A playful, inventive and humane look at women and aging.

BABA YAGA LAID AN EGG

Expatriate Croatian novelist and essayist Ugresic (Nobody’s Home, 2008, etc.) spins contemporary fiction from a popular figure in Slavic folklore.

Baba Yaga is a witch who flies through the air in a mortar and lives in a house supported by chicken legs and surrounded by heads on pikes. She is a source of occult knowledge; Day, Sun and Night are her servants. She is, it goes without saying, hideous—withered and skeletal. Although she is usually depicted as a villain, Baba Yaga can also be a benefactor. The author plays with this ambivalence as she weaves the witch into interconnected stories of women living in present-day Eastern Europe. In the first section, a writer describes her relationship with her dying mother. The second portion describes three elderly friends increasingly disturbed by their ancient bodies as they try various spa treatments at a Czech resort. Both stories abound with symbols associated with Baba Yaga, and in the final section a fictional folklorist named Dr. Aba Bagay explicates the preceding narratives in an essay called “Baba Yaga for Beginners.” This last bit may sound like trite postmodernism, but Ugresic is far too confident a practitioner to engage in mere posturing. (She’s a contender for the 2009 Man Booker International Prize.) Her instincts as a storyteller are sure—the first two sections work just fine on their own—and her scholarly postscript is both interesting and entertaining. This volume makes a nice addition to Grove’s The Myths series, which also includes Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad (2005) and Alexander McCall Smith’s Dream Angus (2006).

A playful, inventive and humane look at women and aging.

Pub Date: Feb. 2, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-8021-1927-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2009

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

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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

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ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF IVAN DENISOVICH

While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

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