1989 LOS ANGELES TIMES BOOK PRIZE NOMINEES : for the publishing year August 1, 1988, through July 31, 1989
FROM BEIRUT TO JERUSALEM by Thomas L. Friedman (Farrar, Straus & Giroux) Friedman spent 10 years living in the Middle East as a New York Times correspondent and twice received the Pulitzer Prize for his coverage. “From Beirut to Jerusalem” goes beyond the facts of tribal conflict to reveal with fresh horror how daily chaos and terror make possible a question like “Would you like to eat now or wait for the cease-fire?”
GREAT PLAINS by Ian Frazier (Farrar, Straus & Giroux) Frazier crisscrossed 25,000 miles worth of Great Plains territory gathering this affectionate collection of odd bits: tumbleweeds, tepees, Bonnie & Clyde, and places like Nicodemus, Kan., population 50, the only surviving town founded by black homesteaders fleeing the South 110 years ago. “I fear for the Great Plains,” he writes, “because many people think they are boring . . . the beauty of the Plains is not just in themselves but in the sky, in what you think when you look at them and in what they are not.”
THE ENIGMA OF JAPANESE POWER by Karel van Wolferen (Alfred A. Knopf) In a searing analysis of Japanese politics and society, a Dutch journalist who has lived in Japan for the last 25 years states that the real government of that country is not the impotent democratic Diet and prime minister but is instead an informal and personal system composed of bureaucrats, politicians, financiers, and businessmen. The amazing point is that no one is in charge of this system and as a result no form of clear responsibility or accountability--or change--is possible.
PARTING THE WATERS America in the King Years, 1954-1963 by Taylor Branch (Simon & Schuster) A generation now entering adulthood grew up after the Civil Rights movement but lives, still, by the illuminations and in the shadows that it cast. In this epochal interpretation of the greatest domestic upheaval since the Civil War, Taylor Branch provides a perspective, enriched by the passage of time and recent access to previously unavailable records, that has not been possible until now. The leaders of the movement regarded political questions as moral questions, he observes, leaving an important legacy for the current generation, to which this book may appeal as current interest rather than as history.
THE RAINY SEASON Haiti Since Duvalier by Amy Wilentz (Simon & Schuster) In this chronicle of Haitian life, overwhelming despair, inhumanity and terror are as pervasive and commonplace as voodoo and torrential rain. Journalist Wilentz first visited Haiti early in 1986 to “study tyranny and bloody violence,” and what she eventually learned is conveyed in the form of a report from an exotic war zone in which smells, sounds, humidity mingle with moment-to-moment fear.
A BRIGHT SHINING LIE John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam by Neil Sheehan (Random House) Sheehan writes a history of the Vietnam War centered on the courageous, charismatic Lt. Col. John Paul Vann, who in 1962 dared to criticize the way his superiors were conducting the war. As much a biography of Vann as a history of Vietnam, its sixteen years of research provide insight into the process that led to our involvement in Vietnam and, in the downfall of Vann, a metaphor for our conduct.
HIGHBROW/LOWBROW The Emergence of Cultural Hierarchy in America by Lawrence W. Levine (Harvard University Press) Levine brings back to light the widely shared public culture of early 19th-Century America. In 1835, he notes, 65 Shakespearean plays were produced in Philadelphia alone. Levine’s central questions are why and how an earlier non-hierarchical culture was transformed into the “highbrow/lowbrow” structure that has prevailed until recently and “what was lost to our culture in the demise.”
THE QUESTION OF HU by Jonathan D. Spence (Alfred A. Knopf) Honing history into a personal narrative of the true adventures of John Hu, the first Chinese to travel West in 1722, Yale historian Spence has drawn on published accounts in French, British and Vatican archives for his present-tense tale of Hu’s mysterious life, a life compelling both for its clear simplicity and for its essential oddness.
AN EMPIRE OF THEIR OWN How the Jews Invented Hollywood by Neal Gabler (Crown Publishers) Film critic Gabler has written a definitive and fascinating social history of the film industry. In what now seems like destiny, the seething ambition of the founding moguls combined with the emerging technology of film-making, and the result was a media empire. The astounding paradox, pointed out by Gabler, is that through their movies the Jewish immigrant sons created an idealized image of an American society to which they themselves had been denied access.
PARTING THE WATERS America in the King Years, 1954-1963 by Taylor Branch (Simon & Schuster) See above, under Current Interest.
