Agualusa’s novel, which has roots in the magical realist tradition, is a sui generis work, refreshingly different, owing its...

THE BOOK OF CHAMELEONS

Black is white and human is animal; appearances are deceiving in this subtle, beguiling story of shifting identities, the first U.S. publication for the Angolan author.

The narrator is a gecko who was an ancient human before becoming trapped in a lizard’s body. In Luanda, Angola’s capital, he shares the home of Félix Ventura, an albino who would be black if he had more melanin. Ventura, an animist, regards the gecko as his best friend and talks to him frequently; they even appear in each other’s dreams. The two form the novel’s central relationship. The albino was abandoned on the doorstep as a baby, and raised by the sole inhabitant, a mulatto secondhand book dealer who hightailed it to Lisbon after Angola’s independence. In this world of paradoxes, it’s fitting that the foundling should become a genealogist, creating family trees and impressive pasts for insecure arrivistes. His latest client is a middle-aged white man, a war photographer. Ventura gives him a name (José Buchmann) and a mother who was an American artist, whereupon Buchmann becomes intent on tracking her down. A parallel story line has Ventura courting a beautiful black woman, Ângela Lúcia. The mood is gentle and inward-looking, but can the city be kept at bay? For this is Luanda, a place still haunted by a ruinous civil war, where the personal is entwined with the political. Buchmann brings back the terror. He has been photographing a crazy old homeless man, his adversary, it turns out, from the revolutionary past, which also spawned Ângela. The three confront each other in a violent denouement in Ventura’s home, as the albino looks on horrified. Maybe the narrator’s mother was right to advise her son: “Given a choice between life and books…you must choose books!”

Agualusa’s novel, which has roots in the magical realist tradition, is a sui generis work, refreshingly different, owing its primary allegiance to a specific time and place.

Pub Date: June 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-1-4165-7351-7

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2008

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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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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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