Those who are able to navigate early modern English would do better to read Caxton, but this new version has the virtue of...

REYNARD THE FOX

A NEW TRANSLATION

Timely translation of the medieval story cycle about a fox who constantly outwits the “not only dim-witted but also greedy, coarse and self-interested” folks in charge.

Reynard the Fox rolls up all the best wiles of Odysseus, Harpo Marx and the Coyote of North American Indian mythology; he’s a trickster, a court jester and a buffoon who, somewhat freer to speak truth to power than the rest of us, shows time and again that the emperor’s clothes are threadbare. The exiled English printer William Caxton understood this, and his 15th-century translation of the Old French Roman de Renart, though subtle in its satire, made it plain “how clever subjects can survive enemies and kings.” So Greenblatt writes in his introduction to this new translation by Simpson (English/Harvard Univ.), which properly places the stories about Reynard, which emerged as long ago as the 1100s, in the tradition of Aesop and other fabulists. Simpson’s translation is fully serviceable, though there are some oddly herky-jerky clashes of diction scattered throughout: “Cousin Reynard, now’s the time to open up your bag of tricks: if you’re so clever, I suggest you help yourself. You’re in a fix, buddy.” “The wolf said: ‘Just listen to this guy! I’m the one who’s suffered and have cause to complain, and he wants me to pay him!’ ” If the characters sound like Sir Walter Scott at one moment and Lou Costello the next, that doesn’t diminish the bite and force of the stories, which, though surely not to everyone’s taste, are plenty of fun to read—especially when Reynard, having outwitted Lion and Wolf and Cat and every other creature in the French barnyard, finally talks himself into a cushy government job, at last securing a sinecure to guard the henhouse.

Those who are able to navigate early modern English would do better to read Caxton, but this new version has the virtue of making the Reynard stories easily accessible.

Pub Date: March 9, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-87140-736-8

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Liveright/Norton

Review Posted Online: Dec. 16, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF IVAN DENISOVICH

While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

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

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A LITTLE LIFE

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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