THE CITY OF MARVELS by Eduardo Mendoza translated by Bernard Molloy (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich) A richly textured story of two main characters: The city of Barcelona between its World’s Fairs of 1888 and 1929, and Onofre Bouvila, a 13-year-old boy from the countryside, “innocent and poor” when he arrives in Barcelona in 1886. Determined to make a success of himself, he does what he must, including lying, cheating and murdering in order to become the richest man in Spain. Parody, humor, and irony interwoven with a cast of entertaining fictional and historical characters make this slightly questionable scenario a surprise success.
MIDNIGHT SWEETS by Bette Pesetsky (Atheneum Publishers) Before you are quite sure of the author’s intent, you might find yourself sneering at her plot line: A bimbo sets out to turn her little cookie business into a real career. But quickly you realize that you’ve fallen into a clever trap. Pesetsky’s finely and intensely wrought novel deals with the whole shopping list of domestic and feminist issues, but hilariously.
THE JOY LUCK CLUB by Amy Tan ( G .P. Putnam’s Sons)
Four aging Chinese women begin meeting in 1949 after arriving in their adopted city of San Francisco. Every week they play mah-jongg, eat dim sum and “say” stories about themselves, their ancestors and their children. Forty years later, after the founder of The Joy Luck Club dies, her daughter, June, 36, reluctantly takes her mother’s place in the Club and begins to see her mother’s generation--and her own connections to it--in a new and unsettling way.
THE HEART OF THE COUNTRY by Fay Weldon (Viking) Fast-paced, sure-voiced Fay Weldon isn’t finished yet with the foibles of the snug suburban life she so deftly and humorously portrays. This time she speaks in the voice of Sonia, whose neighbor, Natalie, driving by on a rainy day, once “committed the sin of splashing” the less prosperous Sonia while the latter was walking her children to school. But that was before Natalie’s husband ran off to Spain with his secretary and Natalie was forced to turn to Sonia for survival lessons. . . .
MOTHER’S GIRL by Elaine Feinstein (E.P. Dutton) In an evocative tale, set in Cambridge, England, in the 1950s, Feinstein presents a complicated family whose members are manipulated by shaded truths, unexplained conversational fragments, and distorted loyalties left over from the pre-feminist past.
THIS BOY’S LIFE A Memoir by Tobias Wolff (Atlantic Monthly Press) A moving tale of the harrowing childhood and adolescence that produced an outstanding American writer. As a result of his mother’s propensity for choosing sociopathic men, mother and son frequently were on the run, starting over in places as far-flung as Florida, Utah, and Washington where his mother’s unflagging optimism was often their only tangible asset.
CLEAR PICTURES First Loves, First Guides by Reynolds Price (Atheneum Publishers) The autobiography of a man in a family, Price’s “Clear Pictures” come out of the connectedness he felt both as a child and now as a man. (“With a single exception I’m in regular touch with every person I’ve loved.”) No one is cast out; even the most flawed family members remain actively loved and supported within the family circle to which, by Price’s testimony, his splendid creativity owes much.
PARTING THE WATERS America in the King Years 1954-1963 by Taylor Branch (Simon & Schuster) See above, under Current Interest.
PAUL ROBESON A Biography by Martin Bauml Duberman (Alfred A. Knopf) This is the first full-scale biography (complete with 200 pages of notes) of one of the most interesting, controversial and tragic figures in American history. Paul Robeson, son of an ex-slave, became an All-American athlete, Phi Beta Kappa scholar and later an internationally known singer and actor. As a forerunner to the civil rights movement, he spoke out about racial injustice as early as the Thirties. Subsequently, his passport was revoked and his opportunities to perform at home disappeared while he was kept under FBI surveillance. His health and career broken, he died prematurely.
GEORGE BERNARD SHAW The Search for Love by Michael Holroyd (Random House) The first of three volumes to be published on the most controversial literary figure of his day, this study of Shaw’s early years in the Victorian Era is filled with the prodigious detail of 15 years’ work by noted biographer Holroyd, about whom critic Richard Eder observed: ". . . He has not simply written Shaw’s life. He has besieged it.”
SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY
IS SCIENCE NECESSARY? Essays on Science and Scientists by Max F. Perutz (E.P. Dutton) Perutz, a Nobel Prize winner, believes that science and art have a similar function in society: to expand human perception. This view underpins an anthology of essays that seek to make science more accessible now that nothing less than the “survival of nature and civilization” is at stake. Subjects emphasized are those basic to existence: health, energy, and food production from the global perspectives of both the past and the future.
