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THE LAST SAMURAI

Unabashedly over the top at times but, still, a saga that gives rise to as much amusement as it does sober reflection. A...

In a witty, wacky, and endlessly erudite debut, DeWitt assembles everything from letters of the Greek alphabet to Fourier analysis to tell the tale of a boy prodigy, stuffed with knowledge beyond his years but frustrated by his mother’s refusal to identify his father.

Sibylla and five-year-old Ludovic are quite a pair, riding round and round on the Circle Line in London’s Underground while he reads the Odyssey in the original and she copes with the inevitable remarks by fellow passengers. Sibylla, an expatriate American making a living as a typist, herself possesses formidable intelligence, but her eccentricities are just as noteworthy. Believing Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai to be a film without peer, she watches it day after day, year after year, while in the one-night stand with Ludo’s father-to-be, she wound up in bed with him for no better reason than it wouldn’t have been polite not to, although subsequently she has nothing but scorn for his utterly conventional (if successful) travel books. Ludo she keeps in the dark about his patrimony, feeding him instead new languages at the rate of one or two a year, and, when an effort to put him in school with others his age wreaks havoc on the class, she resumes responsibility for his education, which, not surprisingly, relies heavily on Kurosawa’s film. As Ludo grows up, however, he will not be denied knowledge of his father, and sniffs him out—only to be as disappointed with him as his mother is. Hopes of happiness with the genuine article having been dashed, Ludo moves on to ideal candidates, and approaches a succession of geniuses, each time with a claim of being the man’s son. While these efforts are enlightening, they are also futile—and in one case tragic—until Ludo finds his match in one who knows the dialogue of Seven Samurai almost as well as he does.

Unabashedly over the top at times but, still, a saga that gives rise to as much amusement as it does sober reflection. A promising start, indeed.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-7868-6668-3

Page Count: 544

Publisher: Hyperion

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2000

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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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