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ENCOUNTERS UNFORESEEN

1492 RETOLD

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

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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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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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