MALKEH AND HER CHILDREN

Inspired by family legends of life in pre-Revolutionary Russia, Edelson creates a refreshingly earthy first novel featuring an obstinate provincial Jewish woman whose children are destined to emigrate to America. The Jews of Dagda might have predicted that pretty young Malkeh, daughter of an impoverished local teacher, would not be satisfied with the traditional life of the generations of women who preceded her. To begin with, proud and headstrong Malkeh married an itinerant tailor, Yoysef Mandelkern, for the simple reason that he loved her. And once married, Malkeh proceeds to found a school for Jewish women, allow the steward of the local estate to become her patron, and raise a brood of adventurous children who will stir up all kinds of gossip at home before they set sail for America. Not all of Malkeh's actions are appreciated, even by her family—her children's frequent complaints that she neglects them in favor of her work seem deliberately aimed at today's readers—and there are social repercussions when one son joins the Revolution and a daughter lives in sin with a decidedly non-Jewish gambler. But, fortunately, the second generation's chutzpa is perfectly suited to the life they will design for themselves in San Francisco—the city to which they escape one by one. Having weathered pogroms, epidemics, war in their native Russia, and crippling poverty in their adopted land, the Mandelkerns have learned the value and importance of family solidarity. Edelson's exploration of the wisdom and generosity with which her characters accommodate one another's shortcomings makes this a satisfying tale. Life-affirming fiction—sentimental, perhaps, but enjoyably so.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1992

ISBN: 0-345-37971-3

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1992

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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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More about grief and tragedy than romance.

FRIENDS FOREVER

Five friends meet on their first day of kindergarten at the exclusive Atwood School and remain lifelong friends through tragedy and triumph.

When Gabby, Billy, Izzie, Andy and Sean meet in the toy kitchen of the kindergarten classroom on their first day of school, no one can know how strong the group’s friendship will remain. Despite their different personalities and interests, the five grow up together and become even closer as they come into their own talents and life paths. But tragedy will strike and strike again. Family troubles, abusive parents, drugs, alcohol, stress, grief and even random bad luck will put pressure on each of them individually and as a group. Known for her emotional romances, Steel makes a bit of a departure with this effort that follows a group of friends through young adulthood. But even as one tragedy after another befalls the friends, the impact of the events is blunted by a distant narrative style that lacks emotional intensity. 

More about grief and tragedy than romance.

Pub Date: July 24, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-385-34321-3

Page Count: 322

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: Nov. 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2012

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