With subtle echoes of a samurai classic, Abe’s autobiographical novel is a memorable portrait of statelessness, exile, and...


You can’t go home again—especially when you don’t know where home is.

In a scenario reminiscent of European contemporaries Wolfdietrich Schnurre and Friedrich Dürrenmatt, eminent Japanese novelist Abe (1924-93) imagines a liminal and forlorn compatriot who has grown up somewhere in Manchuria, the child of colonists who now, as Japan’s Asian empire crumbles into dust at the end of World War II, must somehow find his way to a homeland that is alien to him. As this slim novel, originally published in 1957, opens, Kuki Kyuzo, still a teenager but now without parents, is in the hands of not unfriendly Soviet occupiers in a kind of no-man’s land between Siberia, Mongolia, and China. He tucks away matches, a little food, a bottle of vodka to make good an escape. But from what, and to what? The months pass, with one Soviet emerging as a gruff guardian angel, though he refuses to let Kyuzo leave for Japan: “Outside there are fascists with bared teeth roaming about.” When China breaks out in civil war, the Soviets finally withdraw, and Kyuzo crosses into another frontier, now in the company of a multilingual “communications agent” of mixed ethnicity and shadowy background who declares himself “more like a newspaper reporter” than the spy Kyuzo figures him for. His new companion seems a godsend in some tough scrapes, but his motives are as murky as his identity. Though fearful that he’ll wind up like one of the unfortunate soldiers of whatever side whose insignia eventually come forth from “the bellies of wolves,” Kyuzo eventually finds his way onto a refugee ship out of B. Traven—but even so the wolves are still at his heels, so to speak, as if to suggest that the war and its torments will never end and the uprooted will never find a homeland after all.

With subtle echoes of a samurai classic, Abe’s autobiographical novel is a memorable portrait of statelessness, exile, and wandering.

Pub Date: May 23, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-231-17704-7

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Columbia Univ.

Review Posted Online: March 27, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2017

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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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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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