An engaging tale about a singular friendship that gives voice to the struggles of the sightless.


A friendship reveals the daily challenges faced by the blind and leads to a long relationship in this debut autobiographical novel.

John Kwan suffers blindness and abandonment when very young yet he carries “on with his life with great dignity and optimism.” The plight of the sightless (John’s preferred term) is especially difficult in Hong Kong, as the fast-paced society lacks accommodations for this group. His life consists of “trying to survive from one day to the next, and often at the mercy of other people.” Therefore, when a young man named James meets John at La Salle College in Hong Kong in 1962, he is intrigued that a sightless student attends a regular school. Lacking volumes for the sightless, John manually transcribes his own Braille textbooks from someone reading aloud. This is time consuming and limits his ability to study since Braille only works with English and is impractical with more technical subjects like chemistry and math. By nature a compassionate person, James helps him on Saturdays until he leaves for the University of Hawaii in 1965 and John starts a job working as a phone operator. Inspired by their friendship, James becomes a retinal specialist. John achieves his own celebrity by publishing an acclaimed memoir, Diary of a Blind Orphan. When they reunite 25 years later, James sees the change in his friend from “the lonely, struggling young orphan he had been” to an “accomplished family man.” In Hung’s engrossing novel, the two men’s vivid parallel journeys prove that both the sighted and sightless encounter problems but have the means to achieve happiness. The story excels when it insightfully points out abilities many readers take for granted. For instance, the author skillfully contrasts the ease of learning the periodic table when students can actually see the relationships between elements with the daunting task of memorizing the data from verbal recitations. The rambling tangents about other classmates are unnecessary and will distract the audience from being drawn into the intriguing hurdles and victories of John’s life that effectively show great strength of character.

An engaging tale about a singular friendship that gives voice to the struggles of the sightless.

Pub Date: Dec. 27, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-578-58603-8

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: Dec. 31, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Reader Votes

  • Readers Vote
  • 12

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?

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

Did you like this book?