Part political parable, part comic roundelay, this engaging 1981 novel shows a comparatively lighter side of the great Albanian author whose previous English-translated works include The Three-Arched Bridge (1997) and The Pyramid (1996). Kadare's latest tale describes the misadventures of Max Ross and Bill Norton, Irish-American scholars traveling in the Albanian hill country seeking evidence from oral storytellers, or ``rhapsodes,'' that might explain how the Homeric epics were created and preserved. Kadare contrasts their experience of culture shock, and also their detailed tape-recorded notes, with the suspicions of a nervous Communist bureaucracy that spies on the intruders it believes are themselves foreign agents (``all this nonsense about Homer . . . is only camouflage, hiding their true, murky mission''). Prominent among the affected natives of the village of N____ (near where the two researchers stay) are its fussbudget governor, his bored wife Daisy (who fantasizes romance with the exciting newcomers), a Serbian monk who's outraged over the attribution of the epic's origins to a culture other than his own, and—best of all—professional informer Dull Baxhaja, conscientious tool of the state whose dutiful surveillance falters when he dozes at this post (``suffering intolerable pain, consumed with howling remorse, he had fallen into a state of irremediable despair''). As they intermingle, Kadare observes these agitated souls with a nonjudgmental deadpan wit (beautifully suggested by Bellos's graceful translation) that gently skewers both scholarly tunnel vision and nationalist paranoia while simultaneously rendering with great subtlety the enduring power of those elusive ancient stories. Masterly narrative use is made of Albanian folk beliefs, and the novel's violent climax and aftermath, in which ``Homer's revenge'' seems to assert itself, implies that there are mysteries not meant to be solved. Kadare's is a voice unlike any other in contemporary fiction, and this is one of his most unusual and attractive books.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 1998

ISBN: 1-55970-401-2

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Arcade

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 1997

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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. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.


A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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