Taking an outsider’s view throughout but, still, a fascinating look into a world that remains impossibly foreign and opaque...



Seven debut stories, each relating some kind of encounter between Muslims and Westerners.

The tales are timely enough, now that Islam has come to the forefront of the Western consciousness, even if most of them are not about Islam or Muslims so much as about encounters with Islam or Muslims. “Necati Bey,” for example, describes an American businessman in Ankara who becomes friends with a Turkish potter and inadvertently offends him with the gift of an exquisite ceramic bowl that the potter interprets as a criticism of his own work. The feminist American nurse of “The Blind Woman,” assigned to the care of a dying Somali lady, finds herself at once horrified and perplexed at the attitude of the Somali women toward female circumcision (they support it against the objections of the men)—just as the Westernized Turkish diplomat in “The Kapici’s Wife” is intrigued at the quiet fervor of an ex-prostitute who, in the years since the diplomat lost his own faith, has become a devout Muslim. Politics is very much in the background here, but there are still reminders of it, especially in the title story, about an awkward love affair carried on between an American Jew and a Palestinian Muslim—and the inevitable disaster when they travel to a family reunion in Ramallah during the height of the Intifada. The most successful pieces tend to be quiet, reflective, and less obvious—like “Irina’s Lullaby,” an elegiac account of an aristocratic Frenchwoman’s marriage to an Algerian Muslim who convinces her to sell the family chateau and use the proceeds to fund “humanitarian” work in North Africa.

Taking an outsider’s view throughout but, still, a fascinating look into a world that remains impossibly foreign and opaque to most Americans.

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 2002

ISBN: 1-56649-265-3

Page Count: 208

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2002

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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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