A masterful portrait of the scholarly existence and the terrifying leap into adulthood.

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Eli's Children

BRIGHT COLLEGE YEARS

This first novel by Nahum (Predicting the Future: Can We Do It? And If Not, Why Not?, 2014) charts the intellectual and emotional development of a budding medical student.

Joshua Clafston is offered the opportunity to study at the fictional Laurelton, an Ivy League school with a prestigious medical department. Here, he will mingle and compete with America’s “best and brightest” while steering a course toward maturity. Josh is, in every sense of the word, a prodigy, but his immersion in this intimidating intellectual environment causes him to run the gamut of emotions. One of his first encounters at Laurelton is with his roommate, Richard Haverford, a pompous, condescending know-it-all from the Midwest. But despite his initial nervousness and nagging sense of insecurity, Josh proves a plucky competitor in the ensuing intellectual joust. When Richard boasts that “there were few things more invigorating than reading The Odyssey in Latin,” Josh retorts, “Weren’t they [The Iliad and The Odyssey] originally written in Greek?” Richard responds, “Of course they were, but Latin was the original translation,” contradicting his initial vaunt about “the unshakable beauty of the native language in which a piece was written.” This conversation sets the tone of the novel—that of prodigious young minds attempting to fill, or conceal, gaps in their knowledge. As students from disparate localities and backgrounds come together, it makes for an engaging coming-of-age novel that examines the wounds (and sutures) of a group striving to attain the top level of academic excellence. Nahum, who himself attended Ivy League schools, has written this compelling novel in the first person, through the eyes of a likable, enviably intelligent narrator, and he vividly captures a challenging, ultimately life-transforming personal voyage through academia. His style is laconic and elegant, conveying facts clearly, without unnecessary elaboration, reflecting a fittingly matter-of-fact medical precision: “So in arriving here, you have been granted a two-edged sword,” says Laurelton’s president. “One offers you freedom, while the other enjoins you, even demands of you, to accept responsibility. Recognize this obligation, and revel in it.” Whether readers are anticipating or recalling college life, they’ll find this to be a charming, realistic account.

A masterful portrait of the scholarly existence and the terrifying leap into adulthood.

Pub Date: March 30, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4808-2291-7

Page Count: 596

Publisher: Archway Publishing

Review Posted Online: June 3, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2016

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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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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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