An ambitious, sometimes-illuminating tale set against political unrest in Burma.



A literary novel tells the story of a Burmese revolutionary trying to escape his enemies.

Burma, 1988. Famous student revolutionary Mothi Awegoke is on the run from intelligence agents for his role in the demonstrations against the country’s military junta. As he flees through the streets of Rangoon, he is almost run over by a white Mercedes, but the young woman inside it recognizes him and offers him a ride. After concealing him for a few days, the woman, Thuzar, arranges for Mothi to be smuggled out of the city on a ship. When he asks how he will find Thuzar again, once things settle down, she tells him it will be she who locates him: “You always think you can blend in with the crowd and you are so inconspicuous. But you blend in about as well as a true pigeon blood ruby in the mud. You positively glow. You’ll never sink in muck. Of that I am certain. You’ll always be famous and not difficult to find. You’ll see.” Her words prove prophetic, as Mothi’s fight to bring democracy to Burma takes him across the country into Thailand and, eventually, America. As he travels, seeing the lives of the people who help him along the way, he remembers the events of his youth that spurred him to political activism. Kaung’s (The Rohingya Genocide in Burma, 2017, etc.) prose is highly detailed, capturing life under Communist rule in startling images: “Inn Inn’s high-heeled slippers fell apart when it rained because they were reinforced with cardboard. She had bought three pairs because she thought it was a good price and she might not see them again. When the first pair dissolved, she wore the other slippers only during the dry season.” Mothi is a flawed, sometimes-infuriating character, and the story is likewise idiosyncratic in its structure and pacing. But the work is wonderfully specific, and its blend of history, politics, and episodes feels organic and somehow appropriate. It’s a novel that works through accumulation—it’s nearly 500 pages—but at the end of it, readers will feel they have an intimate understanding of this character and his country.

An ambitious, sometimes-illuminating tale set against political unrest in Burma.

Pub Date: Feb. 10, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4792-0388-8

Page Count: 484

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Aug. 6, 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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