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Read All About It! Some of the Best Books of 2008

Also: Several popular year-end movies. And four songs by musicians we enjoyed this year. Transcript of radio broadcast:


Welcome to AMERICAN MOSAIC in VOA Special English.


I'm Doug Johnson. This week, we talk about some of the best movies and books of the year. And we play some great music from two thousand eight that we did not get a chance to play earlier.


Best Books of 2008


In December, many newspapers and booksellers in the United States publish lists of the best American books of the year. Faith Lapidus tells us about four of this year's excellent books. The first two books are a novel and a collection of short stories. The other two are works of nonfiction.


"A Mercy" by Toni Morrison is on many lists of the best books of the year. The story takes place in seventeenth century America.

Miz Morrison examines the beginnings of slavery in America and the destruction of Native Americans through the stories of four women. One critic called the book "a poetic, mysterious tale." Toni Morrison has also written about the personal costs of slavery in her other books of African-American literature. She has won many awards, including the Nobel Prize in Literature in nineteen ninety-three.

Jhumpa Lahiri's new book takes place in the present. The writer's family came from India. She was born in London and now lives in the United States. Miz Lahiri's books are about Bengali immigrants in America and their children. Her new collection of stories is called "Unaccustomed Earth." She writes about how immigrants struggle to build new lives in their new country. And how their children struggle to find success and happiness. Many of her characters are torn between the old traditions of their Indian culture and the new ones of America.

Critics have called our next book "powerful." It is "This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War." Drew Gilpin Faust wrote the book. She is the president of Harvard University. The subject of her book is the more than six hundred thousand soldiers who died in the Civil War between eighteen sixty-one and eighteen sixty-five. Miz Faust writes about how this "harvest of death" affected and changed America.

Critics have also praised a book about current wars called "The Forever War" by Dexter Filkins. Mister Filkins is a reporter for the New York Times who has covered wars in Afghanistan and Iraq for ten years. "The Forever War" is a series of more than twenty short pieces about incidents of war and how they affect the people in those countries. Mister Filkins is widely considered one of the finest war correspondents of this generation. Critics say he shows the reader the real meaning of war and its human cost.


Popular Year-End Movies


At the end of the year, many critics list their favorite movies. This year, many of these movies were released in December, in time for the holidays. Bob Doughty has more.


Several of these movies are based on books or plays. For example, "Doubt" is based on an intelligent and powerful play by John Patrick Shanley. It tells about two female religious workers who accuse their priest of unacceptable behavior towards a student. The movie stars three very skillful actors, Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams. Their characters face difficult questions as they explore the reasons for trusting -- or doubting -- one another's actions.

The British actress Kate Winslet stars in two movies opening this month. "The Reader" is based on a novel by the German writer Bernhard Schlink. Critics have praised Winslet's performance as Hannah, a woman who worked as a guard at a Nazi German death camp during World War Two.

In "Revolutionary Road," Winslet reunites with the actor Leonardo di Caprio. The two last worked together eleven years ago in the popular movie "Titanic." In "Revolutionary Road" they play a husband and wife struggling to find happiness and meaning in their life together. The movie, set in the nineteen fifties, is based on a book by Richard Yates.

Two other highly praised movies are based on real events. "Milk" is about Harvey Milk, one of first elected public officials in the United States who was openly homosexual. He was murdered soon after being elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors -- along with the city's mayor -- but he had a lasting effect as a political leader. Sean Penn gives a powerful performance as Harvey Milk.

"Frost/Nixon" is the movie version of a play. It recreates the true story of a British television star, David Frost, and his interviews with former American President Richard Nixon. Mister Nixon resigned the presidency in nineteen seventy-four because of charges of corruption in a case known as Watergate. This movie shows David Frost's attempts to get Richard Nixon to admit his wrongdoing during a television interview three years later.

Michael Sheen and Frank Langella were Frost and Nixon in the play as well as the movie.

Critics have especially praised the performances by two other actors. Clint Eastwood stars in "Gran Torino," a movie about an angry, old man who unexpectedly becomes the protector of his next-door neighbors. And in "The Wrestler", Mickey Rourke plays an aging professional wrestler trying to restart his failing career.

Music From 2008


We try to talk about and play many different kinds of music on American Mosaic. We cover pop, country, hip-hop, and even classical and Broadway show tunes. But we cannot possibly report on all the good music that is released each year. So this week, Katherine Cole plays a few of the best songs and artists we missed in two thousand eight.


Santi White is a thirty-two year old singer, songwriter and music producer. You might have heard her words coming from singers Ashlee Simpson and Res.

In April, Santi White released her first album. It is called "Santogold," which is also the name she performs under. White says she loves music from the nineteen eighties. That influence is clear in this song, "Lights Out."


We played lots of country music this year but nothing from Lady Antebellum. The three- member group was the only country band nominated for a best new artist Grammy. Here the group performs "Love Don't Live Here."


Many good jazz albums were released this year. Trombonist Steve Turre's recording, "Rainbow People," was especially beautiful. Here is the title piece.


Finally, we leave you with the song "Electric Feel," from the Brooklyn, New York band, MGMT. Their first album, "Oracular Spectacular," was released this year.



I'm Doug Johnson. I hope you enjoyed our program today.

It was written by Dana Demange, Shelley Gollust and Caty Weaver, who was also the producer. To read the text of this program and download audio, go to our Web site,

Join us again next week for AMERICAN MOSAIC, VOA's radio magazine in Special English.