A talented author to watch as her narrative technique matures.


The Canadian-born Edugyan’s unrelenting debut finds life—first and second—somber and bleak.

Samuel Tyne is an émigré from Ghana (he prefers the old name, Gold Coast) whose midlife crisis is aggravated by a stifling civil service job in Calgary, under the thumb of two bureaucrats he aptly nicknames Dombey and Son. At home, the atmosphere is even more fraught. Samuel and his wife Maud display less mutual tolerance than their warring ancestral tribes. Their twin 12-year-old daughters, Yvette and Chloe (indistinguishable even to their parents), are bad-seed prodigies. A surprise inheritance from Samuel’s estranged uncle Jacob—a dilapidated farmhouse in the small Alberta town of Aster, once settled by African-Americans from Oklahoma—offers respite, but not for long. No sooner does Samuel reinvent himself as an electronics repair-shop owner and early computer hardware developer (it’s 1968) than the twins rev up the RPMs on their continuous destructive loop. The duo defies all civilizing influences, even the friendship of schoolmate Ama, whom their parents have brought to Aster for the summer. On the social front, neighbor Saul Porter, the last Oklahoman settler and a reputed warlock, is pushing Samuel’s boundaries in more than the real estate sense. Ray and Eudora Frank, the Tynes’ first allies in Aster, have divided loyalties and ulterior motives. Although Edugyan’s spare prose, visceral images, and unfussy dialogue create a suitably ominous atmosphere, the plot advances haltingly and predictably. The family turmoil at the core of the story is more often summarized than shown, and the twins’ berserk behavior is too robotic to impart true horror to their intended role as engineers of the fall of the house of Tyne. Ama takes on an importance unjustified by her wan presence because the novel needs an Ishmael, and she’s it. The close, however, stark in its avoidance of redemptive bromides, is astonishingly moving.

A talented author to watch as her narrative technique matures.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2004

ISBN: 0-06-073603-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2004

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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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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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