Thoroughly researched, masterfully embroidered, and enjoyable to read.



The politics, society, and culture of Renaissance Florence are vividly reanimated in Marmorstein’s historical novel debut based on the life of Niccolò Machiavelli.

There is little that the young Niccolò adores more than escaping his family home and threading his way through the streets of Florence to watch old men play cards in a seedy osteria. Here, drawing on a “premeditated charm offensive” inherited from his mother, he casually triggers animated debate among the players as a way of gleaning information about Florentine politics. This delightful scene is an indicator of what Niccolò will become: a political realist with a keen understanding of the human condition. The novel flits elegantly throughout Niccolò’s life—his ascension through the ranks to a position in the Second Chancery; various diplomatic missions on behalf of the republic and his role in deploying a citizen-staffed army in the war against Pisa; later years after the second Medici restoration when he was arrested and tortured for conspiracy; and a period of exile in rural Tuscany, where he began to write his great political treatises. A number of the titles from the Mentoris Project (“a series of novels and biographies about the lives of great Italians and Italian-Americans”) adopt a wearingly generic approach, making Marmorstein’s narrative deviation from conventional linear chronology refreshing. Marmorstein also succeeds in bringing Florentine society to life, particularly with regard to feasting, offering sumptuous descriptions of the local cuisine. Niccolò indulges in “a hefty portion of gran bollito misto, a hearty stew made with seven different cuts of boiled beef and veal, and seven more supplementary varieties of meat including capon, broiler chicken, and beef tongue.” Marmorstein’s descriptive eye also falls on the city’s art and architecture, taking in the “three-dimensional reality” of Masaccio’s fresco and Brunelleschi’s “massive cupola atop the Duomo.” Sadly, he chooses not to fully elaborate on Machiavelli’s penchant for “late-night escapades,” which may have proven entertaining. Still, Marmorstein skillfully weaves a spellbinding tale of the making of a political luminary set against the vibrant backdrop of Renaissance Florence.

Thoroughly researched, masterfully embroidered, and enjoyable to read.

Pub Date: Nov. 30, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-947431-17-1

Page Count: 242

Publisher: Barbera Foundation

Review Posted Online: Dec. 19, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2019

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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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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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