A serious but overwritten flood fable.



A debut novella tells the story of a gifted orphan attempting to survive a harsh world.

India, 1769. Ravi, 14, lives with his grandparents in the small village of Panchali. He is a cloud dancer who, via his preternatural sensitivity (or imagination), is able to see incredible paintings in the clouds. “Clouds tell stories, in shapes and designs and images,” says Bali, the village elder and mystic, “of things that happened in the past, and things that will happen in future days.” When Ravi sees a bank of dark clouds obscure the sky, he can’t predict what exactly will occur, but he knows it will be bad. Sure enough, torrential rains fall for days, causing dams to break upriver and flood the land where Panchali lies. Ravi and his best friend, Vijay, work to save their neighbors from the cataclysm of water and mud that descends on Panchali, but many are killed, including Ravi’s grandparents. Bali, Vijay, and a few others manage to escape on an ancient raft, but Ravi is swept away, clinging to a piece of driftwood. Washed far downstream, Ravi is forced to contend with crocodiles, brigands, hunger, and deadly waters in order to reunite with his community. Along the way, he will discover the true power of existence, nature, and the extremes (good and bad) of which humans are capable. Henson’s prose is image-laden but overwrought, sacrificing flow in favor of complex syntax and 50-cent words: “Dazzling images appeared, but pushed by solar winds these light-chiseled pictures vanished, and in a flash of moments, ominous configurations materialized, etched by a spectral light.” The plot at the novella’s heart has a pleasing folkloric simplicity to it, though Henson spends so much page time making Ravi stare at the sky and ponder the nature of the universe that the story never develops sufficient momentum. While it seeks to evoke the epics of an earlier age, the final product feels more like a Hermann Hesse knockoff: a humorless series of episodes populated by flat characters coming to epiphanies that aren’t nearly as cerebral as they want them to be.

A serious but overwritten flood fable.

Pub Date: May 19, 2017

ISBN: 978-1681111872

Page Count: 122

Publisher: Wasteland Press

Review Posted Online: Sept. 14, 2017

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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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