THE YEAR OF THE DEATH OF RICARDO REIS

The US debut of Portuguese writer Saragamo: a novel written in the best classical European tradition, rich in allusions, occasionally surreal, and concerned with the human condition. Set in Lisbon, it's the story of the last year of Dr. Ricardo Reis, a man in his late 40s who has come back to Portugal to make a new life for himself. As the old year—1934—ends, Reis disembarks from the steamer that has brought him from Brazil, where he has spent the last 16 years. Unmarried, a poet as well as a doctor, Reis originally fled Portugal because of political upheaval, and a recent revolution in Brazil has in part precipitated his return. He stays first in a hotel, where he is attracted to a young woman guest who comes to Lisbon for medical treatment, and at the same time he takes the hotel maid, Lydia, as his mistress. Meanwhile, a friend and poet, recently dead, frequently accompanies Reis as he walks around Lisbon. There seems little point or purpose to Reis' life. He moves to an apartment, continues his relationship with Lydia, and asks the young hotel guest to marry him, but these seem more gestures of despair than acts of hope. Reis' politics are never really spelled out, but as the year progresses—and it is a significant year as the political situation in Europe and Portugal rapidly deteriorates—Reis finds it more difficult to remain aloof. When Lydia's brother dies in an antigovernment mutiny, Reis realizes that he can no longer be a bystander; but that admission is too much, and he goes off to join his dead friend, afraid to look back because if he does "he might let out finally his mighty howl." A compelling portrait of a man of great sensibilities and bleak vision, who, failing to escape the world in life, prefers death. And the Lisbon of the Thirties that Saragamo describes—gray, run-down, and filled with paupers—further increases this feeling of futility and moral decay. An accomplished debut.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1990

ISBN: 0002712784

Page Count: 358

Publisher: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich

Review Posted Online: Oct. 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1990

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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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More about grief and tragedy than romance.

FRIENDS FOREVER

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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