A complex, confrontational, demanding—and ultimately rewarding—work.

BEIJING COMA

An unconscious protagonist is the central figure around whom a tapestry of political and personal histories is woven, in the latest from Chinese author Ma Jian (stories: Stick Out Your Tongue, 2006, etc.).

Dai Wei, a student at Beijing University, is active in the pro-democracy protest movement that met violent reprisals in the 1989 catastrophe in Tiananmen Square. Dai Wei is shot in the head, rendered comatose, given token medical treatment, then released into the custody of his widowed mother. Then, in a flexible narrative that moves smoothly between immobile death-in-life and the remembered circumstances of childhood and youth, Ma Jian recreates years of mounting tensions between idealistic youths and the agents of a government determined to stifle all difference and dissent. As Dai Wei’s body functions independently, his mind responds to news and gossip brought by a decade’s worth of visitors (e.g., former classmates who arrive to help “celebrate” his birthday), and revisits his brief, turbulent past. Heady arguments with passionately politicized fellow students are juxtaposed with plaintive glimpsed images of random sexual experiences and unfulfilled romantic relationships. Vacillating awareness of his mother’s embittered caretaking jostle against fragmentary memories of his late father (a stubbornly independent anticommunist, whose fate prefigured Dai Wei’s own). The novel is overlong, marred by Ma Jian’s tendency to abandon drama for extended argument (especially in scenes featuring student protestors). But the arguments are generally vigorous and compelling, and cohere into a rich context that explains the comatose Dai Wei’s deeply rooted will to live—and prepares for the ironic conclusion, in which this Asian Rip Van Winkle awakens, after a decade “lived” only in memory and imagination, on the cusp of the new millennium, into an altered world.

A complex, confrontational, demanding—and ultimately rewarding—work.

Pub Date: June 4, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-374-11017-8

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2008

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Reader Votes

  • Readers Vote
  • 15

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2015

  • Kirkus Prize
  • Kirkus Prize
    winner

  • National Book Award Finalist

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

Did you like this book?

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

Did you like this book?

more