Of academic interest only.

WHEN WASHINGTON WAS IN VOGUE

Long-lost fiction, written in the 1920s by the first professionally trained African-American librarian, about a young man’s romantic adventures among the black elite of Washington, DC.

Williams (1871–1929), a minor figure in the Harlem Renaissance, was a mulatto (his mother was Irish) who serialized this story in The Messenger in 1925 and 1926. Published now as a novel, it consists entirely of letters written by WWI veteran Davy Carr describing his first impressions of Washington to his old army buddy Bob Fletcher back in Harlem. Davy is light enough to pass for white, and he moves somewhat self-consciously through the upper echelons of the District’s black society (where nuances of “lightness” or “darkness” take on an almost Talmudic importance) as he researches a study of the African slave trade. At his boardinghouse, Davy becomes fascinated to the point of obsession with his landlady’s daughter, Caroline Rhodes, a kind of African-American Sally Bowles who smokes cigarettes, flirts shamelessly, and knows all the latest dances. Serious and high-minded—and, frankly, something of a stuffed shirt—Davy disapproves of Caroline and tells her so. But he’s drawn to her in spite of himself. The story is basic boy-meets-girl, with the ending a foregone conclusion by the second chapter and no really convincing obstacles in the way, so that the only distinguishing features to speak of are race and class. The fact that Caroline is dark-skinned while Davy is light may throw in a dramatic frisson for historians and Black Studies scholars, but for most of us this will have little engaging power or lift. Meanwhile, Williams’s petty snobberies are aggravating enough without the addition of his bad imitation of Jane Austen (“The ladies, except Mrs. Wallace, are all very fair, and would not be likely to be taken for colored, and in manner and dress they all of them showed real class”).

Of academic interest only.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2004

ISBN: 0-06-055545-9

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2003

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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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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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