“A strange destiny: to always suffer.” This book explores that truism from a singular, compelling perspective.

CRUEL CITY

A persuasive, even gripping study of a spiteful, naïve character, from Cameroonian writer Beti (1932-2001). 

Though written in the third person, we spend an uncomfortable length of time listening to the grinding logic of protagonist Banda’s grudges. Banda (no last name) is from the village of Bamila. His father is dead, his mother dying. Banda travels to the nearby city of Tanga to sell a year’s worth of cacao to the Greeks. Set in the 1930s, it appears as if Greeks control the colonial economy. While this may be the case, we see the world from Banda’s perspective and receive Banda’s version of events. Coming from a part of the country that requires he pay a future father-in-law for his daughter, he cannot marry without money, and he cannot bear to disappoint his mother, to fail yet again. When the sale does not go as expected, Banda begins to ruminate, to plot. Banda meets Odilia, a young woman from another part of the country, at a bar. Odilia needs help; her brother Koumé is in serious trouble with the colonials. Whether Banda’s decision to help Odilia and Koumé reflects his better judgment is debatable. The book’s conclusion is unexpected and amounts to a failure of Beti’s—not Banda’s—nerve. The book includes “Romancing Africa,” one of Beti’s many essays, and a useful introduction by translator Higginson; while recognizing the book’s historical importance, he equivocates about its quality.

“A strange destiny: to always suffer.” This book explores that truism from a singular, compelling perspective.

Pub Date: March 4, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-253-00823-7

Page Count: 200

Publisher: Indiana Univ.

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2013

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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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More about grief and tragedy than romance.

FRIENDS FOREVER

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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