PEACEMAKING AMONG PRIMATES by Frans de Waal (Harvard University Press) An absorbing account of the peacemaking strategies of five different species that include our closest primate cousins--chimpanzees, rhesus monkeys, stump-tailed monkeys, bonobos, and humans. Author DeWaal, a research scientist with the Wisconsin Regional Primate Research Center, demonstrates through the study of animal reconciliation behavior that forgiveness and peacemaking are widespread among nonhuman primates. Our tendency to condemn aggression as antisocial behavior is a simplification, he believes. His studies suggest that aggression and peacemaking are intertwined and that peacemaking is as innate to our heritage as is aggression.
THE FIVE SENSES by F. Gonzalez-Crussi (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich) A meditation on sensory experience by a Mexican-born pathologist who weaves personal experience with history, science, philosophy and theology for a wide- ranging approach to our centuries-old but undissipated curiosity about the origins of pain and pleasure. More anecdotal than scholarly, it is nevertheless an erudite work that ranges from musings on the source of the “phantom limb” phenomenon in his chapter on touch, to the array of religious attitudes toward olfaction in his chapter on smell, and a chapter inspired by his own origins entitled “Reminiscences of a Hot Pepper Eater.”
SCIENCE AS A PROCESS An Evolutionary Account of the Social and Conceptual Development of Science by David L. Hull (University of Chicago Press) A challenge to the homily that the operating principle in science is “truth for truth’s sake.” In no sense a breed apart, successful scientists, like their successful counterparts in business, are driven by personal commitment and self-interest tempered by the need to collaborate. The author, who is a philosopher and historian of science, argues that some of “the behavior that appears to be the most improper actually facilitates the manifest goals of science . . . the least productive scientists tend to behave the most admirably, while those who make the greatest contributions just as frequently behave the most deplorably.” It is the tension between competitive drive and the need to cooperate in order to survive that creates “conceptual change” in science, he says. The same evolutionary forces responsible for the rise and demise of species also are at work in the creation of scientific ideas.
WHAT MAD PURSUIT A Personal View of Scientific Discovery by Francis Crick (Basic Books) Together with James Watson, author Francis Crick discovered the structure of the genetic material of life on Earth for which they were each awarded the Nobel Prize in 1962. This is his warmly told account of the discovery and “how it, in turn, led to the cracking of the genetic code and the launching of the molecular biological revolution.”
THE ONE DAY A Poem in Three Parts by Donald Hall (Ticknor & Fields) A book-length poem in three sections. Encompassing a wide range of ideas, and presenting a number of different characters, the poem arrestingly examines the strengths and deficiencies of contemporary American culture. The book includes, on the one hand, a funny mock-pastoral dialogue between two spoiled young consumers and, on the other, a moving meditation on aging and death.
STREAMERS by Sandra McPherson (Antaeus/The Ecco Press) A distinguished collection of short poems on the related subjects of nature and human nature. Especially gripping is a series of poems that examine the vexed relationship between a well-meaning mother and her rebellious daughter. Other poems freshly discuss issues of ecological importance. Still others evocatively describe plants and animals.
THE WONDER OF SEEING DOUBLE by Robert B. Shaw (University of Massachusetts Press) Written with ease in a variety of rhyming stanzaic forms and in blank verse, Shaw’s poems include a fine dramatic monologue delivered by an understudy in an acting company on tour and a witty sequence of poems about timepieces. Also featured in Shaw’s collection is a lovely poem, “Morning Exercise,” that describes a child watching his father shave.
SARAH’S CHOICE by Eleanor Wilner (University of Chicago Press) A collection distinguished by its rich and thoughtful appreciation of myth and history. The title poem examines the story of the testing of Abraham from the standpoint of Abraham’s wife. Like other poems in the collection, it portrays individuals torn between the claims of personal allegiance and the claims of the larger forces of the world and culture in which they live.
A SOLDIER’S TIME by R.L. Barth (John Daniel & Co., Publishers) A collection of poems by an ex-Marine who served in Vietnam in the late Sixties. Bearing witness to the experiences of the soldiers and civilians who suffered in the conflict, Barth’s poems also attempt to understand the war in historical perspective. Barth writes in regular metrical forms that give structure and power to his observations of the violent and harsh realities of combat.