The Local Books of the Year Winners
By Eilene Zimmerman
Fiction: Transplanted Man by Sanjay Nigam
Mystery: In Cold Pursuit by T. Jefferson Parker
Nonfiction: Jim Crowe’s Children by Peter Irons Fried Butter by Abe Opincar
Children’s: The Brontë Family:
Passionate Literary Geniuses by Karen Smith Kenyon
Springtime heralds many things, including the annual San Diego Magazine Book Awards. This is our fourth year honoring books by local authors, all of them reviewed here in the previous calendar year. Among the many great books we covered in 2003, these are the best—worthy of local and national attention.
Transplanted Man (William Morrow), by San Diegan Sanjay Nigam, is our choice for best fiction. It is the story of Sunit “Sonny” Seth, a brilliant but depressed medical resident at a New York City hospital that serves the community in Manhattan’s Little India neighborhood. Sonny leads a cast of wildly divergent characters—mostly displaced Indian immigrants—who seem to be in perpetual motion. Sonny becomes ensnared in the case of a well-known Indian politician nicknamed “transplanted man” because nearly every organ in his body has been replaced. Nigam, a doctor himself, has created fascinating and complex characters and a plot that encompasses everything from Indian politics to insomnia. It is sometimes hard to follow but worth the effort—the author makes some poignant, serious points about the immigrant experience.
Fallbrook writer T. Jefferson Parker has the winning mystery with his latest book, In Cold Pursuit (Hyperion). The story centers on the clubbing death of 84-year-old Pete Braga, a wealthy tuna fisherman turned car dealer who was deeply entrenched in San Diego politics. The investigator on the case winds up being Sergeant Tom McMichael, whose grandfather was shot decades earlier by Braga. In Cold Pursuit is a fast-paced, well-written thriller, with characters who are both hard-nosed and vulnerable—and lots of interesting details about the history of San Diego’s waterfront politics.
In the nonfiction category, two books rise above the rest. Jim Crow’s Children: The Broken Promise of the Brown Decision (Viking Press), by UCSD political science professor Peter Irons, gives readers an understanding of public education in this country, specifically how the promise of the Brown vs. Board of Education decision in 1954—that education would be desegregated and equal—has been largely unfulfilled. Irons, an eloquent writer, discusses five court cases that led up to the Brown decision and then takes us through 50 years of public education.
Fried Butter (Soho Press) by Abe Opincar (who writes about area religious services for The San Diego Weekly Reader) reads a bit like a cookbook without the recipes. It’s an elegant personal memoir told through recollections of meals eaten and foods prepared.
Of the many children’s books published last year, La Jolla writer Karen Kenyon’s The Brontë Family: Passionate Literary Geniuses (Lerner Publications) stands out as an intelligent, accessible introduction for children and young adults to the famous Brontë family. This lively account of the Brontë siblings—Charlotte, Emily, Ann (all successful writers in Victorian England) and brother Branwell—is filled with colorful scenes and interesting stories, accompanied by photos, drawings and paintings.
Although these were, in our opinion, the best of the books reviewed here last year, many, many others are worth noting, even though we didn’t stamp them “winner.” For example, San Diego author Chet Cunningham’s Hell Wouldn’t Stop: An Oral History of the Battle of Wake Island (Carroll & Graf) gives us the words of sailors, marines and soldiers who survived a 16-day battle in 1941 for tiny Wake Island. This brief glimpse inside the minds of those who were there speaks volumes about the horrors of war.
Also high on our list is The Best of Good, San Diego writer Sara Lewis’ fifth novel—and possibly her best. It’s the story of Tom Good, a lonely man and talented musician, stuck in the past and unable to move forward with his life.
One last note: The Books column was created six years ago to bring notice of new books published by local—and often overlooked—writers. This will be my last bimonthly column, but it’s not an end to the magazine’s showcasing of local literary talent. Keep an eye on our new Agenda section for periodic reviews of exceptional books by San Diego writers.