Africa's Release


Second installment of a trilogy narrating the fate of a fictional West African village and the foreigner who once lived among them.

Peace Corps volunteer Wentling (Africa’s Embrace, 2013) returns with a detailed novel that looks at what happened to a man named David and the West African village he lived in decades ago. This sequel opens with J.B., an eccentric man living in Kansas who takes daily long walks and performs rituals that peak around the full moon. The town, at first puzzled by J.B., grows to embrace him and his peculiar habits. It’s revealed that J.B. once lived in Africa and was, after he became deranged, extracted from the continent under mysterious circumstances. The village of Ataku, where J.B. lived, remembers when Bobo (as they called him) phenomenally disappeared inside a baobob tree, confirming their belief that Bobo was a special conduit to their ancestors. Meanwhile, Celestine, a village woman Bobo slept with, finds herself pregnant. She receives help from a healer who communes with plants and will train her to do the same. The village has decided to appease Bobo in the spirit world by repairing their roads and undertaking other developments, even when these developments attract more visitors than villagers are used to. Back in Kansas, J.B. disappears; while in Africa, Celestine begins talking to the baobob tree, hoping for Bobo’s return. The villagers struggle with poverty despite their developments, and drama arises as the corrupt government becomes involved. The village’s eventual leader, it turns out, may be Bobo’s own child. Celestine gives birth to a son, and the village chief decides that this son will take his place, prompting a complicated lie about the child’s origins. Bobo’s son becomes a natural leader but is determined to “meet” his real father, leading to a final transcendent experience with the baobob tree. The novel succeeds as a portrait of a fascinating village and its politics, even if this particular portrait is outdated. The villagers’ communal struggles and triumphs, especially when facing off against governmental officials, make for a compelling story. It’s somewhat surprising to find a white foreigner like Bobo so enthusiastically embraced as a spiritual talisman among the villagers; regardless, throughout the novel, the culture’s traditions are visible, such as the detailed ritual that makes Bobo’s son their new chief. There’s plenty of momentum as readers come to discover how various storylines intertwine, and by novel’s end, everything is so well-resolved that it’s difficult to guess what adventures the final installment holds.

Although there’s less ethnography and more drama than in the previous book, this well-drawn story will suit readers already interested in recent West African history.

Pub Date: May 15, 2014

ISBN: 978-1935925446

Page Count: 232

Publisher: Peace Corps Writers

Review Posted Online: July 29, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2014

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

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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.


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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