Even so, Sleigh crafts a monumental tale about momentous events on the edge of the known world, an effort resulting in a...

ISLANDS

A sprawling historical charts the 1650 arrival of the Dutch in what is now South Africa and limns the troubles that followed.

Real-life figures stand at the heart of South African National Archives researcher Sleigh’s first outing, reputed to have been two decades and more in the making. Early on, one of those figures, Jan van Riebeeck, arrives at Cape Town as colonial governor for the Dutch East India Company and loses little time in transforming the native landscape while dreaming of better things to come: “Where this Fort is standing now, will be a big town one day.” His native opposite, also real, is the Goringhaicona leader Autshumao, known as Chief Harry to the English (and Herrie to the Dutch). Even once Herrie accepts the notion that there will always be Hollanders on his territory, and that “the whole world would be made different,” he is a most reluctant ally: He’d rather be speaking English, the only thing he has to barter. But the Dutch do business otherwise, and they soon war on the native peoples. Newcomers and indigenes die, and Herrie becomes the first prisoner on Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela would later spend so many years. In turn, van Riebeeck adopts a Goringhaicona girl, the resonantly named Eva, mother of the colony’s first mixed-blood, a girl whom many love but few know. Sleigh’s ambitious tale, which weaves the lives of seven major characters and many minor ones into a packed and occasionally even crowded narrative, is far better written than the standard textbook, but it sometimes has a textbookish feel all the same; a reader without some knowledge of the South African past and an ability to keep track of Sleigh’s detailed subplots about the fates of doomed warriors and pensive women may soon feel lost.

Even so, Sleigh crafts a monumental tale about momentous events on the edge of the known world, an effort resulting in a major contribution to modern South African literature.

Pub Date: April 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-15-101115-X

Page Count: 768

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2004

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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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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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