2012's National Book Award winners: A guide

This year's honorees include writers who explored real life in India's slums, fantastical tales of goblin theatrical troupes, and more

Author Louise Erdrich was awarded the fiction award for her novel, The Round House.
(Image credit: amazon.com)

The 2012 National Book Awards have been announced, offering an impressively varied mix of writers at both the beginning and the end of their careers. This year, judges considered more than 1,300 books before deciding which four writers — in fiction, nonfiction, young people's literature, and poetry — would earn a $10,000 prize (and the commensurate boost in reputation and sales). Here's what you should know about this year's National Book Award winners:

1. The Round House, by Louise Erdrich (Fiction)

The Round House is the second novel in a planned trilogy about an Ojibwe family in 1980s North Dakota. When matriarch Geraldine is attacked and raped, her son enlists his friends to investigate, struggling against both a lack of evidence and the indifference of the U.S. justice system. Erdrich won in an field regarded as unusually competitive, besting highly-acclaimed works of fiction like Junot Diaz's This is How You Lose Her and Dave Eggers' A Hologram for the King. In September, USA Today's Carmela Ciuraru praised The Round House's "stunning language" and ranked it "among Erdrich's best work."

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2. Beyond the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity, by Katherine Boo (Nonfiction)

Beyond the Beautiful Forevers tells the true story of a makeshift settlement that has sprung up next to some of Mumbai's most luxurious hotels. Boo follows several young Muslims, building the backbone of her story on Abdul, a Muslim teenager who sees "a fortune beyond counting" in recyclable garbage that richer people throw away. Boo, a Pulitzer Prize-winning staff writer for The New Yorker, delivered a piece of narrative nonfiction that "is astonishing on several levels," says Shashi Tharoor at The Washington Post.

3. Goblin Secrets, by William Alexander (Young people's literature)

Goblin Secrets is a young-adult fantasy novel about a boy who joins a theatrical troupe of goblins as he searches for his missing brother, in a story which also draws on classic folktale figures like Baba Yaga. The book is "by turns beautiful and original," says the School Library Journal, offering kids "good fantasy in a new world."

4. Bewilderment: New Poems and Translations, by Dave Ferry (Poetry)

In Bewilderment, poet Dave Ferry tackles a wide range of subjects, from the mailboxes in New Jersey to the classic Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. Ferry, who is 88 years old, thanked his fellow writers for the "pre-posthumous" honor.

Sources: USA Today (2), New York Times, National Book Award Blog (2), Washington Post (2), Simon & Schuster, School Library Journal

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