As a quest for identity, Thúy’s work is not altogether satisfying, but her powerful scene-setting makes her a writer to...


In her slim, partly autobiographical first novel, Thúy, a Vietnamese-Canadian writing in French, seeks to make sense through memories of a life straddling East and West. 

That life unfolds haphazardly. It belongs to Nguyen An Tinh. She was born into a prosperous family in Saigon in 1968. When the Communists took over seven years later, they also took over part of their house. In 1978, the family became boat people, crossing the pirate-infested Gulf of Siam to reach Malaysia. From a foul refugee camp there, they traveled to Canada. Their first year was “heaven on earth,” and the country became their new home. At some point, Nguyen married a white Westerner and gave birth to twins, one of them autistic. So, you can package these details neatly, but it’s not something Thúy cares to do, preferring a montage to a chronological narrative, a progression sustained by images of family life. Some of the family members make the cut because they’re so colorful. There’s Uncle Two (so named because he is the second born), a prominent Saigon politician and playboy who will report his fleeing sons to the Communist authorities; and retarded, unmarried Aunt Seven, who will mysteriously give birth in a convent. Nguyen’s mother, a disciplinarian, runs their Saigon house, while her father, puzzlingly, is a blank; both parents take menial jobs in Canada for their children’s future. Her husband only rates one mention; perhaps this is because she considers men “replaceable.” (Maternal love is the only love that counts.) Nguyen herself, a silent, self-effacing shadow as a child, slowly blossoms; on a return journey to Vietnam, she understands how her fragile Vietnamese psyche has been covered by the armor of Western self-confidence. What has she learned? Travel light; don’t regret what’s past; enjoy “the unspeakable beauty of renewal.”

As a quest for identity, Thúy’s work is not altogether satisfying, but her powerful scene-setting makes her a writer to watch.

Pub Date: Nov. 27, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-60819-898-6

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2012

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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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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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