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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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

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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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