A wildly amusing fictional memoir that sometimes tries too hard to be funny.


An eccentric American family goes on a European vacation and becomes entangled in a web of criminal conspiracy in this comic novel. 

Victor Emmanuel Popper—the fictional author of this humorous “memoir”—is a mere 12 years old but confidently assures readers he “scored sinfully high on IQ tests.” He narrates this tale of an adventure gone wrong from the perch of nearly deranged precociousness, an often intoxicating brew of gimlet-eyed observations and slapstick surrealism. Victor decamps Seattle with his family—a “doubtful… group of cosmopolites”—on a 42-day “deluxe tour of Europe” that visits a litany of major cities, including London, Amsterdam, Cologne, and Vienna, among others. His entourage is an eclectic mix of oddities: His mother, Penny, is an art history professor–turned–astrology guru. His sister, Anna Karenina, is a 15-year-old “parody of teenagerness,” and his brother, Edgar Allan Poe, is a 5-year-old boy “already subject to violent mood swings.” Victor’s accompanying uncle is a psychiatrist, a “mad doctor” who hypnotizes the children when they’re in need of pacification: “You’re getting sleepy. TV is not real. The sitcoms are not funny, and the dramas contain material not suitable for children. When I count to three….” While leaving London, Victor’s father, Max, is detained by police under suspicion of smuggling Russian art icons and taken to Scotland Yard, apparently “manned principally by bumbling idiots.” Victor takes it upon himself to clear his father’s good name and undertakes an investigation of his own, convinced one of the other tour members is the true culprit. In this manic novel, Hummasti (Four Ways To Square a Circle, 2018) has an extraordinarily well developed sense of life’s absurdity and finds traces of it in every crevasse of human affairs. In addition, his indefatigable inventiveness can be genuinely funny, though the relentlessness of the humor—there’s hardly a sentence without a one-liner—can become a bit exhausting. The comedy can also be schlocky—there is a pair of Australian lawyers named Mr. and Mrs. Dingo, a Greek called Mr. Zorba, and Max’s lawyer is Mr. Fitzfrisky.

A wildly amusing fictional memoir that sometimes tries too hard to be funny. 

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: 978-1-73228-511-8

Page Count: 289

Publisher: Svensen Pioneer Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 13, 2019

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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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