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THE GLASS PALACE

The contradictions of colonialism permeate a story that, like the best historical fiction, envelops you in its world. Ghosh...

Solid, old-fashioned historical fiction that careens through the century, embracing a cast of characters whose lives unfold so gracefully that before you know it you’ve also witnessed the tragic tale of modern Burma, a country destroyed by colonialism and its aftermath.

The Indian-born Ghosh (The Calcutta Chromosome, 1997, etc.) is too subtle a writer to simply rage against Empire, which, as the British constantly remind everyone here, brings modernity to the subcontinent. But this lyrical and focused narrative finds its origins in a simpler time: an 11-year-old Indian boy in Mandalay first glimpses a young beauty, a servant in the palace of the Burmese king. A resilient and determined orphan, Rajkumar apprentices himself to a wise and friendly Asian teak dealer, who helps him develop the fortune that will reunite Rajkumar with his beloved Dolly, who follows the Royal Family into exile in India after the 1885 British invasion. History plays out against this grand passion, rather than the other way around: Rajkumar grows wealthy from his investments in Malaysian rubber during WWI; Dolly’s friend Uma becomes a leader in the radical Indian Independence Union; the Burmese riot against the Indians, complicating the various intermarriages; and, most importantly, WWII pits everyone against the invading Japanese, and, later, family against family, when the mutinous Indians fight the British loyalists. The novel is no history lesson, though, since Ghosh integrates his research with immense skill, making real events have consequences for his invented characters. And there is always the pulse of human life: the births and deaths, the loves and betrayals, the rises and falls—all spread over generations of Rajkumar’s family, and even connecting to the present state of affairs in Myanmar.

The contradictions of colonialism permeate a story that, like the best historical fiction, envelops you in its world. Ghosh seamlessly blends ideas about the power of the photographic image with unforgettable descriptions of nature—in a thoroughly enjoyable, intelligent epic that’s bound to win him a wide and grateful readership.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2001

ISBN: 0-375-50148-7

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2000

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A LITTLE LIFE

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. 21, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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THE RUMOR

Once again, Hilderbrand displays her gift for making us care most about her least likable characters.

Hilderbrand’s latest cautionary tale exposes the toxic—and hilarious—impact of gossip on even the most sophisticated of islands.

Eddie and Grace Pancik are known for their beautiful Nantucket home and grounds, financed with the profits from Eddie’s thriving real estate company (thriving before the crash of 2008, that is). Grace raises pedigreed hens and, with the help of hunky landscape architect Benton Coe, has achieved a lush paradise of fowl-friendly foliage. The Panciks’ teenage girls, Allegra and Hope, suffer invidious comparisons of their looks and sex appeal, although they're identical twins. The Panciks’ friends the Llewellyns (Madeline, a blocked novelist, and her airline-pilot husband, Trevor) invested $50,000, the lion’s share of Madeline’s last advance, in Eddie’s latest development. But Madeline, hard-pressed to come up with catalog copy, much less a new novel, is living in increasingly straightened circumstances, at least by Nantucket standards: she can only afford $2,000 per month on the apartment she rents in desperate hope that “a room of her own” will prime the creative pump. Construction on Eddie’s spec houses has stalled, thanks to the aforementioned crash. Grace, who has been nursing a crush on Benton for some time, gives in and a torrid affair ensues, which she ill-advisedly confides to Madeline after too many glasses of Screaming Eagle. With her agent and publisher dropping dire hints about clawing back her advance and Eddie “temporarily” unable to return the 50K, what’s a writer to do but to appropriate Grace’s adultery as fictional fodder? When Eddie is seen entering her apartment (to ask why she rented from a rival realtor), rumors spread about him and Madeline, and after the rival realtor sneaks a look at Madeline’s rough draft (which New York is hotly anticipating as “the Playboy Channel meets HGTV”), the island threatens to implode with prurient snark. No one is spared, not even Hilderbrand herself, “that other Nantucket novelist,” nor this magazine, “the notoriously cranky Kirkus.”

Once again, Hilderbrand displays her gift for making us care most about her least likable characters.

Pub Date: June 16, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-316-33452-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2015

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