Sharp storytelling augments this novel of single-minded perseverance.


An old man recounts his youthful struggles in this winding novel set in New Bern, North Carolina. 

Joshua Jordan may be old, and though his life wasn’t easy, he lived a full one. Born just after the Civil War, Joshua, who’s African-American, was born a free man—the first in his family. After his parents died of cholera, his uncle Levi took him in. Levi works for a surly plantation owner, Captain Bigly, and when 12-year-old Joshua rushes through a job on the plantation, resulting in an accident that leaves Captain Bigley’s daughter, Melinda Mae, in a coma. Joshua goes looking for the Swamp Woman, a local healer, who eventually heals the girl. Seeing the power of the Swamp Woman, Joshua wants to treat patients, too, but he soon finds that the road to becoming a doctor is much harder than he thought. His education is subpar, he doesn’t have money, benefactors abandon him, he faces extreme discrimination, and yet...Joshua still works toward his ultimate goal of practicing medicine. Old Joshua soon realizes that his life isn’t over—there is still another chapter (or even two!) to come. Dempsey (The Butterfly, 2017, etc.) is a keen and ferocious storyteller. Frequent flashbacks guide readers toward the satisfying scene of Joshua’s epiphany. The prose is lush and fulfilling: “I missed my own country, flat and sandy, but filled with pines, magnolias, cypress and live oaks hung with moss. I missed the fields covered with cotton plants, plump with the snow-white puffs of cotton waiting to be picked.” As Joshua recounts his past, it motivates him to encourage youngsters to realize their own purposes. Readers may feel similarly inspired. Though the included illustrations aren’t needed, they add texture.

Sharp storytelling augments this novel of single-minded perseverance.

Pub Date: May 14, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4907-7295-0

Page Count: 158

Publisher: Trafford

Review Posted Online: July 11, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2017

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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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