The Morning News

The Morning News Tournament of Books

The Tournament of Books is an annual battle royale between 16 of the best novels published in the previous year.

A new match is played here each weekday in March.

The 2009 ToB Contenders List

The 2009 Judges & Brackets

All titles 30% off at

ToB T-Shirts

The Rooster on Facebook, and on Twitter

#ToB Tweets

Previous years: 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005

Contact the Tournament staff:

judged by Kate Schlegel
Joseph O’Neill’s Netherland is at its heart the first-person story of a man, Hans van den Broeck, and love: love for his family, love for his homeland, and love for a sport (cricket) and the friends that came with it.

When I say “at its heart,” I’m choosing my words carefully. Netherland is complicated, with odd characters—Jewish mobsters, a Turkish angel (yes, an angel), a team of gun-toting Kittitian cricket players—who pop in and out of Hans’s retellings of childhood experiences, first dates, and cricket matches. There’s quite a lot going on in this tale, and it’s a bit of a job to keep track of the passage of time, the locations of the various characters and who’s contributing what to the story.

Like Netherland, Louis de Bernieres’s A Partisan’s Daughter is also a first-person story of a man and love: love for a mysterious woman who is not his wife and is perhaps a prostitute.

In alternating chapters, Chris, an aging British pharmaceutical salesman, and Roza, an Eastern European 30-something, tell the story of their now long-past courtship. The story is simple: Much of it revolves around Roza’s stories of her experiences growing up in Yugoslavia, though as time progresses it becomes clear that Roza is not the most trustworthy reporter.

In certain circles these days it is in fashion to admire stories whose main characters make their rounds in hard-to-believe worlds. They build entire apartment houses just to force the occupants to do what they want, they find their needle-in-a-haystack birth-father living just across town, or—like Hans—they bump heads with the mob and live to, um, NOT tell their wives about it. It’s that disconnect, not the existence of these tales themselves, that makes these books tough for me to read: The people in these books almost invariably never realize how special they are, nor do their friends and relatives ever bother to point it out to them. Netherland is a book of this sort. It’s well-written and entertaining, but it requires a suspension of disbelief that is just beyond me.

So Partisan’s Daughter is going to the next round. Its characters are believable as real people: When Chris thinks he’s caught Roza in a falsehood, when he’s confused about something she’s said, or when she can’t decide how to answer a question he’s posed, they tell the reader of their suspicions. The simpler plot and characters let the lovely writing and story shine through. And that makes all the difference.

Today’s WINNER

A Partisan’s Daughter by Louis de Bernières

About the Judge

TMN Managing Editor Kate Schlegel is—most days—an assistant news editor for the web site of the Wall Street Journal. She is from Columbus (Ohio, but she shouldn’t need to clarify that), she knows the difference between transitive and intransitive verbs, and she is oddly proud of both of these accomplishments. In her free time, she enjoys living in Brooklyn, knitting (mostly hats), and running in the park (mostly fast). Known connections to this year’s contenders: None.

From the Booth

De Bernieres is a very good writer, I think, but when A Partisan's Daughter was over I was sort of flummoxed and disappointed. Of course that happens more often than I should admit. Kevin John Netherland is essentially porn for hyper-literate New Yorkers, i.e., the sort of people who review books for the New York Times.
» Read Kevin Guilfoile & John Warner’s commentary on the match and leave a comment of your own «

The Peanut Gallery

Do you agree with the outcome of this match?

absolutely   no way