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2020 CALA Best Book Award Recipients

The CALA Best Book Award Committee is pleased to announce the following winners of CALA Best Book Award 2020:

Fiction/Poetry Category: Exhalation by Ted Chiang

Non-Fiction Category: Ghosts of Gold Mountain: The Epic Story of the Chinese Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad by Gordon Chang

The collection, entitled Exhalation, written by science fiction author Ted Chiang was published by Alfred A. Knopf in 2019. It includes nine unique and fascinating short stories. Among them, seven stories had been published before and won Hugo and Nebula awards. Two stories original to this collection are very impactful as well. These stories feature time travel, robots and artificial intelligence, and they also explore many aspects of our ever-changing world, such as forgiveness, parenting, technology ethics, climate change, and relationship between human memory and technology. The author treats readers and the topic of science fiction with respect, exploration and intimacy. He creates the world where readers would question their place and participation in them. As Paul Di Filipppo stated in his book review published in Washington Post (May 3, 2019): “Chiang’s stories are uniformly notable for a fusion of pure intellect and molten emotion. At the core of each is some deep conceptual notion rich with arcane metaphysical or scientific allure. But surrounding each novum is a narrative of refined human sensitivity and soulfulness that symbolically reifies the ideas. While this combination represents the ideal definition and practice of all science fiction, it’s seldom achieved.” Publishers Weekly also published a book review that praised Chiang’s standout collection as introducing “life-changing inventions and new worlds with radically different physical laws. In each, Chiang produces deeply moving drama from fascinating first premises.” New York Times listed this collection as its 10 Best Books of 2019.

Gordon Chang, a history professor at Stanford and co-director of the Chinese Railroad Workers in North American Project, wrote the remarkable book Ghosts of Gold Mountain: The Epic Story of the Chinese Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad which was published in 2019. This is a scholarly work about the history of the Chinese immigrants who built one half of the transcontinental railroad in America. Based on government documents, business and payroll records, folk songs, oral histories, and other works that were relevant, the author reveals many details on how those Chinese immigrants worked, performed dangerous construction (e.g. such as tunneling through the Sierra Nevada Mountains), and built a historical account of Chinese immigrants in America and their interplay with white employers and other workers/segments of the population. In the author’s narrative, some interesting information is provided in the story-telling method, including Chinese workers’ traditions and daily lives. Overall, this book is an impressive and incredible work resulting from cumulative and interdisciplinary research that speaks for a forgotten and dismissed segment in American history. Andrew Graybill’s book review published on the New York Times (May 10, 2019) states that Chang’s book is a moving effort to recover stories of the “Railroad Chinese” and honor their indispensable contribution to the building of modern America. On the Wall Street Journal (May 9, 2019), Peter Cozzens wrote that Chang “has written a remarkably rich, human, and compelling story of the railroad Chinese.”

2020 CALA Best Book Award Committee

Jie Huang, co-chair

Lucy Wang, co-chair

Tiewei Liu, member

Li Sun, member

Jen Woo, member