Though clumsily farcical in its first half, Rossi’s tale succeeds in touching the reader with its melancholy blend of nicely...



An attractive debut that begins as a lightly comic biography of the young Beppe Arpino, then gradually accumulates a sober gravity before ending in Arpino’s attempt to assassinate the prime minister of Italy, Benito Mussolini.

Il Duce’s name is never mentioned, and the political climate of 1930s Italy is only a vaguely menacing shadow behind the life and trials of Arpino. Fatherless and from a poor family, young Beppe is taken under the care of the benign Father Vincenzo—and the comically exaggerated atmosphere of the priest’s home marks this as a European coming-of-age story that will notably leave grainy realism behind. Though a man of the cloth, Vincenzo introduces Beppe into his twin lifelong fascinations: cello-playing and dentistry. A book, aptly called Teeth, serves as Vincenzo’s personal bible, and when Vincenzo abruptly dies, Beppe seeks out its author, one Dr. Puzo. Puzo, a health and hygiene fanatic, recognizes young Beppe’s love of all things dental and enrolls the boy in the Naples Institute for Dental Arts even as the prodigy’s talent for the cello begins to blossom. After unexpectedly rescuing the son of a Neapolitan notable, Beppe is brought to the home of Alfredo Perelli, who is anxiously seeking a suitor for his beautiful daughter Angelina. Here, also, Beppe meets Linati, an unscrupulous publisher to whom Beppe presents Puzo’s masterwork, a report on the health of the Italian people, written expressly for the prime minister. Linati, now a favorite in Mussolini’s government, destroys the document for its condemnation of Italian hygiene, just as Angelina begins to have second thoughts about marrying Arpino. These assorted excruciations drive Arpino to make an unsuccessful attempt on Il Duce’s life—with disastrous results.

Though clumsily farcical in its first half, Rossi’s tale succeeds in touching the reader with its melancholy blend of nicely observed domesticity, youthful idealism, art, and love, all amid the indifferent momentum of history.

Pub Date: June 1, 2001

ISBN: 1-56649-201-7

Page Count: 256

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2001

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2015

  • Kirkus Prize
  • Kirkus Prize

  • National Book Award Finalist


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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet


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

Did you like this book?