A remarkably new and inventive take on a momentous episode in the 15th century.

ENCOUNTERS UNFORESEEN

1492 RETOLD

A debut historical novel dramatizes the first contact between Columbus and natives in the Caribbean.

In his book, Rowen braids a series of parallel stories about Columbus and his crew’s initial encounter with the Taino natives he stumbles on when he finds the Caribbean Islands. While the climax of the tale is the crucial point of discovery in 1492, the author begins the narrative in the middle of the 15th century, detailing Columbus’ childhood in Genoa, his early professional pursuits as a merchant and cartographer, and his unrelenting quest to win financial backing for his bold expedition directly across the ocean to the Indies. Rowen also adroitly reconstructs Queen Isabella’s tortured ascendancy to the throne and the political intrigue she navigated since she was a teenager. But most impressively, without the benefit of any written Taino history, the author re-creates the lives of the natives long before Columbus arrives, chronicling the paths of three tribal leaders—caciques—and their varying responses to the European visitors they first believe, in their ghostly pallor, look like spirits or corpses. One of them, Guacanagarí, allows Columbus to erect a more permanent structure on his land, a decision the other two chieftains, Caonabó and Guarionex, consider incautious. Their judgment is confirmed once Columbus’ crew becomes abusive of the women in the absence of their admiral. In addition, Bakako, a young native boy, is taken captive by Columbus and used as a navigator and interpreter, and his astonished curiosity reflects the general bewilderment of the Taino people. The plot concludes in 1493, in advance of Columbus’ return, amid volatilely deteriorating relations between the Taino people and his men. Rowen’s research—a combination of scholarly investigation and travel conducted over six years—is nothing less than breathtaking. The sensitivity and originality of his portrayals are equally impressive, avoiding the trap of simply retelling a familiar tale from an exclusively European perspective or casting the explorers as nothing more than rapacious colonialists. Furthermore, the tale intelligently captures the religious impulse behind Columbus’ adventure as well as the Spanish Inquisition: the powerful Christian devotion of Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand.

A remarkably new and inventive take on a momentous episode in the 15th century.

Pub Date: Nov. 8, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-9991961-0-6

Page Count: 598

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Oct. 20, 2017

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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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More about grief and tragedy than romance.

FRIENDS FOREVER

Five friends meet on their first day of kindergarten at the exclusive Atwood School and remain lifelong friends through tragedy and triumph.

When Gabby, Billy, Izzie, Andy and Sean meet in the toy kitchen of the kindergarten classroom on their first day of school, no one can know how strong the group’s friendship will remain. Despite their different personalities and interests, the five grow up together and become even closer as they come into their own talents and life paths. But tragedy will strike and strike again. Family troubles, abusive parents, drugs, alcohol, stress, grief and even random bad luck will put pressure on each of them individually and as a group. Known for her emotional romances, Steel makes a bit of a departure with this effort that follows a group of friends through young adulthood. But even as one tragedy after another befalls the friends, the impact of the events is blunted by a distant narrative style that lacks emotional intensity. 

More about grief and tragedy than romance.

Pub Date: July 24, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-385-34321-3

Page Count: 322

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: Nov. 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2012

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