Informed, unpretentious and attentive, this Western breathes life into little-known historical events

SONS OF THE DAWN

A BASQUE ODYSSEY

Franklin College professor Nuwer (The Hazing Reader, 2004, etc.) breaks from scholarly publications with this debut Western novel set in the Basque region of Spain and the rugged terrain of Idaho.

In the years leading up to the Spanish-American War, the Spanish military conscripted thousands of men and boys to fight. Having lived a peaceful life with their adopted father near the Basque city of Guernica, teenage brothers Anton and Nicky are reluctant to acknowledge that the conscription threatens their safety and their lives. Having more foresight, their father arranges their passage to America to work with his half brother on his sheep ranch. Once there, they are thrown into a new life, first of rigorous training, then of solitude and loneliness as they spend two years tending the flock on the open range. They meet a community of other Basque workers, as well as immigrants of other nationalities working for a better life. Unfortunately, they also meet with prejudice against the Basques, especially by a local cattle farmer bent on gaining as much land as he can—by any means. Nuwer excels at creating a vivid, atmospheric sense of place, both in Spain and Idaho. His pacing is by no means brisk, but rather than being a detraction, it highlights the introspection and attention to detail throughout the story. The dialogue has a few awkward moments, including humor that occasionally falls flat, as with Nicky’s response to a ribbing: “That was like humor, only not funny.” Also, phrases such as “the wagons rolled west, ever west, without them” seem a bit implausible coming from a seasoned sheep herder. However, readers will likely gloss over these issues in favor of Nuwer’s keen eye for detail and historical accuracy. With its focus on teenage characters and specific exploration of bullying and hazing, this book has considerable appeal not only to fans of Westerns but to young adults as well.

Informed, unpretentious and attentive, this Western breathes life into little-known historical events

Pub Date: Nov. 25, 2013

ISBN: 978-0989291767

Page Count: 324

Publisher: Shalako Press

Review Posted Online: Jan. 10, 2014

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THE COLDEST WINTER EVER

Debut novel by hip-hop rap artist Sister Souljah, whose No Disrespect (1994), which mixes sexual history with political diatribe, is popular in schools country-wide. In its way, this is a tour de force of black English and underworld slang, as finely tuned to its heroine’s voice as Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. The subject matter, though, has a certain flashiness, like a black Godfather family saga, and the heroine’s eventual fall develops only glancingly from her character. Born to a 14-year-old mother during one of New York’s worst snowstorms, Winter Santiaga is the teenaged daughter of Ricky Santiaga, Brooklyn’s top drug dealer, who lives like an Arab prince and treats his wife and four daughters like a queen and her princesses. Winter lost her virginity at 12 and now focuses unwaveringly on varieties of adolescent self-indulgence: sex and sugar-daddies, clothes, and getting her own way. She uses school only as a stepping-stone for getting out of the house—after all, nobody’s paying her to go there. But if there’s no money in it, why go? Meanwhile, Daddy decides it’s time to move out of Brooklyn to truly fancy digs on Long Island, though this places him in the discomfiting position of not being absolutely hands-on with his dealers; and sure enough the rise of some young Turks leads to his arrest. Then he does something really stupid: he murders his wife’s two weak brothers in jail with him on Riker’s Island and gets two consecutive life sentences. Winter’s then on her own, especially with Bullet, who may have replaced her dad as top hood, though when she selfishly fails to help her pregnant buddy Simone, there’s worse—much worse—to come. Thinness aside: riveting stuff, with language so frank it curls your hair. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02578-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

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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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