Heady and smart, if you can follow the novel’s complex, associative train of thought.


A half-Portuguese, half-Angolan woman uses her hair to interrogate her position between two cultures.

The hair salons in Lisbon don’t know quite what to make of Mila, who moved at 3 years old from Luanda, the capital of Angola, to Portugal and whose hair is a “rebellious mane.” She makes demoralizing visit after demoralizing visit to these salons, where her hair is “pulled…this way and that,” subjected to treatments “whose abrasive chemicals require the use of latex gloves,” or worked into weaves at “a breakneck speed over four hours” (only to come undone soon after). But in this essayistic novel, Almeida's first to be translated into English, Mila’s hair isn’t simply a matter of personal anguish. “The truth is that the story of my curly hair intersects with the story of at least two countries and, by extension, the underlying story of the relations among several continents: a geopolitics.” Indeed, interwoven seamlessly throughout are stories and memories of her family: Her Angolan grandfather’s life as a nursing student in Luanda, the smell of her Portuguese grandmother Lúcia’s hair—“Feno de Portugal soap, tobacco, and oiliness”—as a young Mila combs it, her long strolls through Oeiras, in Lisbon, with her often absent mother. What Mila seems to be revolving around with all these shifting reminiscences is the fundamental doubleness of who she is. She introduces a photographic “self-portrait”: the famous 1957 photo of Elizabeth Eckford, one of the Little Rock Nine, walking to school as white people behind her gawk and even bare their teeth. “I am all of the people in that portrait at once,” Mila declares. “The raging girls in the photo are the nervous tremor (which brings me shame) when a black man on the streetcar answers the phone, speaking loudly. ‘Shhh: pipe down,’ they say to me, I say to him, I say to myself. ‘Can’t you see the others?’ ” Almeida writes long, destabilizing, often disorienting paragraphs, where successive sentences can shift radically in time and space. But the reader is pulled along throughout by a sly, evasive humor—where unreliable memory ends, Almeida seems to say, storytelling begins.

Heady and smart, if you can follow the novel’s complex, associative train of thought.

Pub Date: March 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-947793-41-5

Page Count: 168

Publisher: Tin House

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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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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