A welcome refurbishing of a masterpiece of literary modernism, one of the most significant German novels of the 20th century.

BERLIN ALEXANDERPLATZ

“On Tuesday, 14 August 1928 von Arnim planted a bullet in the body of Pussi Uhl”: no, it’s not The Sopranos but instead a classic German novel of the criminal demimonde of the Weimar era.

Franz Biberkopf is fresh out of prison, where he drew a few years for killing a woman. A low-level criminal otherwise, he finds himself in a different world, one in which Nazis are beginning to occupy the stage and people are lining up to take sides all around him. He flirts with fascism, but so does everyone; one of his confidants is outraged that a friend married an American woman who turned out to be a “Negress” and who, when confronted with the fact of her ancestry in divorce court, tried to sue for damages. "Gorgeous woman, petal-white, descended from Negroes, maybe dating back to the seventeenth century. Damages.” Franz soon tires of politics, even if he buys the newspaper with “the green swastika on the masthead” and believes its lurid tales. Meanwhile, he makes halfhearted efforts to live a straight life, mostly because, as one chapter title tells us, “The Police HQ is on Alexanderplatz,” the Berlin square that Biberkopf haunts. Still, he can’t help but fall back into bad habits. There are other characters at work along the Alexanderplatz, though, more fantastic as the Ulyssean story progresses: at one point, anticipating Wim Wenders’ film Wings of Desire, two angels accompany Franz, “two angels on Berlin’s Alexanderplatz in 1928 alongside a former manslaughterer, then burglar and pimp.” They provide clarity, for now death is stalking Franz—and everyone he knows and the whole of Berlin. American readers will have to adjust their ears to the translation’s frequent use of Cockney (“Well, who’d’you fink, the fat girl, coz I had no goods left on me”), but Hofmann’s version is vigorous and fresh, bringing Döblin to a new generation of readers.

A welcome refurbishing of a masterpiece of literary modernism, one of the most significant German novels of the 20th century.

Pub Date: March 6, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-68137-199-3

Page Count: 502

Publisher: New York Review Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 24, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2018

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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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Less bleak than the subject matter might warrant—Hannah’s default outlook is sunny—but still, a wrenching depiction of war’s...

HOME FRONT

 The traumatic homecoming of a wounded warrior.

The daughter of alcoholics who left her orphaned at 17, Jolene “Jo” Zarkades found her first stable family in the military: She’s served over two decades, first in the army, later with the National Guard. A helicopter pilot stationed near Seattle, Jo copes as competently at home, raising two daughters, Betsy and Lulu, while trying to dismiss her husband Michael’s increasing emotional distance. Jo’s mettle is sorely tested when Michael informs her flatly that he no longer loves her. Four-year-old Lulu clamors for attention while preteen Betsy, mean-girl-in-training, dismisses as dweeby her former best friend, Seth, son of Jo’s confidante and fellow pilot, Tami. Amid these challenges comes the ultimate one: Jo and Tami are deployed to Iraq. Michael, with the help of his mother, has to take over the household duties, and he rapidly learns that parenting is much harder than his wife made it look. As Michael prepares to defend a PTSD-afflicted veteran charged with Murder I for killing his wife during a dissociative blackout, he begins to understand what Jolene is facing and to revisit his true feelings for her. When her helicopter is shot down under insurgent fire, Jo rescues Tami from the wreck, but a young crewman is killed. Tami remains in a coma and Jo, whose leg has been amputated, returns home to a difficult rehabilitation on several fronts. Her nightmares in which she relives the crash and other horrors she witnessed, and her pain, have turned Jo into a person her daughters now fear (which in the case of bratty Betsy may not be such a bad thing). Jo can't forgive Michael for his rash words. Worse, she is beginning to remind Michael more and more of his homicide client. Characterization can be cursory: Michael’s earlier callousness, left largely unexplained, undercuts the pathos of his later change of heart. 

Less bleak than the subject matter might warrant—Hannah’s default outlook is sunny—but still, a wrenching depiction of war’s aftermath.

Pub Date: Jan. 31, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-312-57720-9

Page Count: 400

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Dec. 19, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2012

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