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SAND QUEEN

A flawed but unforgettable testament.

This bleak novel explores the horrendous impact of the Iraq war on women, both soldiers and civilians.

Based on research conducted for her nonfiction study of women serving in Iraq (The Lonely Soldier, 2009, etc.), Benedict’s fictional portrayal alternates the accounts of Kate, a young specialist stationed at Camp Bucca near Umm Qasr in Iraq, and Naema, a medical student whose family flees to the region after the catastrophic invasion and looting of Bagdad in 2003. Kate is one of three women in a barracks housing 33. Her worst enemies are not Iraqis (derogatorily known as hajjis) but her sergeant, Kormick, and another soldier nicknamed Boner. They sexually assault Kate (the exact nature of the assault is never revealed) on the day she is transferred to another detail, keeping watch in a guard tower overlooking the prison camp at Bucca. Shortly after Naema’s family moves in with her grandmother, American soldiers arrest her father (crippled by torture under Saddam) and preteen brother. Naema goes daily to the camp, where she encounters Kate, who bucks authority to try to get information regarding Naema’s relatives. The kindness of Kate’s comrade Jimmy is so unexpected in this snakepit of a milieu that love between the two, though it exacerbates Kate's dilemma, is inevitable. As the pressures on Kate mount (her tough, seemingly invincible bunkmate is raped by Kormick and Boner, and Kate’s attempts to file charges are laughed off), she revenges herself on the Iraqi detainees, who also single her out for torment because she is a woman. When, mistaking him for one of her prisoner-harassers, she brutalizes Naemas’ father, her spiral of self-destruction accelerates. The enormity of the problems—the woeful inadequacy of soldier’s equipment, the heat, the IEDs, the yawning gap between the mission of “liberation” and the chaos inflicted on Iraqis—that Benedict attempts to pack into such a brief space overwhelms the novel, fragmenting the storytelling into vivid but regrettably sketchy segments.

A flawed but unforgettable testament.

Pub Date: Aug. 2, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-56947-966-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Soho

Review Posted Online: July 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2011

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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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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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