MOTHER TONGUE

Poetry, politics, and no-holds-barred emotions burst from the tiny binding of a notable first novel by poet and activist Mart°nez (Turning, not reviewed). Striking from the very first line is Mart°nez's ability to combine poetic language and imagery with novelistic structure and suspense: ``His nation chewed him up and spat him out like a pi§¢n shell, and when he emerged from an airplane one late afternoon, I knew I would one day make love with him.'' It's 1982, civil war rages in El Salvador, and Mary, a 19-year-old Mexican-American, is helping smuggle refugees into New Mexico. Mary picks up a man at the airport and brings him back to her mentor's house, where the two hide out and house-sit while Soledad is away for the summer. The refugee picks an alias, JosÇ Luis; she clothes him in Ivy League apparel; and they fall in love—at least, Mary falls deep in dreamy-eyed love with JosÇ Luis, who, though he loves her, is bitterly realistic and somewhat distant. She pushes for asylum- securing marriage; he remains torn between the comforts of the US and his El Salvadoran cause. All this is conveyed by Mary, an avid diarist and storyteller, with contrasting perspectives provided in some essays and poems by Soledad, JosÇ Luis, and, later, JosÇ Luis Jr. The anxiety of a probably doomed love affair is palpably evoked as Mary struggles to ``develop [her] inner resources'' so she won't obsess over JosÇ Luis. Their struggles come to a head on the night of their son's conception—shortly before his father's desertion. Believing it's important to remember everything, Mary unloads all of the family's skeletons onto the printed page so that their son will know the truth. Beautiful writing and astute commentary on identity, love, and El Salvadoran crises, wrapped cozy as a tamale with a maybe- happily-ever-after epilogue.

Pub Date: Oct. 15, 1994

ISBN: 0-927534-42-8

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Bilingual Review Press

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1994

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

Did you like this book?

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

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2015

  • Kirkus Prize
  • Kirkus Prize
    winner

  • National Book Award Finalist

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more