2020 nonfiction winner

Jennifer Croft | Homesick

Jennifer CroftAbout the author
Jennifer Croft was awarded the Man Booker International Prize in 2018 and a National Book Award Finalist for her translation from Polish of Olga Tokarczuk’s Flights. She is the recipient of Fulbright, PEN, MacDowell, and National Endowment for the Arts grants and fellowships, as well as the inaugural Michael Henry Heim Prize for Translation and a Tin House Workshop Scholarship for her memoir Homesick. She holds a PhD from Northwestern University and an MFA from the University of Iowa. She is a founding editor of The Buenos Aires Review and has published her own work and numerous translations in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Review of Books, Granta, VICE, n+1, Electric Literature, Lit Hub, BOMB, Guernica, The New Republic, The Guardian, The Chicago Tribune, and elsewhere. She currently divides her time between Buenos Aires and Los Angeles.

About the book
Sisters Amy and Zoe grow up in Oklahoma where they are homeschooled for an unexpected reason: Zoe suffers from debilitating and mysterious seizures, spending her childhood in hospitals as she undergoes surgeries. Meanwhile, Amy flourishes intellectually, showing an innate ability to glean a world beyond the troubles in her home life, exploring that world through languages first. Amy’s first love appears in the form of her Russian tutor Sasha, but when she enters university at the age of 15 her life changes drastically and with tragic results.

“Homesick is the story of a singular consciousness, a strikingly personal account of a deeply troubled young girl’s efforts to absorb disaster—and to persevere—buoyed by her passion for language, its infinite permutations and enigmas ... Every page of this stunning and surprising book turns words around and around, deepening their mystery and making the reader understand that, like a photograph that (somewhat falsely) freezes a moment in time, learning to speak means discovering that words carry both truth and lies.” —The New York Times

“Croft's photos, mixed in with her text, create continuity between memoirist and protagonist, despite their differing names. Her musings on language and occasional inclusion of Cyrillic script serve the same purpose. They make Homesick into a translator's Bildungsroman, one in which art is first a beacon, then a home.”  —NPR

“In the book, Croft weaves together a combination of short vignettes, photographs and captions to explore her youth in Oklahoma as an home-schooled linguistic prodigy. She details a turbulent emotional life, and her complex relationship with a younger sister plagued with mysterious seizures.” —Los Angeles Times

“Best of all, Croft reminds us that each word, like each life, is ever being written, and that the generative space she opens is available to all. Change is life, and Homesick is an exercise in conscious, delicate, joyful change.” —Los Angeles Review of Books

"This stunning memoir with photos is a love letter from one sister to another, a celebration of language and a story of devotion and disaster." —Shelf Awareness

"Through photographs and prose, Croft's genre-blending memoir investigates how chronic illness sickens an entire family... A heartbreaking, vanguard, and mixed-media coming-of-age memoir." —Booklist

"Haunting and visually poetic, Croft's book explores the interplay between words and images and the complexity of sisterly bonds with intelligence, grace, and sensitivity. Poignant, creative, and unique." —Kirkus Reviews

"In this marvel of a book that magically expresses the untranslatable, Croft follows Amy’s tortured path as she asks how far, and in what way, we are responsible for how loved ones’ lives play out. In her struggle to answer such questions, Amy learns the extent and limitations of love’s power." —Foreword Reviews

"This inventive, stellar memoir examines the tensions between siblings and their separate fates in the most unsettling, unexpected ways. Jennifer Croft's keen attention to the nuances and music of language is abundantly present in every sentence of Homesick." Idra Novey, author of Those Who Knew

Even though she knows she’s not supposed to, Amy looks forward to tornados

Even in the day the sky gets black, and the streets get empty. The wind pries back the leaves of the silver maple tree, and underneath they gleam.

When it’s a tornado watch they don’t do it, but when it’s a tornado warning, the girls go and get inside the pantry, where they squeeze in among the cans and powders and cardboard boxes and wait until one of their parents says they can come out. The pantry is the only place in the whole house that does not have windows. You have to stay away from windows when a tornado comes because the very thing tornados love best is breaking glass, and if that happens, and you’re sitting for example in the bathtub right below the bathroom window, you will almost inevitably get hurt.

When the sirens start, Amy gets them organized. She has developed a system. Each of them is allowed three toys, not more, and Amy is in charge of the flashlight because Zoe might break it. Zoe always dallies over her dolls, feeling guilty for playing favorites. But Amy explains to her how in life you have to make choices, and eventually Zoe always does, although sometimes she tries to hide things in her tiny pants pockets.

When she gets caught she bursts out laughing or into tears depending on Amy’s face. She always gets caught. Then Amy quiets Zoe, and they kneel down on the dimpled linoleum, pull the door shut, and wait.

Once the door is closed, Zoe’s dolls have conversations. Often they discuss the weather. Amy just listens, lets her own dolls rest, feels her sister’s hot quick breaths on her neck. If their electricity isn’t out, Amy insists the light be off anyway. Slowly she gets sleepy like she does in the car, and just like when they drive somewhere, Amy, unlike Zoe, would rather just not get there, would rather just keep going, would like it if the warning never expired. Then the pantry door will fly wide open, and all across the top of it the frying pan and the strainer and all the knives will glint and shiver like they want to fall. And their mother will reach down and grab Zoe, and then she’ll carry her away.