Somber but undeniably affecting and profound tales.

LOVE SONGS FOR A LOST CONTINENT

In Felicelli’s (Sparks Off You, 2012, etc.) short story collection, Tamil-Americans struggle to find themselves in a world that persistently marginalizes them.

In the title tale, an unnamed San Franciscan narrator returns to Chennai, his birthplace, to research the legend of the lost continent of Kumari Kandam. It’s a decision that impresses neither his father in the States nor his girlfriend Komakal’s parents in Tamil Nadu. Like the narrator, other characters in these poignant stories deal with questions of identity. Young Hagar of “Everywhere, Signs,” is attending a Pittsburgh school, where, soon after the 9/11 attacks, her fellow students brand her a terrorist—simply because she’s a person of color. In “Elephants in the Pink City,” Kai Sarma’s traditional parents won’t let him date whom he wishes after he comes out as gay; and Susannah, an Indian, is shunned by white and Tamil Brahmin classmates in “The Logic of Someday.” Felicelli typically steeps her tales in metaphors, resulting in audacious approaches to such issues as racism and sexism. For example, in the opening story, “Deception,” Sita is in an arranged marriage to a Bengal tiger. When the big cat dies from poisoning, Sita becomes a murder suspect; local villagers ignore the fact that her husband, a literal beast, had been abusing her. Many other stories take dark turns, including deaths of loved ones and fractured relationships. The brightness of Felicelli’s prose, however, provides a beautiful contrast: “She kept her good eye closed against the fluorescent hospital lights,” she writes in “Snow,” “trying to forget the humiliating sound of the cocktail glass smashing, the shower of glass splinters.” Although each of the 13 stories here can stand on its own, characters do recur in multiple tales. Kai and his sister, Hema, for instance, both appear in “Elephants in the Pink City” and the later “Hema and Kathy,” and Susannah crops up in “Snow” and “The Art of Losing,” which centers on her former boyfriend’s mother, Maisie.

Somber but undeniably affecting and profound tales.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-945233-04-3

Page Count: 266

Publisher: Stillhouse Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 11, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2018

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THE COLDEST WINTER EVER

Debut novel by hip-hop rap artist Sister Souljah, whose No Disrespect (1994), which mixes sexual history with political diatribe, is popular in schools country-wide. In its way, this is a tour de force of black English and underworld slang, as finely tuned to its heroine’s voice as Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. The subject matter, though, has a certain flashiness, like a black Godfather family saga, and the heroine’s eventual fall develops only glancingly from her character. Born to a 14-year-old mother during one of New York’s worst snowstorms, Winter Santiaga is the teenaged daughter of Ricky Santiaga, Brooklyn’s top drug dealer, who lives like an Arab prince and treats his wife and four daughters like a queen and her princesses. Winter lost her virginity at 12 and now focuses unwaveringly on varieties of adolescent self-indulgence: sex and sugar-daddies, clothes, and getting her own way. She uses school only as a stepping-stone for getting out of the house—after all, nobody’s paying her to go there. But if there’s no money in it, why go? Meanwhile, Daddy decides it’s time to move out of Brooklyn to truly fancy digs on Long Island, though this places him in the discomfiting position of not being absolutely hands-on with his dealers; and sure enough the rise of some young Turks leads to his arrest. Then he does something really stupid: he murders his wife’s two weak brothers in jail with him on Riker’s Island and gets two consecutive life sentences. Winter’s then on her own, especially with Bullet, who may have replaced her dad as top hood, though when she selfishly fails to help her pregnant buddy Simone, there’s worse—much worse—to come. Thinness aside: riveting stuff, with language so frank it curls your hair. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02578-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

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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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