“I prefer travelers’ tales to love stories,” says our narrator. There are plenty of both in this lyrical novella.


A voyage—if not of the damned, then certainly of the heartbroken.

Seghers, who died in 1983, was a prominent writer in the former East Germany, complicit but not uncritically part of it. Given that stories in Stasiland were best off delivered under a veil, she wrote deflectively, with stories within stories and multiple narrative points of view containing thin criticisms of things as they were. So it is in this book, originally published in German in 1971. Its protagonist, Ernst Triebel, is not its narrator, a dutiful engineer named Franz Hammer who services agricultural machinery. In that role, work has taken him to Brazil, from which, returning to the GDR, he meets Triebel, a longtime exile who is unenthusiastic about medicine and star-crossed in love. He has stories about both, and there are others to pick up the narrative onboard as well, for, as Triebel says, “We’ve enough time for storytelling…almost three weeks.” The stories themselves, wrapping around allusions to Joseph Conrad and Heart of Darkness, build on themes of lost friendship and unrequited love; they tend to be simple and direct, but in the end they are also commentaries on the nature of storytelling itself. As the book proceeds, other themes come into play, such as the baleful legacy of German nationalism and anti-Semitism. There’s no grim social realism in these pages but instead a delight in the pleasures of spinning tales in detail-caressing language, not least when describing the Beatrice of the piece: “She’s as lovely, lithe and golden brown as some girls of this city,” Triebel achingly recalls of his childhood love, another German exile in Brazil. Throughout are surprising glimpses of life behind the Wall, as when Seghers writes of the hope of her generation that West Germany would not remain divided from the East but would instead unify with it for a glorious future.

“I prefer travelers’ tales to love stories,” says our narrator. There are plenty of both in this lyrical novella.

Pub Date: Oct. 15, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-935084-94-5

Page Count: 170

Publisher: Dialogos

Review Posted Online: July 19, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2016

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A first novel, this is also a first person account of Scout's (Jean Louise) recall of the years that led to the ending of a mystery, the breaking of her brother Jem's elbow, the death of her father's enemy — and the close of childhood years. A widower, Atticus raises his children with legal dispassion and paternal intelligence, and is ably abetted by Calpurnia, the colored cook, while the Alabama town of Maycomb, in the 1930's, remains aloof to their divergence from its tribal patterns. Scout and Jem, with their summer-time companion, Dill, find their paths free from interference — but not from dangers; their curiosity about the imprisoned Boo, whose miserable past is incorporated in their play, results in a tentative friendliness; their fears of Atticus' lack of distinction is dissipated when he shoots a mad dog; his defense of a Negro accused of raping a white girl, Mayella Ewell, is followed with avid interest and turns the rabble whites against him. Scout is the means of averting an attack on Atticus but when he loses the case it is Boo who saves Jem and Scout by killing Mayella's father when he attempts to murder them. The shadows of a beginning for black-white understanding, the persistent fight that Scout carries on against school, Jem's emergence into adulthood, Calpurnia's quiet power, and all the incidents touching on the children's "growing outward" have an attractive starchiness that keeps this southern picture pert and provocative. There is much advance interest in this book; it has been selected by the Literary Guild and Reader's Digest; it should win many friends.

Pub Date: July 11, 1960

ISBN: 0060935464

Page Count: 323

Publisher: Lippincott

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1960

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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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