LOVE IN A DEAD LANGUAGE

Siegel’s sixth book (after City of Dreadful Night, 1995, etc.) is a flat chore, defrauding the reader of an engaging story with dense typographical hocus-pocus and the bland tatter of footnotes, appendices, and an ostensibly saucy theme. The novel’s structure is distractingly complex. At the core of the text is Professor Leopold Roth’s translation of the Indian taxonomy of sex, the Kamasutra. Appended to this translation are Roth’s commentaries on each section of the work, and contained in them is the vaguely entertaining story of his seduction of Lalita, a Californian undergraduate of Indian descent who is tricked into taking a trip to India with the professor. This tale is intended to illustrate Roth’s understanding and practice of the Kamasutra’s precepts—with Lalita as his object. The plot concludes with Roth’s murder; after the death, one of Roth’s graduate students, Anang Saighal, assumes the thankless task of assembling the uncollected translation into book form, while providing his own footnoted commentary on both the translation and the story already told in the commentaries. A transparently Nabokovian strategy emboldens Siegel throughout. Footnotes and references to the Zemblan language recall Pale Fire, while the seduction theme mimics Lolita: “Once I had seen the beautiful Indian girl in the sari with the red bindi on her forehead in my Comparative Phonology class, I threw out the Mao poster, folded up the Chinese flag, and bought a poster of the Taj Mahal and a print of Krishna playing his flute for love- enraptured, dancing milkmaids . . . .” Nabokov, though, undergirded his complex constructions with brimming plots and full characters. Siegel’s counterparts are flat, dull, relentlessly trivial—a cascade of comments, asides, interpretations, and appendices. Textually dense, erotically lukewarm, and narratively inert: an unrewarding novel, with its inverted pages, computer-screen replications, and transcripts, that’s too fascinated with how it looks to concern itself with how it reads—poorly, at best.

Pub Date: May 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-226-75697-1

Page Count: 312

Publisher: Univ. of Chicago

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1999

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An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

THE AUTHENTICITY PROJECT

A group of strangers who live near each other in London become fast friends after writing their deepest secrets in a shared notebook.

Julian Jessop, a septuagenarian artist, is bone-crushingly lonely when he starts “The Authenticity Project”—as he titles a slim green notebook—and begins its first handwritten entry questioning how well people know each other in his tiny corner of London. After 15 years on his own mourning the loss of his beloved wife, he begins the project with the aim that whoever finds the little volume when he leaves it in a cafe will share their true self with their own entry and then pass the volume on to a stranger. The second person to share their inner selves in the notebook’s pages is Monica, 37, owner of a failing cafe and a former corporate lawyer who desperately wants to have a baby. From there the story unfolds, as the volume travels to Thailand and back to London, seemingly destined to fall only into the hands of people—an alcoholic drug addict, an Australian tourist, a social media influencer/new mother, etc.—who already live clustered together geographically. This is a glossy tale where difficulties and addictions appear and are overcome, where lies are told and then forgiven, where love is sought and found, and where truths, once spoken, can set you free. Secondary characters, including an interracial gay couple, appear with their own nuanced parts in the story. The message is strong, urging readers to get off their smartphones and social media and live in the real, authentic world—no chain stores or brands allowed here—making friends and forming a real-life community and support network. And is that really a bad thing?

An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7861-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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