A touching story, both tough and tender.


A lively debut novel with a cheerfully cynical narrator, first published in Germany in 2008, from Russian-born Bronsky.

The focus of the narrative is the consciousness of Sascha Naimann, a 17-year-old émigré from Russia to Germany. She’s skeptical, witty, loving, intimidating, vulnerable—and understandably furious that her stepfather, Vadim, murdered her mother a few months before the story opens. What enrages her most is that he’s in prison and thus out of reach of her fury, but she nevertheless plots revenge with feverish intensity. Sascha is now more or less in charge of her two younger siblings, the precocious Anton and the adorable Alissa. They all live in the Emerald, a disjunctively named public-housing project that is scarcely the jewel of Berlin. After a breathless and almost admiring article about Vadim appears in a local rag, Sascha shows up at the editorial office to set the record straight. There she meets Volker, an older man she quickly becomes enamored with and seeks out as a refuge from her wretched life in the projects. When Volker takes Sascha home, she gets more than she bargained for because she also meets Volker’s son Felix, a weak and chronically ill teenager who in turn becomes smitten with Sascha. They both quickly lose their virginity, and later that same night Sascha is accosted by Volker. Although “nothing happens,” he’s ashamed of his behavior and still courts Sascha’s friendship. At one point Peter the Great invites Sascha to “Broken Glass Park,” a wooded area known as a place where sketchy characters smoke dope and do other dark deeds, but it also becomes a metaphor for the unassailably bleak landscape inhabited by the narrator. Sascha becomes infuriated when she learns that Vadim has supposedly repented for his crime and then hanged himself in his jail cell, but she also finds that this act liberates her into the possibility of a more positive existence, one not based on a desire for bloody vengeance.

A touching story, both tough and tender.

Pub Date: April 1, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-933372-96-9

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Europa Editions

Review Posted Online: Sept. 21, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2010

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2015

  • Kirkus Prize
  • Kirkus Prize

  • National Book Award Finalist


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

Did you like this book?


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

Did you like this book?