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6 powerful books about characters in impossible situations

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Adam Johnson names his favorite recent novels about living through events too large to comprehend

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Adam Johnson names his favorite recent novels about living through events too large to comprehend:

A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James (Riverhead, $29). This amazing novel orbits the real-life attempted assassination of Bob Marley by some unsavory characters he'd grown up with in the Kingston slums. Shifting perspectives help create a rich, compassionate portrait of men who find themselves attempting to harm the man they revere most.

Girl at War by Sara Novic (Random House, $26). This powerful, gorgeous debut novel moves back and forth in time from the protagonist's childhood experience of civil war in the Balkans to her postwar attempt to live a normal life in New York. Haunted and adrift, she must return to Croatia to confront the secrets she left behind there.

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra (Hogarth, $15). Spanning the two Chechen wars, Marra's stunning novel follows several figures who attempt to navigate the shifting dangers of an unconventional conflict. Fueled by history, rich language, humor, and, above all, empathy, this story will leave you spellbound.

The Woman Who Lost Her Soul by Bob Shacochis (Grove, $18). National Book Award winner Shacochis here applies his novelistic skills to a topic he covered as a journalist for decades: Haiti. In all the power centers of society, a tale of American intervention plays out, creating a tapestry threaded with sex and violence.

The Moor's Account by Laila Lalami (Vintage, $16). Lalami's novel revisits a doomed 16th-century Spanish expedition to America from the perspective of an African slave. The result is an alternative history that discovers what the real expedition did not: the humanity of all the victims of such a greedy endeavor.

The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan (Vintage, $16). Inspired by Flanagan's father's internment in a Japanese labor camp, this novel serves as a lens for examining human endurance on a cosmic scale. At the book's center sits an act of violence considered across 50 pages that will leave you with the illusion that you profoundly understand humanity's dark side.

Adam Johnson, whose story collection Fortune Smiles has just been published, won a 2013 Pulitzer Prize for his novel The Orphan Master's Son.

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