MITLA PASS

A big breast-beater of a book about how one man vanquishes the demons devouring his soul. This foray draws heavily on the writer's own life, his experiences in Hollywood, and the Jewish immigrant heritage that by turns drag him down and, when finally confronted, allow him to realize himself. When the story begins, Gideon Zadok is a writer seeking to break through a painful block by joining the Lion Battalion of the Israeli Army in its surprise attack at Mitla Pass during the 1956 Sinai War. Gideon has pulled along his wife, Val, and their two daughters, leaving them in Rome as he attempts to maintain the tense truce that is his marriage. Val wanted Gideon to sell out to Hollywood after the success of his first book, Men in Battle (about his experiences as a marine in the Pacific), but Gideon shook himself free from Mammom to research a book on Israel. Once there, he continues his extramarital ventures, started back in Hollywood, by taking up with an aide to Ben-Gurion, Natasha Solomon. Meanwhile, just before the Sinai invasion, Uris freezes the action to launch into a long flashback through several generations of Zadoks wandering across Russia, the Holy Land, and, finally, America. Gideon's mother and stepfather, a communist labor organizer, give him a peripatetic and mostly unloving childhood, leavened only by his relationship with a grade-school teacher who deserts him to fight the Fascists in Spain (where she gets Hemingway to drop him a line about the rigors of writing). Gradually, Gideon's problems come clear: he feels worthless and unloved. Then, with the Egyptians blasting away at the Lions at Mitla, Gideon spills the beans about his experiences in WW II, when, he fears, he caused the death of his best buddy. He does much better at Mitla; and just before he tells Natasha goodbye to join his wife in Rome, he absolves himself of his guilt, presumably going on to write a magnum opus. Unfortunately, this is too fragmented and self-involved to be Uris' own magnum opus; nonetheless, it has flashes of dramatic vividness reminiscent of the writer at his Exodus and Trinity best.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1988

ISBN: 0553282808

Page Count: 532

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Oct. 6, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1988

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TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD

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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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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