A well-written but underplotted tale about family dynamics and interpersonal relationships.


A literary novel tells the story of an American woman’s involvement with a family of Pakistani refugees.

Tillie Marsden of Bishop Grove, Oregon, has an altruistic bent that she attempts to satisfy through various activities: gardening, working for the American Cancer Society, and volunteering at her church. Her husband, the fiscally conservative though generally benign workaholic Bill, doesn’t really understand his wife’s drive. Her stepson, Jacob, a surly college student who hasn’t yet moved out, offers Tillie mostly silence. Through her pastor, Tillie is connected to a family of newly resettled Pakistani refugees in order to help them assimilate into life in Bishop Grove. Attempting (not always successfully) to check her prejudices at the door, Tillie enters the lives of Bahram, Mira, and their seven young children. They don’t offer Tillie much in the way of their backstory, and she is too polite to ask, though she can’t help but pick up on some tensions in their household. Bahram, a former translator for a U.S. contractor, is enthusiastic about American life, but Mira and the children seem less so. “Didn’t Bahram notice that his wife seemed unhappy?” Tillie wonders. “Can’t he see that there’s something not right with the kids?” Her interactions with Bahram and Mira cause Tillie to begin to question her own (third) marriage and the struggles she has with her blended family—struggles that she perceived as American but which may in fact be universal. Tillie’s association with this new family will force new perspectives on the other relationships in her life, though not always in the way one would expect. Daniels (Venus Looks Down on a Prairie Vole, 2016, etc.) writes in an elegant, fluid prose that keeps close to the thoughts of his characters as they observe and interrogate the people around them: “As he continued to laud all things American, or at least Oregonian, Tillie felt restless. Bahram’s affectations were taking on a bitter flavor, suggesting a back-story that was less about greener grass and more about corrupt humanity.” Tillie is particularly prone to second-guessing the words and motives of others, creating a mood of tense mystery in what is otherwise a fairly straightforward tale. The deep dive that the author takes into the twinned lives of the two families is an admirable attempt to figure out something about America’s view of itself and the outside world. Even so, the book does not offer much in the way of plot (particularly for a novel that is 350 pages). Much of the narrative hinges on unasked questions and misunderstandings, resulting in a rather shapeless and unsatisfying final act. Tillie is well-constructed and emotionally coherent, with motivations that are believably rooted in her personal history. Readers’ connections to her should manage to sustain them for most of the story. By the end, though, they will likely wish that Tillie was pushed a little more (and more often) into situations that would dramatize her inner conflicts on a larger scale.

A well-written but underplotted tale about family dynamics and interpersonal relationships.

Pub Date: Oct. 14, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-692-93849-2

Page Count: 350

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Feb. 13, 2018

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet


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

Did you like this book?

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2015

  • Kirkus Prize
  • Kirkus Prize

  • National Book Award Finalist


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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet