Occasionally leans on royal spectacle, but this approach turns out to be quite fitting for such a lavish historical figure...



A fictional retelling of the rise to power of Nzinga, queen of the Ndonga tribe of Angola, examines her defiance of the Portuguese invaders who sought to enslave her people.

In 16th-century Angola, Portugal wages war with the Ndongo tribe, seeking fortune through the subjugation of its land and people. Upon capturing the mother, wife, and two sisters of the tribe’s ruler—the Ngola Kilijua, Mbande—the Portuguese face not a wrathful king but his half sister, the beautiful and shrewd Nzinga, sent to negotiate both her family’s release and a peace treaty. Favored in her youth by her father, the previous Ngola, Nzinga developed the keen, strategic mind of a leader through her endless curiosity and brazen eavesdropping despite being unable to ascend the throne as a woman. Freeing her family, she returns home a hero for her diplomatic maneuvering, making no concessions, and leaving only a spy network behind. When her brother dies under mysterious circumstances, it is not long before her growing popularity allows her to crown herself Ngola, defying gender norms as she leads her nation in staving off the advances of the more technologically advanced Portuguese, despite their horses, armor, and gun powder. Famously, when not offered a chair in the court of Luanda, Nzinga sat upon the backs of her own subjects, and Howard (A Teacher in West Africa, 2016, etc.) injects the novel with this same level of showmanship, from the re-creation of that scene to the bloody, vivid carnage of battle. Traveling poets and storytellers called griots impart to the younger Nzinga, as well as the reader, the history and nuanced beliefs of the Ndongo people, a culture that while at times cruel—Nzinga herself lost her own son to her brother’s fears of interrupting the line of succession—still inspires loyalty and instills the importance of such occasional brutalities to the ascending queen. Thoroughly researched, the book includes a useful list of characters, some of the author’s own notes on the text, as well as some further reference materials for those who wish to know more about this unapproachable queen.

Occasionally leans on royal spectacle, but this approach turns out to be quite fitting for such a lavish historical figure who ruled in Africa.

Pub Date: Aug. 18, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-939423-40-5

Page Count: 308

Publisher: Jugum Press

Review Posted Online: Sept. 9, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2016

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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 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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