Three brilliantly written short novels by a young Anglo-Indian author who has been praised throughout Great Britain as one of his generation’s finest prose stylists. And the reader immediately sees why in the opening pages of “A Strange and Sublime Address” (1991), which recounts in delightfully funny detail the perceptions of Sandeep, a ten-year-old boy from Calcutta whose family pays an extended visit to his uncle’s bustling and eccentric Bombay home, then returns a year and a half later to chart the progress of Uncle Chhotomama, a loony mixture of communist ideologue and failed businessman whom Salman Rushdie might have invented. The story is plotless; Chaudhuri simply presents a parade of gorgeous vignettes and tableaus filled with wondrously observed small moments (when a toddler takes one hesitant step, “its other leg forgot it was a leg, and the child, bewildered by its own body, collapsed in a soft heap”). “Afternoon Raag” (1993) depicts with comparable facility the confused sensibility of a music student (perhaps the grown-up Sandeep, though not specifically identified as him) at Oxford, poised uncertainly between the comforting world of his parents back in Bombay and the contrasting promises of two girl students he tells himself he loves. The piece is slight but beautifully done. The more ambitious “Freedom Song” (1995) examines the relations among two families living together temporarily in present-day Calcutta: Shib, who works in a British-owned chocolate factory, and his wife Xhuku; and then also Xhuku’s weirdly extended “family of ne’er-do-wells” whose communal raison d’àtre seems to be the need to arrange a proper marriage for Xhuku’s scandalous nephew Bhaskar, a devout communist who performs political street theater. The two families” ineffably comic, intrinsically melancholy interactions are rendered with quiet compassion in a tour de force that suggests an Indian Buddenbrooks in miniature. Some of the most accomplished fiction of the decade.

Pub Date: March 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-375-40427-9

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1999

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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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