KAPO

Originally published in 1987 and therefore predating the fragmentation of Yugoslavia and subsequent civil war: a brooding, curiously prescient saga from journalist and novelist Tima (The Use of Man, 1988) of a Holocaust survivor—a dreaded Kapo in Auschwitz, still living in mortal terror of exposure decades after coming home. Lamian, now a slovenly old man, is also a loner with a lifetime of keeping a low profile, thanks to his bestial activities as a guard under the watchful eye of the Nazis. Not overly fond of killing fellow Jews, he nevertheless found a reward in his position above and beyond that of mere survival. With the approval of the camp commandant, he brought a series of female prisoners into a secret corner of the toolshed, there to bait them with morsels of food in exchange for sex until he wearied of them and left them to their fate. Years later, learning by chance that one of his favorites, Helena Lifka, was not a foreigner but a Yugoslavian Jew like himself, his ever-present paranoia reaches a fever pitch, leaving him no rest until he tracks her down. With his physical health deteriorating and his grip on reality diminishing until he can do nothing without being reminded of his unforgivable past, Lamian finds her; after a night with a prostitute in which he does nothing but observe her sleeping, he decides to reveal himself to Helena, only to learn that he has mistaken her cousin for her, and that she died several months before. A probing, exceptional study of a man as both victim and tormentor, and more—Lamian's coldblooded yet fevered attitude reflects many of the same barbaric impulses now tearing Tima's country apart.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1993

ISBN: 0-15-146693-9

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1993

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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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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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