Do you love poring over the “best of” book lists when the finalists or winners are announced? I do. I love the National Book Awards, am always curious about who won the Pulitzer, like to check out the Booker Prize and have discovered some good local authors through the Massachusetts Book Awards. I’m a book list junkie, even if the winners probably have enough hype and what we really need is a Best Truly Undiscovered Book award or Best Book by an Obscure Publishing House.
One award whose books I particularly like every year is the Kiriyama Prize, given to an author on the Pacific Rim. Catfish and Mandala: A Two-Wheeled Journey through the Landscape and Memory of Vietnam, an excellent memoir by Andrew X. Pham, was the 1999 nonfiction winner. In 2006, I was transported to Siberia with The Reindeer People by Piers Vitebsky, an anthropological study of nomads living in the coldest environment possible. In 2005, I was excited to discover a new author who’s become one of my favorites. Nadeem Aslam won the award for his book Maps for Lost Lovers that read like poetry. He has a new book out now, The Wasted Vigil, a story about post-911 Afghanistan told in the lyrical style that made Maps for Lost Lovers and his earlier book, Season of the Rainbirds such rich, enjoyable reads.
I’m only a third of the way through the new book, but as always, Aslam’s similes and descriptions are memorable, like the description of “the sudden startling bats that appear out of nowhere like flickering ink blots” or butterflies that have “green underwings so that—visible invisible visible invisible—they seem to blink in and out of existence as they fly amid the leaves.” Good stuff worthy of another award.