A long slog that might appeal to readers interested in the experience of Eastern European immigrants in 20th-century...

Train from Thompsonville

A coming-of-age novel about a Polish-American Catholic girl growing up in and escaping blue-collar life in upstate New York during the Great Depression and World War II.

Moses (Second Thoughts, Second Chances, 2015, etc.) relates the early years of Joanna Ludak, a girl living in the company town of Thompsonville with her immigrant family. It’s a tale of evolving freedom but increased cares and responsibilities for Joanna. She attends a strict parochial school, where a nasty nun and pedantic priest treat her unfairly. Moving on to a public high school, she begins to flower, excelling in her studies, finding her first love, and making friends. Meanwhile, her father, Joe, an orphan with a fourth-grade education, barely scrapes by doing piecework at a shoe factory, and her mother, Bertha, takes a job during the war to help make ends meet. Looked down upon by deeper-rooted Protestant families in town, Joanna’s family struggles. An in-law does succeed in home construction, but Joanna’s father is too proud to ask him for a job. Joanna breaks up with her first boyfriend, Daniel, after her best friend admits she’s been dating him as well. The novel concludes with Joanna heading off to college on a train, fulfilling a long-held fantasy of “her very own train from Thompsonville” to leave her grim hometown. Moses’ lengthy novel is uneven. Its main strength lies in laying out the brutal realities and basic unfairness of life—particularly for the young—and the struggle to rise above. Precocious Joanna succeeds thanks to her intelligence and grit. The book’s weaknesses include its length and lack of action; nothing much happens in a narrative of interiors and emotions that can seem unending. The writing can be very good, with lucid, detailed descriptions of people and places and an occasional much-needed dash of humor, but it also can ponderous and bombastic, with exhaustingly long, sinuous sentences clogging the pages. Compared with these faults, the narrative’s penchants for overusing quotation marks and weak passive verbs are merely annoying.

A long slog that might appeal to readers interested in the experience of Eastern European immigrants in 20th-century America, particularly their youthful female progeny.

Pub Date: July 30, 2005

ISBN: 978-1-4120-5334-1

Page Count: 442

Publisher: Trafford

Review Posted Online: Sept. 1, 2015

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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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ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF IVAN DENISOVICH

While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

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