Carter’s 17th book (Christmas in Plains, 2001, etc.), the first work of fiction by a US president, will certainly inform,...

THE HORNET’S NEST

A NOVEL OF THE REVOLUTIONARY WAR

Setting his hand to historical fiction, the former president focuses on the American Revolution, getting the history part right, the fiction not quite.

It’s the Revolutionary War as fought in the South—mostly Georgia, the Carolinas, Florida—and what a story that is. It has sweep, drama, suspense, and, as Carter suggests in his acknowledgments, it surprises for some who think they know what 1775–83 was all about. The war, southern-style, was a ferocious, bloody, take-no-prisoners kind of war, despite the homogeneity of the combatants. The vaunted British army was, for the most part, otherwise occupied, as was the less vaunted Continental army, George Washington only a name written on the wind. Miles away from Bunker Hill, Saratoga, etc., guerrilla warfare ruled: Loyalists (to Britain) vs. Rebels (against Britain), but Americans all, behaving toward each other as savagely as if they had never been friends and neighbors. Not long before the breakout of hostilities, Ethan Pratt and his wife Epsey, newly married, leave Philadelphia to arrive, ultimately, in Georgia, where they stake out a land claim, convinced they’ll be able to ignore those complex and vaguely irritating events up north in the interests of getting on with what matters—raising crops and family. It’s a delusion, of course, and soon enough the two are swept up in the swirl of fast-moving events: Ethan, a pacifist at heart, joins a Rebel militia group; Epsey, left on her own, finds protection among the Quakers. Poignant, even desperate things happen to both, but essentially they’re protagonists at the periphery. At one point, for instance, Ethan virtually vanishes from the action for 160 pages. It’s hard, then, not to conclude that it’s the history that fascinates the author, while the fiction merely interests him.

Carter’s 17th book (Christmas in Plains, 2001, etc.), the first work of fiction by a US president, will certainly inform, but, lacking the novelist’s spark, it’s unlikely to move or grip.

Pub Date: Nov. 14, 2003

ISBN: 0-7432-5542-9

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2003

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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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