Smartly entertaining, if not entirely convincing, lampoon of contemporary fame and the celebrity biography.


The second English translation from the young German author (Measuring the World, 2006).

Sebastian Zollner is a journalist, a vocation for which he is spectacularly unsuited. His strongest—really, only—character trait is self-absorption, which makes him a thoroughly unperceptive observer. He might be the world’s most boorish art critic, and his most recent endeavor—the biography of a reclusive artist who will, with any luck, soon be dead—is compelling not so much because he’s interested in the man’s work, but because Zollner is pretty sure that he can get “a first-serial deal in one of the major color magazines.” But it turns out that Zollner is no match for Manuel Kaminski. A contemporary of Marc Chagall and Pablo Picasso, Kaminski never quite achieved the acclaim of those modern luminaries, but he did achieve a certain kind of fame as a painter who worked while going blind. But before Zollner can discover whether Kaminski is a genius, a fraud, or both, the old man convinces his biographer to take him on a quest to find a lover whom he had thought was lost forever. While it is a less delightful story than Measuring the World, this novel is also a sort of European intellectual version of the buddy picture. Once again, Kehlmann explores a relationship between two men shaped by extraordinary circumstances—in this case, those circumstances include an untrustworthy hitchhiker and a rather pleasant prostitute. But the use of Zollner’s first-person voice doesn’t quite work. As an unreliable narrator, he is kind of hilarious, but the humanity he achieves by the end of his relationship with Kaminski will make the careful reader wonder about his cartoonish lack of empathy at the beginning of the novel.

Smartly entertaining, if not entirely convincing, lampoon of contemporary fame and the celebrity biography.

Pub Date: Nov. 18, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-307-37744-9

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2008

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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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More about grief and tragedy than romance.


Five friends meet on their first day of kindergarten at the exclusive Atwood School and remain lifelong friends through tragedy and triumph.

When Gabby, Billy, Izzie, Andy and Sean meet in the toy kitchen of the kindergarten classroom on their first day of school, no one can know how strong the group’s friendship will remain. Despite their different personalities and interests, the five grow up together and become even closer as they come into their own talents and life paths. But tragedy will strike and strike again. Family troubles, abusive parents, drugs, alcohol, stress, grief and even random bad luck will put pressure on each of them individually and as a group. Known for her emotional romances, Steel makes a bit of a departure with this effort that follows a group of friends through young adulthood. But even as one tragedy after another befalls the friends, the impact of the events is blunted by a distant narrative style that lacks emotional intensity. 

More about grief and tragedy than romance.

Pub Date: July 24, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-385-34321-3

Page Count: 322

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: Nov. 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2012

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