ANITA AND ME

Nine-year-old Meena Kumar's cheeky narrative of her life as the only Punjabi girl in a small English village unfolds through wonderfully evocative description. Tollington, a once-thriving Midlands mining village, is, in the early '70s, on the decline. When the mines shut down, the men are idled while the town's suddenly assertive women form the Ballbearings Committee, a name to designate their employment at the local factory (among other things). A highway threatens to take away part of the village, the grammar school is closing down, skinheads are beginning to loiter in the kiddie park, and suburban sprawl is inching closer. These ominous changes form the background of the inventive Meena's life. She is alternately amused and embarrassed by her family and idolizes the roughest, brassiest girl in town, Anita Rutter. Meena is, much to her parents' chagrin, no angel: She lies, commits minor thefts, and has the bad habit of making vulgar remarks when her prim and proper aunties are around. Each small incident that Meena tells about leads to an arsenal of vividly described related anecdotes before the linear narrative is finally regained, a process that forms an endearing, richly three- dimensional picture of Meena and her family. Meanwhile, the story of the girl's relationship with Anita nicely illuminates the difficult, unspoken politics of childhood friendship. The two girls lead a gang, bully others, and engage in exuberant antics even though, in an increasingly poor and tense England, there is always an ominous undercurrent to events. Anita's black poodle is named ``Nigger,'' a local Indian bank manager is the victim of a racial attack, and Meena's secret love becomes a boot-stomping skinhead. Meena's loss of innocence, and her recognition of her heritage, coincides with her realization that her seemingly harmonious village also harbors violence, hatred, and fear. Syal handles all of this with an expert hand. Far from just another coming-of-age saga, Syal's impressive debut offers a charming yet troubling evocation of recent times.

Pub Date: April 1, 1997

ISBN: 1-56584-372-X

Page Count: 336

Publisher: The New Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1997

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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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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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