Ng’s novel finds its force in the latter stages, which explore the bond between a lively, confident American daughter and...


Ng’s second novel (Bone, 1993) depicts the tensions and affections of a complex Chinese-American family in San Francisco.

In 1952, Jack Moon Szeto is admitted to the United States as the “son of a native,” Gold Szeto, a businessman and fixer for whom he goes to work as a butcher. Jack becomes something of a Chinatown lothario (“Lord of the Peach Blossoms, lucky in the garden” to use his flowery phrase), but that ends when he falls in love with Joice, daughter of the neighborhood’s corpse-washer and thus, to many, untouchable by association. When Joice becomes pregnant with a daughter and Gold arranges for Jack’s Chinese bride—actually a mistress for his sponsor—to join her “husband” stateside, Jack makes a fateful decision. He informs on Gold to the McCarthy-era Chinese Confession Program, and Gold is deported—not before issuing the order that Jack surrender a pound of flesh (in this case a hand) for his betrayal. Joice, who longs to escape the physical and spiritual confines of Chinatown, moves away and marries. The first half of the book is written in spare, lyrical prose that can be affecting but also frustrating; there’s too much grand abstraction, too much dialogue like “Don’t be a coolie of love!” and “A muddled heart never leads the hero to a new dawn.” Yet Ng also provides brisk, unadorned descriptions of butchery, fortune-cookie making, and more. The book picks up considerably in the second half, which focuses on Jack’s American-born daughter and her loving but fractious relationship with her father, who’s hampered by poor English, his physical handicap and a childhood whose central, awful event she can scarcely imagine. Here the author discovers her true subject: the cultural gulf between immigrants and their children, between aliens and citizens, the naturalized and the native.

Ng’s novel finds its force in the latter stages, which explore the bond between a lively, confident American daughter and her remote Chinese father.

Pub Date: May 13, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-7868-6097-5

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Hyperion

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2008

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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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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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