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January 2, 2008 |

By Phillip Stephens | Books | January 2, 2008 |

2007 was, in many ways, a typical year for fiction, showcasing an array of exciting new voices and the consistent greatness from authors we’ve come to rely on. The following list is of the fiction I found most remarkable last year, and you’ll notice that it’s a bit too typical of many of these best-of publications: a mix of award winners and the much-touted literary darlings of the publishing world. But that shouldn’t diminish their appeal. What I found most exceptional was the plethora of international voices who found success in the English-speaking literary world. Hopefully, 2008 will see a further expansion of the literary community’s scope, not just among readers, but for Pajiba as well.

The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears, by Dinaw Mengetsu

A heartbreaking look at the African diaspora, Mengetsu paints a sad, delicate portrait of the sheer portentous weight of the immigrant identity, rendered most evocative by the banalities of a new American life.

Be Near Me, by Andrew O’Hagan

A sad, simplistic tale of a Scottish Catholic priest who takes a rural parish, too wracked with grief over a lost (and forbidden) love to take an interest in his life or work.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, by Junot Díaz

An impressive debut for Diaz, who chronicles the imaginative life of an uber-nerdy Dominican-American, examining the immigrant experience with surprising humor and literary depth. Think Lethem meets Chabon meets Derek Walcott.

A Free Life, by Ha Jin

A perfect blend of the ambivalences which make up the American Dream, which makes sense, considering that this is the Chinese author’s first novel set in the U.S., taking stock of the immigrant experience post-Tiananmen.

The Gathering, by Anne Enright

This year’s Booker Prize winner is a bleaker-than-bleak narrative of a woman who tries to parse the reason for her brother’s suicide. Enright’s prose can be savagely hilarious, though it only barely leavens the dark sadness at play here.

In the Country of Men, by Hisham Matar

Matar’s debut novel is a desperate and disturbing portrait of post-revolution Libya, examining the deeply personal betrayals at the heart of the totalitarian experience.

Mothers and Sons: Stories, by Colm Tóibín

A wrenchingly cynical collection of stories by Irish master Toibin, who deconstructs the destructive nature of the traditional family.

On Chesil Beach, by Ian McEwan

A short, sad, and momentously layered novella by literary mainstay McEwan, whose look at the dissipation of a relationship somehow encompasses every conflict in the metaphorical world.

The Reluctant Fundamentalist, by Mohsin Hamid

Hamid channels Dostoyevsky, tracing the evolution of an isolated Pakistani immigrant from patriot to enemy of the American state using literary deft and a disturbingly relevant subtext.

I Love You, Beth Cooper , Larry Doyle

The closest thing to a John Hughes’ movie you’ll find in novel form, Beth Cooper is a pop-culture rich coming-of-age tale about a high-school senior who uses his valedictorian speech to profess his love for Beth Cooper.

The Savage Detectives, by Roberto Bolaño

This 1999 novel, finally translated in 2007, was the late Chilean author’s masterwork, following in a series of vignettes the international journey of two young Chilean travelers, and framed within the literary canon of South American literature.

Tree of Smoke, by Denis Johnson

An acid-fuelled nightmare of a novel concerning 20th-century America’s most pervasive debacle. Johnson’s opium-like prose overshadows the inconsistency of his story and creates an impressive visual palette.

Then We Came to the End, by Joshua Ferris

An overdue satire of the American office, Ferris’s debut treats oft-analyzed workforce politics with cutely dehumanizing humor as a Chicago ad agency crumbles in the post-Clinton economic slump.

Phillip Stephens is the lead critic for Pajiba. He lives in Fayetteville, AR.

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