A lot of history packed into a short novel.

CAESAR, CICERO & CLEOPATRA

WHAT REALLY HAPPENED?

This fictional biography portrays Julius Caesar as a brilliant military leader and strategist.

In his debut novel, Paone casts himself as a high school Latin teacher forced into early retirement by declining interest in his subject. He moves to Rome and, in a scene reminiscent of Indiana Jones, discovers a hidden trove of scrolls from Caesar’s time. He uses the scrolls to write an account of the final years of Caesar’s life, starting with his rise to military power and subsequent civil war against Pompey the Great. The story begins in earnest with Caesar’s arrival in the famed city of Alexandria in 48 B.C.: “It is the center of all Greek learning, with its fabulous library and academy where scholars from all over the world study, discuss everything, and write books.” The Alexandrians present Caesar with the severed head of his enemy Pompey, but rather than gaining his admiration, the greeting repulses him. He takes Cleopatra’s side in the war between brother and sister for the throne of Egypt. While under siege in Alexandria, the two rulers begin a love affair and lifelong friendship, engaging in intellectual debates and strategizing how to expand their power. Caesar also befriends two Chinese scholars, who show him a new weapon and tell him tantalizing stories about the Far East. (In an intriguing subplot, after hearing about Caesar, operatives of the Chinese emperor hatch a bizarre scheme to topple him.) Paone relies heavily on dialogue to provide historical context and explain the complex relationships among the many characters, which tends to bog down the action. Occasionally putting modern terms—e.g., “weirdo” and “bookworm”—into the mouths of ancients seems anachronistic. Regardless, Caesar truly comes to life on the battlefield; at the battles of the Nile and Zela, he brilliantly outmaneuvers his enemies. After Caesar returns to Rome, a group of conspirators plot against him. Cicero, portrayed as a self-serving ditherer, is the most interesting of the bunch, but he enters the book too late to fully develop as the story rushes on to Caesar’s well-known ending.

A lot of history packed into a short novel.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2014

ISBN: 978-0974636696

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Belmar Publications

Review Posted Online: Nov. 6, 2014

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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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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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