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2021 National Book Awards Fiction finalists

The list was announced October 5th, 2021. This year’s judges for the category were Alan Michael Parker, Emily Pullen, Margaret Wilkerson Sexton, Luis Alberto Urrea, and Charles Yu.

Cloud cuckoo land : a novel

Anthony Doerr

FICTION Doerr Anthony
Fiction

Constantinople, 1453: Anna lives in a convent where women toil all day embroidering the robes of priests. She learns the story of Aethon, who longs to be turned into a bird so that he can fly to the paradise of Cloud Cuckoo Land, a better world, and reads it to her sister as the walls of Constantinople are bombarded by armies of Saracens. Lakeport, Idaho, 2020: Seymour, an activist bent on saving the earth, sits in the public library with two homemade bombs in pressure cookers. Upstairs, eighty-five-year old Zeno, a former prisoner-of-war, and an amateur translator, rehearses five children in a play adaptation of Aethon's adventures. The future: On an interstellar ark called The Argos, Konstance, alone in a vault with access to all the information in the world, knows Aethon's story through her father, who has sequestered her to protect her. All are dreamers, misfits on the cusp of adulthood in a world the grown-ups have broken. -- adapted from publisher info

Matrix

Lauren Groff

FICTION Groff Lauren
Fiction

"Cast out of the royal court by Eleanor of Aquitaine, deemed too coarse and rough-hewn for marriage or courtly life, seventeen-year-old Marie de France is sent to England to be the new prioress of an impoverished abbey, its nuns on the brink of starvation and beset by disease. At first taken aback by the severity of her new life, Marie finds focus and love in collective life with her singular and mercurial sisters. In this crucible, Marie steadily supplants her desire for family, for her homeland, for the passions of her youth with something new to her: devotion to her sisters, and a conviction in her own divine visions. Marie, born the last in a long line of women warriors and crusaders, is determined to chart a bold new course for the women she now leads and protects. But in a world that is shifting and corroding in frightening ways, one that can never reconcile itself with her existence, will the sheer force of Marie's vision be bulwark enough? Equally alive to the sacred and the profane, Matrix gathers currents of violence, sensuality, and religious ecstasy in a mesmerizing portrait of consuming passion, aberrant faith, and a woman that history moves both through and around. Lauren Groff's new novel, her first since Fates and Furies, is a defiant and timely exploration of the raw power of female creativity in a corrupted world"--

Zorrie : a novel

Laird Hunt

FICTION Hunt Laird
Fiction

After losing both her parents and her aunt, Zorrie is cast into the perilous realities of rural Depression-era Indiana. Drifting west, surviving on odd jobs, Zorrie finds a position at a radium processing plant. When Indiana calls Zorrie home, she finds the love and community that has always eluded her in and around the small town of Hillisburg, but discovers that her trials have only begun. -- adapted from jacket

The prophets : a novel

Robert Jones

FICTION Jones Robert
Fiction

"A singular and stunning debut novel about the forbidden union between two enslaved young men on a Deep South plantation, the refuge they find in each other, and a betrayal that threatens their existence"--

Hell of a book : or the altogether factual, Wholly Bona Fide story of a big dreams, hard luck, American-Made Mad Kid

Jason Mott

FICTION Mott Jason
Fiction

Soot, a young Black boy, lives in a rural town in the recent past. The Kid, a possibly imaginary child appears to a Black author on a cross-country publicity tour. to promote his bestselling novel. As their stories build and converge, they astonish. As the nation reckons with a tragic police shooting playing over and over again on the news, what it can mean to be Black in America? Who has been killed? Who is The Kid? Will the author finish his book tour, and what kind of world will he leave behind? -- adapted from jacket