A good saga of family life and traumas that calls out for a brisker pace and a lighter touch: Second-novelist Yun (House of...


The troubled relations between twin sisters who grew up among the Korean immigrants of New York.

Twins, so they say, have a strange psychic bond. True or not, it is indisputable that twin sisters Inah and Yunah are exceptionally—perhaps excruciatingly—close. They were born in 1973 in South Korea of parents who were both schoolteachers; their childhood was happy and unremarkable until about the age of six, when Inah was horribly scalded in a kitchen accident that left her face permanently disfigured. Knowing that such a handicap would doom their daughter to the life of an outcast in Korea, Mom and Dad emigrated with Inah and Yunah to New York, where the family settled in the heavily Korean neighborhood of Flushing and Dad took a job at his uncle Shin’s trading company in Manhattan. Yunah narrates half of the story in flashback, describing the twins’ childhood, while in alternate chapters she gives a present-day account of her trip to visit Inah in Italy (where she has lately fled after dropping her graduate studies at Oxford and backpacking through India). Uncommunicative and sullen, Inah makes it clear that she resents her sister’s following her to Europe, and most of their time together in Italy is taken up in bickering and recrimination. Over what? The failure of Ina’s Oxford career? Their father’s temporary abandonment of their mother for another woman? The blight of Ina’s disfigurement? Or something else, something deeper and less accessible? Sibling rivalry can last for years, of course, and the closer the bond the greater the turmoil. So the two are in for a pretty good fight.

A good saga of family life and traumas that calls out for a brisker pace and a lighter touch: Second-novelist Yun (House of the Winds, 1998) drags the story on too long before we see the point—yet after we’ve gotten the picture.

Pub Date: June 15, 2004

ISBN: 0-7434-8356-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2004

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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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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.


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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