ADMIRING SILENCE

Gurnah (Paradise, 1994), born in Zanzibar, poignantly redefines the colonial experience as he details the ``disappointed love'' that an exile feels for both the colonial mother, England, and his now independent homeland. Suffering from heart disease and homesickness, the 40-year-old unnamed narrator decides to make his first return to the island of Zanzibar since fleeing it as a teenager when its new rulers, after obtaining independence from Britain, began a reign of terror. As a member of the Arab community made up of the descendants of merchants and slave traders who settled there centuries before, he had felt especially vulnerable. Once in England, he completed high school, went to college, became a teacher. He also met Emma Willoughby, brilliant, white, and determined to shock her pleasant, conventional parents. The narrator fell in love with her and wooed her with fictional tales of his past. He did the same with Emma's father, though in this case, rather than evoking the idyllic family existence in an African setting enjoyed by Emma, he tells stories that reflect the old Empire's benevolence. Since Emma disapproved of marriage, the two lived together, had a daughter, Amelia, and for years he was happy, though he never wrote to his family in Zanzibar or visited them. And now the island, he finds on his return, has become a place where the toilets are blocked, the sewers broken, and the stores empty. The government is marginally more benign than the one it replaced in a coup, but the leaders are corrupt, cynical, and unable to govern. Home seems no longer home, and when his family, angered about his relationship with Emma, turns on him, he goes back, his fables confounded, to England, another place that is no longer home—for by now, Emma has found another man. A beautifully calibrated story of a wrenching search for a home for the heart and soul in an age of immigrants and exiles.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1996

ISBN: 1-56584-349-5

Page Count: 224

Publisher: The New Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1996

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TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD

A first novel, this is also a first person account of Scout's (Jean Louise) recall of the years that led to the ending of a mystery, the breaking of her brother Jem's elbow, the death of her father's enemy — and the close of childhood years. A widower, Atticus raises his children with legal dispassion and paternal intelligence, and is ably abetted by Calpurnia, the colored cook, while the Alabama town of Maycomb, in the 1930's, remains aloof to their divergence from its tribal patterns. Scout and Jem, with their summer-time companion, Dill, find their paths free from interference — but not from dangers; their curiosity about the imprisoned Boo, whose miserable past is incorporated in their play, results in a tentative friendliness; their fears of Atticus' lack of distinction is dissipated when he shoots a mad dog; his defense of a Negro accused of raping a white girl, Mayella Ewell, is followed with avid interest and turns the rabble whites against him. Scout is the means of averting an attack on Atticus but when he loses the case it is Boo who saves Jem and Scout by killing Mayella's father when he attempts to murder them. The shadows of a beginning for black-white understanding, the persistent fight that Scout carries on against school, Jem's emergence into adulthood, Calpurnia's quiet power, and all the incidents touching on the children's "growing outward" have an attractive starchiness that keeps this southern picture pert and provocative. There is much advance interest in this book; it has been selected by the Literary Guild and Reader's Digest; it should win many friends.

Pub Date: July 11, 1960

ISBN: 0060935464

Page Count: 323

Publisher: Lippincott

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1960

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The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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A LITTLE LIFE

Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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