An intelligent and bracingly honest look at the possibility of a post-racial America.

We Hold These Truths

A debut political novel explores the cultural ramifications of the first black U.S. president.

Al Carpenter, about to graduate from Harvard Law School, confronts a potentially life-altering decision: he can accept a position waiting for him at the firm Sullivan & Katz or join the campaign to elect African-American attorney Ron Johnson to the U.S. Senate. Al commits to working for Johnson, but the candidate’s a political neophyte, and his prospects for success are considered slim even among his admirers. It’s not clear that he can get the Democrat Party machine’s backing, and he’ll be perpetually light on funds without the support of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. Johnson also desperately needs endorsements from a startup company—North Carolina Sustainable Energy Partners—and veteran political Congressman Branford Darling, who is reluctant to alienate his own constituents in an election year by backing a black candidate. As a matter of implausible coincidence, Darling’s first congressional campaign was generously funded by a racist billionaire, whose son is the CEO of NCSEP. Al audaciously decides to use this information to bully a quick and badly needed endorsement from Darling, who is influential but politically vulnerable. The plot is situated within the historical horizon of President Barack Obama’s momentous election victory, which is treated as both a triumph and a bellwether of future racial progress. Al, warily optimistic, tends to view Johnson’s success or failure as a test of America’s openness to electing other black leaders: “The true value of Obama’s election—and we can unlock it right now—is the potential it has to drive momentum for progress going forward.” In his astute tale, Mitchell knowledgeably captures not only the internecine conflict that occurs within a party, but also the volatile mix of excitement and skepticism that followed Obama’s election victory. In addition, while this novel is driven more by political ideas than concrete characters, Al’s romantic aspirations and failures give his persona some depth (he regularly looks at a framed picture of Martin van Buren, “hoping that something of his talent for king-making might rub off on me”). This is a cerebral work of fiction largely driven by sharply composed dialogue—though it occasionally turns didactic and preachy—and is clearly meant to provocatively instigate political discussion. It succeeds at this, and even a bit more.

An intelligent and bracingly honest look at the possibility of a post-racial America. 

Pub Date: Oct. 4, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-692-72013-4

Page Count: -

Publisher: Project Z Books

Review Posted Online: Oct. 12, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2016

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Reader Votes

  • Readers Vote
  • 15

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2015

  • Kirkus Prize
  • Kirkus Prize

  • National Book Award Finalist


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

Did you like this book?


A first novel, this is also a first person account of Scout's (Jean Louise) recall of the years that led to the ending of a mystery, the breaking of her brother Jem's elbow, the death of her father's enemy — and the close of childhood years. A widower, Atticus raises his children with legal dispassion and paternal intelligence, and is ably abetted by Calpurnia, the colored cook, while the Alabama town of Maycomb, in the 1930's, remains aloof to their divergence from its tribal patterns. Scout and Jem, with their summer-time companion, Dill, find their paths free from interference — but not from dangers; their curiosity about the imprisoned Boo, whose miserable past is incorporated in their play, results in a tentative friendliness; their fears of Atticus' lack of distinction is dissipated when he shoots a mad dog; his defense of a Negro accused of raping a white girl, Mayella Ewell, is followed with avid interest and turns the rabble whites against him. Scout is the means of averting an attack on Atticus but when he loses the case it is Boo who saves Jem and Scout by killing Mayella's father when he attempts to murder them. The shadows of a beginning for black-white understanding, the persistent fight that Scout carries on against school, Jem's emergence into adulthood, Calpurnia's quiet power, and all the incidents touching on the children's "growing outward" have an attractive starchiness that keeps this southern picture pert and provocative. There is much advance interest in this book; it has been selected by the Literary Guild and Reader's Digest; it should win many friends.

Pub Date: July 11, 1960

ISBN: 0060935464

Page Count: 323

Publisher: Lippincott

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1960

Did you like this book?