An intricate tale for readers open to a jaunt along the outer rim of narrative possibility.


A time-hopping novel explores a father’s boundless interests and the loyal maid attempting to corral him.

In a repressive nation, an unnamed narrator tells readers that his father “dreamed with his eyes tightly shut or wide open.” The narrator depicts believable notions of a man who is a detective or a magician, but also delivers more whimsical stories of one who is ageless. This father becomes the first man to fly in a hot air balloon when he lives in Florence during the Renaissance. He invents zero, and performs ventriloquism in ancient Rome. The father’s maid, whom he loves and constantly tries to woo (“How about I give you the world?”), cleans up their home and his disastrous forays into public life. As he tries to open a bordello, the state’s secret police arrive to arrest him and his “bevy of beauties.” When interrogation leads nowhere, the authorities destroy all records of the man, thus “freeing him...not only from the clutches of the state but from his own as well.” This suits the father because he loathes facts, history, and labels. Later, during a bloody revolution, he operates a carousel in the city. He’s once again arrested, and his reputation as a clever agitator grows. The state gives him a butcher shop to run so that it can monitor him better while he clings “to our maid the way he must have clung to...the dangerous ledges of the mountains” in a previous life. Will madness someday engulf this serial experimenter? With an ear keenly attuned to the ridiculous, Grof (Artists, 2016) chronicles life in a brutal regime that requires a strong imagination to survive. He introduces vignettes such as “My father an alchemist” or “My father uninterested in facts,” and by leaving out the linking verbs (is or was, for example), the prose brings to mind the titles of paintings in a gallery. The father’s past lives can indeed be enjoyed in any order. But scenes involving the maid and the state proceed linearly, though the author obsessively muddles these with lines like “My father no one’s fool. Or throughout his long life my father everyone’s fool including his own.” The father becomes like Schrödinger’s cat before the box opens, existing in two—or sometimes more—states at once (“My father fearing loneliness. My father seeking nothing so fervently as a solitary existence”). This narrative play, whereby readers might flirt with multiple emotional paths throughout the novel, provides relief from the more concrete, mainstream reading experience. Yet one instance when this technique backfires is in discovering that the father during World War II flew planes for the Allies, and “could have just as easily joined the Luftwaffe, but their manners as well as their uniforms” didn’t appeal to him. Obviously history judges the Nazis by much more serious criteria. Overall, readers may favor the grounded episodes that allow them to latch onto this fractious character more than the flights of fancy.

An intricate tale for readers open to a jaunt along the outer rim of narrative possibility.

Pub Date: June 1, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-63293-227-3

Page Count: 164

Publisher: Sunstone Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 6, 2018

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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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