A historically valuable, well-written, and unrelentingly bleak read.

I DREAMT I WAS IN HEAVEN

THE RAMPAGE OF THE RUFUS BUCK GANG

A grim, gritty historical novel set in and around Arkansas’ Indian Territory during the last decade of the 19th century.

Gaiter (Whites Shackled Themselves to Race and Blacks Have Yet to Free Ourselves, 2017, etc.) revisits the story of the brutal Rufus Buck Gang—a collection of Native American, mixed heritage, and black teenage boys seeking personal glory and revenge for the mistreatment of Native Americans. The gang has just been captured after two weeks of rape, murder, and torture. The townsfolk of Okmulgee want immediate vengeance, but the boys are taken to Fort Smith, Arkansas, where they will be tried in front of Judge Isaac Parker. Parker will go down in history as “The Hanging Judge,” and this will be his last trial. He is sick and tormented by what he perceives as his failure to “civilize” the territory. He also knows he is partially responsible for enabling a meeting between the young Rufus Buck and Buck’s idol, “Cherokee Bill,” a Native American outlaw sentenced to death. Rufus spent his adolescence reading dime-store novels about Bill’s exploits. The narrative winds its way back and forth, giving some backstory about each of the gang members, with most of the attention devoted to Rufus, the delusional leader. Gaiter adroitly intertwines the personal stories of Rufus and his cohorts with the larger narrative of the cruelty perpetrated against Native Americans. Rufus is scarred by his father’s disillusionment after he watched the Cherokees sell off their land, and their heritage, in exchange for small individual payouts and worthless promises: “To Buck, that was like buying a house and splitting the money evenly between the man, his wife, and each child and telling them all to go their separate ways.” He knew the same would happen to the Creeks. Skillful prose depicts white Americans’ pervasive bigotry and the methodical destruction of Indian sovereignty. Unfortunately, the novel contains not a single likable central protagonist.

A historically valuable, well-written, and unrelentingly bleak read.

Pub Date: Aug. 5, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-615-49010-6

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Legba Books

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2018

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ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF IVAN DENISOVICH

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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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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