Pulitzer Prizes 2022: A Guide to the Winning Books and Finalists – The New York Times
Joshua Cohen’s novel “The Netanyahus” won the fiction prize, and the Times reporter Andrea Elliott won the general nonfiction award for “Invisible Child.”
Fifteen books were recognized as winners or finalists for the Pulitzer Prize on Monday, in the categories of fiction, general history, biography, poetry and general nonfiction.
‘The Netanyahus,’ by Joshua Cohen (New York Review Books)
Cohen’s book imagines Benzion Netanyahu, academic and father of the Israeli prime minister, arriving to interview for a job at a fictional New York college (modeled on Cornell) in the late 1950s. The book is narrated by Ruben Blum, a faculty member asked to consider Netanyahu’s fitness for the job. The novel explores themes of Jewishness and diaspora as Netanyahu’s fatalistic view of Jewish history bumps up against that of Blum, an assimilated American Jewish professor. In The New York Times Book Review, Taffy Brodesser-Akner called it “a generational campus novel, an unyielding academic lecture, a rigorous meditation on Jewish identity, an exhaustive meditation on Jewish American identity, a polemic on Zionism, a history lesson. It is an infuriating, frustrating, pretentious piece of work — and also absorbing, delightful, hilarious, breathtaking and the best and most relevant novel I’ve read in what feels like forever.”
Finalist: “Monkey Boy,” by Francisco Goldman (Grove)
Frankie Goldberg is the protagonist of Goldman’s semi-autobiographical novel. He’s a middle-aged writer visiting his Guatemalan mother in a Boston nursing home, where he recalls his tormented and abusive father, his estranged sister and his days as a bullied high school student. In The New Yorker, James Wood wrote: “Frankie’s account is full of rebellious comedy and vitality. Goldman is a natural storyteller — funny, intimate, sarcastic, all-noticing.”
Finalist: “Palmares,” by Gayl Jones (Beacon Press)
Jones’s fifth novel was her first in 22 years. It’s set in Brazil in the late 1600s, and it’s both an odyssey about one woman’s search — for a place and a person — and the story of the brutal enslavement and degradation of various African peoples who were kidnapped by the warring factions of Europe. Robert Jones Jr. wrote in the Book Review: “Mercy, this story shimmers. Shakes. Wails. Moves to rhythms long forgotten. Chants in incantations highly forbidden. It is a story woven with extraordinary complexity, depth and skill; in many ways: holy.”
‘Covered With Night: A Story of Murder and Indigenous Justice in Early America,’ by Nicole Eustace (Liveright)
Also a finalist for the National Book Award, this account shows the lasting consequences of the 1722 killing of an Indigenous hunter in Pennsylvania by two white traders. Eustace, a professor at New York University, explores how the case’s immediate aftermath ushered in a fierce debate about justice, contrasting the Indigenous perspective and its focus on reconciliation and forgiveness with that of the white colonists, who often favored retribution. Ultimately, the episode — and the ensuing cross-cultural negotiation between Indigenous communities and white colonists — helped pave the way for a treaty still recognized today.
‘Cuba: An American History,’ by Ada Ferrer (Scribner)
This sweeping account of Cuba shared the award for history. It spans 500 years — from before Christopher Columbus’s arrival to after the death of Fidel Castro — and details its history of occupation, revolution and more. More than a history of Cuba, Ferrer writes, “this book is also a history of Cuba in relation to the United States, a history of the sometimes intimate, sometimes explosive, always uneven relationship between the two countries.” Ferrer has spent decades researching Cuba and draws on her own family’s history, allowing readers to “see their own country refracted through the eyes of another.”
Finalist: “Until Justice Be Done: America’s First Civil Rights Movement, From the Revolution to Reconstruction,” by Kate Masur (W.W. Norton & Company)
This book looks at the painstaking fight for Black people’s rights and equality at a time when states’ rights had far more influence than federal law. “If this is a cleareyed book, it’s still a heartening one,” The Times’ critic Jennifer Szalai wrote. “Masur takes care to show not only the limitations of what was achieved at each step but also how even the smallest step could lead to another.”
