A creative historical dramatization that falls short of a nuanced portrait of its principal character.


A writer offers a literary reimagining of Judas’ betrayal of Jesus in this novel. 

Judas Iscariot couldn’t have come from more inauspicious beginnings. He endured abject poverty; his father was a violent drunk and his mother an opportunistic harlot. Judas flees Kerioth penniless with dreams of making it to Jerusalem and finding respectable work and even a wife. In the barren heat of the desert, he meets John the Baptist, who recommends that Judas locate Jesus, now an itinerant preacher with a following of disciples. Judas heeds his counsel, but not before purloining one of John’s water bags, justifying his theft by dint of need. Judas encounters Jesus and is delighted to be quickly made the “keeper of the purse,” replacing Matthew, the former tax collector. In addition, Jesus promises to teach Judas to read and write, a profoundly important aspiration for someone so taken with his own “imagined cleverness and ambition.”  But Judas is never all that impressed with Jesus’ ministry and becomes frustrated with the deprivations to which he is daily subjected: “I’m sick of begging for Jesus and his lazy friends. Talk about leading astray. From now on, the money I earn, I keep for myself. He and his friends can beg for the rest of their lives without me.” Judas is eventually recruited by a powerful member of the Sanhedrin, Simon, who persuades him with a combination of financial reward and blackmail to turn on Jesus. Heil (The War Less Civil, 2012) inventively fills in the historical and scriptural blanks—not much is known about Judas, a rich fictional opportunity for a writer. In addition, the author intelligently conjures the dynamic of Jesus’ band of apostles and followers, not all of whom are as trusting of Judas as Jesus is. Martha, Lazarus’ sister, loathes him with surprisingly unrestrained rancor. But Heil’s depiction of Judas lacks psychological nuance—the man’s coarse self-interest and sensitivity to mortification are so acute, it’s hard to accept his remorse after betraying Jesus, let alone his experience of “spiritual despair and isolation.” 

A creative historical dramatization that falls short of a nuanced portrait of its principal character. 

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-692-18589-6

Page Count: 184

Publisher: Lake Lore Press, LLC

Review Posted Online: April 29, 2019

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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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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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