The talking cure has come almost too late for the oddly prim ex-sailor and his family. There is nothing to involve the...


An immigrant father’s silence about his background roils the life of his family in England; in this awkward eighth novel, Gurnah (Desertion, 2005, etc.), a Briton of Zanzibari descent, revisits the theme of alienation.

It was almost love at first sight. In 1974, they were working in the same factory in the English town of Exeter. Maryam was 17; Abbas was 34. Maryam was a dark-complected foundling, abandoned outside a hospital. Her foster parents, Indian immigrants, after some initial kindness, began treating her like a slave, so it was an easy decision to elope with Abbas, though she knew virtually nothing about him. He proves a good husband, and they have two children, Hanna and Jamal. Though he is loving with them too, Abbas never opens up about his background, and this becomes a source of frustration for Maryam and the kids. Who is this gentle, withdrawn man? He was born in Zanzibar. His family were Indian Muslims, dirt poor. His father, a subsistence farmer, was a tyrant, but Abbas escaped to a teacher training college. A bright future was doomed when he was tricked into an arranged marriage; his bride was already pregnant. At 19, Abbas fled Zanzibar and became a sailor for 15 years before settling in England. It is his irrational shame at abandoning his deceitful wife that has kept his lips sealed. The novel begins with the 62-year-old Abbas collapsing at home: It’s the first of three strokes. Maryam pressures him to tape-record his memories. Gurnah moves jarringly between past and present, in which the grown children, better at life than their parents, are discovering sex and confronting racism. More damagingly, the author disregards fiction’s first commandment: Show, don’t tell. So the family stays out of focus, less a unit than four individuals struggling with their own destinies.

The talking cure has come almost too late for the oddly prim ex-sailor and his family. There is nothing to involve the reader in this protagonist’s dilemma.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-62040-328-0

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Nov. 3, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2013

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While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

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

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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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