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THE PARIS PHOTO

A thoughtful delineation of characters and a sensitive study of a culture and an era.

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Gabin’s (American Women in Gilded Age London, 2006, etc.) character-driven novel is set in Paris in the 1940s and present day.

Ben Gordon is pushing 30 and itching for real life to begin. He enlists in the good fight against Hitler, gets engaged to Sylvia Stern, a nice girl from the neighborhood, and is off to France, assigned to a military postal unit. He was asked to look up a family in Paris, which is how he meets Simone Daval; her mother, Mira; and her young son, Guy. Simone’s husband and her father, we eventually learn, were lured away and killed in the camps. The Germans are now on the run, but trauma remains. With their shared Jewish heritage—they get by in Yiddish—a strong bond develops between Ben and the Davals. Ben, a real mensch, tries to fill the void as a father figure for Guy and, inevitably, becomes something more than a friend to Simone. But he can’t bring himself to confess that he’s engaged. He is transferred to Frankfurt, and that is the last that the Davals hear from him. In Part 2, Judith Gordon and her brother, Michael, are going through their father’s effects after his funeral when Judith finds Ben’s photographs taken in Paris. Ben married Sylvia and had a good life, but like many veterans, he never talked about his Army days, and Judith is intrigued. She eventually tracks Guy down. He is thrilled to make contact but is adamant about not living in the too-painful past. However, the book explores their atypical connection. Gabin’s is a quietly powerful book, and Part 2 is especially engaging—a study in long-lasting hurt. She is not a flashy writer—no rococo flights to exploit and cheapen the pain. When Guy writes, “Your letter…brought back so many memories. It was a sorrowful and also a joyful time,” this is closer to Hemingway than to Faulkner—as it should be. Guy is a gracious host but gets angry when Judith presses him too much about the past. He can’t forget the pain of his stunted childhood, the Holocaust, the French collaborators, and his mixed feelings now for Ben, the “father” who abandoned him. But he refuses to wallow in it. Judith captures him perfectly as “this witty, sardonic, damaged man who drinks too much.” The mystery of Ben’s behavior remains. Did he realize that he wasn’t the adventurer he’d hoped to be? Did he use his promise to Sylvia as a cop-out? We only know that he made a comfortable living for the family as an accountant and that he and Sylvia retired to Florida—almost a parody of the dutiful burgher’s life. This, Gabin seems to be saying, is how culture and experience shape a life. Ben perhaps was, in the final analysis, the typical well-meaning but naïve Yank.

A thoughtful delineation of characters and a sensitive study of a culture and an era.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-692-09751-9

Page Count: 506

Publisher: Wisdom House Books

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2019

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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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