A classic made current and a welcome addition to the library of Russian literature in translation.

NOTES FROM A DEAD HOUSE

One of literature’s definitive prison memoirs is given new immediacy in this sturdy translation by the team of Pevear and Volokhonsky (Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace, 2007, etc.).

Much of Dostoyevsky’s work is yellowed with age, and its mustiness isn’t entirely the fault of earlier translators; as well, he has the gloomy and moralizing air of the proselyte, especially one who’s seen the worst side of human nature, all of which makes him sometimes disagreeable to read. This piece from his middle period, first published in 1861, is an exception. It's a thinly veiled roman à clef: The “dead house” in question is the walled prison within the greater prison that is the Siberian wild to which Dostoyevsky was remanded in 1849 after having run afoul of the czarist regime. “In prison they generally took a dark and unfavorable view of former noblemen,” he writes. Alexander Petrovich Goryanchikov, the nobleman in question, returns the favor; imprisoned for killing his wife (a crime eligible for parole, of course), he is full of class prejudices and certain that he deserves better company, but in time, he sheds his disdain, having discovered that “in prison there was time enough to learn patience.” Prison occasions its own society, a microcosm in which nobles become servants and another nobility emerges, one that values people such as the inmate who “was self-taught in everything: one glance and he did it.” Indeed, Goryanchikov tells us, all the old categories and classifications fall victim to the reality of prison, where a man who’s killed six people can be less frightening than one who’s killed just one. “There were crimes of which it was hard to form even the most elementary notion: there was so much strangeness in the way they were committed.” Lacking the penitential heavy-handedness of Dostoyevsky’s later work, Notes humanizes the forgotten denizens of the first Gulag, decrying a system of punishment that does not always fit the crime.

A classic made current and a welcome addition to the library of Russian literature in translation.

Pub Date: March 24, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-307-95959-1

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Jan. 8, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2015

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Nothing original, but in Hilderbrand’s hands it’s easy to get lost in the story.

BAREFOOT

Privileged 30-somethings hide from their woes in Nantucket.

Hilderbrand’s saga follows the lives of Melanie, Brenda and Vicki. Vicki, alpha mom and perfect wife, is battling late-stage lung cancer and, in an uncharacteristically flaky moment, opts for chemotherapy at the beach. Vicki shares ownership of a tiny Nantucket cottage with her younger sister Brenda. Brenda, a literature professor, tags along for the summer, partly out of familial duty, partly because she’s fleeing the fallout from her illicit affair with a student. As for Melanie, she gets a last minute invite from Vicki, after Melanie confides that Melanie’s husband is having an affair. Between Melanie and Brenda, Vicki feels her two young boys should have adequate supervision, but a disastrous first day on the island forces the trio to source some outside help. Enter Josh, the adorable and affable local who is hired to tend to the boys. On break from college, Josh learns about the pitfalls of mature love as he falls for the beauties in the snug abode. Josh likes beer, analysis-free relationships and hot older women. In a word, he’s believable. In addition to a healthy dose of testosterone, the novel is balanced by powerful descriptions of Vicki’s bond with her two boys. Emotions run high as she prepares for death.

Nothing original, but in Hilderbrand’s hands it’s easy to get lost in the story.

Pub Date: July 2, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-316-01858-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2007

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More about grief and tragedy than romance.

FRIENDS FOREVER

Five friends meet on their first day of kindergarten at the exclusive Atwood School and remain lifelong friends through tragedy and triumph.

When Gabby, Billy, Izzie, Andy and Sean meet in the toy kitchen of the kindergarten classroom on their first day of school, no one can know how strong the group’s friendship will remain. Despite their different personalities and interests, the five grow up together and become even closer as they come into their own talents and life paths. But tragedy will strike and strike again. Family troubles, abusive parents, drugs, alcohol, stress, grief and even random bad luck will put pressure on each of them individually and as a group. Known for her emotional romances, Steel makes a bit of a departure with this effort that follows a group of friends through young adulthood. But even as one tragedy after another befalls the friends, the impact of the events is blunted by a distant narrative style that lacks emotional intensity. 

More about grief and tragedy than romance.

Pub Date: July 24, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-385-34321-3

Page Count: 322

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: Nov. 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2012

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