light: New and Selected Poems" shared the poetry prize.

Reviewers are largely responsible for Bolaño's posthumous following in the United States, where "2666" -- a very long and complex novel in translation -- has found success. Bolaño's translator, Natasha Wimmer, accepted the award on his behalf and recalled that the author once said that "posthumous" sounded like a Roman gladiator.

An award for lifetime achievement was given to the American center of PEN, the international writers' association.

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