Karen Tei Yamashita’s sprawling novel “I Hotel” set in San Francisco’s Chinatown during the Asian American civil rights movement was among the finalists for the National Book Award, announced on Wednesday.
Other nominees include Peter Carey, whose “Parrot and Olivier in America” was a runner-up for the Man Booker Prize, and such well-regarded authors as Nicole Krauss (“Great House”) and Lionel Shriver (“So Much for That”). The book awards also welcomed a rock star, Patti Smith, a nonfiction contender for “Just Kids,” a memoir about her friendship with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe; and Korean American attorney, poetry finalist Monica Youn (“Ignatz”), whose day job is with the Brennan Center for Justice in New York.
Yamashita, 59, teaches creative writing and Asian American literature at UC Santa Cruz. She is the author of four previous books, including Through the Arc of the Rainforest, which received the American Book Award and the Janet Heidinger Kafka Award.
Established in 1950, the book awards are chosen in each category by five-member panels of fellow writers, with judges changing each year.
Divided into ten novellas, one for each year, “I Hotel” begins in 1968, when Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy were assassinated, students took to the streets, the Vietnam War raged, and cities burned.
As Yamashita’s motley cast of students, laborers, artists, revolutionaries, and provocateurs make their way through the history of the day, they become caught in a riptide of politics and passion, clashing ideologies, and personal turmoil.
John Dower, a National Book Award winner in 1999 for his study of post-World War II Japan “Embracing Defeat,” was a nonfiction nominee for “Cultures of War,” which unfavorably contrasts the occupation of Iraq with U.S. policy after Japan surrendered in 1945
Winners, each of whom receive $10,000, will be announced at a ceremony Nov. 17.