Kercheval (Brazil, 2010, etc.) delves deeply into the rawest of emotions and the most wrenching of choices, richly detailing...


In this sharply drawn chronicle of grief, a woman reassembles her identity through her father’s art and her brother’s tenuous offer of a new life.

After her husband and 8-year-old daughter are killed in a car accident, Emma collapses. Nothing matters anymore—not her friends, not her home, not her carefully constructed life as a professor of creative writing. But then Aunt Zinnia drops another bombshell: Emma was adopted. Spontaneously, Emma catches the train for New York, hoping her former nanny, Apolline, has some answers. Apolline reveals that Emma’s parents were a beautiful French communist named Sophie-Anne and the renowned Russian silent film star Ivan Mosjoukine. Doubting that Mosjoukine could really be her father (after all, he allegedly died 10 years before her birth), Emma cannot so easily dismiss the evidence in the mirror: She has his burning blue eyes. She sets off for Paris, but instead of finding her mother, she finds her twin brother, Ilya, living in a nearly forgotten, nearly impossible-to-find house. Across the street, his neighbor sits outside every day, scowling and selling drugs to overworked physicians. Delighted to see Emma (whom he remembers as Vera), Ilya has his own demons, including the father who abandoned him, the mother who gave his twin sister away, and the tragic consequences of his ex-wife’s addiction. Emma intensifies her search for their father, discovering a chameleon of a man. And as she watches Mosjoukine’s old films, she sees reflections of their family saga. Much like a silent movie, Emma’s quest is composed of beautifully limned gestures and vividly sketched characters against the backdrops of contemporary and post–World War II Paris.

Kercheval (Brazil, 2010, etc.) delves deeply into the rawest of emotions and the most wrenching of choices, richly detailing each twist and turn with grace.

Pub Date: Sept. 19, 2013

ISBN: 978-0253-01024-7

Page Count: 220

Publisher: Indiana Univ.

Review Posted Online: July 21, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2013

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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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More about grief and tragedy than romance.


Five friends meet on their first day of kindergarten at the exclusive Atwood School and remain lifelong friends through tragedy and triumph.

When Gabby, Billy, Izzie, Andy and Sean meet in the toy kitchen of the kindergarten classroom on their first day of school, no one can know how strong the group’s friendship will remain. Despite their different personalities and interests, the five grow up together and become even closer as they come into their own talents and life paths. But tragedy will strike and strike again. Family troubles, abusive parents, drugs, alcohol, stress, grief and even random bad luck will put pressure on each of them individually and as a group. Known for her emotional romances, Steel makes a bit of a departure with this effort that follows a group of friends through young adulthood. But even as one tragedy after another befalls the friends, the impact of the events is blunted by a distant narrative style that lacks emotional intensity. 

More about grief and tragedy than romance.

Pub Date: July 24, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-385-34321-3

Page Count: 322

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: Nov. 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2012

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