Donna Tartt, author of "The Goldfinch" (Little, Brown; October 2013).

Donna Tartt, author of "The Goldfinch" (Little, Brown; October 2013). Credit: Beowulf Sheehan

Donna Tartt's "The Goldfinch," the long-awaited novel by the author of "The Secret History," is a fiction finalist for the National Book Critics Circle award.

Jonathan Franzen was also among the nominees announced Sunday, although not for fiction. "The Kraus Project," his translation of the Austrian man of letters Karl Kraus, was selected for the criticism category. "The Kraus Project" made as much news for the harsh attacks on modern media and technology in Franzen's annotations as it did for Kraus' essays.

Other finalists in six competitive categories included Lawrence Wright's investigation into Scientology, "Going Clear," and George Packer's "The Unwinding," a bleak portrait of the modern American economy that last fall won the National Book Award for nonfiction. Wright, Packer and criticism finalists Hilton Als and Janet Malcolm are staff writers for The New Yorker.

Jesmyn Ward, whose "Salvage the Bones" won the National Book Award for fiction in 2011, was an autobiography finalist Sunday for "Men We Reaped."

Last fall's National Book Award winner for fiction, James McBride's "The Good Lord Bird," was bypassed by the critics circle. So was a favorite among many reviewers in 2013, George Saunders' "Tenth of December," one of the most highly praised story collections in recent memory.

Winners of the critics prize will be announced March 13.

Tartt needed a decade to complete "The Goldfinch," her third novel and an expansive, Dickensian narrative about an orphan in 21st century Manhattan. "The Goldfinch" was a best seller widely seen as a triumph for Tartt, who 20 years ago made a sensational debut with her intellectual campus thriller "The Secret History."

Others nominated for fiction were Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's "Americanah," Ruth Ozeki's "A Tale for the Time Being," Alice McDermott's "Someone" and a work in translation, Javier Marias' "The Infatuations." (The translator was Margaret Jull Costa).

Nonfiction finalists also included a biography of mobster Whitey Bulger by Kevin Cullen and Shirley Murphy, Sheri Fink's "Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital" and David Finkel's "Thank You for Your Service."

Autobiography nominees besides Ward were Sonali Deraniyagala's "Wave,"Aleksandar Hemon's "The Book of My Lives," Rebecca Solnit's "The Faraway Nearby" and Amy Wilentz's "Farewell, Fred Voodoo: A Letter From Haiti."

In biography, the finalists were Scott Anderson's "Lawrence in Arabia," Leo Damrosch's "Jonathan Swift," John Eliot Gardiner's "Bach," Linda Leavell's "Holding On Upside Down: The Life and Work of Marianne Moore" and Mark Thompson's "Birth Certificate: The Story of Danilo Kis."

The poetry finalists were Frank Bidart's "Metaphysical Dog," Lucie Brock-Broido's "Stay, Illusion," Denise Duhamel's "Blowout," Bob Hicok's "Elegy Owed" and Carmen Gimenez Smith's "Milk and Filth."

Besides Franzen, criticism nominees were Als' "White Girls," Mary Beard's "Confronting the Classics," Malcolm's "Forty-One False Starts" and Franco Moretti's "Distant Reading."

The critics circle also announced three honorary prizes.

Anthony Marra's novel "A Constellation of Vital Phenomena" is the first ever winner of the John Leonard Prize for debut work, named for the late critic who was known for championing emerging authors.

Katherine Powers, whose criticism has appeared in the Washington Post and the Boston Globe, was the winner of the Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing. The Chicano author and translator Rolando Hinojosa-Smith was the recipient of the Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award.

The book critics circle was founded by Leonard and others in 1974 and has nearly 600 members.

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