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The Morning News and Powells Present
2006 Tournament of Books
APRIL 5, 2006
I am sleep deprived. My IQ has dropped precipitously. I just had a baby, which should explain all this and also why I haven’t read much of late. When I started these books, I expected my old self to show up (she can be critical and cynical), but instead Ms. Grateful-To-Be-Transported appeared. Sorry, Morning News readers!

I started with Beasts of No Nation, which I didn’t expect to be able to stomach in my tender state of new motherhood. To my surprise, I was incredibly moved. Set in an unspecified West African nation, the novel traces the life of Agu, a young boy newly recruited into a unit of guerrilla fighters. What follows is violence, blood, rape, more violence, more blood, and more rape. (Reading it was the visceral equivalent of listening to someone scream). It’s remarkable on many levels—the subject matter, the author’s age (23, I think) and an utterly original narrative voice. But what impressed me most was that Iweala managed to pull off a beautiful coming-of-age story in the thick of all that mayhem.
On every level and in every way
these books and their writers are opposites.
Next on the roster was Saturday. Damn! That McEwan can write. Saturday is a well paced, perceptive, and graceful novel that follows the trajectory of a single day in which seemingly banal events—a game of squash, buying food for a dinner party, a fender bender—forecast something far more sinister. Written in the wake of Sept. 11, but set preceding the Iraq war, the book manages to tackle the elusive experience of happiness. But in the end, it’s McEwen’s pacing, his ability to slow down, freeze even, at dramatic moments that gives this novel so much of its power.

On every level and in every way these books and their writers are opposites: Beasts: A first novel. A young writer. An uneducated child protagonist. All about our greatest fears. Saturday: A 10th novel. A famous writer. A middle-aged neurosurgeon protagonist. All about the everyday.

So what decided it for me? The writing itself. McEwan is at the top of his game, and Saturday is simply a better novel.

The Peanut Gallery
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