Nominated by:

Stadtbücherei Frankfurt am Main, Germany

Publisher of nominated edition:

Fourth Estate, UK

A Book of American Martyrs

Joyce Carol Oates    

Gus Voorhees is a pioneer in the advancement of women’s reproductive rights and a controversial abortion provider in the American Midwest. One morning as he arrives at his clinic, he is ambushed by a hardline Christian, Luther Dunphy, and shot dead. The killing leaves in its wake two fatherless families: the Voorheeses, who are affluent, highly educated, secular and pro-choice, and the Dunphys, their opposite on all counts.

When the daughters of the two families, Naomi Voorhees and Dawn Dunphy, glimpse each other at the trial of Luther Dunphy, their initial response is mutual hatred. But their lives are tangled together forever by what has happened, and throughout the years to come and the events that follow, neither can quite forget the other.

A heart-rending reckoning with some of the most incendiary issues that divide us in our troubled times – religious extremism; abortion; gun violence; capital punishment – this is a novel Joyce Carol Oates was born to write. To read it is to encounter the full spectrum of humanity – its ugliness, misery, beauty and hope.

About the author

Joyce Carol Oates is a novelist, critic, playwright, poet and author of short stories and one of America’s most highly respected literary figures. She has written some of the most enduring fiction of our time, including We Were the Mulvaneys, which was an Oprah Book Club Choice, and Blonde, which was nominated for the National Book Award. She is the Roger S. Berlind Distinguished Professor of Humanities at Princeton University and a recipient of the National Book Award and the PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in Short Fiction.

(from publisher)

Librarians’ comments

This is a family saga about two families linked by an assault. In the nineties the abortion debate in the USA was a debate of ethical belief not yet exploited by political parties. In the murder of an abortion providing doctor by a fundamental Christian it’s not only the story of their families being told but of the clash between metropolitan and rural, between intellectual and low-of-income America. The impact of “martyrdom” for both families – both on the losing side – is to break apart, to lose their centres.

Joyce Carol Oates looks at either side of the abortion debate by portraying characters and motives. The author paints a picture of the American society on the dawn of Trump’s America: belief and spirituality on both sides, pro-choice and the right to life and of personal traumata, and the All-American trauma, 9-11. This is a portrait of society and a story of suspense with a glimpse of hope in the end.

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