‘Chasing Me to My Grave: An Artist’s Memoir of the Jim Crow South,’ by Winfred Rembert, as told to Erin I. Kelly. (Bloomsbury)
The artist Winfred Rembert didn’t start drawing and painting seriously until he was in his 50s. In his memoir, which blends his life story with his artwork — vivid-hued paintings carved into leather — Rembert recounts scenes from his life in the Jim Crow-era Deep South. Rembert describes how he survived a near lynching in 1960s Georgia, when he was chased by a white mob after a Civil Rights demonstration that turned chaotic. He was later jailed for stealing a car, and spent seven years in prison, forced to work on chain gangs. Rembert died in the spring of 2021, shortly before the release of the memoir, which was a collaboration with Erin I. Kelly, a professor of philosophy at Tufts University. In the introduction, he described how he had wanted to tell his life story for decades, but didn’t think there was an audience: “I was worried about whether people would believe me or care.”
Finalist: “Pessoa: A Biography,” by Richard Zenith (Liveright)
When the Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa died in 1935, his work had received little attention. Literary acclaim came after his death, with the discovery of a trove of writing, often in the voices of alternate selves — a monk, a teenage girl, a doctor. Writing in The New York Times, Parul Sehgal called Zenith’s biography of Pessoa a “mammoth, definitive and sublime” work that “gives us a group portrait of the writer and his cast of alternate selves — along with a perceptive reading of what it meant for Pessoa to multiply (or did he fracture?) like this.”
Finalist: “The Doctors Blackwell: How Two Pioneering Sisters Brought Medicine to Women — and Women to Medicine,” by Janice P. Nimura (W.W. Norton & Company)
In the mid 1800s, the sisters Elizabeth and Emily Blackwell became two of the first women to receive medical degrees in the United States. Though the sisters later founded a women’s medical college and came to be held up as feminist pioneers, Janice P. Nimura tells a more complex story in her biography, which Szalai praised as “enthralling.” Nimura reveals that the sisters were not always so generous in their assessment of other women, and tended to dismiss them as being too weak and feeble minded to advance on their own.
‘frank: sonnets,’ by Diane Seuss (Graywolf Press)
Seuss has said this collection, her fifth, is a memoir composed of sonnets, with poems that touch on death, birth, loss and addiction. “Death does not exist in poetry,” one piece begins. “No choking sounds in poems, no smell of blood. I can describe / the sounds, the smells, but description is, in fact, a hiding place. There is no nobility / in description. Is there nobility in poems? Let’s hope not. Nobility is another place / to hide.” The collection also won the National Book Critics Circle Award and the PEN/Voelcker Award.
Finalist: “Refractive Africa: Ballet of the Forgotten,” by Will Alexander (New Directions)
The New York Times described Alexander as a poet who mixes “politics with mesmeric, oracular lines.” This collection is made up of three long poems.
Finalist: “Yellow Rain,” by Mai Der Vang (Graywolf Press)
A poetic account of mysterious illnesses and death among the Hmong people, many of whom believed that a substance, which became known as “yellow rain,” was dropped from planes beginning in the 1970s, leading to accusations of biological warfare.
‘Invisible Child: Poverty, Survival and Hope in an American City,’ by Andrea Elliott (Random House)
In “Invisible Child,” Elliott expands on her 2013 series for The Times about Dasani, a homeless New York schoolgirl, and her family. An intimately reported portrait of the family, it’s also a searing account of poverty and addiction, and of the city and country’s repeated failures to address those issues. On the Book Review’s podcast, Elliott said that Dasani became the main focus of the book, in part, because “she was somebody who, at a very young age, could articulate in a moving and profound way her experience. And that’s a rare trait even in adults.” In his review, Matthew Desmond wrote: “The result of this unflinching, tenacious reporting is a rare and powerful work whose stories will live inside you long after you’ve read them.”
Finalist: “The Family Roe: An American Story,” by Joshua Prager (W.W. Norton & Company)
Arguably the most timely of this year’s winners and finalists, Joshua Prager’s book is the story of Norma McCorvey, the plaintiff known as Jane Roe, whose case won abortion rights for American women. In his review, Anand Giridharadas wrote that in Prager’s telling, “Jane Roe is both heroine and villain — and a paragon of human complexity. If you like your stories the way too many of us now do — pat, with the narrative reverse-engineered to validate your priors — this book is not for you. But it is if you want an honest glimpse into the American soul, into the foul and sometimes fruitful marriage of activism and commerce, into the ways in which people can be and believe contradictory things, into the inner and outer lives of women squelched and tossed by reproductive tyranny.”
Finalist: “Home, Land, Security: Deradicalization and the Journey Back from Extremism,” by Carla Power (One World)
The journalist Carla Power’s book is about “deradicalization,” a field that studies the reasons terrorists and other extremists are drawn to violent political action and how they might be brought back into society. Publishers Weekly called it a “deeply reported and ultimately optimistic account.”