Needs more flesh on its bones, though extensive research and complex plots are signs of good things to come.

Kurenai the Crimson

AN OIRAN, A NINJA, AND A HIDING CHRISTIAN

A Christian, an outcast ninja, and a courtesan—outsiders in late samurai-era Nagasaki—seek new life in this historical novella.

By 1865, Christianity has spread to Japan in small pockets, and Rutu keeps the faith in secret as she searches for her sister Suzu, who has become an oiran, a kind of courtesan-entertainer. Meanwhile, Suzu’s hymns inspire her compatriot Kurenai and remind her of Naomi, an early mentor; but the songs and prayers aren’t quite enough to distract Kurenai from her woeful life in the brothel. Finally, the teenage boy Jin, an escaped ninja from a nearby region, ends up in Rutu’s care after washing up on Nagasaki’s shore. It’s Jin who later saves Kurenai from the bandits who attack her “litter” and murder Kanayama, the man who bought her for company. Once the three unite—Suzu’s plot takes her to another island and a happy ending—they begin a journey down dangerous roads in search of Jin’s mother. Yumiko’s (Isolated Connected Kyu-shu Island, 2013) handling of this three-pronged plot is sometimes effective and swift, jumping from scene to scene at just the right moments. However, many of the novella’s scenes are too brief, and the lengthy gaps of time between scenes often make for confusing storytelling. Yumiko shows off solid research, which enables her to effectively narrate a unique historical moment. Yet the result is a flat read due to repeated failures to allow readers to come to their own conclusions: “Rutu and Jin sensed that they were different, yet they were both minorities.” Still, Yumiko’s strong grasp of setting and plot suggests plenty of potential for future works.

Needs more flesh on its bones, though extensive research and complex plots are signs of good things to come.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-49-437225-5

Page Count: 62

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 12, 2015

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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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