Every year, the National Book Foundation nominates 20 books — five fiction, five nonfiction, five poetry, five young adult — for the National Book Award, which celebrates the best of American literature. And every year (okay, every year since 2014), we here at Vox read all 20 finalists to help smart, busy people like you figure out which ones you’re interested in. Here are our thoughts on the nominees for 2017; the winners will be announced on Wednesday, November 15.


Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

Pachinko by Min Jin LeeGrand Central Publishing

Pachinko, the Japanese game that’s part pinball and part slot machine, is one of the organizing ideas for Min Jin Lee’s sprawling novel of immigration, national identity, and family cycles. For Lee’s main characters — a family of poor Koreans who immigrate to Japan just before World War II — pachinko offers a means of survival: Pachinko parlors are one of the few places they can find employment as foreigners, and where they eventually manage to eke out a comfortable existence. And pachinko’s logic, which is part strategy, part luck, and always rigged in favor of the house, provides a metaphor for life itself. Lee’s characters are buffeted this way and that through life like pachinko balls against the game’s wooden pegs, and only occasionally are the very lucky and the very skilled able to make their way to glory.

Pachinko is Dickensian in its structure, heavily referencing both Great Expectations and A Tale of Two Cities, but its scope is broader. It tracks its central family through five generations and seven decades, watching as they struggle to find comfort in a world that seems to be deliberately stacked against them. “Pachinko was a foolish game,” Lee concludes ultimately, Read More Here