THE PENGUIN'S SONG

A novel that defies expectations as it summons up the displacement and dehumanization that can come with war.

Daoud’s claustrophobic novel hauntingly conveys one family’s isolation after being relocated during the Lebanese civil war. 

Displaced by war, the family at the center of the story has left its home in the old city of Beirut for a space more sheltered from the ongoing combat. The narrator, a young man, writes of days spent in isolation reading. He silently observes the interactions of the people around him and ponders his own body, described at one point as “a sickly white mass.” His father expounds at length on the virtues of watchmaking, while his mother leaves the apartment frequently, prompting questions each time about whether she will return. The narrator lusts over a neighbor, and his gaze is described in visceral, discomfortingly intimate terms—as is his way of watching the world in general. Though his bibliophily is presented more clinically, he entertains notions of peeling cataracts from his father’s eyes in one memorably squirm-inducing passage. None of the characters are named, and the events play out like memories, sometimes in a linear fashion, sometimes following more thematic paths. These are characters forced to dwell in the past, their futures uncertain. Together with the single location and the sense of displacement, these elements combine to create a sense of harrowing isolation. This is a slow-burning novel of characters slowly discovering their inner natures, be they impotent, stifled or predatory. While the dreamlike tension can occasionally frustrate, Daoud's evocation of history as it is experienced is excellent. His characters live through momentous events, but their struggles to survive land them in a kind of purgatory.

A novel that defies expectations as it summons up the displacement and dehumanization that can come with war.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-87286-623-2

Page Count: 228

Publisher: City Lights

Review Posted Online: Oct. 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2014

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A LITTLE LIFE

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

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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. 21, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD

A first novel, this is also a first person account of Scout's (Jean Louise) recall of the years that led to the ending of a mystery, the breaking of her brother Jem's elbow, the death of her father's enemy — and the close of childhood years. A widower, Atticus raises his children with legal dispassion and paternal intelligence, and is ably abetted by Calpurnia, the colored cook, while the Alabama town of Maycomb, in the 1930's, remains aloof to their divergence from its tribal patterns. Scout and Jem, with their summer-time companion, Dill, find their paths free from interference — but not from dangers; their curiosity about the imprisoned Boo, whose miserable past is incorporated in their play, results in a tentative friendliness; their fears of Atticus' lack of distinction is dissipated when he shoots a mad dog; his defense of a Negro accused of raping a white girl, Mayella Ewell, is followed with avid interest and turns the rabble whites against him. Scout is the means of averting an attack on Atticus but when he loses the case it is Boo who saves Jem and Scout by killing Mayella's father when he attempts to murder them. The shadows of a beginning for black-white understanding, the persistent fight that Scout carries on against school, Jem's emergence into adulthood, Calpurnia's quiet power, and all the incidents touching on the children's "growing outward" have an attractive starchiness that keeps this southern picture pert and provocative. There is much advance interest in this book; it has been selected by the Literary Guild and Reader's Digest; it should win many friends.

Pub Date: July 11, 1960

ISBN: 0060935464

Page Count: 323

Publisher: Lippincott

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1960

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