Book-Ending the Year: 10 Great Works of Fiction Published in 2017
The year 2017 has been a turbulent in many ways, but where there is great conflict and change, great art will also find a way. Much incredible fiction has been published this year so we’re going to take the opportunity to look back on the books that have been making headlines throughout 2017. Some of them have received attention for winning literary prizes while others have resonated strongly with currents events of the world but whatever the reason that brought them to the spotlight, each of these books have been raved about by critics and readers.
The books selected for this list are all originally written in English. It has been an incredible year for books in translation, as well, and Olivia Snaije has done a review of this year’s notable releases in her list of Great Books in Translation of 2017.
One book that is not on the list but deserves a mention is Naomi Alderman’s The Power which won the Baileys Women’s Prize for fiction this year. Alderman’s dystopian novel is an important book and one which struck a resonance with the political and social turbulence of 2017, however it has not been included on this list because it was published in 2016.
And now, a look back on the fiction published in 2017 that has been making waves. The books have been listed in the order they were published throughout the year.
The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen
In The Refugees Viet Thanh Nguyen gives voice to lives led between two worlds, the adopted homeland and the country of birth. From a young Vietnamese refugee who suffers profound culture shock when he comes to live with two gay men in San Francisco, to a woman whose husband is suffering from dementia and starts to confuse her for a former lover, the stories are captivating testament to the dreams and hardships of immigration. The Refugees is a beautifully written book about the aspirations of those who leave one country for another, and the relationships and desires that define us.
In the news: Last year Viet Thanh Nguyen won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, for his debut novel The Sympathizer. Unsurprisingly, his next book, and his first collection of short stories, The Refugees was highly anticipated, and received great acclaim, with Joyce Carol Oates describing his work as "pervaded by a shared intensity of vision, by stinging perceptions that drift like windblown ashes."
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
Yeongdo, Korea 1911. In a small fishing village on the banks of the East Sea, a club-footed, cleft-lipped man marries a fifteen-year-old girl. The couple have one child, their beloved daughter Sunja. When Sunja falls pregnant by a married yakuza, the family face ruin. But then Isak, a Christian minister, offers her a chance of salvation: a new life in Japan as his wife. Following a man she barely knows to a hostile country in which she has no friends, no home, and whose language she cannot speak, Sunja's salvation is just the beginning of her story. Through eight decades and four generations, Pachinko is an epic tale of family, identity, love, death and survival.
In the news: Min Jin Lee’s first novel, Free Food for Millionaires received widespread praise. Now, 10 years later, her second novel has seen similar interest, with Roxane Gay naming it in The Washington Post as her favourite book of the year. It was also notable as a finalist for the National Book Award.
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
This is an extraordinary first novel by George Saunders, about Abraham Lincoln and the death of his eleven year old son, Willie. From the seed of historical truth, George Saunders spins an unforgettable story of familial love and loss that breaks free of realism. Willie Lincoln finds himself trapped in a transitional realm - called, in Tibetan tradition, the bardo - as ghosts mingle, squabble, gripe and commiserate. Unfolding over a single night, Lincoln in the Bardo is written with George Saunders' inimitable humour, pathos and grace. He deploys a theatrical, kaleidoscopic panoply of voices - living and dead, historical and fictional.
In the news: George Saunders has had an extensive career as a writer, and has earned a great number of awards in the process. His first full-length novel has been no exception. This year it was shortlisted for the National Book Award, and won the Man Booker Prize, along with a variety of other prizes and accolades.
Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
Nadia and Saeed are two ordinary young people, attempting to do an extraordinary thing - to fall in love - in a world turned upside down. Theirs will be a love story but also a story about how we live now and how we might live tomorrow, of a world in crisis and two human beings travelling through it. Civil war has come to the city which Nadia and Saeed call home. Before long they will need to leave their motherland behind - when the streets are impassable and the unknown is safer than the known. They will join the great outpouring of people fleeing a collapsing city, hoping against hope, looking for their place in the world...
In the news: Author of The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Mohsin Hamid has returned to the limelight with another highly talked-about novel. Exit West has been a feature of this year’s prize discussions, longlisted for the Carnegie Medal, shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, and a finalist for the Neustadt Prize 2018.
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
The Hate U Give is a powerful and brave YA novel about what prejudice looks like in the 21st century. Sixteen-year-old Starr lives in two worlds: the poor neighbourhood where she was born and raised and her posh high school in the suburbs. The uneasy balance between them is shattered when Starr is the only witness to the fatal shooting of her unarmed best friend, Khalil, by a police officer. Now what Starr says could destroy her community. It could also get her killed. This is a powerful and gripping YA novel about one girl's struggle for justice.
