ANOTHER COUNTRY

South African Schoeman makes his American debut with a novel of high purpose—one that movingly explores that other country that for his ailing hero is both Africa and death. As stately as a Bach fugue, the novel tells the story of Versluis, a wealthy Dutchman who travels to South Africa in the 1870's in search of a cure for his tuberculosis. The long journey from the coast to Bloemfontein—then capital of the Boer republic of the Orange Free State, and noted for its healthy climate—almost kills him, but he gradually recovers over the summer. The townspeople, a cosmopolitan mix, are solicitous, but Versluis- -affected by a lonely childhood and fears of dying—rebuffs their friendship and withdraws into himself and his illness. Nonetheless, Versluis is compelled on occasion to join local society: He dines with the hospitable Hirschs, a family that exudes vitality; reads poems for a German literary society; and finds himself increasingly drawn to Pastor Scheffler and his crippled sister. The town is surrounded by empty veld—symbolic here of the emptiness of death, and of Africa itself. It's an alien place, the Pastor suggests, for Europeans torn between two worlds who, unasked, ``brought civilization and dumped it as if Africa were some kind of trash- heap''—a place ``we see only at a distance, beyond the lace- curtains.'' Scheffler's sister, born in Africa, feels no such dichotomy; for her, Europeans must become Africans. Winter comes, and Versluis realizes he is dying, but he's strangely comforted by an encounter with a fellow-countryman. On a hill overlooking the veld, Versluis can finally embrace the emptiness without fear: ``The emptiness absorbed you, the unfamiliar land grew familiar— the journey had been completed.'' One of those quietly powerful and beautifully written books that wrestles with all the great questions without ever slighting the ordinary men and women who ask them. A distinguished debut.

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 1992

ISBN: 1-85619-049-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Sinclair-Stevenson/Trafalgar

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1992

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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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A kind of Holden Caulfield who speaks bravely and winningly from inside the sorrows of autism: wonderful, simple, easy,...

THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME

Britisher Haddon debuts in the adult novel with the bittersweet tale of a 15-year-old autistic who’s also a math genius.

Christopher Boone has had some bad knocks: his mother has died (well, she went to the hospital and never came back), and soon after he found a neighbor’s dog on the front lawn, slain by a garden fork stuck through it. A teacher said that he should write something that he “would like to read himself”—and so he embarks on this book, a murder mystery that will reveal who killed Mrs. Shears’s dog. First off, though, is a night in jail for hitting the policeman who questions him about the dog (the cop made the mistake of grabbing the boy by the arm when he can’t stand to be touched—any more than he can stand the colors yellow or brown, or not knowing what’s going to happen next). Christopher’s father bails him out but forbids his doing any more “detecting” about the dog-murder. When Christopher disobeys (and writes about it in his book), a fight ensues and his father confiscates the book. In time, detective-Christopher finds it, along with certain other clues that reveal a very great deal indeed about his mother’s “death,” his father’s own part in it—and the murder of the dog. Calming himself by doing roots, cubes, prime numbers, and math problems in his head, Christopher runs away, braves a train-ride to London, and finds—his mother. How can this be? Read and see. Neither parent, if truth be told, is the least bit prepossessing or more than a cutout. Christopher, though, with pet rat Toby in his pocket and advanced “maths” in his head, is another matter indeed, and readers will cheer when, way precociously, he takes his A-level maths and does brilliantly.

A kind of Holden Caulfield who speaks bravely and winningly from inside the sorrows of autism: wonderful, simple, easy, moving, and likely to be a smash.

Pub Date: June 17, 2003

ISBN: 0-385-50945-6

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2003

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