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LOVE AND EMPIRE

A best-selling Prix Goncourt winner and, like The Unbearable Lightness of Being and The Name of the Rose, one of those accessible contemporary European novels, more international than national in style and substance. Abandoned by his mother shortly after his birth in 1882 in Paris, young Gabriel Orsenna (the narrator and no relation to the author, though the epilogue hints at some association) is brought up by his father Louis and grandmother Marguerite. Both romantics and devotees of the French colonial empire, their idiosyncrasies alternately amuse and appall Gabriel, who, from childhood, is ``afflicted with a curious deafness to anything not concerning women'' and with a ``rubber vocation,'' which enables him to bounce along through his picaresque life like his beloved rubber ball. Terrified of tropical diseases, Louis turns down a position in the Colonial service, but young Gabriel briefly becomes a diplomat and is sent to London to teach the Brazilian embassy all about Auguste Comte. The visit is significant, for Gabriel not only learns more about his beloved rubber ball but also meets the two Knight sisters, Clara and Ann, who become the loves of his life. Gabriel, a roly-poly figure and possible inspiration for the Michelin man, goes on to work for a tire manufacturer. In the course of the book, Gabriel relates his unending adventures with the Knight sisters; his time in Paris under the Germans; his work—in rubber, naturally—for de Gaulle and the Free French; and his futile journey to Indochina in search of his father, believed to be selling bicycles to General Giap. Orsenna has not only created one of those memorable resilient characters who bounce along through life regardless, but has also written an astute and witty commentary on recent French history. A rich, if at times overstuffed, book with much to savor.

Pub Date: June 5, 1991

ISBN: 0-06-039103-0

Page Count: 496

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 1991

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A LITTLE LIFE

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. 21, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD

A first novel, this is also a first person account of Scout's (Jean Louise) recall of the years that led to the ending of a mystery, the breaking of her brother Jem's elbow, the death of her father's enemy — and the close of childhood years. A widower, Atticus raises his children with legal dispassion and paternal intelligence, and is ably abetted by Calpurnia, the colored cook, while the Alabama town of Maycomb, in the 1930's, remains aloof to their divergence from its tribal patterns. Scout and Jem, with their summer-time companion, Dill, find their paths free from interference — but not from dangers; their curiosity about the imprisoned Boo, whose miserable past is incorporated in their play, results in a tentative friendliness; their fears of Atticus' lack of distinction is dissipated when he shoots a mad dog; his defense of a Negro accused of raping a white girl, Mayella Ewell, is followed with avid interest and turns the rabble whites against him. Scout is the means of averting an attack on Atticus but when he loses the case it is Boo who saves Jem and Scout by killing Mayella's father when he attempts to murder them. The shadows of a beginning for black-white understanding, the persistent fight that Scout carries on against school, Jem's emergence into adulthood, Calpurnia's quiet power, and all the incidents touching on the children's "growing outward" have an attractive starchiness that keeps this southern picture pert and provocative. There is much advance interest in this book; it has been selected by the Literary Guild and Reader's Digest; it should win many friends.

Pub Date: July 11, 1960

ISBN: 0060935464

Page Count: 323

Publisher: Lippincott

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1960

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