A love story with disconcerting implications that are not fully explored.

THE SECRET BOX

In Aguilar’s debut novel, an accomplished Filipina is unable to resist the wishes of a wealthy CEO.

Elizabeth Agustin is a Filipina from a wealthy family, educated at business school and then at law school in the United States. After her father’s death, she returns to the Philippines to be closer to her mother. She establishes an investment firm and becomes quite successful. Elizabeth is completely focused on her company and career, taking little time for fun, until she meets Ronaldo Mendoza, a CEO living in the penthouse of a hotel. Ronaldo and Elizabeth spend an increasing amount of time together, but Ronaldo’s marital status at first keeps them from pursuing a relationship. Even though Ronaldo has been separated from his wife for over five years (his wife is making the annulment difficult), Elizabeth resists. After three years of dating, Elizabeth finally gives in to Ronaldo and agrees to move in with him and consummate their relationship. She even bears him a son. They’re happy until a sudden incident brings their comfortable life crashing down. Aguilar separates the novel into four parts: The first recounts the beginning of Elizabeth and Ronaldo’s relationship; the second follows the escalation of their relationship when they fully commit to each other despite not being able to marry; the third part begins after a tragic accident leaves Elizabeth alone with only the secrets of her past. In her foolishness to rebel against her father’s wishes, Elizabeth fell into the traps of a patriarchal society in which women have few options in life. The fourth part describes the aftermath of the terrible accident and brings to light the alarming past connection Ronaldo and Elizabeth share. The story doesn’t benefit from this organization, which favors a surprise ending over character development. Similarly, the first-person point of view limits the depth to which Ronaldo’s character can be explored, while awkward word choices add a few stumbling blocks. Aguilar weaves the history and culture of the Philippines into the story but abruptly glosses over some plot points, particularly the death of a main character. As a woman, Elizabeth is self-aware in some respects yet—even though she’s a business owner, educated and financially self-sufficient—incapable of resisting the wiles of Ronaldo.

A love story with disconcerting implications that are not fully explored.

Pub Date: Aug. 20, 2014

ISBN: 978-1496985415

Page Count: 258

Publisher: AuthorHouse

Review Posted Online: Dec. 1, 2014

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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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