Of necessity somewhat fragmentary. Still, another engagingly original work from one of Europe’s most interesting writers.


The impermanence and the frustrations of romantic love are evoked with sly wit and operatic brio in the versatile Italian author’s newly translated 2001 confection.

It’s an epistolary novel, whose major contents are 17 titled letters addressed to an unnamed woman (presumably the same one, possibly a generic ideal beloved), each expressing some variation of the plaintive declaration made by writer #17: “I’m waiting for you, even though we don’t wait for those who cannot return, because . . . we would have to be who we were before, and that is impossible.” Thus things that didn’t happen (a trip not made to Samarkand in “Books Never Written, Journeys Never Made”; an idyllic island vacation, for which she never showed up, in “A Ticket in the Middle of the Sea”) are as vivid and wrenching as things that seemingly did (a former medical student’s memories of his classmate, now a prominent hematologist, in “The Circulation of the Blood”; a theater impresario’s wistful recall of the perfect Norma featured in his production of Bellini’s beloved opera, in “Casta Diva”). The stories are set all over Europe, North Africa and beyond, as disappointed or guilty loves lament the geographical and temperamental distances that separate them from this protean, mischievously elusive Eternal Feminine figure. The best of the stories skillfully blend literary or artistic influences with painstakingly delineated emotions: notably, a summer spent in Provence without the lover whose absence is mocked by the lyrical idealism of the Provencal poets (“Forbidden Games”); and a muted confession from a musician who, having underestimated his lover’s commitment to humanitarian service, abandoned her for another life in Salonika (“What’s the Use of a Harp with Only One String?”). Finally, in the title letter, she addresses these “Dear Sirs,” “cutting the threads” which, they hopefully imagine, still binds her to each of them.

Of necessity somewhat fragmentary. Still, another engagingly original work from one of Europe’s most interesting writers.

Pub Date: May 29, 2006

ISBN: 0-8112-1546-6

Page Count: 192

Publisher: New Directions

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2006

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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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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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