Newcomer Ali was born in Bangladesh and raised in England, where Brick Lane has been acclaimed, and rightly so: she is one...

BRICK LANE

Everyday life requires courage. That simple truth is the foundation of this fine debut about a young Bangladeshi woman in London, struggling to make sense of home, family, Islam, and even adultery.

You’re only 18 when an arranged marriage whisks you off to a faraway land whose language you can’t understand. Your husband is middle-aged and ugly as sin. What for Westerners would be a fate worse than death is for Ali’s heroine Nazneen fate, period. A devout Moslem, she has inherited her mother’s stoic acceptance of God’s will, even heeding her husband Chanu’s advice not to leave their apartment in the grim projects on her own; people would talk. Chanu is happy to have acquired “an unspoilt girl. From the village.” He’s a gentle but insufferably verbose man, a low-level bureaucrat. He’s also a born loser, and Ali’s masterly portrayal mixes mordant humor with a full measure of pathos. The excitement here comes in watching Nazneen’s new identity flower on this stony soil. Motherhood is the first agent of change. Her firstborn dies in infancy, but her daughters Shahana and Bibi thrive. A power shift occurs when Shahana rebels against her father, an ineffectual martinet; Nazneen the peacemaker holds the family together. When Chanu falls into the clutches of the moneylender Mrs. Islam (a sinister figure straight out of Dickens), Nazneen becomes a breadwinner, doing piecework at home and thus meeting the middleman Kazim, who is also an activist fighting racism. They become lovers; and again Nazneen sees herself as submitting to fate. But when Chanu, increasingly beleaguered, announces their imminent return to Bangladesh, Nazneen asserts herself. On one day of wrenching suspense, she deals forcefully with Mrs. Islam, Kazim, and Chanu, and emerges as a strong, decisive, modern woman. The transformation is thrilling.

Newcomer Ali was born in Bangladesh and raised in England, where Brick Lane has been acclaimed, and rightly so: she is one of those dangerous writers who sees everything.

Pub Date: Sept. 9, 2003

ISBN: 0-7432-4330-7

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2003

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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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