In the news: Angie Thomas was inspired to write this novel because of the Black Lives Matter movement. The topical nature of the novel put it in the spotlight this year, with enormous praise from a great number of authors and critics, including John Green and Jason Reynolds.
Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo
There are things even love can't do... If the burden is too much and stays too long, even love bends, cracks, comes close to breaking and sometimes does break. But even when it's in a thousand pieces around your feet, that doesn't mean it's no longer love... Yejide is hoping for a child and she has tried everything - arduous pilgrimages, medical consultations, appeals to God. But when her relatives insist upon a new wife, it is too much for Yejide to bear. It will lead to jealousy, betrayal and despair. Unravelling against the turbulence of 1980s Nigeria, Stay With Me sings with the voices, colours, joys and fears of its surroundings.
In the news: The extraordinary first novel by Nigerian writer Ayobami Adebayo debuted to massive critical acclaim. It was shortlisted for the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction, and has appeared in almost every list of notable books from 2017. In 2015 Adebayo had been listed by the Financial Times as one of the bright stars of Nigerian literature.
Anything Is Possible by Elizabeth Strout
Here are two sisters: One trades self-respect for a wealthy husband while the other finds in the pages of a book a kindred spirit who changes her life. The janitor at the local school has his
faith tested in an encounter with an isolated man he has come to help; a grown daughter longs for mother love even as she comes to accept her mother’s happiness in a foreign country; and the adult Lucy Barton (the heroine of My Name Is Lucy Barton, the author’s celebrated New York Times bestseller) returns to visit her siblings after seventeen years of absence.
In the news: Elizabeth Strout is one of those authors whose new releases is sure to cause a stir. Her 2008 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Olive Kitteridge confirmed her as a master storyteller, and her newest book has been highly anticipated.
Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie
Isma is free. After years spent raising her twin siblings she is finally studying in America. But she can't stop worrying about Aneeka, her beautiful, headstrong sister back in London - or their brother, Parvaiz, who's gone to prove himself to the dark legacy of his jihadist father. Then Eamonn enters the sisters' lives. Handsome and privileged, he inhabits a London worlds away from theirs. As the son of a powerful British Muslim politician, is Eamonn to be the means of Parvaiz's salvation? Two families' fates are inextricably, devastatingly entwined in this searing novel that asks: what sacrifices will we make in the name of love? A contemporary reimagining of Sophocles' Antigone.
In the news: Kamila Shamsie has previously seen her work receive critical acclaim, and her newest book Home Fire has received particular attention. It was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize, shortlisted for the Costa Novel Award, and was named a book of the year by The
Guardian, The Observer, The Telegraph, and the New York Times.
Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
Jojo is thirteen years old and trying to understand what it means to be a man. He doesn’t lack in fathers to study. Among them, his Black grandfather, Pop, and his absent White father, Michael in prison.
His mother, Leonie, is an inconsistent presence in his and his toddler sister’s lives. She wants to be a better mother but can’t put her children above her own needs, especially her drug use.
When the children’s father is released from prison, Leonie packs her kids into her car and drives to the State Penitentiary. They find another thirteen-year-old boy there, the ghost of an inmate who carries all of the South's ugly history with him. He too, has something to teach Jojo about fathers and sons, legacies, violence, and love.
In the news: In 2011 Jesmyn Ward won the National Book Award for Fiction for her second novel Salvage the Bones, and now in 2017 she has become the first woman ever to win a second National Book Award for Fiction. Sing Unburied Sing was also a finalist for the Kirkus Prize and the Andrew Carnegie Medal, as well as a TIME magazine best novel of the year.
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
Everyone was talking about it: how Isabelle, the last of the Richardson children, had finally gone around the bend and burned the house down. In Shaker Heights everything is meticulously planned and no one embodies this more than Elena Richardson. Enter the enigmatic Mia Warren, who arrives with her teenage daughter Pearl. Soon all four Richardson children are drawn to the mother-daughter pair. But Mia carries with her a mysterious past, and a disregard for the rules. When old family friends attempt to adopt a Chinese-American baby, a custody battle erupts that dramatically divides the town - and puts Mia and Elena on opposing sides. Elena is determined to uncover the secrets in Mia's past. But her obsession will come at an unexpected and devastating cost...
In the news: An instant New York Times bestseller, Celeste Ng’s novel has been lauded by everyone from Reese Witherspoon to Jodi Picoult.
This article was originally written for Bookwitty.com and published in December 2017.