A twisty thriller that proves to be a wily, if textually dense, adventure.

The Book of Wisdom

From the The Harmony of the Spheres series , Vol. 1

From debut author Falcon comes a novel about an ancient musical manuscript and those who seek to decipher it.

When readers first meet Douglass Crenshaw, the middle-aged academic is down on his luck. Informed that he will shortly be terminated from his teaching position in the music history department at Northwestern University, he finds himself admitting, “At fifty-three my career is crawling to a pathetic end and no one cares.” All is not lost, though, as an old colleague, Fatima al-Salam of Trinity College, informs him of an intriguing manuscript that’s surfaced in Ireland. The Ballad of Light, as it’s known in its English translation, is a mixture of Spanish and Arabic text thought to be from 15th-century Islamic Spain. After word leaks of its existence, Fatima feels that she’s being watched closely; later, someone trashes her office, but why and who? Back in the year 66, the Judean Jacob ben Honi has deserted his high position with a Roman legion. Highly educated and agile in combat, he ventures to Jerusalem, where trouble is afoot. The destruction of that city is only a handful of years away, and the feared Sicarii, a new faction, causes a fair share of distress and bloodshed. How and when, engaged readers will wonder, will these two narratives collide, and what does it mean to the world at large? Mixing historical fiction with modern-day sleuthing, the book offers a great deal of information via its many characters. The supporting players are many and varied, including Crenshaw’s “confident but not arrogant” graduate assistant Lucy and the desert-hating Roman Marcus Trajan. Although the author’s overarching quest is very Indiana Jones–esque, the cantankerous, cellphone-disavowing professor is the anti–Harrison Ford. Dotted with scenes of library investigations (“Once in the Archives reading room, Lucy explains her needs to a skeptical librarian who reluctantly decides that she is not there to pillage the place”), the book seems intended for readers who can relate to a deep-seated excitement over archived materials.

A twisty thriller that proves to be a wily, if textually dense, adventure.

Pub Date: June 15, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-9962263-0-1

Page Count: 594

Publisher: Contemporary Music Project

Review Posted Online: Aug. 7, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2015

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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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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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