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EYES BEHIND BELLIGERENCE

This overly long novel’s mangled phrasing impedes the reading process.

Kollenborn’s debut novel explores life in the Manzanar Japanese internment camp during World War II, focusing on two teenage boys struggling with their identities as first-generation Americans.

Jim and Goro, or Russell as he prefers to be called, are ordinary teenagers growing up on Bainbridge Island, near Seattle, WA. They don’t especially like each other, but after Pearl Harbor, their families are thrown together for the duration of the war at Manzanar, one of the Japanese internment camps. They feel rejected by America and unsure of their places in the world. As they navigate the difficulties of camp life—gangs, informers, racism, illness, defeated and dispirited parents—they also go to dances, meet girls and learn to fight. Growing up, each responds differently to the challenge of forging an American identity. Kollenborn shows she’s done her research; Manzanar’s privations are fully rendered as the camp slowly transforms as the prisoners plant gardens, acquire a radio here or a new dress there, start a newspaper and organize themselves. She avoids easy moralizing while showing the injustice of the camps. Bizarre use of language, however, obscures the book’s merits. Readers will stumble again and again, as if running an absurdist obstacle course, into phrases and sentences like these: “Hours absorbed the clock like soap absorbing water, lathering time into a smooth thickness”; “everyone crippled in disgust and shock”; “Mist outlined the black vehicle like pebbles in a pond.” Despite the depth of the author’s research, children wrongly address their mothers as “Mama-san,” a term reserved for women in charge of bars, geisha houses and the like.

This overly long novel’s mangled phrasing impedes the reading process.

Pub Date: March 18, 2012

ISBN: 978-1470168162

Page Count: 460

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: June 5, 2012

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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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A LITTLE LIFE

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. 21, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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