A flawed novel which nevertheless frequently engages the reader’s imagination and empathy—and bodes well for its ambitious...


Commitment and sacrifice shape and influence the lives of this sweeping debut novel’s characters: three generations of two Indian families absorbed into several decades of radical political and personal change.

The characters’ stories are assembled by Vachani’s narrator Sweta Kalra—from conversations, correspondence and government records—as she seeks information about the death in combat of her father Ranjit, an air force pilot during the India-Pakistan War. Sweta’s discoveries lead back to the unhappy marriage of her maternal grandparents, Nanaji (a freedom fighter involved in Gandhi’s pacifist resistance to British colonial rule) and Naneeji (a frivolous clotheshorse uninterested in her husband’s political passions). Nanaji’s painful life choices are echoed by the film “career” of their son-in-law Ranjit, who quickly outgrows his celebrity as a child star; suffers unrequited love for a girl (Anu) whose socially prominent family outclasses his own; and submissively fulfills his father’s will by qualifying for the National Defense Academy. Vachani, a documentary filmmaker, shows skill in her gradual juxtaposition of episodes from different time periods. But many of the connections made feel forced (e.g., when Anu, who has never stopped loving Ranjit, uncovers the truth about his fatal last flight and subsequently becomes “India’s first woman war correspondent,” the reader groans). Furthermore, Sweta’s over-insistence on achieving self-realization through becoming a skilled writer is unpersuasive and uninteresting. Fortunately, vividly portrayed secondary characters (a substitute teacher who demands her students’ best; an aeronautical savant whose ingenuity seemingly masks an inexorable death wish) are quite compelling figures. And the flawed, haunted figures of Nanaji and Ranjit achieve a memorable intensity.

A flawed novel which nevertheless frequently engages the reader’s imagination and empathy—and bodes well for its ambitious author’s future.

Pub Date: May 13, 2008

ISBN: 978-1-59051-285-2

Page Count: 376

Publisher: Other Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 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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