A spirited, hopeful novel that serves as a reminder that change is always possible.

THE LAST BRAZIL of BENJAMIN EAST

A NOVEL

A returned expat and a young artist take a road trip across America.

This novel from Freedman (Bounce, 2011, etc.), a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist, is a tale of reinvention and second chances. Serial entrepreneur and perpetual optimist Benjamin East left America nearly 40 years ago to try his luck in Brazil. Now, it’s 1980, and having lost both his fortune and his beloved wife, Gisela, he steps off the plane in Miami, hops on the Greyhound, and heads north, intent on selling his quirky first novel to a New York publisher. In Washington, D.C., he’s waylaid by the decades-younger Amy, who’s fleeing her abusive husband. Somewhat implausibly, Amy begs Benjamin to accompany her to New York, where she hopes to become an artist. Both get a rude awakening in Manhattan. Publishers dismiss Benjamin’s writing as amateurish, while Amy’s work is deemed too primitive for art school. This unlikely pair then light out for San Francisco, believing that California will be more welcoming to a pair of outcast dreamers. Along the way, they begin to understand what they’re really searching for. Benjamin is a classic American huckster and a salesman (he claims to have invented the phrase “the Big Apple”) who is by turns charming and grating. His fast talk exhausts, but his desperate last-chance attempts at success are touching nonetheless. In the most affecting passages, he reflects on his early days in Brazil and his relationship with Gisela, which seemed promising but became as “meandering as the River of Doubt,” marred by disappointments both personal and professional. His unlikely relationship with Amy is surprisingly complex, though there are moments when she comes across as more of an aging man’s sexual fantasy than a person. And most of the people Benjamin and Amy encounter on their journey, like pompous writer Joshua and cowboy-drifter Maynard, are little more than stock characters. Yet Freedman pulls it all together in the final pages with an ending that embraces the “infinite possibilities” of life.

A spirited, hopeful novel that serves as a reminder that change is always possible.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: 9781939555106

Page Count: 282

Publisher: Bright Lights Press

Review Posted Online: June 4, 2015

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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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