BLACK AJAX

A rip-roaring fictional retelling of the story of black bare-knuckle prizefighter Tom Molineaux, an American freed slave who challenged England’s beloved heavyweight champion Tom Cribb in the early years of the 19th century. The same fractious energy that characterizes Fraser’s popular Flashman novels courses throughout this wonderfully flavorful tale, which, following a Prologue set in 1818 (Molineaux’s last year), presents the testimony of various “witnesses” to the fighter’s life and career as elicited by an unnamed “industrious inquirer.” The most voluble talkers are Thomas “Paddington” Jones and mulatto Bill Richmond, the “retired pugilists” who train and manage Tom; noted boxing journalist Pierce Egan (whose hyperbolic prose is expertly re-created); and especially Captain Buckley “Buck” Flashman (father of the better-known Harry), a good-natured rogue who charms all and sundry with mellifluous harangues about the exhilarating horrors of the Napoleonic Wars and the merry licentiousness of the good old days—and who’s equally capable of supervising Tom’s career and of betraying “his” fighter for a fast purse. Through their and several others’ memories of Tom’s progress up from slavery through conquest and celebrity to dissolution and untimely death, Fraser builds a stunning picture of his eponymous hero as a magnificent athlete destroyed by the temptations of fame, battling gamely even when “woozy wi’ daffy and collywobbles and half the strength drained out o’ him by a night’s fornicating”; and, even more impressively, of a Regency England characterized by “churches half-empty and hells packed full, fashion and frolic the occupations, and sport the religion.” It all races by so quickly that there’s scarcely time to savor the glorious period argot (much of it explained in a hilarious and helpful Glossary). You’d have to be dicked in the nob to dislike this book. It’s bloody marvelous.

Pub Date: April 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-7867-0553-1

Page Count: 256

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1998

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ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF IVAN DENISOVICH

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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A LITTLE LIFE

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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