An elegant if overly manipulated structural design parallels the insightful but overly simplified psychological evolution of...


Canadian born Huston (Dolce Agonia, 2001, etc.) won the Prix Femina in France for this novel, which traces four generations of a family while examining how unshared secrets shape each succeeding/preceding generation.

In California in 2004, six-year-old Sol, a brilliant, spoiled brat, attends a Protestant church as a compromise between his Catholic-born mother, Tessa, and Jewish-raised father, Randall. After surgery more or less removes the birthmark Sol inherited from Randall, Sol’s grandmother Sadie orchestrates a trip to Munich with the whole family, including Sol’s German-born great-grandmother Erra. The trip is not a success. Flash back to 1982 when six-year-old Randall, also brilliant but more sweet-natured than Sol, basks in the love of his father, a Jewish playwright in his 40s, and desperately tries to please his 26-year-old mother Sadie, a tense perfectionist. Randall loves the year he lives with his parents in Israel while Sadie, a graduate student of the Holocaust and recent convert to Judaism, does research. Then public and personal disasters conflate: Shortly after a controversial Israeli-backed massacre in Lebanon, a car accident leaves Sadie permanently crippled. In 1962, lonely six-year-old Sadie must live with her stern Canadian grandparents while her bohemian unwed mother Kristina finds herself. Sadie, who considers the birthmark on her bottom “dirty,” is overjoyed when Kristina, who has changed her name to Erra, marries the kindly Jewish manager of her burgeoning musical career and brings Sadie to live with them. Then a strange foreign man shows up and shatters Sadie’s fragile security. In 1944, Kristina considers herself the adored youngest daughter of a solid German family until her older “brother” explains that, like him, she was stolen by the Nazis from her real parents, and the two forge a secret bond. After liberation, Kristina is adopted by Canadian parents. To keep her “brother” close, she names her birthmark after him.

An elegant if overly manipulated structural design parallels the insightful but overly simplified psychological evolution of vulnerable children (excepting demon Sol) into reactive adults.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-8021-7051-4

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Black Cat/Grove

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2008

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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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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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